Skip Navigation
small NCES header image
Condition of America's Public School Facilities: 1999
NCES: 2000032
June 2000

Environmental Conditions

Environmental conditions, such as heating, ventilation, and air conditioning, are important aspects of the day-to-day environment for students. This chapter provides information about satisfaction with various environmental conditions in public school buildings. The conditions rated included lighting, heating, ventilation, indoor air quality, acoustics or noise control, and physical security of buildings. Also included is information about satisfaction with the flexibility of instructional space at the school and the energy efficiency of the school. In addition, information is provided about the status and satisfaction with air conditioning in various areas of the school, with particular focus on air conditioning in classrooms. Information is also provided about school closures due to facilities problems.

Satisfaction with Environmental Conditions

The questionnaire asked for ratings of how satisfactory or unsatisfactory six different environmental conditions were in the school's onsite buildings.28 While the majority of public schools reported that the individual environ- mental conditions in their schools were satisfactory, a sizable minority (ranging from 12 percent to 26 percent) reported that various individual environmental conditions were unsatisfactory29 (Table 8). Ventilation was rated as unsatisfactory by more schools than any other environmental condition (26 percent). Ratings of other environmental conditions included 12 percent of schools reporting they were unsatisfied with lighting conditions, and about a fifth of schools indicating they were unsatisfied with heating, indoor air quality, acoustics or noise control, and the physical security of buildings. Satisfaction with individual environmental conditions showed some variation by school characteristics, with three of the six environmental conditions showing significant differences30 (Table 8). For ventilation, a larger percentage of medium than large schools were unsatisfied (31 percent compared with 21 percent), and schools in the West were more likely to be unsatisfied than schools in the South (37 percent versus 19 percent). For acoustics or noise control, more medium than large schools reported being unsatisfied (19 percent compared with 12 percent), and schools in rural areas and small towns were more unsatisfied than schools in urban fringe areas and large towns (21 percent versus 13 percent). Physical security of buildings was perceived as more unsatisfactory by high schools than by elementary schools (26 percent versus 17 percent), and schools in rural areas and small towns were more unsatisfied with physical security than schools in central cities and in urban fringe areas and large towns (26 percent compared with 14 percent and 17 percent).

Overall, 43 percent of the schools reported that at least one of the six environmental factors was in unsatisfactory condition (Table 8). This translates into about 33,800 schools reporting at least one unsatisfactory environmental condition (not shown in tables). Schools in rural areas and small towns were more likely than schools in urban fringe areas and large towns to report that at least one of their environmental conditions was unsatisfactory (47 percent compared with 37 percent; Table 8). The apparent difference between schools in central cities and schools located in urban fringe areas and large towns is not statistically significant on this measure, due in part to the relatively large standard error for schools in central cities. Schools with the highest concentration of poverty (defined as 70 percent or more of the students eligible for free or reduced price school lunch) were more likely to report that at least one environmental condition was unsatisfactory than were schools with the lowest concentration of poverty (55 percent compared with 38 percent).

Among the 43 percent of schools with at least one of the six environmental conditions reported as unsatisfactory, an average of 2.6 environmental conditions were reported to be unsatisfactory (not shown in tables). Figure 2 shows the percentage distribution of the number of environmental factors in unsatisfactory condition at these schools. About a third of these schools (32 percent) reported that one environmental condition was unsatisfactory, and an additional 30 percent reported two environmental conditions as unsatisfactory. At the other end of the distribution, 8 percent of the schools reported that all six environmental factors were in unsatisfactory condition. 31

Energy Efficiency and the Flexibility of Instructional Space

The questionnaire also asked about satisfaction with the energy efficiency of the school, and with the flexibility of instructional space at the school. About a third of the schools (32 percent) were unsatisfied with the energy efficiency of the school, and 38 percent were unsatisfied with the flexibility of instructional space at the school (not shown in tables). These ratings did not vary significantly by school characteristics. 32

Air Conditioning

The questionnaire asked about the status of air conditioning in classrooms, administrative offices, computer labs, media centers, and "other areas" of the school. Respondents were asked to indicate whether the area did not have air conditioning because it was not needed, the area did not have air conditioning but it was needed, or that some, most, or all of the area was air conditioned.

Air conditioning was not available but needed by roughly a quarter of the schools for their classrooms (24 percent), media centers (23 percent), and other school areas (28 percent), by 17 percent of schools for their computer labs, and by 10 percent for their administrative offices (Table 9). About half (49 percent) of the schools indicated that all of their classrooms were air conditioned, about 60 percent indicated that all of their administrative offices, computer labs, and media centers were air-conditioned, and 36 percent indicated that all of the other areas of the school were air-conditioned. An additional 10 percent of schools indicated that some classrooms were air-conditioned, and 4 percent indicated that most classrooms were air-conditioned, for a total of 63 percent of schools indicating that their classrooms were all or partially air-conditioned (see Tables 9 and 11). A total of 83 percent of schools reported that their administrative offices were all or partially air-conditioned.

