Inadequate School Facilities Impact on Student Learning
What the Research Says
Good facilities appear to be important to student learning, provided that other conditions are present that support a strong academic program in the school. A growing body of research has linked student achievement and behavior, as well as staff morale, to physical building conditions.
Impact on Student Learning
- A study of the District of Columbia school system found, after controlling for other variables such as a student’s socioeconomic status, that students’ standardized achievement scores were lower in schools with poor building conditions. Students in school buildings in poor condition had achievement that was 6 percent below schools in fair condition and 11 percent below schools in excellent condition. (Building Conditions, Parental Involvement and Student Achievement in the D.C. Public School System, Maureen M. Edwards, Georgetown University, 1992)
- Another study examined the relationship between building condition and student achievement in small, rural Virginia high schools. Student scores on achievement tests, adjusted for socioeconomic status, were found to be as much as 5 percentile points lower in buildings with lower quality ratings. Achievement also appeared to be more directly related to cosmetic factors than to structural ones. Poorer achievement was associated with specific building condition factors such as substandard science facilities, air conditioning, locker conditions, classroom furniture, more graffiti, and noisy external environments. (A Study of the Relationship Between School Building Condition and Student Achievement and Behavior, Carol Cash, Virginia Poltechnic Institute and State University, 1993)
- Similarly, a study of large, urban high schools in Virginia also found a relationship between building condition and student achievement. Indeed, the researcher found that student achievement was as much as 11 percentile points lower in substandard buildings as compared to above-standard buildings. (Building Condition and Student Achievement and Behavior, Eric Hines, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, 1996)
- A study of North Dakota high schools, a state selected in part because of its relatively homogeneous, rural population, also found a positive relationship between school condition (as measured by principals’ survey responses) and both student achievement and student behavior. (Review of Research on the Relationship Between School Buildings, Student Achievement and Student Behavior, Glen Earthman, Council of Educational Facility Planners, International, 1995)
- A recent study of 24 elementary schools in Georgia attributed quality of school design to a 14.2 percent difference in third grade achievement scores and a 9.7 percent difference in fifth grade achievement scores on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. (Relationship of School Design to Academic Achievement of Elementary School Children, University of Georgia, 2000)
- Heating and air conditioning systems appeared to be very important, along with special instructional facilities (such as science laboratories or equipment) and color and interior painting, in contributing to student achievement. Proper building maintenance was also found to be related to better attitudes and fewer disciplinary problems in one cited study. (“Facilities,” by Carroll McGuffey, in Improving Educational Standards and Productivity, edited by Herbert Walberg, 1982)
- Research indicates that the quality of air inside public school facilities may significantly affect students’ ability to concentrate. The evidence suggests that youth, especially those under age 10, are more vulnerable than adults to the types of contaminants (asbestos, radon, and formaldehyde) found in some school facilities (Environmentally Related Health Hazards in the Schools, James Andrews and Richard Neuroth, paper presented to Association of School Business Officials International, 1988).
- A research summary prepared by the University of Georgia in 1999 indicates several studies that show that adequate lighting and appropriate color choices play a significant role in the achievement of students, affecting their ability to interpret the written word and their attention span. (Summary by Elizabeth Jago and Ken Tanner, University of Georgia, April 1999, www.coe.uga.edu/sdpl/sdpl.html)
Impact on Teaching
Researcher Jerry Lowe interviewed state teachers of the year to determine which aspects of the physical environment affected their teaching the most. These teachers pointed to the availability and quality of classroom equipment and furnishings, as well as ambient features such as climate control and acoustics as the most important environmental factors. In particular, the teachers emphasized that the ability to control classroom temperature is crucial to the effective performance of both students and teachers. (The Interface between Educational Facilities and Learning Climate, Jerry M. Lowe, Texas A&M University, 1990)
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.” In dilapidated buildings in another district, the atmosphere was punctuated more by despair and frustration, with teachers reporting that leaking roofs, burned out lights, and broken toilets were the typical backdrop for teaching and learning.
The study also found that “where the problems with working conditions are serious enough to impinge on the work of teachers, they result in higher absenteeism, reduced levels of effort, lower effectiveness in the classroom, low morale, and reduced job satisfaction. Where working conditions are good, they result in enthusiasm, high morale, cooperation, and acceptance of responsibility.” (Working in Urban Schools, Thomas Corcoran et al., Institute of Educational Leadership, 1988)
Note: Adapted from Impact of Inadequate School Facilities on Student Learning, U.S. Department of Education, 1999, available online at www.ed.gov/inits/construction/impact2.html, and other sources. Originally published in the IASB Compass, Volume VII, No. 1, Winter/Spring 2002