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Discussion Points at Presentation at Academy for Educational Studies conference in San Antonio, TX, March 7-9, 2016

Inequality in school facilities

Unsatisfactory school buildings affect learning

Inequality of facilities and resources contribute to the achievement gap

Equalize facilities and resources and equalize achievement

Inequality Presentation Slides

Travis R. Dunlap and Linda Lemasters.

Outdoor learning is a trending topic in education research, and the benefits of outdoor classrooms are increasingly viewed as indispensable. While it would seem that children in the 21st century spend less time outdoors than previous generations, researchers have reinvigorated conversation on the importance of our children’s relationship to natural environments. Exposure to the natural world is recognized increasingly as an integral component of students’ development and education, and outdoor classrooms are an instrumental way to foster the reconnection of students with nature.


Outdoor learning provides very positive outcomes in the cognitive, physical, and social development of students. Researchers have demonstrated numerous advantages for students’ learning experiences in natural environments. For example, children who have contact with nature tend to score higher on tests involving concentration and self-discipline.[1] A reverse correlation also exists: the lack of a connection to the outside may exacerbate Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) in children.[2] Additionally, the physiological benefits of children’s involvement with nature cannot be ignored. For example, researchers have concluded that exposure to natural light reduces the risk of nearsightedness. Social and psychological benefits also are noted. As an example, when students play in a natural environment, their play is more imaginative, and these children show heightened language skills and greater ability for collaboration.[3] These are just a few of the many advantages of outdoor learning. Consequently, schools around the world are embracing the outdoor classroom model to maximize the related learning and behavior outcomes for students.

View article.


[1] Andrea Faber Taylor and Frances E. Kuo, “Coping with ADD: The Surprising Connection to Green Play Settings,” Environment and Behavior 33, no. 1 (2001): 54–77.

[2] Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder, Updated and Expanded edition (Chapel Hill, N.C: Algonquin Books, 2008), 48.

[3] Robin C. Moore and Herb H. Wong, Natural Learning: The Life of an Environmental Schoolyard. Creating Environments for Rediscovering Nature’s Way of Teaching. (Berkeley, CA: MIG Communications, 1997); Ingunn Fjortoft, “The Natural Environment as a Playground for Children: The Impact of Outdoor Play Activities in Pre-Primary School Children,” Early Childhood Education Journal 29, no. 2 (January 2001): 111–17.


By T. R. Dunlap

The topics of outdoor learning and outdoor classrooms are trending in education conversation and research. Recently, there have been many articles in education and scientific journals as well as in popular magazines and websites on the many reasons schools should embrace outdoor learning. Outdoor learning is increasingly viewed as a powerful way to engage students in the educational experience and to foster a greater appreciation for the natural world. Schools have implemented the development of outdoor classrooms as one approach to embrace outdoor learning for their students. Researchers, educators, administrators, and facility managers are looking into how outdoor classrooms could provide a positive impact on student success. Here are three good reasons why your school should consider investing in an outdoor learning program and the building of an outdoor classroom.

  1. Outdoor Learning Positively Affects Physical Health

The need for and benefits of outdoor learning are frequently discussed in light of perceived health crises among American children. Here are just two examples of physical benefits outdoor learning may offer student.

First, outdoor learning gets students moving. The USA has a gathering storm from the factors of childhood malnutrition, obesity, and lack of physical activity. The average American child spends as few as 30 minutes playing outdoors each day (National Wildlife Federation), and many believe that our children are more inactive and obese than in previous generations. We need to get kids moving! Outdoor learning is a great way to provide students opportunity to move and explore and, hopefully, become healthier.

Second, outdoor learning reconnects kids with the power of ‘solar energy’. The sun has always held benefits for human development and health—of course, one must consider the need for sunscreen and proper hydration for the students. We are all aware of the need for vitamin D, which the sun provides to us naturally. Students who are stuck indoors during the school day can miss out on this very needed health benefit. In addition, natural light can help our kids see well. The natural light one experiences outdoors reduces the risk of nearsightedness. When compared to the lighting of our inside environments, there’s nothing quite like light of the natural world (Nutt, 2014). Outdoor classrooms are one way to capitalize on the physical advantages of outdoor learning.

