Auburn needs a new high school, and we're working through the process to get a new one built. The issues were especially brought to light by our accredidation, which placed us on warning status in the curriculum and program category because of our facility. Also, until recently, we thought we'd have to go it on our own, without state funding.
This led (naturally) to questions from the public about what the connection might be between facilities and learning. Plenty of folks believe that you can throw a tent up in the ball field and teach kids (effectively) there…
So I did a little digging.
Turns out there's strong research on the connection between the quality and condition of a school building and student academic achievement, student behavior, and teacher stress levels.
Key elements that impact learning include natural lighting, noise reduction, heating, cooling, and air quality, and overall conditions, such as maintenance and cleanliness. (Maybe this is why an academically oriented accreditation process examines the state of the facilities…)
Studies have controlled for family factors (such as family background, free and reduced lunch rates, race/ethnicity, attendance, and suspension rates), and found that building condition not only significantly impacted achievement and behavior, but was a stronger predictor of academic achievement than many family background factors and socioeconomic conditions.
Researchers also found that many of the environmental factors that contribute to student learning can be improved with proper building maintenance, construction, or renovations.
See Barnes, R., Chandler, J., Thomsen, B. A Problem Based Learning Project Analyzing State Assessment Instruments Used for School Facilities. pp 32-35 for a summary of the research.