There Can Be No Doubt

Facilities and the conditions of the learning environment have an effect on students and staff.

Mental Health — Children in classrooms with inadequate material resources and children whose teachers feel they are not respected by colleagues exhibit more mental health problems than students in classrooms without these issues. (Journal of Health and Social Behavior, March 2011. American Sociological Association study shows Negative Classroom Environment Adversely Affects Children’s Mental Health.)

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?)

Recruit and Retain — Parents and prospective students often select an institution based on its facilities. According to a study by APPA about how facilities affect student recruitment and retention the facilities noted as “extremely or very important” in students’ selection process were those related to their major (73.6 percent), followed by libraries (53.6 percent), classrooms (49.8 percent) and residence halls (42.2 percent). The overall rejection of a campus due to an inadequate facility is 26.1 percent. The overall rejection of a campus due to a poorly maintained facility is 16.6 percent. (APPA Facilities Manager, 2006. The Impact of Facilities on Recruitment and Retention of Students.)

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)

Attendance — Children miss more than 10 million school days each year because of asthma exacerbated by poor IAQ. (American Lung Association, 2002, Asthma in Children Fact Sheet.)

Behavior — This study demonstrated a positive relationship between upgraded school facilities and math achievement. Physical environmental attributes of school facilities play an important role in students’ academic performance, attitudes and behavior. (Maxwell, 1999. School Building Renovation and Student Performance, Syracuse City Schools.)

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.)

School Size — Students in small schools “make more rapid progress toward graduation, are more satisfied with small schools, fewer of them drop out than from larger schools, and they behave better in small schools.” (Raywid,1999)

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.)

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2016 issue of School Planning & Management.

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