By T. R. Dunlap

Nobody should underestimate the importance of careful planning when schools engage in any operation or initiative. While many of us are eager to take an idea and run with it, the academic literature and case studies frequently remind us that planning cannot be ignored.  The research has indicated that the quality of a school's site-based plan is crucial to ensure positive implementation outcomes (Strunk, Marsh, Bush-Mecenas, & Duque, 2016), and other planning initiatives are equally invaluable. Whether a school is looking to build, expand, consolidate, or make changes in their operations, is it best to produce a planning document to clearly identify steps and describe the vision to others. Cook (2001) describes the important components in developing effective plans in his book Strategics: beliefs, mission, parameters, strengths, weaknesses, organizational design, competition, external analysis, critical issues, objectives, strategies, and priority actions.  These considerations can act as a template when educational planners begin their work to plan the future of their facility.

Facility planning for schools is a dynamic and challenging venture.  As educational planners, we have to be aware of the many stakeholders and competing interest involved in our planning initiatives. Whether you're an experienced planner or new to the enterprise of facility planning, the Education Facilities Clearinghouse (EFC) has been working to supply you with useful resources for your work. Our library and training tools feature some helpful planning document, and we've produced a video series on the important aspects of facility planning.  Educational facilities planning should include 5 major planning documents: educational facilities master plan, capital improvement plan, maintenance plan, energy and environmental management plan, and a safety and emergency operations plan.  To learn more watch the first video in our series on Education Facilities Planning.

To view the entire series, click here.

State and federal mandates for school systems require us to develop meaningful plans to establish vision and direction and demonstrate accountability with those in the community and governing authorities.  Federal mandates have also come with capacity building initiatives to help school leaders create and maintain effective plans.  For example, in light of the demands for schools to be ready in the event of emergency, the federal departments of State, Homeland Security, Justice, and Health and Human Services, along with the FBI and FEMA jointly produced the Guide for Developing High-Quality School Emergency Operations Planswhich is housed on the EFC website, to help schools establish a planning protocol and develop meaningful planning documents.  Similarly, the EFC has also been established by a federal grant to supply schools with technical assistance as school leaders begin and operate in the planning process.  As your school has need of help in planning activities, keep in mind the many resources that are available.

For additional planning resources, click here.

 

References

Cook, W. J. (2000). Strategics: the art and science of holistic strategy. Westport, Conn.: Quorum Books.

Strunk, K. O., Marsh, J. A., Bush-Mecenas, S. C., & Duque, M. R. (2016). The best laid plans an examination of school plan quality and implementation in a school improvement initiative. Educational Administration Quarterly, 52(2), 259–309.

By Art Stellar, Ph.D.

Many school districts have deteriorating school buildings. Most have unmet needs for major renovations and repairs. The reason these situations are left unaddressed is lack of funds. Regular operating budgets have little in preventive maintenance or repair accounts except for the gravest occurrences. Capital budgets pay off old bond issues or adhere to one significant issue at a time. States rarely provide funding for school buildings and then usually on a reimbursement basis. It can take two years to clearly articulate building needs and to generate sufficient local public support to pass a new bond referendum.

A good source of funds for school renovations is Qualified Zone Academy Bonds (QZAB). Yet, very few school administrators or officials know about QZAB. This includes school facility directors, business managers, bond attorneys, and school board members. This brief article provides an overview of QZAB and how QZAB can resolve lingering or anticipated school facility needs.

What is QZAB?                                                                                                                                                                    

QZAB is a zero interest, 25-year loan program US Congress has authorized since 1998 at $400 million per year for K-12 public schools. Early in 2016 there was a billion dollars available in the United States for eligible schools. The US Treasury Department determines the allocation of these funds to each state based upon a formula related to total population and income levels. To see your state’s allocations, visit www.qzab.org

Interested schools apply to their state departments of education who make decisions to allocate no interest QZAB funds to schools within their state. Usually the process is “first come, first served”, although some states have other procedures. Charter schools are generally eligible, if they meet the criteria.

The states issue approval letters, which can be used by the receiving school districts to sell bonds at the amounts specified. The school districts pay no interest on these bonds and, except for a couple of states, do not have to go to a public vote to “cash in” on the approval letters.

The sale of the bonds produces the actual QZAB funds for the school district. These funds have to be spent within three years of the issuance of the approval letter, although there are a few exceptions for less than three years depending on when the approval was conveyed.

The Federal Government offers tax credits to the institutions or individuals who purchase the QZAB bonds. The amount of the tax credit varies according to the overall bond market, but is typically worth between 4 to 5% of the bond and good for 25 years as a reduction of Federal taxes owed. These credits can be rolled over to future years and/or sold; hence, there is an important economic benefit to the buyer of the bonds.

