Tag Archives: School conditions

Toronto Star covers issue of classroom conditions

The extreme temperatures during the first week of school sparked a lot of media interest in classroom conditions across the province. This Toronto Star article, entitled, “Back-to-school heat wave provokes extreme measures” explores how unseasonably high temperatures impacted our children’s classroom learning environments.

Fix Our Schools co-founder Krista Wylie is quoted as saying, “Problems that surfaced in the heat wave are just another sign of a system overlooked for too long, leaving Ontario schools with a repair backlog totalling $15 billion.

School conditions impact learning

Fix Our Schools is pleased that the Ontario Government has acknowledged that schools are an essential part of our province’s infrastructure. Our Minister of Education, Mitzie Hunter explains that when her department does fund school repairs, they are making an “infrastructure investment” that will help drive an “innovative, high growth” economy.1

We know that school conditions matter. Our children’s educations are being seriously affected by the age and condition of the buildings in which they spend their days. There are many factors:

Sleeping_students

  • Poor air quality creates “sick building syndrome” and greatly affects the quality of a student’s learning as well as their health and the # of schools days they miss. The American Lung Association (ALA) found that American children miss more than ten million school days each year because of asthma exacerbated by poor air quality.2 Asthma is the leading cause of absenteeism in the U.S.

 

  • Poor temperature control seriously aff2015_02_13_Runnymede PSects learning. Studies done in the 80’s show that temperatures must be between 20°C and 23.3°C in order for students to concentrate and perform well on reading and math.3 Having to work in freezing cold or boiling hot temperatures also affect teacher morale.
  • Lack of windows and daylight created from poorly designed schools also affects student achievement. There is a consensus that natural light creates the optimum environment.

 

Northern 4Ontario’s provincial government needs to fund school repairs and new schools. We need to work together to create quality learning environments for our students. They are the future of Ontario.

1 https://news.ontario.ca/edu/en/2016/08/toronto-area-schools-benefit-from-repairs-and-upgrades.html

2 http://www.ncef.org/pubs/outcomes.pdf

3 http://www.ncef.org/pubs/outcomes.pdf

Auditor-General’s Report: What condition are we striving for in schools?

The 2015 Auditor-General’s Report raises the concern that there are no guidelines for the desired condition at which facilities should be maintained. There is also no consistent standard for how Ministries ought to measure the condition of assets such as highways, bridges, schools and hospitals.

A bit shocking that the provincial government has gone so far as to log all the disrepair in schools but has not concerned themselves with setting an actual goal to measure success.

Here is an excerpt from page 11-12, Chapter 3 of the 2015 Auditor-General’s Report: which provides examples of how various Ontario Ministries approach determining asset condition and also provides the example of how Alberta approaches this issue in a more transparent, solution-oriented manner:

Assumptions Vary in Calculating Asset Condition

Ministries generally use the Facility Condition Index (FCI), an industry-standard measure of a building’s condition at a given time, to determine if their assets are in good, fair or poor condition. The FCI is calculated by combining the total cost of any needed or outstanding repairs with the renewal or upgrade requirements of the building, divided by the current replacement value. In essence, it is the ratio of “repair needs” to “replacement value,” expressed as a percentage. The higher the FCI, the greater the renewal need.

However, ministries make different assumptions in estimating their repair needs. In its 2015/16 submission to the Secretariat, for example, the Ministry of Education identified an FCI of about 36% for its schools overall by including its current repair backlog and five years of future repair needs in its calculation. In contrast, the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care included its current repair backlog and only two years of repair needs in its calculation, and arrived at an average FCI of 23% for its facilities. Because these two ministries assessed the conditions of their respective assets differently, it is difficult to determine which of them has a higher priority need overall.

For highways and bridges, the Ministry of Transportation takes a different approach in assessing their condition. It classifies its highway pavements and bridges as being in good, fair, and poor condition. Pavements and bridges are considered in good condition if they will not require any rehabilitation work for six or more years. Based on this assessment, the Ministry has classified 77% of the pavements and 83% of bridges that they are responsible for to be in good condition.

In comparison, Alberta uses a government-wide standardized FCI as a common measure to enable ministries to compare condition ratings across facility types (schools, post-secondary institutions, government-owned buildings and health-care facilities). It calculates its FCI using current backlogs and five years of future repair needs.

Alberta has targets for the percentage of facilities to be in good, fair and poor condition for the different sectors, and it reports the actual percentage in each category publicly each year, along with the progress made towards achieving each sector’s targets. It uses the following definitions:

• Good—the facility’s FCI is less than 15%, is adequate for intended use and expected to provide continued service life with average maintenance.

• Fair—facilities with an FCI between 15% and 40%, inclusive, have aging components nearing the end of their lifecycle and require additional expenditures for renewal or refurbishing.

• Poor—facilities with an FCI greater than 40% require upgrading to comply with minimum codes or standards, and deterioration has reached the point where major repairs or replacement are necessary.

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?