There Can Be No Doubt

There is more than 35 years of research that shows facilities, and the learning environment have 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.

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.)

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.)

Priorities
The depressed physical environment of many schools is believed to reflect society’s lack of priority for these children and their education. (Poplin and Weeres, 1992. Voices from the Inside: A Report on Schooling from Inside the Classroom)

Achievement
Students in school buildings in poor condition scored six percent below students that were in schools in fair condition and 11 percent below students in schools in excellent condition. (Edwards, 1991. Building conditions, parental involvement and student achievement in the D.C. public schools.)

Working Conditions
A study of working conditions in urban schools concluded that “physical conditions have direct positive and negative effects on teacher morale, sense of personal safety, feelings of effectiveness in the classroom, and on the general learning environment.” Building renovations in one district led teachers to feel “a renewed sense of hope, of commitment, a belief that the district cared about what went on that building.” (Corcoran et al., 1988. Working in Urban Schools)

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 March 2017 issue of School Planning & Management.

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