California could significantly improve elementary school student attendance and health by increasing the amount of fresh air coming into classrooms, according to the largest U.S. study to date of ventilation rates in classrooms.

Poor ventilation in classrooms is correlated with student absences due to illness, researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found, and they calculated that increasing air flow in all California classrooms to state-mandated ventilation rates may have potentially significant effects: reducing student absences caused by illness by 3.4 percent and, because schools are funded based on average daily attendance, increasing overall state funding to schools by $33 million.

“Our overall findings suggest that, if you increased ventilation rates of classrooms up to the state standard, or even above it, you would get net benefits to schools, to families, to everybody, at very low cost,” Berkeley lab scientist Mark Mendell, lead author of the study, published in the journal Indoor Air, said in a news release. “It’s really a win-win situation.”

The Berkeley Lab scientists collected data from 28 schools in three California school districts in the Central Valley, the Bay Area and the south coast, but the study did not identify the districts. Instrumental to the study were small environmental sensors placed in 162 3rd, 4th and 5th grade classrooms, which allowed researchers to measure carbon dioxide levels as 5-minute averages. The data were transmitted online to the researchers, who compared indoor carbon dioxide levels to estimates of outdoor carbon dioxide levels to calculate ventilation rates.

“Over half of the classrooms studied, including over 95 percent of classrooms in the all-air conditioned Central Valley school district, were supplied with outdoor air at levels below the state standard of 7.1 liters per second per person,” the study said. Ventilation rates measure the amount of outside air brought indoors, whether through natural ventilation, such as open windows, or mechanical ventilation, using ventilation system fans.

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  1. el 5 years ago5 years ago

    So shockingly, the nation is prepared to spend millions or billions on all kinds of unproven schemes to improve student performance - changing curriculum, expensive data analysis on questionable data - but HVAC is just not sexy, I guess, and there isn't that nice feeling of having punished someone, anyone, when you're done. I'd rather have quality HVAC systems in all our schools than Common Core, and I bet it will make more difference in the … Read More

    So shockingly, the nation is prepared to spend millions or billions on all kinds of unproven schemes to improve student performance – changing curriculum, expensive data analysis on questionable data – but HVAC is just not sexy, I guess, and there isn’t that nice feeling of having punished someone, anyone, when you’re done.

    I’d rather have quality HVAC systems in all our schools than Common Core, and I bet it will make more difference in the quality of education, too.

  2. Paul 5 years ago5 years ago

    Oh, don't get me started, navigio! They trusted me to teach algebra to 180+ students, but not to adjust a thermostat. I was reprimanded by the HVAC technician, dispatched after two weeks of 55-degree temperatures in my class in the late fall. I couldn't break into the thermostat cover without damaging it, but I had removed a fluorescent tube from a light fixture positioned right above the movie screen for my document cam/projector. Classified employees' … Read More

    Oh, don’t get me started, navigio! They trusted me to teach algebra to 180+ students, but not to adjust a thermostat. I was reprimanded by the HVAC technician, dispatched after two weeks of 55-degree temperatures in my class in the late fall. I couldn’t break into the thermostat cover without damaging it, but I had removed a fluorescent tube from a light fixture positioned right above the movie screen for my document cam/projector. Classified employees’ work, I was told. Grievable offense, I was told. The funny thing was that the technician — earning more than a teacher through Year 5 — didn’t know how to set the thermostat. I had already downloaded the manual to my computer, but I didn’t tell him, since he and the senior technician could get some extra work hours for coming back.

    In one district where I substituted, the 40-year-old portables had metal “jalousie” louvers instead of windows. Since these were not sealed, outside air came straight through in the winter. The heating unit was not thermostatically controlled. The interface? Turning the circuit breaker on and off throughout the day (a clear code violation, but also electrically dangerous as curcuit breakers are not designed to withstand frequent switching).

    Air circulation definitely matters, and I hope that students, parents and teachers (have your union president put his/her name on the complaint, to protect you from retaliation) will file Williams Act complaints when they encounter inadequately heated, cooled, or ventilated classrooms.

    Lighting intensity and color are other parameters that directly affect learning.

  3. el 5 years ago5 years ago

    I think we dramatically underestimate the importance of a comfortable environment in schools. This is an eye-opening report. But how many schools still have substandard heating systems, or lack air conditioning at all? We wonder why kids aren’t learning and yet we don’t recognize that we expect them (and their teachers) to function in an environment that most professional officeworkers (that we aspire they become) would not be able to tolerate.

    Replies

    • navigio 5 years ago5 years ago

      I think we dramatically underestimate the importance of virtually everything related to what it means to be human and instead focus on the things that benefit our economy. Reports like this make me furious. Not because they exist, but because we seem to need them to in order to think these kinds of things might matter. This quote from the report is disturbing: "Ventilation in portable classrooms has generally, as in this study, been substantially less than in … Read More

      I think we dramatically underestimate the importance of virtually everything related to what it means to be human and instead focus on the things that benefit our economy.

      Reports like this make me furious. Not because they exist, but because we seem to need them to in order to think these kinds of things might matter.

      This quote from the report is disturbing:
      “Ventilation in portable classrooms has generally, as in this study, been substantially less than in permanent buildings (California Air Resources Board, 2004; Godwin and Batterman, 10 2007; Shendell et al., 2004). Portable classrooms in Idaho had median indoor CO2 concentrations of 1590 ppm vs. 670 ppm for permanent classrooms (Shendell et al., 2004).”

      Virtually every school in our district has portables (some for over 30 years now). The ones on our campus dont have a functioning window in them. A third of our kids are in those. Ironically, due to the segregation caused by upper grade white flight, they are mostly minority.

      It was useful to see from the report that there are actually state guidelines for CO2 concentrations. It would be great to understand whether anyone ever bothers to measure those.

      In another school I noticed that they had put paper over all the windows to avoid having the kids’ eyes wander too much outside. That made the windows inoperable.

      who cares anyway though, its just kids. They dont vote, and they surely dont make political donations.

      grrr…

      Regarding functioning air systems, this year, in the middle of winter (granted a so cal winter, but still a pretty cold day) a couple of our classrooms were forced to leave their doors open because it was warmer outside than in the classrooms (A/C was on and controlled from the district office). The opposite has happened in a warmer month (heater on), though at least then the class was able to sit outdoors. Our auditorium hasnt had a functioning heater for as long as I’ve been there (5 years).

      Where is Jonathon Kozol when you need him?

      • el 5 years ago5 years ago

        At least your school has air conditioning.