Schools that gain approval of the QZAB bonds experience a real advantage of QZAB in their ability to issue no interest bonds. While schools pay different rates for bonds depending upon a variety of factors, most school districts are paying close to 5% interest on current bonds. Over the course of 25 years, a five percent interest charge can double the amount the school district pays. (Think of your 30-year home mortgage in which you pay 5 times the cost of your home by the time the mortgage is paid.) Also, due to inflation, the bonds are paid off with money that is worth less each year than the previous year. No interest bonds such as QZAB are like having “free money” since only the principal is paid.

Eligibility

A school must have 35% or more students on free/reduced meals or the reasonable expectation that there will be 35% to be eligible for QZAB funds. The “QZ” stands for Qualified Zone, which can also be a federally defined enterprise zone; however, the simplest means of determining eligibility is to identify those schools that meet the 35% or more free and reduced student criteria.

Use of Funds

The proceeds of the QZAB bonds can be used for these categories: facilities renovation, energy efficiency, curriculum, teacher training, technology, equipment, renewable energy, and/or academy expenses. QZAB funds cannot be used for buying land or for building new buildings. QZAB funds, however, can be used to cover interior and exterior costs, once the shell of a new building is paid for with other funds.

QZAB funds can be utilized to replace/repair roofs, windows, parking lots, physical education facilities, lighting systems, furnaces, plumbing, electrical work, air conditioning, etc. Security systems can be added. Technology can be purchased. Solar panels, wind generators, or geothermal units are all legitimate expenses. (For a complete list, contact me at artstellar@yahoo.com and ask for a planning guide).

A few states have peculiar biases or restrictions regarding the use of QZAB funds for certain kinds of technology, school buses, or what can be purchased for the academy. Contact someone with expertise and practical QZAB experience to confirm specific qualifications for the federal and state governments.

Required Federal Mandates (2 main requirements)

Some school districts do not pursue QZAB funds because they do not know how to meet the requirements. A vendor, who may attempt to sell a district bonds without mentioning requirements or deemphasizing them, has misinformed some districts. A few districts ignore or forget about federal mandates. State department personnel may overlook them due to being unaware or lack of attention to detail. There are federal legal requirements, however, which can get a district in trouble with the IRS when that agency audits a district’s spent QZAB funds.

It is not difficult to comply with the mandates, especially if a district uses a QZAB experienced nonprofit like the nonprofit National Education Foundation.

1) 10% Match Donation from a business or nonprofit of the total QZAB requested/approved. There are a variety of ways to meet this requirement, but the district has to document that the match is real and worthy of meeting at least ten percent of the total QZAB amount approved. The easiest method is to have a cash donation(s) or a donation from an organization that has already completed the research, like the nonprofit National Education Foundation, to justify to the IRS the value of the match donation.

2) Develop a NEW QZAB Academy for students designed and/or implemented in cooperation with the designated match partner to “better prepare students for college and workforce.” The “A” in QZAB stands for Academy which makes it hard to understand how some QZAB applications omit this key component or others involved in the process fail to notice when there is no academy. The IRS will hold the district responsible for this mandate.

The academy has to be NEW and not something the district has already been doing. An existing educational program will not be considered an academy just because it has been labeled an academy.

The term academy was not definitively defined when Congress originally approved QZAB. There does have to be an academy plan in place for any school site where QZAB funds are to be spent. The overall academy plan must be consistent with local, state, and Federal standards and curriculum. More states are including statements in their QZAB applications that make the academy a concrete educational program. A QZAB academy must be an observable and reasonable learning venture that meets the mission embedded in the QZAB legislation. Without an academy at a school site, QZAB funds cannot be spent there.

If a district is interested, it would be beneficial to research and make official inquiries as to the regulations as QZAB is often a funding source that is overlooked. Please visit the QZAB website to learn more. www.qzab.org

Summary

The QZAB or Qualified Zone Academy Bond program is a source hidden or unknown by most school officials. Fortunately, it is not as complex as it first may appear. QZAB is an excellent source of funds to address needed building renovations. At the same time a savvy school district can apply QZAB funds—matching and/or the bond proceeds directly—to establish a productive educational academy to raise student achievement. The key is to either intensively study QZAB or collaborate with a knowledgeable and experienced partner.

Dr. Art Stellar is Vice-President of the nonprofit National Education Foundation where he has assisted school administrators across the country in acquiring QZAB approval for over $120 million with at least that much currently in the pipeline. He served as a widely recognized superintendent for 25 years, as well as working for Renaissance Learning and leading the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation as president/CEO. He has served as president of ASCD, The Horace Mann League, and the North American Chapter of the World Council of Curriculum and Instruction; vice-president of the New York state PTA; and Chairman of the Board of Directors for the National Dropout Prevention Network and Center.

by Angel Ford, Ed.D.

