Bendici, R.

Historic schools in Boston, built before World War II, are finally receiving a facelift.

On the other side of the country, Carmel USD in California found that controlling and maintaining lighting in nine sites spread over 600 square miles can save energy and maintenance hours.And a 10-year deferred maintenance plan in Sycamore Community Schools in Cincinnati will ensure that statewide testing will be smooth and glitch-free.

Such projects represent just a fraction of construction work underway across the nation’s schools.

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Ford, 2016

Over half of the school facilities in America are in poor condition. Unsatisfactory school facilities have a negative impact on teaching and learning. The purpose of this correlational study was to identify the relationship between high school science teachers’ perceptions of the school science environment (instructional equipment, demonstration equipment, and physical facilities) and ninth grade students’ attitudes about science through their expressed enjoyment of science, importance of time spent on science, and boredom with science. A sample of 11,523 cases was extracted, after a process of data mining, from a databank of over 24,000 nationally representative ninth graders located throughout the United States. The instrument used to survey these students was part of the High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 (HSLS:2009). The research design was multiple linear regression. The results showed a significant relationship between the science classroom conditions and students’ attitudes. Demonstration equipment and physical facilities were the best predictors of effects on students’ attitudes. Conclusions based on this study and recommendations for future research are made.

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Flores, et al., 2015

It is the major purpose of this study to determine the difference on the attitude between high and low performing Junior Marine Engineering students towards the School facilities and services. Descriptive type of research was utilized in the study. Result showed that the Marine Engineering students are at their best in morning subjects but they don’t care what their schedule is for as long as they finished all subjects on schedule. The low performing students prefer only the teachers do the talking and they like to simply listen to the teachers compared to the high performing students. It is recommended that putting some variety in the usual lecture-demonstration method of teaching into student-centered approach of learning would give better atmosphere of gaining knowledge and comprehension applicable for diverse learning styles of the students.

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By Angel Ford, Ed.D.

In my last blog, Learning Spaces Encourage or Discourage Autonomy Support, I proposed that physical learning environments affect the level of autonomy support that teachers feel and, in turn, the level of autonomy support that teachers are able to provide their students. In this blog, I focus on how the design of the physical learning spaces can affect students’ autonomy.

Here’s a quick recap as to why autonomy supportive learning environments are important. Autonomy is the feeling of being able to make choices about one’s own behavior and it is a key component of intrinsic motivation (Deci & Ryan, 1985). As autonomy increases, intrinsic motivation often increases; therefore, autonomy supportive learning environments are beneficial for increasing student engagement and success.

The question we often ask as educators is: How can we motivate our students? Deci & Flaste (1996) explain, '“The proper question is not, how can people motivate others?” but rather, “how can people create the conditions within which others will motivate themselves?”' (p. 10).   The key question for this blog is: What are obstacles to student autonomy within the physical learning environments?

Unfortunately, schools—like prisons, factories, and hospitals—are often designed and built to enable and encourage a certain level of control (Dovey, 2014). This means that in traditional school buildings educators have to work against the built environment to produce a climate that is autonomy supportive. Evidence is plentiful that the social environment or social climate of a school affects learning. Studies are starting to produce evidence that the physical environment either helps in “facilitating learning and well-being or posing a challenge to them” (Sjöblom, Mälkki, Sandström, & Lonka, 2016).

Not only is the institutional design of school buildings a concern, the rise of security in schools has made the physical environment of schools more prisonlike. The increase of cameras and metal detectors can have a negative affect on students’ perceptions of safety and security (Mallett, 2015). The intention of increasing safety may actually have the opposite affect on how students feel.

In addition to the institution-like design of school buildings and increasing security measures, there are other physical obstacles to creating autonomy supportive learning environments. For example, a teacher who has to teach in a specialized classroom setting such as an auditorium would have to put forth a great deal of effort to overcome the association that students automatically make with that type of space. “An auditorium implies a different positioning and division of roles than a classroom where the desks are organized in groups and the teacher has no central position but is, instead moving around the classroom on a chair” (Sjöblom et al., 2016, p. 21). Other examples of physical environment mismatches of form and function would be “having to work on a group assignment in a silent library hall or endeavoring to understand new theoretical material in a noisy hallway” (Sjöblom et al., 2016, p. 21).

Sjöblom et al., (2016) suggest that issues in the physical environment decrease the ‘cognitive resources’ students can use for learning. Effective teachers work around the physical limitations of their classrooms when possible, but there are times when the design of the spaces dictates pedagogical options. School building design should accommodate an array of learning methodologies in order to allow for the feeling of student autonomy as teachers offer options throughout their teaching.