Air conditioning in classrooms is important in many areas of the country in terms of the day-today learning environment for students, since more time is spent in classrooms than in other areas of the schools, such as computer labs and media centers. While overall 24 percent of the schools said that their classrooms were not air conditioned but needed to be, some types of schools were more likely than others to indicate that this was the situation for their
classrooms 33 (Table 10). Small and medium schools were more likely to indicate that they needed air conditioning in their classrooms than were large schools. Schools in the South were less likely than schools in any other region to indicate that their classrooms were not air-conditioned but needed to be; this is not surprising, given the very high proportion of schools in the South with air conditioned classrooms. Schools with lower minority enrollment (20 percent or less minority enrollment) were generally more likely to indicate that they needed air conditioning in their classrooms than were schools with higher minority enrollments. Schools with the lowest concentration of poverty (less than 20 percent eligible for free or reduced-price school lunch) were more likely to report needing air conditioning in classrooms than were schools with greater concentrations of poverty. 34

The questionnaire also asked for ratings of how satisfactory or unsatisfactory the air conditioning was in each area of the school that was air conditioned. In general, about 85 percent of the schools reported that the air conditioning in the various areas of the school that had air conditioning was satisfactory or better, with about a third reporting it as very satisfactory, and about half reporting it as satisfactory for each area (Table 11). Few schools (3 to 4 percent of those with air conditioning in a particular area) reported that they were very unsatisfied with the air conditioning in that area. Satisfaction with air conditioning in classrooms, administrative offices, computer labs, and media centers did not vary significantly by school characteristics (not shown in tables). 35

School Closures Due to Facilities Problems

Information was also obtained about the number of instructional days, if any, the school was closed because of inadequacies or problems with facilities during the 1998-99 school year. 36 Most schools (96 percent) were not closed during any instructional days because of inadequacies or problems with facilities (not shown in tables). For the 4 percent of schools that reported closures, the number of days ranged from 1 to 9, with 60 percent of those with a closure reporting being closed for one instructional day, and another 30 percent reporting being closed for two or three instructional days (Figure 3).


28 This questionnaire item was drawn from the 1994 GAO study. The FRSS questionnaire referred to these conditions as environmental factors, following the wording of the GAO questionnaire. The list of environmental factors on the questionnaire also included flexibility of instructional space and energy efficiency. Information about these two factors is presented separately. Some of the building features for which schools were asked to rate the physical condition on the questionnaire (e.g., heating, lighting; see chapter 2 of this report) are related to the environmental factors for which schools were asked to rate their satisfaction. Both items on the FRSS questionnaire were taken directly from the GAO questionnaire, with the intention of providing information about change in the condition of public school facilities between 1994 and 1999. Information from the GAO study is provided as contextual information only, rather than as statistical comparisons. Standard errors are not available for the GAO data, and exact point estimates are also missing for some comparative statements from the GAO reports.

29 The ratings of satisfactory and very satisfactory have been combined into a rating of satisfactory, and the ratings of unsatisfactory and very unsatisfactory have been combined into a rating of unsatisfactory. The satisfaction ratings do not have the same kind of explicit definitions that the ratings used for the condition of buildings and building features have. Those ratings (excellent, good, adequate, fair, poor, replace) were defined to indicate the amount of maintenance and repair required.

30 As noted previously, differences that may appear large may not be statistically significant, due in part to the relatively large standard errors surrounding the estimates (because of the small sample size) and the use of the Bonferroni adjustment. These are discussed further in appendix A.

31 GAO reported for 1994 that about 50 percent of schools reported that at least one of the six environmental conditions was unsatisfactory, and 33 percent reported multiple unsatisfactory conditions (U.S. GAO 1995a).

32 GAO reported for 1994 that 41 percent of schools were unsatisfied with the energy efficiency of the school, and 54 percent of schools were unsatisfied with their flexibility of instructional space (U.S. GAO 1995b).

33 The percentages needing air conditioning are related, of course, to the percentages that already have air conditioning.

34 It is likely that these seemingly paradoxical differences by minority enrollment and concentration of poverty in the school are related to region of the country. Schools with lower minority enrollment and concentration of poverty are more likely than schools with higher minority enrollment and concentration of poverty to be located in the Northeast and Midwest. Schools with higher minority enrollment and concentration of poverty are more likely than schools with lower minority enrollment and concentration of poverty to be located in the South and, to a somewhat lesser extent, in the West. For example, about three quarters of the schools with the lowest minority enrollment and about two-thirds of the schools with the lowest concentration of poverty are located in the Northeast and Midwest. Conversely, roughly 45 percent of the schools with the highest minority enrollment and with the highest concentration of poverty are located in the South. Schools in the Northeast and Midwest were more likely than schools in the South to indicate that their classrooms were not air-conditioned but needed to be.

35 GAO reported for 1994 that 51 percent of schools had air conditioning in classrooms, and 73 percent of schools had air conditioning in administrative offices (U.S. GAO 1995b). The item on the GAO questionnaire differed somewhat from the item on the FRSS questionnaire. The GAO questionnaire asked whether the school had air conditioning in classrooms, administrative offices, and/or other areas. It did not ask about computer labs and media centers, or about the extent of air conditioning or the need for air conditioning in various areas of the school. GAO reported for 1994 that about 85 percent of schools with air conditioning in a particular area reported that it was satisfactory or very satisfactory.

36 A school closure on an instructional day does not necessarily result in lost instructional time for students. There are a number of strategies that schools can use to avoid losing instructional time, including adding instructional days during school holidays or at the end of the school year, or holding classes temporarily in other space, such as a community college or another school. However, these strategies may not be easy to implement. It should also be noted that school facilities problems may arise due to situations beyond the control of the school. Comments on some of the questionnaires mentioned closures due to things such as damage caused by storms or fires.

Top


Would you like to help us improve our products and website by taking a short survey?

YES, I would like to take the survey

or

No Thanks

The survey consists of a few short questions and takes less than one minute to complete.