In previous blogs, I have frequently discussed the inequities of school building conditions across America. This blog will also talk about those inequities in light of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Let’s start by examining what ESSA states about educational facilities.

A search of the ESSA bill reveals very few mentions of school facilities. Charter school facilities are mentioned a number of times as well as the school facilities for students residing on Native American reservations. There is a mention of facility management in the context of community schools, and we also learn from the bill how federal dollars will be allocated for technology upgrades in schools, but these funds cannot be used to retrofit the built environment to accommodate improved technology. Beyond these considerations, there is no comprehensive plan to address school facilities.

While ESSA does not directly address the inequities of school building conditions, U.S. Secretary of Education John King repeatedly makes a clarion call for equity in education. Mr. King has emphasized that ESSA can be used to achieve equitable outcomes. However, there is little clarity from reading the actual bill to indicate how ESSA will approach facility conditions for all students. School facilities are a key element of this country’s educational infrastructure, and yet, the condition of school buildings and classrooms are very inequitable. Over half of the school buildings are in need of repair to even be considered in satisfactory condition (NCES, 2014).

In his address to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Secretary King (2016a) stated that many students still have “less access to the resources necessary to thrive.” Although, at the time, he did not discuss directly the built environment, evidence suggests that adequate school building conditions and design are a crucial resource for all students. Secretary King (2016b) has also said, “persistent opportunity gaps undermine equality.” I couldn’t agree more! I would like to challenge education stakeholders to think about the unequal condition of our school buildings as a contributing factor that causes opportunity gaps.

Tanner (2015) conducted a meta-analysis of dissertations related to the effects of educational facilities. This study examined how school facilities correlate with student outcomes. He found that many factors of the built learning environment have statistically significantly relationships with student outcomes. These building factors include, but are not limited to, the quality and availability of natural light; design aspects such as quiet spaces, display spaces, green spaces, and storage spaces; climate control; and the overall condition of the school building.

Under ESSA, each state’s department of education will determine its implementation of the law, and every state will need to examine whether or not they are meeting the call for greater equity in education. Those of us concerned with the state of school facilities should make a strong effort to increase awareness that the conditions of physical learning environments are a sign of equitable treatment of students. Whereas ESSA doesn’t discuss facility conditions directly, the legislation does promote equity, and we know that school building conditions are not equitable currently. Now the remedy for this situation is at the state level, and we should let our local state representatives know that facility improvements are an educational priority.

Resources

National Center for Education Statistics. (2014). Condition of America’s public school facilities. Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2014/2014022.pdf

Tanner, C. K. (2015). Effects of school architectural designs on students’ accomplishments: An meta-‐analysis.  Education Facilities Clearinghouse.

King, J. (2016a). Remarks Before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on the Nomination of Dr. John B. King Jr., to serve as Education Secretary. Retrieved from http://www.ed.gov/news/speeches

King, J. (2016b). What we ought to be: Educational opportunity, civil rights and the Every Student Succeeds Act. Retrieved from http://www.ed.gov/news/speeches

Dr. Angel Ford is a research associate with Education Facilities Clearinghouse (EFC).  Dr. Ford has previous experience working as a middle/high school administrator and actively participates in research and content management of the EFC website.

By: Dr. G. Victor Hellman, Jr.

Green buildings, green cleaning, school gardens, and green playgrounds are just a few of the prevalent concepts on the mind of education facility planners and many educational administrators. Just what is this green movement all about? How does a school or a district go green? Is there a checklist that lets an administrator know they have reached the goal of a green school? The simple answer to these questions is that a school or district can do as little or as much as they desire. What is important is that they do something. We all must work together to take steps for a greener school. The terms “green” and “sustainability” are often used interchangeably, and these words imply the need for focusing on conserving resources and creating healthy environments for everyone. Green and sustainable facilities typically have lower life-cycle costs and can demonstrate that they are more energy efficient than their non-green counterparts. Lets examine some of the different ways a school or division can go green.

One way a school or division can go green is to construct facilities that are high performing and sustainable or renovate older facilities to bring them up to standard. The United States Green Building Council (USGBC) is not the only organization that recognizes sustainable facilities; however, it is probably the most widely known. The USGBC has established LEED awards for facilities that are considered high performing and sustainable. LEED is an acronym for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. While a commitment to a high performance building starts with the owner, it is the design team that includes the components into the new construction or renovation plan to qualify the facility for LEED. There are differing levels of LEED certification depending upon the number of features incorporated into the site and facility. The USGBC recognizes four different levels of LEED: certified, silver, gold, and platinum. The ratings are based on a point system, and facility owners should decide which level of certification they desire before the design or retrofit process begins. While LEED certification may result in higher design and construction costs, incorporating LEED features into a facility will ultimately lower the operational costs over the life of the building. For more information on LEED certification or the USGBC, please visit http://www.usgbc.org/leed .

