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The Impact of School Buildings on Student Health and Performance: A Call for Research

Posted by Morgan White on May 27, 2013

In "The Impact of School Buildings on Student Health and Performance: A Call for Research" by Lindsay Baker and Harvey Bernstein (2012), authors note research results and needs about green schools.

What do we know today?   In some areas, we have strong evidence to support the notion that school buildings impact student health and their ability to learn, and we know exactly how to ensure that the impacts are positive. For example, we know how to build classrooms that minimize background noise and allow voices to be heard clearly, which will allow students to hear their teachers and protect their aural health. We have clear evidence that certain aspects of school buildings have an impact on student health and learning, such as:

  • When deprived of natural light, studies have shown that children’s melatonin cycles are disrupted, thus likely having an impact on their alertness during school (Figueiro & Rea, 2010).
  • Teachers report higher levels of comfort in their classrooms when they have access to thermal controls like thermostats or operable windows (Heschong, 2003, and Lackney, 2001).
  • According to researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories, when ventilation rates are at or below minimum standards (roughly 15 cfm per student), an associated decrease of 5%–10% occurs in certain aspects of student performance tests (LBNL IAQ Resource Bank).
  • In recent studies, when ventilation rates were lowered from 17 cfm/person to 10 cfm/person researchers saw a 15% increase in symptom prevalence for Sick Building Syndrome (ibid).

What do we need to find out?   While there have been studies on the impact of environments on children—and the benefits of green buildings more broadly—more research is needed. Some of the larger research questions are:

  • When prioritization is necessary, which building projects can be expected to have larger impacts on facility quality and student health?
  • What are the impacts of high-performance school buildings, above and beyond an adequate (and potentially new) school building?
  • How do high-performance design features interact with each other? Relationships such as those between daylighting and acoustical design are understood less in terms of how they interact than in isolation.