  1. There are Cognitive Benefits to Outdoor Learning

Recently, there have been a number of articles on how outdoor learning can make kids smarter, improve children’s memory and attention, and even help kids with autism. We now know that children’s awareness, reasoning, and observational skills are improved in their cognitive development with an increased exposure to nature (Pyle, 2002). The cognitive advantage of outdoor learning is seen in academic performance. For example, children who have increased contact with the outdoors score higher on tests of concentration and self-discipline (Wells, 2000; Taylor, Kuo, & Sullivan, 2002). In an age of heightened pressure for student performance, why not consider using outdoor classrooms to bolster student learning and achievement?

  1. Outdoor Learning Helps the Socialization of Students

Finally, researchers have noted that outdoor learning leads to positive outcomes in students’ social development. Some have argued that nature stimulates social interaction between children much more than indoor learning environments (Bixler, Floyd, & Hammit, 2002). When learning outdoors, students work more collaboratively as they explore the natural world together. An outdoor classroom provides opportunities for students to interact and learn in new and different ways, and the social benefits should not be underestimated.

There are many other considerations that should be given to the implementation of outdoor learning programs in our schools, but the most obvious among them are the physical, cognitive, and social benefits of outdoor learning. As your school or district considers investing in or expanding an outdoor classroom, keep in mind the many advantages this type of education facility will have for your students.


T. R. Dunlap is a research assistant for 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.


Bixler, R. D., Floyd, M. E. & Hammitt, W. E. (2002). Environmental socialization: Quantitative tests of the childhood play hypothesis. Environment and Behavior, 34(6), 795-818.

Ellis Nutt, A., ‘Go play outside, kids:’ Natural light reduces risk of nearsightedness in children, scientists say, (2014) The Washington Post Retrieved from

Lieberman G. A., & Hoody, L. L. (1998). Closing the achievement gap: Using the environment as an integrating context for learning. San Diego, Calif: State Education and Environment Roundtable.

National Wildlife Federation, Health benefits (n.d.) Retrieved from

Pyle, R. (2002). Eden in a vacant lot: Special places, species and kids in community of life. Children and Nature: Psychological, Sociocultural and Evolutionary Investigations. Kahn, P.H. and Kellert, S.R. (eds) Cambridge: MIT Press.

Taylor, A. F., Kuo, F.E., & Sullivan, W.C. (2002). Views of nature and self-discipline: evidence from inner city children. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 22, 49-63.

Wells, N. M. (2000). At home with nature, effects of "greenness" on children's cognitive functioning. Environment and Behavior, 32(6), 775-795.



By Allen Rathey, Keith Webb, and E. M. Wallace.

What prompts school facilities to get on board with green cleaning programs? The answers vary. For some the decision may be driven by health impact, environmental stewardship, or simply compliance.

Keith Webb, Executive Director of Plant Services, Newport News Public Schools (NNPS), Newport News, Virginia, is pleased that the NNPS cleaning program, under Custodial Supervisor Marcella Bullock, received the Green Cleaning Award for Schools and Universities’ Grand–level recognition in 2013 (American School & University, 2015), but he admits achieving this green milestone took many years and got its start through the “back door”.

“When I first started in 2007, I did nothing but observe,” Webb notes. “I saw we were overstaffed and using ineffective tools—such as cloth-bag upright vacuums, mop buckets with wringers for hard floor care, and lots of cleaning chemical—so our ‘front door’ focus was on right-sizing, efficiency and leaning operations.”

This meant eliminating about 50 FTEs—through attrition rather than layoffs—and diverting a sizable sum of money to purchase leading-edge equipment and supplies, including:

  • Backpack-style vacuums—Worn by the operator using a mountaineering-style harness balancing the approximate 10-lb. weight on the hips, and clean about two times the space that an upright-vacuum process can in the same amount of time (ISSA, 2015).
  • HEPA-filtered upright vacuums—Newer upright vacuums with proven performance, bodies that do not leak dust and filters that trap fine particles (Carpet and Rug Institute, 2015).
  • Engineered-Water Auto Scrubbers—Cordless, powered, and quiet (‘green-rated’ under 70db) (LEED, 2015) floor cleaning machines that, equipped with an electrolysis system, can generate onboard cleaning solution from facility water supplies, scrub, and dry (vacuum/squeegee) floors much faster than mopping and with better results (ISSA, 2015).
  • Wall-mounted onsite-generated engineered-water solutions—Produce a cleaning and sanitizing solution onsite using electrolysis of tap water for use in sprayers and other applications (Healthy Schools Campaign, 2015).