Another tool to assist in going green is green cleaning. Green cleaning differs from traditional cleaning methods with regard to the solutions and equipment that are used to carry out the cleaning process. The green cleaning process does not utilize toxic chemical-based solutions that have often been used. These cleaning methods have been replaced with solutions such as ionized water. Mops and towels have been replaced with their micro-fiber counterparts. Higher costs and lower efficacy were once cited as reasons not to engage in the green cleaning process. As the solutions and equipment for green cleaning have advanced, these arguments are no longer valid. With the increased efficacy and the minimum or cost-neutral impact of green cleaning, this form of cleaning is something that every school and district should consider. In addition to these considerations, green cleaning is an environmentally friendly alternative to the caustic chemicals used in traditional methods of cleaning. By eliminating the chemical-based cleaners that have been used in the past, there has been a noted decrease in absenteeism from both students and staff. (Issa, Rankin, et.al., 2011)  Just as the decision to construct a high performing building rests with the owner, support from the top down to the custodial staff is essential to develop an effective, sustained green cleaning program. For more information on how to initiate a green cleaning program in your school or division, please visit: http://www.efc.gwu.edu//green-cleaning-series/ .

The final consideration for greening a school (although many more exist) that I will put forward is greening the school playground and/or installing an outdoor school garden. Greening the school playground will often incorporate a school garden, so we will discuss them together. One technique to create a green playground is to eliminate the concrete and asphalt and replace the surfaces with artificial turf or a similar product. Another greening method is called a natural playground. Natural playgrounds integrate features such as trees, bushes, and raised flowerbeds with slides, swings, and benches. Natural playgrounds have resulted in a decrease in violent behavior and an increase in attention (Loomis, 2008).  A school garden can be beneficial for the instructional curriculum as well as having positive effects in improving other site features such as drainage. Finally, schools that have gardens often use the food they grow in their food service program and can even utilize the crops as a source of revenue.

The United States Department of Education also recognizes the advantages of a school or division going green. On July 20, 2016, the Center for Green Schools and the USGBC recognized 47 schools and 15 districts for their outstanding efforts to go green. In addition to the K-12 honorees, 11 colleges and universities were honored with the Postsecondary Sustainability Award. I had the honor of attending the awards ceremony, and would submit to you that those receiving the awards did not go green for the award; instead they took their actions knowing that they were making a positive impact on our environment and reaping the many benefits of going green for their school community.

References:

Issa, M. H., Rankin, J. H., Attalla, M., & Christian, A. J. (2011). Absenteeism, performance and occupant satisfaction with the indoor environment of green toronto schools. Indoor and Built Environment20(5), 511-523.

Loomis, A. (2008). Natural Playgrounds. Sustainable Portland: Implementation Series, 49.

Dr. G. Victor Hellman, Jr., serves as the Research Project Director for the Education Facilities Clearinghouse (EFC). Victor has more than 31 years of work experience in public schools in Virginia. Prior to joining the EFC, he served as Deputy Superintendent of Operations and Support for a mid-urban school district. In that role, he was responsible for finance, facilities, transportation, student services, and food services.

 

by Angel Ford, EdD

Finnish students are excelling academically; in fact, they are passing students in most other nations.  This has not always been the case, however.  Over the past forty years Finland has made great strides to equalize and expand opportunities for their students, empowering them to become some of the top-performing students in the world.

A question we should be asking in America is: What types of educational reform did Finland institute in order to see the marked improvement in student achievement?  The answer is multifaceted and includes improved curriculum quality, increased access, and efforts to support the quality of instruction (Darling-Hammond, 2010).  However, the area of Finland’s reform I would like to highlight is that of improving the physical learning environments where their students learn.

Sparks (2012) explained that Finnish architects developed school building models based on evidence of effective learning spaces.  The architects focused on aspects of the built environment that motivate students and encourage learning.  These designs moved away from factory-style buildings with traditional classrooms to “contemporary campuses built to meet the pedagogical and social needs of their students and teachers” (Sparks, 2012).

Not only did the architects study and apply best practices in designing learning environments, they also worked in direct collaboration with teachers and administrators (Sparks, 2012).  Their designs included clusters of classrooms, areas to view the outside, appropriate lighting, and other building features that have been shown to improve student achievement and well-being.

Sparks (2012) stated that visitors to Finland would see beautifully designed, well-constructed, and thoroughly maintained buildings.  How would visitors to school buildings in American describe what they see?  Some of our schools could be described as attractive state-of-the-art buildings equipped with modern technology; unfortunately, many other schools would be described as drab, run-down buildings without even the basic resources necessary for 21st century learning.

What are we saying to students who attend school in dilapidated buildings?  Are we implying that their education is not important?  Or, are we letting them know that we are only fulfilling an obligation to provide four walls to house them for a certain number of hours every day?

