The Pollution Detectives
November 12, 2018
Part II of the Pollution Detectives: Lack of Pure Air In Schools Causes Students To Score Poorly On Standardized Test.
Locally, the school system of Rowan/Salisbury, North Carolina scores in the bottom quarter of the schools in the state, in a state that ranks (almost) in the bottom half of the country, in a country that ranks in the bottom half of the world's richest 35 countries.And a solution to this exists.
Much of this poor performance has nothing to do with how smart our kids are, or how hard working our parents or teachers are, or how effective our educational leaders are.
Research now shows very clearly that students learn better, and test better, when classrooms have a lot of fresh air.
A little history: When schools were built 50 years ago (or older), they did not have air conditioning - the windows were made to open, and there were openings connected to the hallways that allowed breezes to blow through the classroom, across the hall, and out the window. The kids got lots of fresh air.
When air conditioning came along, they were installed to control temperature only, and windows and ventilation openings were sealed shut to save money. Goodbye fresh air.
Many of those schools are still in use.
Fast forward decades, and newer schools (built in the 1970's and 80's) had more robust heating and cooling systems. School districts building new buildings had the options of allowing fresh air to be brought in - but many school districts did not buy this technology, for two reasons. First, it was cheaper to build a simpler system with no fresh air intake. And second, if you brought in fresh air the more you had to pay to change its temperature.
In more modern (1990's forward) buildings, almost all of them were built to have the technical ability to bring in fresh air - but of those, a large number either do not use that capability, or slow it down so much that it blocks students and teachers success.
According to one massive survey conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency, one-half of our nation's 115,000 K-12 schools have indoor air quality (IAQ) problems - or said another way, have a wonderful opportunity to improve student performance.  This kind of finding is reported all around the world. In Denmark, scientists found that stuffy hot classrooms lowered student performance by 30%.  Nationally, members of school boards and school administrators often do not know this.
In Texas, one researcher tracked student performance before and after a string of schools had their air conditioning updated. "After fixing our indoor air quality, we have seen an increase in scores of 17.3 percent on standardized tests" said one leader.  In Oklahoma, 140 classrooms were analyzed for indoor air quality issues. Classrooms with problems were fixed. Schools with worst indoor air quality improved test scores 10 -15%, and even the schools with best indoor air quality improved 5%.  In recent years, engineers have invented a number of clever ways to fix the problem in older buildings - and all across America cities are budgeting funds to fix these problems.
Our area schools do not need to be in the bottom half of the state, in a state that is (almost) in the bottom half of the country, in a country that is in the bottom half of the world's richest 35 countries. If we walk our talk about protecting our families, and valuing fresh air and water, we can fix this.
Francis Koster, Ed. D.
3) Frank DiNella, Keller Independent School District, Texas http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/02/15/u-s-students-internationally-math-science/
5) Wargocki Article
6) Stafford Article
7) Haverinen-Shaughnessy Article
About the Author:
Kannapolis N.C. resident Francis Koster Ed. D. is a retired pediatric healthcare administrator with a passion for helping children maximize their potential. He has created a not-for-profit organization, The Pollution Detectives, that loans out pollution meters to students and others to "make the invisible visible" in an attempt to create opportunities to improve childhood scholastic performance.