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December 1997 Workshop on Acoustics and Learning

Appendix A: Environmental Conditions of the Nation's Schools

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REPORT ON CONDITION OF AMERICA'S SCHOOLS INCLUDING PREVALENCE OF NOISE PROBLEMS: (Based on Report by General Accounting Office to Senate in Letter Report, 2/1/95, GAO/HEHS-95-61).

INTRODUCTORY SUMMARY

Elementary and secondary education, the nation's largest public enterprise, is conducted in over 80,000 schools in about 15,000 districts. America's public schools serve over 42 million students.

In 1995, the U.S. Government Accounting Office (GAO) presented a report to the U.S. Senate on results of a survey of school officials across the country on the physical condition of their facilities. The survey projects that the nations' elementary and secondary schools need about $112 billion in repairs and upgrades to restore them to good condition. Nearly 60 percent of America's schools reported at least one major building element in disrepair; most of these schools had multiple problems.

In addition, about half the school officials reported at least one environmental problem in their schools, such as inadequate ventilation, poor heating or lighting; most of these schools had multiple environmental problems. The most frequently mentioned "unsatisfactory environmental condition" was "acoustics for noise control. This was mentioned by an average of 28.1% of the schools but the percentage citing this problem exceeded 30% in 18 states and exceeded 40% in 5 states.

Some school officials attributed the physical decline of the nation's schools to decisions by school districts to defer vital maintenance and repair expenditures from year to year due to lack of money.

The nation has invested hundreds of billions of dollars in school infrastructure to create an environment where children can be properly educated and prepared for the future. Almost exclusively a state and local responsibility, this infrastructure requires maintenance and capital investment. However, public concern is growing that while laws require children to attend school, some school buildings may be unsafe or even harmful to children's health.


1 Presented on February 1, 1995 to:

Senator Carol Moseley-Braun Senator Paul Simon
Senator Edward M. Kennedy Senator Paul Wellstone
Senator Claiborne Pell

For questions about the (GAO) report, contact:

Eleanor L. Johnson, Assistant Director
Education and Employment Issues, G.A.O.
(202) 512-7209  

SURVEY METHODOLOGY

To determine the amount of funding needed to improve inadequate facilities and the overall physical condition and prevalence of schools that need major repairs, a nationally representative stratified random sample of about 10,000 schools in over 5,000 school districts was surveyed. The study was conducted from April 1994 to December 1994 in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.

The survey asked about (1) the physical condition of buildings and major building features, (2) the status of environmental conditions, such as lighting, heating, and ventilation; (3) the amount districts and schools had spent in the last 3 years or plan to spend in the next 3 years to correct....hazardous materials problems and provide access to all programs for all students; and (4) an estimate of the total cost of needed repairs, renovations, and modernizations to put all buildings in good overall condition.

(See report for questionnaire.)

The survey was directed to those officials who are most knowledgeable about facilities--such as facilities directors and other central office administrators of the districts that housed our sampled school buildings. The analyses are based on responses from 78 percent of the schools sampled. Analyses of non-respondent characteristics showed them to be similar to respondents.

Findings from the survey have been statistically adjusted (weighted) to produce nationally representative estimates. All of the data are self-reported and were not independently verified for accuracy. However, the survey team visited 41 schools in 10 selected school districts varying in location, size, and minority composition. During these visits, they observed facility conditions and interviewed district and local school officials to obtain information on facilities assessment, maintenance programs, resources, and barriers encountered in reaching facility goals.

CONCLUSIONS

Many of America's schools need to repair or replace one or more building feature, manage or correct hazardous materials, or make all programs accessible to all students. Other schools have more serious problems. About 14 million students are required to attend the remaining one-third of schools that have one or more entire buildings in less-than-adequate condition, needing extensive repair or replacement. These schools are distributed nationwide.

The survey results indicate that to complete all repairs, renovations, or modernizations needed to put school buildings into good overall condition and comply with federal mandates would require a projected investment of $112 billion. Continuing to delay maintenance and repairs will defer some of these costs but will also lead to the need for greater expenditures as conditions deteriorate, further eroding the nation's multibillion dollar investment in school infrastructure. In addition, if maintenance continues to be deferred, a large proportion of schools that are in only adequate condition and need preventive maintenance or corrective repair will soon deteriorate to less-than-adequate condition.

As one survey respondent observed, "It is very difficult to get local communities to accept this burden (facilities construction or renovation). Our district, one of the wealthiest in the state, barely passed a bare bones budget to renovate. It must be a national crisis."

About 50 percent of the schools reported at least one unsatisfactory environmental condition; while 33 percent reported multiple unsatisfactory conditions. Of those, half reported four to six unsatisfactory conditions. Those conditions most frequently reported to be unsatisfactory were acoustics for noise control, ventilation, and physical security.

One survey respondent stated, "The ADA requirements were a major reason we had to replace two older schools. These costs, when added to other costs for renovations and modifications, resulted in overall costs for repairs which exceeded the costs for new facilities." On the other hand, Chicago school officials told us that due to limited funds and the installation of one elevator costing $150,000, very few schools are able to provide program access to all students.

The report includes the following tables.

ENVIRONMENTAL CONDITIONS

 Table 1. Millions of Students Attend Schools Reporting Unsatisfactory Environmental Conditions. (From GAO Report GAO/HEHS-95-61)

Environmental factor Percent of schools Number of schools Number of students affected (in millions)
Acoustics for noise control 28.1 21,900 11
Ventilation 27.1 21,100 11.6
Physical security of buildings 24.2 18,900 10.6
Heating 19.2 15,000 7.9
Indoor air quality 19.2 15,000 8.4
Lighting 15.6 12,200 6.7

Based on the data in the following table, it was found that the percent of schools (by state) that reported "Acoustics for noise control" was fairly well correlated (r = 0.72) with, and approximately equal to, the average percentage of schools (by state) that reported the other environmental conditions noted in the table. This suggests that poor classroom acoustics tends to occur, on the average, simultaneously, with the other environmental factors, further compounding their combined deleterious effect on the classroom environment and on learning.