Let’s learn from Finland, and let’s begin to equalize and expand the opportunities our students have by designing and retrofitting the places where they learn based on best practices and solid evidence of effective building designs.  The access students have to clean, well-maintained, and thoughtfully designed learning spaces should not be based on their socio-economic status or where they live in America.  Students from rural communities, students from urban communities and students from the suburbs should all have access to learning spaces that promote healthy living and that help them stay motivated to learn.

References

Darling-Hammond, L. (2010). What we can learn from Finland’s successful school reform. National Education Association. Retrieved from http://www.nea.org/home/40991.htm

Sparks, S. (2012). Finland rethinks factory-style school buildings. Education Week. Retrieved from http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2012/07/06/36finland.h31.html

Dr. Angel Ford is a research associate with Education Facilities Clearinghouse (EFC).  Dr. Ford has previous experience working as a middle/high school administrator and actively participates in research and content management of the EFC website.

T. R. Dunlap

Conversations on the development of 21st century learning spaces highlight the important role of planning in creating environments that maximize student learning. School systems across our nation routinely develop multiple types of plans—strategic plans, site-based plans, school improvement plans, capital improvement plans, and short-term planning initiatives. Planning is a crucial element for the success of any school system, and careful planning for flexible, innovative, and effective classrooms is imperative.

There are many important components in developing effective plans: beliefs, mission, parameters, strengths, weaknesses, organizational design, competition, external analysis, critical issues, objectives, strategies, and priority actions (Cook, 2001). As educational planners consider 21st century learning environments, they must remember that these spaces are instrumental in carrying forward the values and purposes of the community and district. Educational planning does have its challenges: inadequate funding, lack of commitment, and the inflexible nature of plans (Hambright & Diamantes, 2004). However, where plans are thoughtfully designed and carefully implemented, students, parents, teachers, and school leaders see numerous positive effects.

Many in the education sector would identify 21st century learning spaces as a planning priority for school systems. While districts devote great energy in developing high quality plans, the particulars of classroom design are often left to the site-based plans of individual schools. We know that the quality of a site-based plan can lead to positive implementation outcomes (Strunk, Marsh, Bush-Mecenas, & Duque, 2016). Consequently, planning for 21st century learning spaces must be a priority in our carefully crafted site-based plans. Planning for 21st century learning spaces must incorporate a number of considerations, especially the instructional aims of teachers.

Creating effective 21st century learning spaces that support a wide-range of instructional practices requires a great deal of foresight, deliberation, and action. We must look at what teachers are doing (or want to do) in their instructional spaces and design or retrofit classrooms to accommodate these teaching strategies. Many instructional options today are dependent on spaces such as outdoor classrooms, makerspaces, and multipurpose rooms. Teachers rely on access to technology, and they should be able to arrange their spaces in numerous configurations to support their instruction. Therefore, educational planners must consider the number of instructional approaches teachers utilize when developing facility plans for districts and schools. Ultimately, our purpose for developing 21st century learning spaces is to impact positively learning outcomes for students.

Schools have a tremendous opportunity to demonstrate a commitment to developing learning spaces that support the many needs of students and teachers. Accordingly, the need to develop 21st century learning spaces in a school’s planning process should not be ignored.

 

References:

Cook, W. J. (2000). Strategics: the art and science of holistic strategy. Westport, Conn.: Quorum Books.

Hambright, G., & Diamantes, T. (2004). Definitions, Benefits, and Barriers of K-12 Educational Strategic Planning. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 31(3), 233–239.

Strunk, K. O., Marsh, J. A., Bush-Mecenas, S. C., & Duque, M. R. (2016). The Best Laid Plans An Examination of School Plan Quality and Implementation in a School Improvement Initiative. Educational Administration Quarterly, 52(2), 259–309.

 

T. R. Dunlap is a research associate for the George Washington University in the Education Facilities Clearinghouse. After having worked as a foreign language educator, he now researches topics relevant to education facilities and their improvements.

by Angel Ford, EdD

U.S. Secretary of Education John King wants equity emphasized as ESSA (the Every Student Succeeds Act) is implemented. ESSA is intended to increase funding and access to early learning programs. Improved access to early learning and King’s desire for equity go well together well. Evidence is plentiful that children who participate in high-quality preschool programs have better outcomes compared to children who do not have this opportunity (ED, 2015). It is also well established that not all preschool aged children have access to programs, therefore access is definitely not equitable (ED, 2015).

Currently only 41% of children are attending publicly funded preschool (ED, 2015). Sure, some families choose to keep these young children at home or place them in private establishments, but a significant number simply do not have access (ED, 2015). Even though ESSA may not address directly the facilities in which early learning takes place, these spaces are important to consider when discussing early learning programs.