Mallett (2015) suggests that schools are run like prisons and feel like prisons. Prisons are places where autonomy is purposefully stripped away from inmates. Does the design of the school built environment make students feel more like controlled inmates than students motivated to learn? Studies could be conducted that will help answer this question and other questions about how the physical learning environment can be designed or altered to promote rather than hinder students’ feelings of autonomy.



Deci, E. L., & Flaste, R. (1996). Why we do what we do: Understanding self-motivation. Penguins Books.

Deci, E. & Ryan, R. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York: Pantheon.

Dovey, K. (2014). Framing places: mediating power in built form. Routledge.

Mallett, C. A. (2015). The school-to-prison pipeline: A comprehensive assessment. Springer Publishing Company.

Sjöblom, K., Mälkki, K., Sandström, N., & Lonka, K. (2016). Does Physical Environment Contribute to Basic Psychological Needs? A Self-Determination Theory Perspective on Learning in the Chemistry Laboratory. Frontline Learning Research, 4(1), 17-39.

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 Angel Ford, Ed.D.

A key component of motivation, especially intrinsic motivation, is autonomy (Deci & Ryan, 1985).  Autonomy can be defined as “the ability to think, feel, and make decisions by oneself” (Nunez & Leon, 2015, p. 277).  Evidence shows that autonomy supportive environments that take into account a person’s perspective, allow for choices and exploration, encourage self initiation, and provide rationale for activities are more motivating (Deci, 2012).  Autonomy supportive environments encourage “inner motivational resources” (Nunez & Leon, 2015, p. 277) and creativity (Deci, 2012).

I propose that the physical conditions of classrooms either enhance or restrict the sense teachers have about the autonomy support they receive and the autonomy support they can provide their students.  The condition, design, and layout of classrooms affect teachers’ presentation of materials through allowing for or limiting choices of pedagogy, curriculum design, and usable learning techniques.  Teachers with limited ability to choose how to present material because of physical restrictions within the learning spaces may feel a lack of autonomy support.  It is important that teachers feel support for autonomy because when they do “their students learn in a deeper, more conceptual way.  The students enjoy learning more and they feel more confident and competent about themselves” (Deci, 2012).

Classroom conditions also enhance or limit teachers’ abilities to provide autonomy support to their students.  If teachers don’t have the physical spaces necessary to make choices about how they will teach subjects, they will be unable to pass along choices to their students for engaged self-directed learning.  If we want to promote autonomy and internal motivation among both teachers and students, it may be critical to provide the spaces and resources necessary to allow for more movement and options for different teaching and learning styles.

A teacher may desire to present a unit on geography by using group work and/or project-based learning.  In an ideal situation, the teacher would be able to give students choices about how to research and prepare presentations, i.e. options to use the library, Internet, or resources gleaned from home to create posters, video presentations, or displays of other forms.  This teacher may be unable to offer these options to the students due to a temporarily closed library (because it is being used as a classroom) or the fact that the school’s technology infrastructure does not facilitate video or digital presentations.  This limits the teacher’s choices and the choices offered to the students.  This could be compared to telling a mechanic to fix a car, but not giving her a garage to work in or the tools to complete the repair.

In this hypothetical example, the physical condition of the school discouraged autonomy support.  If these conditions are temporary or only happen infrequently, the valuable lesson of flexibility can be enhanced for both teachers and students as they work around an obstacle.  Unfortunately, that is not the case in many schools around our nation.  In many schools, teachers’ choices are limited each and every day and thus the choices offered to the students are also limited, creating atmospheres that are not as autonomy supportive and motivating as they could be for students.  Deci (2012) suggests that it is more important to create conditions where people can motivate themselves than it is to ask how to motivate them.  He then goes on to say an environment with such conditions is autonomy supportive.

I’m not suggesting that the magic ingredient to make all teachers autonomy supportive is to drop them into the perfectly designed classroom, but I am stating that the physical environment in which they teach has an impact on the level of support they feel for their own autonomy and the level they are able to employ for their students.  The restrictions on teachers’ autonomy in instructional design may be a damaging consequence of poor school conditions or design.  It is not only frustrating, but also a direct deterrent on how teachers can create an environment of autonomy support for learning.


Deci, E. (2012, August, 13). Promoting Motivation, Health and Excellence: Ed Deci at TEDxFlourCity.  Retrieved from

Deci, E. & Ryan, R. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York: Pantheon.

Núñez, J. L., & León, J. (2015). Autonomy Support in the Classroom. European Psychologist.

