Study shows learning decreases in class rooms when temperatures rise
Katherine DeClerq, CTV News Toronto
Published Wednesday, May 30, 2018 6:01PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, May 30, 2018 7:05PM EDT
A new study indicates there may be a relationship between the temperature within a school and the academic success of students -- a troubling statement considering fewer than a quarter of the public schools in Toronto have full-building air conditioning.
The U.S. working paper, which was distributed this week by the National Bureau of Economic research, found that every 1 degree Fahrenheit increase in school room temperatures correlates with a 1 per cent decrease in learning.
Researchers analyzed the PSAT scores of 10 million students in tenth and eleventh grades, over a 13-year period. The researchers found that the school environment, specifically the temperature within the classroom, made an impact on test results.
“When we’re hot we get distracted, it’s literally hard to focus because we are physically uncomfortable,” said Joshua Goodman, a public policy professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School, in a statement. “The time students are spending in school that’s hot is literally less good for learning.”
Ryan Bird, a spokesperson for the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), said there just is not much that can be done about the temperature on very hot days. He said that most schools were built during a time when central air wasn’t a forethought.
“It’s just not even possible to install central air in these schools without massively significant infrastructure changes, but the fact is it would cost hundreds of millions of dollars if we were to install full building air conditioning in all of our schools,” he told CTV News Toronto.
Bird said that of the 584 public schools across the city, 128 have full-building air conditioning. Others have partial coverage or no air conditioning at all.
The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (EFTO) said the study confirms the need for what the organization calls “heat days”.
“In some classrooms this week alone, at 8 a.m. in the morning, it’s been 30, 31 degrees before the start of the day. Before kids come in,” said Sam Hammond, president of ETFO.
While Bird says the TDSB does not have any hard data confirming the statements made in the U.S. study, he admits that it makes sense.
“We know that student’s minds will not be as sharp as they will be in cooler temperatures. That’s why we are trying to make them as comfortable as possible.”
The TDSB has started to install “cooling centres” in schools without full-building air conditioning.
“We are cooling large areas like a gym and a library so that at least students and staff can circulate in those areas on the days of extreme heat to get some sort of relief,” Bird said.
Schools are currently facing a $4 billion repair backlog. Parents seem to understand that the TDSB simply can’t afford to put air conditioning in every school.
“It’s a concern. I think that the TDSB has a lot of big issues to address so running air conditioning in all the schools all the time would be a huge concern from a taxpayer point of view,” one parent said.
Another parent said she doesn’t think a lot of learning goes on when the temperatures rise.
As for the children, most of the younger kids didn’t seem phased by the heat. Those who spoke with CTV News Toronto said they were uncomfortable, but could handle it. The older kids, who were taking their standardized tests, seemed to be more upset.
“I can’t stand it. We need air conditioning. When I go to the office they have AC. I’m on third floor. It’s like 30 degrees out there,” one girl said.