There Can Be No Doubt

There is more than 30 years of research that shows facilities, and the learning environment has a definite impact on a student’s ability to learn and an instructor’s ability to teach. And there is constantly more research being released on this subject. Following are a sample of just a few of those resources. While most of the research is focused more toward K-12 education facilities, the results would apply to higher educational facilities as well.

Performance — An online survey of 800 district administrators or school board members reveal that almost 90 percent of school leaders see a direct link between the quality and performance of school facilities, and student achievement. (Honeywell and Education Week Research, 2010 School Energy and Environment Survey 2010; Data & Analysis.)

Indoor Air Quality — Children are inherently more vulnerable to environmental hazards because their bodies are still developing. Substandard environmental conditions in schools, such as insufficient cleaning or inadequate ventilation, can cause serious health problems for children. Evidence continues to mount demonstrating that indoor air quality, or IAQ, directly impacts student academic performance and health. (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2010, How Does Indoor Air Quality Impact Student Health and Academic Performance?)

Achievement — The research is unequivocal: Poor school building conditions are a serious threat to the health and academic performance of students. Achievement is significantly lower in schools with poor conditions. (Building Minds, Minding Buildings, American Federation of Teachers, 2006.)

Teachers — While clearly important, teacher salaries are not all that matter. Teacher preferences across a range of job and school conditions may be just as important as salary in the retention decision. According to this study, “teachers might be willing to take lower salaries in exchange for better working conditions.” (Buckley, Schneider, Shang, 2004. The Effects of School Facility Quality on Teacher Retention in Urban School Districts.)

Health — Overall evidence strongly suggests that poor environments in schools, primarily due to effects of indoor pollutants, adversely affect the health, performance and attendance of students. (U.S. Department of Education, 2004. A Summary of Scientific Findings on Adverse Effects of Indoor Environments on Students’ Health, Academic Performance and Attendance.)

Acoustics — Research indicates that high levels of background noise, much of it from heating and cooling systems, adversely affect learning environments, particularly for young children who require optimal conditions for hearing and comprehension. (U.S. Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board and the Acoustical Society of America, 2002.)

Daylighting — Students with the most daylighting in their classrooms performed 15 to 20 percent better on math tests and 19 to 26 percent better on reading tests than those with the least daylighting. (Hershong Mahone Group, 1999. Daylighting in Schools: An Investigation into the Relationship Between Daylighting and Human Performance.)

Achievement — Student achievement was as much as 11 percentile points lower in substandard buildings, as compared to above-standard buildings. (Hines, 1996. Building Condition and student achievement and behavior.)

Safety and Security — Crime sprouts from a disorderly environment plagued by broken windows, graffiti and similar disruptions because criminals get the message that “no one cares what happens here.” (Wilson, 1982. Broken Windows.)

This article originally appeared in the September 2014 issue of School Planning & Management.

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