First, we could ask: Are some schools not offering preschool because they don’t have adequate space to accommodate an early learning program? Second, for those schools that “make do” or house the preschoolers in standard traditional classrooms we could ask: Do these learning spaces place restrictions on instruction and large motor skill development activities because the original design was for lecture based instruction? Equitable early learning programs need to be housed in appropriate spaces, and, furthermore, the design and condition of these early learning spaces matter!

In a number of my past blogs, I have highlighted the inequities of school building conditions and the opportunity gaps these disparities create for students. In this blog, I would like to expound on this idea by adding to the conversation the condition of the spaces in which early learning takes place. Evidence shows a link between the quality of the learning spaces and the quality of the preschool programs (Arthur, Larson, Gillman & Sussman, 2006), and popular child development specialists such as Piaget and Montessori emphasized the importance of the physical learning spaces of preschoolers (Acer, Gözen, Fırat, Kefeli, & Aslan, 2016). Early learning spaces that are not designed and maintained specifically with best practices in mind could have elements that distract the students either emotionally or cognitively, causing them to be less able to concentrate on the learning processes in which the educators are trying to engage them (Arndt, 2012).

For now, I will just state that the physical learning spaces in which our youngest students attend should be designed or renovated in such a way to provide the best possible environment for these early learners. Learning spaces that are designed or redesigned to meet the needs of preschoolers can have a positive effect on their development and success (Acer et al., 2016). Specific examples of appropriately designed learning spaces will not be provided here, but may be discussed in future blogs. As ESSA increases funding for early childhood education, contemplations should take place about best-built environments. Less fortunate preschoolers should not have to attend dirty, ill-equipped, run-down buildings that may not have been created for such use, while more fortunate preschoolers are able to attend beautiful, clean, and well-resourced centers.

I am not suggesting that the physical environment should be the only focus, as the qualification of the teachers, the effectiveness of the curriculum, and other factors, play critical roles. What I am suggesting is that if we do not consider also the physical learning environments, an important part of the equation is being left out. The places where preschool students learn is one important variable that cannot be overlooked when establishing and expanding early learning education across the nation.

References

Acer, D., Gözen, G., Fırat, Z. S., Kefeli, H., and Aslan, B. (2016). Effects of a redesigned classroom on play behaviour among preschool children. Early Child Development and Care, 1-18.

Arndt, P. A. (2012). Design of learning spaces: Emotional and cognitive effects of learning environments in relation to child development. Mind, Brain, and Education6(1), 41-48.

United States Department of Education (ED). (2015). A matter of equity: Preschool in America.

Dr. Angel Ford is a research associate with Education Facilities Clearinghouse (EFC).  Dr. Ford has previous experience working as a middle/high school administrator and actively participates in research and content management of the EFC website.

 

 

 

The Education Facilities Clearinghouse is holding two webinars this month that you will not want to miss. The EFC has made a number of national presentations on important topics facing public schools and universities. This month, we are offering these trainings to our many website users at no cost. Mark your calendars for these important events.

Join us Thursday, June 16th at 3:00 PM EDT for an important online workshop, Developing Strategic Partnerships. Current education research has shown that community partnerships help to improve student achievement, health, and transitions to higher education. However, many districts and schools have difficulty in developing strong, sustainable partnerships with community members. In this webinar, we will show how you can use your school facility to create and enhance relationships with your community, and we will discuss how these partnerships can revolutionize your school.

We also hope to see you Thursday, June 30th at 3:00 PM EDT for the webinar Creating the 21st Century Learning Environments. K-12 education is currently undergoing revitalization and emerging teaching and learning models are pushing the boundaries of traditional conceptualizations of the classroom. Parents, teachers, administrators, and researchers are increasingly concerned with this question: What does the 21st century classroom look like? This webinar will explore the latest trends in education research and discuss how emerging instructional practices are changing how we think of learning spaces.

Register below to participate in these webinars, and we will contact you with further details.  See you soon!

 

Fill out my online form.
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By Dr. Linda Lemasters

On December 2, 2015, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services issued a summary report on safe and unsafe blood lead levels in the children of Flint, Michigan.  Children with elevated lead levels more than doubled after a change in water sources.  At some point in Flint’s very public discussion, school leaders, teachers, and parents began to ask questions about the safety of the water supply in the schools their children attend.  Alas, the data were not as one would hope; the Flint situation should be a wake-up call for facility managers of schools, daycares, and other public buildings children frequent across the U.S.

There are schools across the nation that must test for lead levels and other toxins, poisons, and bacteria in the water.  Those are schools not on public access water supplies.  Schools, however, on municipal and other public water lines are not required to test their water.  This inconsistency leaves many children at risk, especially in older buildings or in situations in which water is used only sporadically and sits for long periods of time in the older pipes.

