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Air Conditioning As Effective School Reform

Air Conditioning As Effective School Reform
Sweaty via Shutterstock

Too hot to think? Just imagine how it must feel to be a student, trapped in a school without air conditioning. Sixth-grade teacher Sara Mosle writes in The New York Times that the intuition that sweltering classrooms hurt academic performance is backed up by her experience–and by science.

Cool schools are critical if we are to boost achievement. Studies show that concentration and cognitive abilities decline substantially after a room reaches 77 or 78 degrees. This is a lesson American businesses learned long ago. As Stan Cox wrote in “Losing Our Cool,” his book on our global dependence on air-conditioning, “The American office is, by definition, a refrigerated workplace.” A pleasant atmosphere leads to more productive employees.

But, as Mosle points out, there’s reason to be skeptical of air conditioning as an educational priority. Specifically: the same massive use of energy that makes it both environmentally and economically unsustainable.

It’s time we introduced not just a Race to the Top but also a Race for the Cool. Let’s create financial incentives to reward schools that find new green solutions for keeping classrooms in the temperate zone. Schools are natural incubators of reform, and the resulting experimentation could become a continuing lesson for children, even part of the national science curriculum.

One place to start could be with the schools singled out by the Department of Education’s program for sustainable schools. Many of this year’s awardees brag about their energy efficiency, like Common Ground High School in New Haven, which uses only geothermal energy for heating and cooling.

The Green Ribbon program is no “Race to the Top,” though. Instead of doling out billions of dollars, they emphasize in their promotional materials: it‘s “a nationwide recognition award not a grant.”SA