istock schoolWe’ve already taken a quick look at how Referendum 52 has the potential to improve the health of students and teachers, but what about improving students’ ability to learn? A report sponsored by the Green Building Council found numerous studies that validated the hypothesis that better school buildings can equate to improved learning. In other words, fixing our school buildings can improve attendance, grades, and test scores.

The report highlights examples of a 5 percent increase in student attendance and an improvement of 3 to 4 percentage points on standardized tests when buildings were retrofitted. Right here in Washington, in a review of the High Performance School Building Program, reviewers suggest that absenteeism could drop up to 15 percent and test scores rise by 5 percent at schools where building improvements are made and performance is tracked. More investment in retrofitting schools—$500 million worth all over the state—has enormous potential to boost student performance.

  • Why, you might wonder, would making a building more energy efficient improve learning? Buildings don’t teach our kids, what difference does it make how the building works? The studies all point in the same direction: when it comes to attention, behavior, and health issues that affect performance and attendance, learning environments matter. Here’s what an oft cited review of the issue by Mark Schneider, “Do School Facilities Affect Academic Outcomes?” concludes: “School facilities affect learning. Spatial configurations, noise, heat, cold, light, and air quality obviously bear on students’ and teachers’ ability to perform.”

    When we think about Referendum 52—legislation that would invest in local school retrofits—it might be tempting to think only about the buildings. But education, after all, is about people. And people are affected by their environment. Bad air, bad lighting, uncomfortable temperatures, all of this can affect how people learn and perform. Voters should look at Referendum 52 as an investment in people—students, teachers, and those who will find a livelihood in making buildings better.