Rogat, T. K., Witham, S. A., & Chinn, C. A. (2014). Teachers’ autonomy relevant practices within an inquiry-based science curricular context: Extending the range of academically significant autonomy supportive practices. Teachers College Record, 116(7).

Roth, G., & Weinstock, M. (2013). Teachers’ epistemological beliefs as an antecedent of autonomy-supportive teaching. Motivation and Emotion, 37(3), 402-412.

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 Angel Ford

School facility conditions are tied to student attitudes, behaviors, and success, therefore little argument can be raised that school facility upkeep and construction should be a consideration in educational planning and funding decisions. Students in buildings in poor condition perform lower than students in buildings in adequate or exceptional condition. Fortunate or privileged students often attend beautiful, clean, well resourced schools and unfortunate or underprivileged students often attend unattractive, dirty, and even unsafe schools.

In the book Closing the Opportunity Gap: What America Must Do to Give Every Child an Even Chance, Carter and Welner (2013) discuss how closing the opportunity gap would lead to closing the achievement gap. The achievement gap appears in standardized testing, dropout rates, college readiness, and general academic achievement.

Carter and Welner (2013) compile essays from a number of authors tackling the issues of inequity in educational opportunities and link these inequities directly to the achievement gap. The authors of the essays discuss concerns about housing disparities, preschool enrollment disparities, teacher quality disparities, resource disparities, and others. Along this vein, I would like to suggest that the condition of educational facilities be considered as part of the resource disparities and, thus, a part of the opportunity gap.

Over half of the schools in our nation are in need of repairs to be considered in satisfactory condition (NCES, 2014). The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE, 2013) grade American educational facilities with a “D”. This means that a high percentage of students are attending classes in buildings that are subpar and even, in some cases, considered unsafe. Twenty-nine percent of school buildings have safety features in need of repair (NCES, 2014).

Unfortunately, school buildings that are in need of repair are often in the poorest districts, where students already contend with variables predicting lower academic success. Students in poor districts are often those that are lower on the socioeconomic scale, students who are English language learners, students with disabilities, students who are minorities, students who are homeless, or students in foster care (NEA, 2015). The condition of the school buildings they attend appear to be one more challenge against their achievement.

Could improving the places where these less fortunate students learn and equalizing the opportunities that each student has, improve their academic success? I am not saying that improving school buildings would automatically solve the academic achievement gap. Of course, this is an over-simplified solution and many variables need to be considered, but this is one aspect of education in our nation that we know is not equitable and that we know has an impact. We know this from both qualitative and quantitative research, from both a breakdown of isolated variables and a holistic picture. The condition of school facilities should not be ignored when looking at the achievement gap.

Angel Ford is a research associate with Education Facilities Clearinghouse.  Dr. Ford actively participates in research and content management of the EFC website.  

American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). (2013). 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure. Reston, VA: American Society of Civil Engineers. Retrieved from

Carter, P. L., & Welner, K. G. (2013). Closing the opportunity gap: What America must do to give every child an even chance. Oxford University Press.

National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). (2014). Condition of America’s public schools facilities. Retrieved from

Dongying Li, William C. Sullivan.

Previous research has demonstrated positive associations between the greenness of high school land- scapes and school wide academic performance. We do not known, however, if green landscapes cause better performance or if the association between the two is a product of self-selection. If there is a causal relationship, the pathways through which green school landscapes affect student performance remain unclear. We hypothesize that views onto green landscapes help students recover from mental fatigue and stress. To test these hypotheses, we conducted a randomized controlled experiment with 94 high school students at five high schools. Participants were randomly assigned to classrooms without windows or with windows that opened onto a built space or a green space. Participants engaged in typical classroom activities followed by a break in the classroom to which they were assigned. Attentional functioning was measured using Digit Span Forward and Backwards. Physiological stress levels were measured by skin conductance, body temperature, pNN50 (the proportion of the number of pairs of successive NNs that differ by more than 50 ms divided by the total number of NNs) and LF/HF (the ratio between low- frequency peak and high frequency peak). Results demonstrate that classroom views to green landscapes cause significantly better performance on tests of attention and increase student’s recovery from stressful experiences. A lack of mediation effect demonstrates that attention restoration and stress recovery are two distinct processes. Implications for school site selection, design and renovation are discussed.

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A correlation exists between the cleanliness of school facilities and students’ academic achievements, according to a recent study of college students nationwide. The study, Cleanliness and Learning in Higher Education, is based on the five levels of clean identified in APPA's (Association of Higher Education Facilities Officers) Custodial Staffing Guidelines for Educational Facilities.

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