School building conditions matter

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) recently released a fascinating report called “School Environment Impact: Research Study”, summarizing research that has been conducted on the relationship between student performance and school maintenance/cleanliness.

Not surprisingly, a link between the condition of a school building and the achievement of its students was noted and is being seen in a growing body of research. While most of this research comes from the United States, surely we can easily apply these findings to our Ontario public schools and students?

One particularly interesting study cited in the OSSTF report is entitled, “Healthy Schools are Clean, Dry, and Productive”, by Dr. Michael Berry.  Berry states that: “a school’s interior climate, appearance, and cleanliness send either a positive or negative message to students, teachers, and staff. Emerging evidence suggests that environmental conditions that create a sense of ‘well-being’ and send a ‘caring message’ contribute directly to positive attitudes and elevated performance as measured by fewer health complaints, improved student attendance, teacher retention, and higher test scores.

Berry also states that “schools are high activity environments that need constant attention in the form of cleaning, maintenance, and repair.” Berry indicates that maintaining the condition of the school is a necessary and cost effective way of improving student performance, stating that: “there is growing evidence that when a school building is in disrepair, teaching and student achievement suffers; the school environment works against the educational process. Public school systems too often elect to postpone repairs and delay construction of new facilities to divert money during periods of financial austerity. Making cuts in roof repair, maintenance, and cleaning is mistakenly considered less devastating than slashing academic programs.

The OSSTF report cites many other research studies and the consistent finding is that the condition of our children’s schools matters. So if school conditions impact student achievement, why has Kathleen Wynne’s government allowed $14.7-billion of outstanding large repairs accumulate in public schools across the province?