Editor's Note (The View From Here)

Research Review

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 78 million students (children and adults) were enrolled in school in October of 2012. This is over a quarter of the entire population ages 3 and older. A quick look at the numbers tell us there are nearly 50 million K-12 students attending 98,000-plus public schools in the U.S., plus another 6.2 million on staff. If you think your classrooms are overcrowded now, there are more challenges on the horizon. In simplest terms, the population of the U.S. is growing — one birth every 8 seconds; one international migrant every 32 seconds — for a net gain of one person every 15 seconds. A growing population means a strain on the current facilities, as well as a need for more and better facilities.

Unfortunately, it seems that the focus is rarely on facilities — The decisions being made about educational facilities are usually based on solid research. Here are just a few examples.

Acoustics — According to the Acoustical Society of America, in many classrooms, the speech intelligibility rating is 75 percent or less. That means that listeners with normal hearing can understand only 75 percent of the words read from a list. Considering that a primary mode of teaching involves speaking and listening, speech intelligibility is a prime concern in classroom design.

Daylighting — There are a number of studies available on daylighting, from those done by Warren Hathaway with Alberta Education to more recent ones done by the Heschong Mahone Group and Hatfield. Their findings show that daylit classrooms and views to the outdoors affect concentration, test scores and learning. The 2011 Hatfield review found that students exposed to the most daylight have a 21 percent increase in performance.

Quality, Performance, Retention — The 2010 School Energy and Environment Survey of 800 district administrators or school board members reveals that almost 90 percent see a direct link between the quality and performance of school facilities and student achievement.

Community — A 2011 IZA (Institute for the Study of Labor) report describes the effects of school construction in a poor urban district on students and community. Student reading scores increased on the order of those typically observed in students who win lotteries to attend high-performing charter schools. Home prices were raised in affected neighborhoods, and led to increases in the population of families with children attending public schools.

This article originally appeared in the June 2015 issue of School Planning & Management.

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