Just what are the risks of lead tainted water supplies?  Dr. Jay Schneider, a neuroscientist at Thomas Jefferson University, very clearly laid out the risks of lead consumption by children in an article in Popular Science by Alexandra Ossola:

One thing is constant, however:  lead is toxic, and if it makes its way into the still-developing brains of young children, many of the effects can be permanent.  Lead can change how signals are passed within the brain, how memories are stored, even how cells get their energy, resulting in life-long learning disabilities, behavioral problems, and lower IQs.  (Schneider, in Ossola, 2016)

As we learn more about lead and its effects on the brain, even down to these molecular levels, if anything it’s even more dangerous than we thought.  It can really change the programming of the brain, which will have considerable effects on subsequent behavioral and brain function.  (Schneider, in Ossola, 2016)

While I do not want to sound an alarm—I believe that has been accomplished by others—I do want to bring two questions to the reader’s attention:

  1. How do we go about getting water tested in all schools across the U.S., no matter what the water source is?
  2. What research plans do we have to find solutions for the children who already have experienced lead poisoning?

The first question seems simple enough.  The testing of water sources is relatively inexpensive, with little training required for the person obtaining the samples.  Even without federal and state requirements to test water, localities should be able to finance such tests.  Testing does expose another question as well.  Are many of the schools and facilities that would tend to have lead problems in the poorer neighborhoods and communities?

According to the research (Waxman & Thompson, 2016), counties reporting in 2014 on at least 1,000 children with poverty rates at or above the national average, 5% or more of these children had elevated blood lead levels.  With only 26 states reporting, 47 counties have the same problems as Flint.  This research reveals that the problem is more prevalent in poorer communities and the exposure is at astonishing rates.  Advocates for funding lead testing need to be found from private sources or the states.  Lead testing also may be a burden that more fiscally able communities could share.

Much of the research supports the idea that there is some level of danger of lead consumption by children, especially those children with nutritional deficiencies.  The research on the harmful levels of lead in children, however, is mixed at best, with the experts often disagreeing.  Some researchers contend there are no negative effects of low level, short-term lead exposure on children.  Other studies found that there are mental difficulties experienced by children, with little hope of solutions for the pediatric difficulties.  In addition, it is often difficult for researchers to separate and control the variables for research, which would provide significant results one way or the other.

This brings us to the second question.  What research plans do we have to find solutions for the children who already have experienced lead poisoning?  By way of this blog, I am calling on researchers and funding sources to consider this as a priority.  Not only should we assure that all children have clean water—at school, at home, wherever they go—we also need to find assistance for those children who already have been exposed.

References:

Hanna-Attisha, M., LaChance, J., Sadler, C., & Schnepp, A. C.  (2016, February). Elevated blood lead levels in children associated with the flint drinking water crisis:  A spatial analysis of risk and public health response.  American Journal of Public Health Research, 106(2), pp. 283-290.  Downloaded on May 23, 2016 from http://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/pdf/10.2105/AJPH.2015.303003

Ossola, A. (2016, May 17).  Lead in Water:  What are the health effects and dangers?  The water in Flint, Michigan could affect children permanently.  Popular Science. Downloaded on May 17, 2016 from http://www.popsci.com/lead-water-what-are-health-effects-dangers

Seewer, J. (2016, April 9). Water with unsafe lead amounts found in hundreds of schools. AP, The Big Story.  Downloaded on May 17, 2016 from http://bigstory.ap.org/article/7ba3df3a85df46ed9c8feeaa1bf14c4f/water-unsafe-lead-amounts-found-hundreds-schools

Shell, E. R. (2016, March 22).  Flint’s lead-laced water may not cause permanent brain damage in children. Scientific American.  Downloaded May 17, 2016 from http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/flint-s-lead-tainted-water-may-not-cause-permanent-brain-damage/

Taking Action of Flint Water.  Downloaded on May 17, 2016 from http://www.michigan.gov/documents/snyder/FWATF_FINAL_REPORT_21March2016_517805_7.pdf?20160523121255

Waxman, E., & Thompson, M. (2016, April 16).  Poor nutrition leaves kids vulnerable to lead poisoning—no just in Flint.  Urban Wire:  Food and Nutrition.  Downloaded May 18, 2016 from http://www.urban.org/urban-wire/poor-nutrition-leaves-kids-vulnerable-lead-poisoning-and-not-just-flint

More information may be found on the Education Facilities Clearinghouse website:  www.efc.gwu.edu 

Linda Lemasters, Director, Education Facilities Clearinghouse

Linda is an associate professor in the Graduate School of Education and Human Development of The George Washington University.  Her areas of expertise and research include educational planning, facilities management, and women CEOs.  She actively conducts research concerning the effects of the facility on the student and teacher, publishes within her field, and has written or edited numerous books including School Maintenance & Renovation:  Administrator Policies, Practices, and Economics and book chapters including a recent chapter, Places Where Children Play, published July, 2014 in Marketing the Green School:  Form, Function, and the Future.

