Why it Matters
Although NCLB mandates a “highly qualified teacher” for every classroom, many districts and schools still face the challenge of recruiting and retaining these professionals to work under inadequate physical working conditions with grossly inadequate resources to support their teaching efforts.
The current national budget for school facilities improvement and construction is greater than at any point in history. Due to the expanding student population and the age of many school buildings, overall spending on facilities is expected to increase, regardless of economic fluctuations. The George Lucas Educational Foundation predicts that over the next five years, the United States will spend almost $100 billion to build and renovate schools.
What We Know
There is a growing body of research confirming that the quality of facilities contributes directly to teacher turnover rates and student performance. A study by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching (1998) found that student attitudes about education directly reflect their learning environment, and various other studies have shown that clean air, good light, and a quiet, comfortable, and safe learning environment are essential for academic achievement (see, for example, Cash 1993, Earthman and Lemasters 1996, Lemasters 1997, Lackney 1999, Schneider 2002).
Despite increased expenditures for school facilities and a reputable research base proving their significance to improving student learning and achievement, many education and community leaders, along with policymakers, remain regrettably unprepared for and unresponsive to the facility and resource needs of schools.
A recent study found that more than 80 percent of surveyed principals considered themselves well trained for providing academic leadership, ensuring teacher quality, general management, managing human resources, and student discipline. But fewer than half of the principals in the study thought they were well trained for facilities management.
As a condition under direct control of the school district and state, the physical building setting of a school and its related resources should be considered as much more than merely an institutional backdrop. They should be considered as a potential opportunity to significantly improve teacher working conditions, student learning conditions and student achievement.
In 2001, a survey of public school facilities identified $6.2 billion in current and projected facility needs throughout the state. To assist districts, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction developed their Public School Facilities Guidelines to provide school systems and designers with useful and reliable design information to use as a basis for new schools, additions and renovations. The resource is intended: (1) to serve as a guide in evaluating existing facilities for functional adequacy; (2) to determine facility needs; and (3) to develop sound, long-range building plans.
On the national level, schools on the cutting edge of the reform movement in facilities and resource management are creating smaller learning communities; delivering instruction through innovative and emerging technologies; reconsidering and redesigning the traditional school spaces to create smarter designs of teacher working and student learning spaces; and integrating community strengths and resources in partnerships with a wide array of public, civic, and private organizations.
What the Toolkit Provides
The teacher working conditions toolkit presents a series of resources related to promoting school facilities and resources which improve student achievement. Each of the resources was included in part because it fits into the primary criteria for making good decisions about school buildings:
1. Facilities should focus on student learning and achievement
2. Facilities should be flexible
3. Facilities should be responsive
4. Facilities trade-offs and choices should be transparent
5. Facilities provision should be driven by data
6. Facilities should be economically efficient
School and community leaders, as well as policymakers, must realize that successful schools depend on quality school buildings and resources. In order to ensure quality school facilities for our nations’ teachers and students, all education stakeholders should consider:
Providing clean, safe, and well-maintained school environments that promote learning;
Providing more convenient and consistent access to instructional and communication technology;
Ensuring adequate professional space for teachers and paraprofessionals in school facilities; and
Ensuring sufficient access to support personnel
(Tutors, family specialists, mental health professionals, nurses, psychologists and social workers).