29. April 2014
The United States continues to lag behind in standard global achievement tests, with students ranking below average in math and average in reading and science. Boosting these rankings is no easy task. Multiple factors contribute to educational success, including curriculum, educator ability, and school environment.
While curriculum and educator reforms are nuanced and contentious issues, simple but impactful changes to a school’s physical environment can also improve student well-being and overall test scores. Below are four examples that demonstrate how environmental changes, advanced materials, and building design can help improve student performance.
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) schools
LEED is the most widely recognized and implemented green building program across the globe, with more than 16.7 million students learning in schools with green building policies. Designed to be sustainable, energy efficient, and healthy environments, LEED schools correlate with improved student performance. For example, a recent study from The Ohio State University found an association between LEED schools and fewer student disciplinary problems compared to older, non-LEED schools. In addition, LEED schools have higher teacher retention rates, which are associated with higher student achievement.
Many older schools have smaller, aging windows that ineffectually distribute natural light, forcing teachers to rely on harsh overhead lighting fixtures. Yet studies have shown that when students learn in environments with well-diffused natural daylight, test performance improves between 20 and 26 percent. Some schools have turned to daylighting to solve this problem, using glass that evenly distributes natural light throughout a room, not only boosting student performance, but also reducing energy costs. In addition to windows, schools can also simply increase the amount of natural light and the sense of space by installing transparent fire-rated glass-ceramic, like PYRAN Platinum, into fire-rated corridors and walls.
Twenty percent of public schools in the U.S. have unsatisfactory indoor air quality, leading to health problems like asthma and allergies. In fact, asthma-related illnesses cause more than 14 million student absences per year. And students who attend schools with ventilation rates at or below minimum standards also score 5 to 10 percent lower on performance tests. Chemical emissions from interior products such as furnishings, building materials, and cleaning supplies are the most common causes of poor air quality in schools. By replacing or installing materials and products that release the fewest possible pollutants, schools can increase the health of their students and potentially decrease the total number of sick days.
Better student supervision
Bullying and peer pressure are among the leading causes of depression in school-aged children and significantly hurt academic achievement, as well as increase student absences and drop-out rates. In order to gain control of negative climates, educators and administrators must better supervise peer-to-peer interactions, which can be difficult in older buildings where solid firewalls and closed layouts limit visibility. By installing clear fire-rated glass-ceramic in highly populated areas, such as cafeterias and stairwells, educators can better supervise students and step in when needed to maintain a safe environment for all.
A safe and healthy school climate is key to improving U.S. educational standards. By implementing small environmental changes, schools could significantly improve their academic standings. With a greater focus on school climate, teachers, students, and communities all have the chance to flourish.