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PSN on December 7, 2006 - 10:28am
While conservatives obfuscate their support for No Child Left Behind (see today's Eye on the Right), a much more pressing issue faces America's education system: the state of school buildings and the physical infrastructure. In a new report from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the union surveyed its own members to evaluate the state of school buildings. The result is "Building Minds, Minding Buildings: Turning Crumbling Schools Into Environments for Learning."
The findings are hardly novel -- the Society of Civil Engineers rates America's schools a "D" in terms of infrastructure -- but are still shocking. Problems range from public health threats -- rodent and roach infestations, asbestos, and broken bathrooms -- to pedagogical impediments -- temperature extremes, overcrowding, and dilapidated classrooms.
Even the most talented of teachers and interested of students will struggle in environments that are not conducive to learning. And school buildings that cause long-term health problems for small children because of a lack of investment in public infrastructure are indicative of a society that has become penny-wise and pound-foolish.
The AFT offers a number of proposals for federal, state, and community action to address the problem of school infrastructure, including:
- Provide the Necessary Funding -- While state and federal budget outlooks are not as great as some would have us believe, more funding will have to be secured to address this problem. Earmarking money for school improvements is critical, although on its own, it is not enough.
- Measurement and Accountability for Environmental Factors -- NCLB and other laws place strict demands on teacher certification and administrator accountability, but fail to measure the adequacy of the infrastructure. NCLB and similar laws should be amended to measure schools on a "learning environment index" used when evaluating reasons for performance.
- Craft Standards at the State Level -- Money and accountability are nothing without baselines. State governments should enact rules to require certain standards be met by school facilities -- standards against which progress can be measured and funding can be prioritized.
- Develop Buy-In Through Stakeholder Processes -- Schools are more than learning facilities. Often they are community centers. Many individuals in communities can be made to be stakeholders in school investment if the outreach is done properly.