School Geography: Change is a Constant for US School Districts

Looking for specific topics?



Try sorting by categories

Or, view our archive

This is the second post in the School Geography Blog series.  Check out the first school geography post here.

In early America, schools were organized by a group of neighbors or perhaps a larger community and were largely independent of one another.  New England colonies first provided for a public education, requiring that towns establish schools. This township-based model extended to the midwestern states and eventually many western states. The township boundaries, usually defined by states, became the first school districts. Some still exist in their original form, but many have consolidated into larger districts.

Education in the South was generally a private matter until after the Civil War.  When public schools were established there, counties generally became responsible for them. This is why school districts in most southern states generally have the same borders as their counties or county-equivalents.

In the beginning of the 20th century, schools began consolidating into larger and larger districts, sometimes through local action but more often as a result of state legislation. Of the 200,000 districts that existed in 1900, fewer than 14,000 still exist.  Because of continuing and sometimes dramatic population shifts and economic factors, many areas of the country are grappling with the need to redraw school district boundaries.  Even New England states, which have largely retained districts that had coincided with their town boundaries since the 1650's, are likely to radically merge and realign their districts in coming years.  And state legislatures everywhere will often have more say than local residents in how school district boundaries will be drawn.

Of course, with continual change comes the need for current representation of school district boundaries and related school and school attendance zone information.   As we mentioned in the last post, the US Census (TIGER) updates their school district boundaries file every 2 years— this means many changes to school districts are not reflected until long after they are put into effect and don’t necessarily represent information for the current school year.  Further, TIGER lacks the more granular and in many ways, more important, attendance zones within school districts.

For Maponics School Boundaries TM, we annually source and update the entire set of school geography (including school district, school attendance zones and school profiles) for every locally-sourced area. Under our Maintenance Program, we revisit and verify the district’s information each year.  This ensures that our customers, who rely on our data currency and accuracy to display schools, school district maps and attendance zones, have the latest information available.