Embracing ionized water for cleaning reduced the use of harsher cleaning chemicals by 99%. The resultant cost savings on chemicals helped fund movement toward additional sustainable practices, such as purchasing recycled-content paper and other products. Adding a recycling program to reduce waste has saved the district about $120,000 a year in refuse removal costs.

Training was a key component to NNPS’s evolution to a green program. The value of a green mindset was infused while training custodial staff to use new equipment and products and to improve cleaning methods and standards. 100% of NNPS’ facilities reached the APPA Level 2 cleanliness benchmark. The investment in training and accountability has led to enhanced recognition, performance, and professionalism of custodial staff. (Read more about this in EFC’s 9/17/15 blog.)

Over time, Mr. Webb realized NNPS’s cleaning had “gone green” in a large way, albeit accidentally, by redirecting resources to improving department operations, methods and training that at the same time produced a cleaner, safer, and healthier environment. Green cleaning meshes with the values that underpin the work of NNPS’s Plant Services. First, the program supports the academic agenda by keeping the learning environment clean and safe for both students and staff; it also illustrates the value placed on people by creating a safer, more pleasant work environment for employees and providing them opportunities for professional growth.

Whatever the impetus to ‘go green’, Webb advises peers to start with a single innovation, phase in different green approaches over time, and maintain a long view. “Be patient, it takes time. Consider the life cycle return on investments in staff, equipment, and products and don’t just go with the least expensive upfront option.”

Green cleaning is a WIN-WIN for students, staff, schools, community, and the environment. Perhaps it matters less where schools start that journey, but that they do indeed begin to embrace it.


American School & University. (2015). Green Cleaning Award for Schools & Universities. Retrieved from American School & University:

Carpet and Rug Institute. (2015). Seal of Approval for Vacuums. Retrieved from Carpet and Rug Institute:

Healthy Schools Campaign. (2015). Green Clean Schools Leadership Summit. Retrieved from

ISSA. (2015). 612 Cleaning Times. Retrieved from

U.S. Green Building Council. (2015). LEED EBOM Version 4. Retrieved from


Allen Rathey is President of the Healthy Facilities Institute (HFI) and Executive Director of the 501c3 Process Cleaning for Healthy Schools (PC4HS). Call him at 208-724-1508.

Keith Webb is Executive Director of Plant Services for Newport News Public Schools, a 29,000- student school division in southeastern Virginia. In that capacity he oversees construction, renovation, maintenance, energy management and custodial operations of the division’s 72 buildings. A graduate of Virginia Tech, he joined NNPS as Assistant Maintenance Supervisor, eventually rising to his current position.

In 2011 his department earned the prestigious Facility Masters Award at the Platinum level from National School Plant Managers Association in conjunction with the Virginia School Plant Managers Association. In 2012 Keith earned his Educational Facility Professional designation from APPA. In 2013 NNPS received the Grand Award for the greenest cleaning K-12 school division nationally from American School & University magazine and the Healthy Schools Campaign. Facility Cleaning Decisions magazine named him a Manager of Distinction in 2015.

E.M. Wallace is a Research Associate with the Education Facilities Clearinghouse, a program of the George Washington University and the Graduate School of Education and Human Development. She has a background in community health education and enjoys cross-sector work that promotes child health and wellbeing.

By G. Victor Hellman, Jr., Ed.D.

The broader one's understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have. – Steve Jobs

Public school facilities in the United States are at a critical crossroads.  The days of designing and building schools with the traditional double-stacked corridor are fading into history.  Long gone are the single classroom schools where all students assembled for instruction.  Today’s educational vocabulary refers to 21st century learning centers, community schools, school-within-a-school models and virtual schools.  These examples are but a few of the different descriptors used to refer to the facilities that are being built today.  What do these different descriptors mean, and do they appropriately describe facility needs for today’s students?  How do we design facilities to maximize the likelihood that all students will have an equal opportunity to succeed?  It is my contention that a variety of factors should be considered when designing a new learning facility.  Importance should be placed on evidence-based features, and, in addition, careful consideration should be given to the fact that no two children learn in the same way.

