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This question leads you to data about the use of classrooms and facilities, a key resource for schools. Looking at this measure can help you determine if your schools have the physical space to accommodate all of your students and if your facilities are up-to-date.

National Data

According to an analysis of the 2004 Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) by the Center for Public Education, 19 percent of schools routinely use common areas (e.g., cafeterias, gymnasiums) for classrooms.

Data Source

Using data from the 2004 SASS, the Center for Public Education calculated the percent of schools that report using common areas for instructional purposes. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) administers the SASS every four years, and the data is available only at the state level. Data: Facilities Overflow, Facilities Overflow by Income Level.


In many schools and districts, administrators are struggling to fix aging buildings and construct facilities that meet the needs of a growing student body. But there isn’t much reliable state or local data on this issue. The best information comes from SASS, an NCES initiative to monitor general school conditions. It provides state-by-state information on the use of temporary buildings and the frequency of overcrowding.

How to Use the Data

Research shows a strong link between school building adequacy and student performance. You can use this data to monitor your local facilities and see how your school or district stacks up against state and national averages.

How the details were measured

The data is reported as the percent of schools that routinely use common areas for instructional purposes to accommodate an overflow of students. The survey defines common areas as the cafeteria, gymnasium, or other nonacademic areas. The data can be broken down by schools that report having some Title I students at the start of the school year and those that do not.

Limitations of the data

The SASS indicator has a significant number of drawbacks. Most important, the data does not look at the actual physical condition of the school. It provides no information on the building’s infrastructure, age, or capacity. The data also does not specifically measure the extent of school and classroom overcrowding and how school buildings have been equipped to deal with increasing enrollments.

Key Questions to Ask

What is the local context?

You should be sure to fully understand the physical state of your school buildings, from lighting systems to heating units, in order to evaluate the degree to which your school facilities serve the needs of students and teachers.

Do all students have access to well-maintained, up-to-date school facilities?

Disadvantaged students are much more likely to attend schools with inadequate buildings. According to one study, 53 percent of high-minority schools use portable classrooms, while only 19 percent of low-minority schools do. You will want to examine this issue and ensure that local school facility resources are adequately distributed among student groups.

Learn More

The cost of school construction falls largely on districts: They are typically responsible for raising money to build new facilities and improve old ones. A few states provide grants for local school construction. School Planning and Management Magazine collects data on the total amount of money spent by schools and districts on construction each year. They found that in 2009, a total of $16.4 billion was spent on school renovation and construction. 

Most of the studies of school facilities have been at the national level. Every few years, for instance, NCES surveys school principals about the status and conditions of their facilities. The most recent survey, from 2005, found that over-enrollment has eased somewhat, but it is still a major issue for schools and districts. Specifically, the study found that from 1999 to 2005 the percentage of schools that were significantly over-enrolled decreased from 14 percent to 10 percent.

There are some other sources of state-by-state facilities data. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) gathers data on resources available to students. For example, the background questionnaire of the eighth grade science NAEP asks students if they do hands-on work in science labs and if they use a computer for their science classes. The NAEP data can be downloaded by going to the NAEP Data Explorer home page and then clicking on advanced. Within the advanced module, select a grade and test administration and then select instructional content and practice.

The federal government’s E-Rate program–an annual program that provides discounts to low-income, rural schools and libraries for technology infrastructure, telecommunications, and Internet services for students–has helped to close the digital divide. Nevertheless, there are still students who do not have access to technology at home. The National School Boards Association provides in depth information on the E-Rate program.

Additional Resources

Demonstrating success: Rallying support for higher taxes in Malvern—Study circles help this Arkansas community come together to build awareness of their school community and find ways to make improvements, including readily raising taxes.