New research supports what teachers already know: the hotter the temperatures, the less learning happens. While this may not be news to teachers, for the rest of the world that hasn’t experienced hotter than hot classrooms, it’s yet another reason to wake-up to how climate change impacts children’s health. Not only do hot classrooms hurt student health, but also learning suffers. This new study also explores just how harmful hot classrooms are to minority students living in warm climates.
The study, from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, studied 21 million test scores from 10 million high schools, and compared the scores with temperature data. The study found that, “Without air conditioning, each 1° F increase in school year temperature reduces the amount learned that year by one percent.” The study noted that schools can mitigate with air conditioning, but considering how many schools struggle to maintain current buildings, school budgets and staffing already, adding air conditioners to every classroom in America that needs one is a major expense. Also, the increased power costs of running these machines will accelerate climate change, especially as the demand for air conditioning rises across the globe.
In addition, the study indicates that those most greatly affected are students of color. According to the report, the rising temperatures in classrooms accounts for up to 13 percent of the US racial achievement gap, because black and Hispanic students live in more warmer climates than white students, and increasing temperatures are more impactful on that population. The study noted, affluent white students are much more likely to live in cooler climates and attend schools with air conditioning.
This is yet another way our educational system makes it much more difficult to succeed as a student of color. If you agree with Nelson Mandela when he said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” then it is imperative that we protect our children’s learning from hot classrooms.
We must consider climate change a public health and educational crisis, and we must take action to reduce it with immediate policy changes. Here’s how:
- Move more schools to renewable energy sources.
- Update school buildings with better ventilation and air conditioning.
- Move toward leveling the playing field for all of our students with equal funding and access to high quality educations.
This new research provides more evidence on how climate change takes a toll on our children, and will continue to if we don’t take action now. Please join us in advocating for climate change legislation and for increased access to high quality learning environments for all students.