The research indicating that school facilities have an effect on achievement and learning outcomes continues to grow.  Likewise, the literature on the deterioration of America’s public schools has expanded.  In an October 2014 report, the Council of the Great City Schools (CGCS) reported that the amount of deferred maintenance for American public schools is between $271 billion and $542 billion depending on if the division uses a 50- or 25-year amortization of the building life cycle.  The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported in 2014 that 53% of public schools were in need of repairs or renovations in order to bring the facilities up to good condition.  Drilling down in the report reveals that 32% of the facilities need to improve window systems; 31% need to improve plumbing systems; 30% need modernizations in heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems (HVAC); 25% need improvements to roofs, interior finishes, and internal communication systems; and, 21% need to improve their technology infrastructure.  With public school facilities in such need, where is the call to action?  How can we expect children to learn when we do not provide them with a facility that meets the basic standards we expect from our workplace or home?

If the research indicates that our public schools are deteriorating, do we not want to spend our limited dollars in the most appropriate areas to ensure all students have an equal opportunity for success?  In a recent meta-analysis commissioned by the Education Facilities Clearinghouse, researcher Kenneth Tanner concluded some important facts for designers to consider when designing or renovating a school facility.  Highlights of his findings indicate:

  • (t)here is a statistically significant link between natural light in classrooms with views and student achievement. (p.29)
  • (s)afety and security measures … have a statistically significant impact on student outcomes. (p. 31)
  • (t)he design family of quiet places and spaces for reflection has a statistically significant influence on student outcomes. (p. 34)
  • (g)reen spaces … have a statistically positive impact on student outcomes. (p. 35)
  • Ample state-of-the-art technology for teachers and students makes a statistically significant contribution to student achievement. (p. 38)
  • The overall impression of a school facility covers all the design patterns … and influences student outcomes significantly. (p. 43)

Tanner’s meta-analysis provides valuable insight for school administrators and designers as they contemplate designs for new facilities and renovations of existing facilities.  Evidence-based designs help ensure that all students will have an equal opportunity to succeed.

Designers also must strive to accommodate differing learning styles and preferences.  Howard Gardner’s research on multiple intelligences and different learning styles helped educators to understand that not all children learn in the same way.  Other differentiated learning style models exist and explain how to optimize learning.  One such model is the Dunn and Dunn learning style model (Rundle, n.d.).  Dunn and Dunn define learning styles as the way individuals learn new and difficult information.  Their model has 28 different elements across five domains.  Learners strongly or moderately can prefer or not prefer an element, or may be in the middle with their preference to an element.  To illustrate how the different elements impact learning style, let’s look at lighting.  Lighting is an element contained within the environmental domain.  Some students prefer brightly lit areas while others prefer soft, dim lighting.  As a designer for a new learning center, consideration must be given to providing spaces that accommodate both of these learning styles.  Students will tend to gravitate to the amount of lighting consistent with their learning style preference.  Areas of bright natural light as well as areas that are not so bright should be available in order to accommodate the variety of learning styles regarding light. Other environmental elements include sound, temperature, and seating.  Similar variety or flexibility of design should be provided for these elements.

This blog has highlighted the declining condition of America’s public schools as well as provided evidence-based factors that should be considered when designing new facilities or renovations.  More importantly, it has provided insight into the multiple learning styles that today’s education facilities must be able to serve.  As previously stated, it does not matter if we call our facility a 21st century learning center, a community school, or a school-within-a-school.  The facility must have design features for all learning styles and incorporate flexible spaces.  Without these design features, we are not giving all students an equal opportunity to succeed.



Council of the Great City Schools (CGCS). (2014). Reversing the cycle of deterioration in the nation’s public school buildings. FacilitiesReport2014.pdf.

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

Rundle, S. (n.d.). Building excellence – effective environments inspire minds to dream more and become more! [PowerPoint Slides]. Retrieved from

Tanner, C. K. (2015). Effects of school architectural designs on students’ accomplishments: a meta-analysis. Retrieved from the Education Facilities Clearinghouse (EFC)


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.

Dr. Michael Bishop, 2015.

“We shape our buildings: thereafter, they shape us.” – Sir Winston Churchill

Every educator has experiences that shape his or her personal and professional opinions about the profession of teaching: the ways in which students learn as well as the optimal conditions that enhance student achievement. As an educator, who worked in both older and brand new facilities, there is a perceptible difference in feeling among students and staff in a new building compared to that noted in an older building. Having worked in three brand new high schools in the Commonwealth of Virginia since 1993, as well as two older high schools, the people working in a new building appear happier, students in a new school generally are on their best behavior, and achievement in a new building can be improved markedly.