One unexpected relationship drawn from the data in the following table is that the prevalence of acoustic problems in classrooms was negatively correlated with the prevalence of air conditioning in the schools. (See last column). While this is only based on the average data by state in the table, it might indicate that air conditioning has been more often installed using a quiet ducted system as opposed to the noisier large window (or unit) air conditioner systems such as will be used in the LAUSD program.

 Table 2. Percent of Schools Reporting Unsatisfactory Environmental Factors--Lighting, Heating, Ventilation, Indoor Air Quality, Acoustics, etc. by State (From GAO Report GAO/HEHS-95-61)

State Lighting Heating Ventilation Indoor Air Quality Acoustics for Noise Control Flexibility Security Schools w/AC in Classroom
Alabama 14.7 22 26.1 23.2 32.8 47.6 35.7 97.8
Alaska 28.1 38.9 51.9 49.9 32.4 55.5 27.4 4.9
Arizona 15.7 19.9 29.5 19.6 26.4 52.6 25.3 68.2
Arkansas 7.5 7.9 11.9 10 17.5 42.4 21.2 95.9
California 31.1 24.7 28.8 21.8 34.2 70.4 41.2 67.2
Colorado 21.7 29.3 37.2 24 21.9 46.5 13.3 28.5
Connecticut 9.3 23.8 35.3 18.5 28.4 48.4 22.3 21.7
Delaware 9.1 25.6 30.3 26.4 19.3 48.6 22.3 42
Florida 16 17.8 34.6 30.6 28 56.6 33.7 97.8
Georgia 6.9 11.8 12.4 7.7 11.9 36.2 16.8 92.9
Hawaii 7.6 6 26.2 20.9 37.7 54.1 39.7 18.1
Idaho 13.2 19.8 36.5 25.5 35.4 53.8 22.5 26
Illonois 14.2 21 29.2 18.6 29.1 55.4 23.6 26.8
Indiana 22.8 20.7 28.8 21.2 33 55.4 18.4 53.5
Iowa 9.5 11.1 24.2 17.1 28.2 55.3 24.1 22
Kansas 21.5 22.3 35.2 24.1 30.3 56.6 21.9 63.1
Kentucky 14.6 17.7 25.6 19.2 26.4 50.5 21 92.3
Louisiana 18.4 17.5 7.2 6.3 27.5 53.4 29.6 96
Maine 9.6 19.7 28.7 30.1 42.6 58.4 33.3 2
Maryland 18 19.2 28.8 20.5 19.6 23.1 13.4 55.3
Massa-
chusetts
19.9 32.8 41.9 30.9 41.3 51.2 27.9 11.8
Michigan 12 16.7 25.3 15.4 31 47.2 20.2 18.9
Minnesota 11.9 15 35.5 30.1 20.7 55.6 27.5 19.2
Mississippi 8 10.9 9.4 8.8 22 41.2 28.2 97.3
Missouri 4.7 10.1 12.8 8.2 22.5 43.2 14.5 51.1
Montana 4.7 9.4 20.8 12.9 22.9 50.6 18 13.4
Nebraska 7.4 16.9 32.9 21.4 26.1 46.8 21.3 37.9
Nevada 15.7 21 22.6 20.4 7.6 53.5 13.7 70.1
New Hampshire 14 24.8 46.8 27.2 43.8 68.8 21.6 0
New Jersey 11.5 10.5 21.7 8.1 30.3 60.6 19.8 21.8
New Mexico 20.9 23.9 32.7 22.7 32.1 60.5 24.1 70.4
New York 15.8 20.9 36.5 24.1 30 64.9 21.2 10.2
North Carolina 17.4 14 23.4 17.7 29.5 59 21.8 87.8
North Dakota 10.7 20.1 28.6 24 32.8 41.3 18.1 18.1
Ohio 13.9 24.9 33.3 18.6 39.6 70.6 23.5 15.6
Oklahoma 16.2 18.7 20.6 16.8 27.3 48.8 26.6 94.5
Oregon 25.8 27.4 40.1 27 31.8 72.2 28.7 17
Pennsyl-
vania
11 17.1 23.3 12.4 16.7 42 12.8 28.9
Rhode Island 25.4 25.8 28.9 29.8 38.6 63.7 34.7 5.8
South Carolina 7.2 13 18.3 18.8 22.7 53.8 24.6 11
South Dakota 9.5 15.1 25.7 19.9 23.6 38.5 11.2 10.9
Tennessee 8.3 17.1 19.2 16 21.5 48.6 27.9 95.2
Texas 13 14.2 16.4 12.3 21.3 43.7 18.3 98.4
Utah 14.1 21.9 34.1 20.9 17.8 52.2 16.1 34.4
Vermont 10.5 22.7 32.2 25.4 22.9 47.4 22.8 1.4
Virginia 14.4 16.6 21.7 19.8 24 37.5 20.6 77.8
Washington 24 30.4 41.9 32.4 39.7 64.8 34.6 31.8
Washington D.C. 40.2 31 33.9 31.5 51.8 52.4 37.3 47.4
West Virginia 23.9 34.1 46.5 31.3 44 68.7 34.4 58.1
Wisconsin 9.6 13.9 20.5 13.3 19.7 52.5 18.8 25.7
Wyoming 5 11.2 24.1 15.4 17.7 52.6 21.9 13.4
Average 14.5 19.2 27.7 20.6 27.6 51.4 23.5 45.3

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