By T. R. Dunlap

Trends in K-12 classroom design are currently undergoing revitalization as new teaching and learning models become increasingly popular. While many students are still stuck in rows of hard seats that face a board and a teacher, there are current classroom models that integrate time-tested, effective pedagogical practices with more recent trends in education research. Today, popular instructional approaches are serving as a driving force to conceptualize differently the designs of learning environments.

Traditional pedagogies have tended to involve direct instruction—teachers told students what and how to think. Classroom instruction has long employed strategies for listening, memorization, argument, dialectical reasoning, use of analogies, and moral thinking. Pedagogy has been principally a verbal exercise and has long required student to speak and write. Under traditional pedagogical practices, classrooms featured a teacher at the center or in the front of the learning space, a lectern, and rows of seats or desks—the elements of these classrooms were arranged for a teacher-centered instructional method. This model of the learning space has endured, relatively unmodified, for centuries.

By the late 20th century, educators shifted their philosophical approaches to teaching and learning, and they came to emphasize pedagogical methodologies that centered on deconstructionism, collaboration, and critical thinking skills. Consequently, learning spaces were outfitted to promote these instructional approaches. Classrooms would hold moveable desks to form collaboration teams, circular tables to facilitate discussions, and labs for scientific investigation. Learning spaces began to feature technology—perhaps a row of computers at the back of the classroom or a projection systems to display students’ presentations. It is impossible to underestimate how the use of technology fostered changes in how we conceptualize teaching and learning. At this time, the role of the teacher began to take a new shape, as well. Teachers became facilitators of instruction, guides to the curriculum, rather than the soul source of information. The role of the student also changed, becoming more active participants in the learning process.

Now, in the 21st century, conceptualizations of effective instruction have undergone a philosophical shift, again, taking on new identifying characteristics. Today, recent trends in instructional research have revolutionized the education sector, providing new language for teaching methodologies and supplanting old pedagogical practices for new ones. Forces of globalization and an increasing value placed on diversity and inclusion now guide our approach to teaching and learning. The education sector is now dominated by language to describe comparative thinking, design thinking, project-based learning, game-based learning, strength-based learning, personalized learning, collaborative learning, blended learning, kinesthetic learning, and outdoor learning. Our instructional methodologies involve the facilitation of growth mindsets, mindfulness, and reflection. We are routinely introduced to new priorities such as the STEM/STEAM/STREAM evolution, and we find ourselves implemented the newest teaching trends such as flipped learning, maker education, and the emphasis on coding.

As pedagogical practices evolve, we encounter a redefinition of our values, priorities, and conceptualizations of the teaching and learning processes. Today, our instructional trends aim for student outcomes that demonstrate effective communication, bolster abilities to access and analyze information, and promote adaptiveness. Schools today are a community-centered enterprise that fosters students’ physical, social, emotional, and intellectual development through employing the constructive instructional methods.

Now we must ask the question: In light of the many pedagogical development, what should modern learning spaces look like?

In order to approach the question of what modern classrooms should look like, we should consider identifying our instructional priorities, then engaging in a process of brainstorming the classroom features that best facilitate our aims. For example, a list of priorities might determine that classrooms should be safe, comfortable, flexible, and provide students a range of sensory experiences. We would want to develop spaces that allow for individual work, and promote collaboration. Our priorities should entail inclusion of all students, diversity, maximizing opportunities, and student empowerment. As we list our priorities, we can begin the process of developing a list of classroom features that would bring about the kinds of instructional experiences we desire.

 

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The instructional evolution demands a reconceptualization of learning spaces in the 21st century. There are many ways to address remodeling and redesigning classrooms to incorporate effective elements of new pedagogical approaches. Imagine a learning space that promotes the appreciation of cultural diversity with displays of artifacts or live video streams to classrooms abroad. Think about a classroom that offers students opportunities to discuss English literature and philosophy over coffee and tea—just as coffeehouses provide a particular atmosphere for business professionals to converse and collaborate, so too could our students benefit from this type of space. Perhaps a learning space could promote meditation and relaxation with yoga mats and ambient music—students’ physical and emotional health and development would be positively affected by opportunities to disengage from the rigors of curriculum material for times of reflection. Maybe the classroom could be inside of a yurt or wigwam to allow students greater interaction with nature and to make science come alive. Learning spaces could be designed to bolster students’ sleep cycle with circadian lighting throughout the day, or feature a variety of seating options for comfort and to promote positive attitudes toward learning.

There are all sorts of ways we can design and adapt learning spaces to accommodate the changes in instructional research and new pedagogical methodologies. Long gone are the traditional, teacher-centered approaches to student learning. We must now accept that the models for effective pedagogy are multi-faceted and require spaces that allow for and support a plurality of instructional strategies.