The author’s first visit to a new high school (1993) in which he would be employed as an educator resulted in a sense of awe and wonderment at the facility and its design and layout. Similar experiences followed in 2003 and 2006: first as an educator at a new school and then as a member of the administrative team that opened a new high school. In 2010, as the planning principal of Patriot High School located in Nokesville, VA, the opportunity to implement some of the design ideology about furniture, classroom layouts, and student and staff interactions with technology were realized.

Patriot High School was designed by Moseley Architects of Richmond, VA and was designed to hold 2,053 students. Currently, there are 2,750 students enrolled, but that is another story. When I was named as the principal, the enormity of my work was not clear at the time; and in some cases, I had to learn as I went. I had ideas about classroom furniture, technology in the classroom, and the type of staff members I wanted to hire. What I was not prepared for was the process to procure those items, the process to secure their delivery and installation, and the multitude of information that was going to be presented about which I had to make a decision. Things such as the school logo, mascot, school colors, cafeteria furniture, classroom computers and technology, as well as office furniture, file cabinets, and landscaping were all decisions in which I was to be involved.

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By Allen Rathey.

Keith Webb, Executive Director of Plant Services, Newport News Public Schools (NNPS), Newport News, Virginia, oversees construction, renovation, and operations for the district’s 30,000 students, served by 5 early childhood centers, 24 elementary schools, 7 middle schools, 5 high schools, 1 middle/high combination school, and 9 program sites.

NNPS received the 2013 Grand-level Green Cleaning Award for Schools & Universities (Sponsored by American School & University magazine, The Green Cleaning Network and the Healthy Schools Campaign), an accomplishment made possible by the custodial team under the direction of Webb’s Custodial Supervisor, Marcella Bullock (American School & University, 2015).

Their secret?  Invest in people through training to improve life skills and professional skills and to foster improved work quality, program cost-effectiveness, worker retention and upward mobility.

In 2015, this is modeled through a pilot cohort of 15 entry-level workers in a state-approved apprenticeship and certification program under the auspices of Thomas Nelson Community College, featuring Custodial Technician I and II levels, a program customized and developed in-house (Virginia Department of Industry and Labor, 2015; Thomas Nelson Community College, 2015).

Line workers completing the Custodial Technician I program get a 3.5% pay raise after year one, and another 3.5% after completion of Custodial Technician II in year two.  The 7% is in addition to annual raises for all employees.

Building and Keeping the “Seven-Percenters”

“We give beginners an opportunity to attend college for free, so to speak,” noted Webb.  Webb also stated, “Thomas Nelson Community College is the State of Virginia’s representative, requiring syllabi and lesson plans within a state-sanctioned program, and they provide qualified teachers when instructional needs are beyond what NNPS can provide internally.”

Year one courses include math and English proficiency, using computers and the Internet for research, computer management of work orders, green cleaning and, overall, teaching the “behaviors of successful people,” notes Webb.

Annual coursework consists of 144 hours of classroom time, followed by 2,000 hours of fieldwork under the mentoring of custodial leads and/or area supervisors.

Graduates receive a handsome certificate of completion from the Commonwealth of Virginia in addition to “college-attendee” prestige and receive pay incentives based on meeting defined standards.

“We are big on expectations, and we make them clear,” adds Webb.   “The goal is to train and retain workers by building them up personally and professionally, providing attractive pay-raise incentives based on learning and skill milestones, and getting them involved in continuing education as they matriculate out of the two-year program.”

Mr. Webb expects Thomas Nelson Community College to provide continuing education credit opportunities for those who complete the two-year curricula.  “We expect this program will not only improve our green cleaning program and make our schools healthier, but lower our turnover and retraining costs, as 20% of new employee wages go toward getting them trained and prepared,” he notes.

As employees stay longer with better training, they can advance to leadership positions if desired.  Senior-level custodial staff members receive management level training via Cleaning Management Institute’s basic and advanced programs, with bonuses tied to course completion (Cleaning Management Institute, 2015).

When schools invest in a sound learning culture and standardized training becomes embedded, it fosters continuous improvement, personal and professional development for all team members, and improved facility outcomes.  Investment in the custodial workforce improves service and is a key ingredient of making school facilities cleaner, safer, and healthier.

