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March 1, 2000
Vol. 57
No. 6

Research Link / Healthy Buildings, Successful Students

What is the current condition of our school buildings? How does building condition relate to student achievement? According to School Facilities: America's Schools Report Differing Conditions (Government Accounting Office, 1996), about one-third of the school buildings in the United States need extensive repair or replacement. Additionally, about 60 percent need extensive repair or replacement of at least one major building feature, such as roofs, windows and doors, plumbing and heating, or ventilation and air conditioning. Many of these conditions constitute clear safety code violations. The report points out that the schools requiring these renovations are among the least prepared to meet the technology needs of the 21st century.
The same report found that more than half of U.S. schools have unsatisfactory environmental conditions. Counted among these deficiencies are a lack of appropriate acoustics for noise control, poor ventilation, and inadequate physical security. About 25 million students nationwide attend schools with at least one unsatisfactory environmental condition. In addition to environmental problems, three-quarters of schools that responded to the survey indicated that they had already spent funds during the previous three years to remove or correct hazardous substances, such as asbestos, lead in water or paint, or underground storage tanks. Two-thirds reported that they still must spend funds in the next three years on the same environmental issues.
Finally, in cities where greater numbers of students live in poverty, schools must spend a greater portion of limited funds on instruction and less on repairing buildings or buying and repairing equipment. Further, in urban school districts, about 3.5 percent of the budget is typically spent on facilities maintenance. Of this amount, however, 85 percent is budgeted for emergency repairs, with only a small amount remaining for preventive maintenance. To put these amounts into perspective, in one urban district, the allocated amount was adequate only to paint classrooms every 100 years and replace floor coverings every 50 years.
School Facilities: Condition of America's Schools(Government Accounting Office, 1995) focuses on school building age. This study found that older buildings were often designed with sounder infrastructures and had life spans of almost 100 years. Schools built after 1970 were designed to have life spans of no more than 30 years. But older school buildings are often inferior to new buildings because of the accumulated years of neglect, which take a toll on the infrastructure.
School buildings, whether old or new, must be maintained and renovated for aesthetic reasons and to protect the health and safety of the staff members and students who teach and learn in them. But does the condition or age of the school building have any impact on pupil achievement?

Healthy Buildings

Earthman and Lemaster (1996) concluded that the variance in learning that can be attributed to a school building is small. The impact of the school building itself, however, takes on added importance because it is one variable the school district has direct control over. The researchers discovered a positive relationship between the building condition and the achievement levels of students. In one study, for instance, they discovered a positive relationship between pupil academic performance on all subtests of the Test of Academic Proficiency (TAP) and the condition of the school building. The difference in percentile rankings was as much as 5 percent. Further, students in schools with cosmetic building problems had higher levels of achievement than students in schools with structural building problems. Student achievement in the science section was higher in buildings with better quality science equipment than in buildings with lower quality science facilities. The difference between low- and high-rated schools was 7 percentile ranks.
In addition, Earthman and Lemaster investigated the scores of all Virginia 11th graders on the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills (CTBS). In all but two subtests of the CTBS, the students in above-standard buildings outscored students in substandard buildings. The differences in scores between the two building conditions ranged from 1 to 9 percentile ranks.
This research indicates a link between building condition and academic performance. Does a building's age have a comparable relationship?
Chan's (1996) studies show that the age of a building relates to academic performance. He concluded that modern school buildings are better able to meet the needs of today's educational programs because they incorporate the latest innovative ideas and technology. Computer and technology education and science instruction have placed new demands on school buildings. These programs typically require increased space and changes to the fundamental infrastructure of school buildings, such as upgraded electrical and telephone capacity and higher air quality that demands improved ventilation systems.
Chan's conclusions are underscored by research conducted by Earthman and Lemaster (1996). They found that building age was significantly related to student achievement and behavior. This is because building age serves as a surrogate for a number of specified variables, such as the condition of the building, thermal control, proper lighting, acoustical control, support facilities, the condition of laboratories, and the aesthetic condition of the environment.
Because of the multiple competing claims for funds in most school budgets, school leaders face the problem of how best to allocate limited resources. However, on the basis of the available current research, building maintenance is one variable that school districts have control over—and one that has a measurable impact on pupil achievement. Without the appropriate allocation of available resources, and without the support for adequate school funding, districts lose their opportunity to bring about meaningful improvement in student performance.

Chan, T. C. (1996). Environmental impact on school learning (Report No. EA028032). Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State College. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 406 722)

Earthman, G. I., & Lemaster, L. (1996). Review of research on the relationship between school buildings, student achievement, and student behavior (Report No. EF005023). Scottsdale, AZ: Council of Educational Facility Planners, International. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 416 666)

Government Accounting Office. (1996). School facilities: America's schools report differing conditions (GAO Report No. HEHS-96-103) [On-line]. Available: www.gao.gov

Government Accounting Office. (1995). School facilities: Condition of America's schools (GAO Report No. HEHS-95-61) [On-line]. Available: www.gao.gov

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