Quick Facts

Apprenticeship Training Program for Custodial Technicians

A partnership between Newport News Public Schools (NNPS), Thomas Nelson Community College, and the Commonwealth of Virginia


Ensure the professional development of the Custodial Services employees by providing relevant education and on-the-job training

Benefits to Custodial Staff

  • Advanced knowledge and skills
  • On-the-job training
  • Industry certification
  • Increased pay for higher level of skills
  • Potential for career advancement

How it Works for Maximum Results

Incorporates classroom and field Instruction, performance monitoring, and financial incentives

  • 144 hours of classroom training per each certificate course – conducted at the local community college, a vocational technical center, or at a NNPS facility
  • 2,000 hours of on-the-job training with a highly skilled mentor
  • Recommendation from a Senior Custodian, Lead Custodian II, and Custodial Area Supervisor
  • Satisfactory performance evaluation
  • 5% salary increase and a title of Custodial Technician I (with a Certificate of Completion) for successful completion of Year 1 program

An additional 3.5% salary increase and a title of Custodial Technician II (with a Certificate of Completion) for successful completion of Year 2 program


  • American School & University. (2015). Green Cleaning Award for Schools & Universities. Retrieved from American School & University:
  • Cleaning Management Institute. (2015). Custodial Technician Training Program. Retrieved from Cleaning Management Institute (CMI):
  • Thomas Nelson Community College (2015). Thomas Nelson Apprenticeships. Retrieved from Thomas Nelson:
  • Virginia Department of Labor and Industry. (2015). Virginia Registered Apprenticeship. Retrieved from

Allen Rathey is President of the Healthy Facilities Institute (HFI) and Executive Director of the 501c3 Process Cleaning for Healthy Schools (PC4HS).  Call him at 208-724-1508.

Keith Webb is Executive Director of Plant Services for Newport News Public Schools, a nearly 30,000-student school division in southeastern Virginia.  In that capacity, he oversees construction, renovation, maintenance, energy management and custodial operations of the division’s 72 buildings.  In 2011 his department earned the prestigious Facility Masters Award at the Platinum level from National School Plant Managers Association in conjunction with the Virginia School Plant Managers Association.  Keith earned his Educational Facility Professional designation from APPA in 2012.  Facility Cleaning Decisions magazine named him a Manager of Distinction in 2015.

By Dr. Linda Lemasters.

While writing the blog last week on the achievement gap, I read a great deal of research on urban education and inner city schools.  Education in rural America is mentioned often as an afterthought.  There is little knowledge of failing schools and children in need across sparsely populated farmlands, mountains, and deserts (Wang, 2014).  A few researchers are very vocal about problems of education reform in rural areas, and suggest more research is needed.  Until that happens there will be a limited awareness of facts and concerns about resources, programs, school buildings, and ultimately achievement in rural schools; and, education reform will be thwarted and limited.  The following are facts about rural education, which can jump-start our discussion:

  • One third of rural American schools have low-income students, low achievement on standardized tests, and low rates for college attendance (Rees, 2014).
  • Rural communities are generally small with a low local tax base, resulting in inadequate funding for schools.
  • Rural schools serve over 40% of U.S. students, yet receive only 22% of federal funding.
  • “. . . Students in rural communities are likelier than their peers to live in poverty and only 27% go on to college” (Rees, 2014).
  • Rural areas suffer a critical shortage of teachers, often employing teachers who are not licensed in the subjects they teach (Wang, 2014).
  • Based on USDoED statistics, reading and math scores in rural districts are as low or lower than those in urban districts (Biddle, 2011).
  • Graduation rates for poor and minority students who attended and/or graduated from rural high schools during the 2005-2006 school year were the same as the urban districts.Based on available research and anecdotal evidence, schools attended by low-income students have major deficiencies compared with those used by their richer peers.  Although there has not been a nation-wide survey for nearly 20 years, available state data suggest there is a nexus between the condition of schools, the number of low-income students attending schools, and their achievement.

In 2009, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania conducted an enrollment and building capacity study (Yan).  Some of the findings of this work included:

  • Rural schools in general were older than their counterparts in the suburbs and cities, both in real and functional age.
  • Respondents from schools with functional ages of 15 years or more were more likely to note roofs, foundations, and walls as unsatisfactory, poor, or borderline.
  • Older schools typically had worse building safety conditions and often reported fire alarms, smoke detectors, and sprinkler systems in poor condition. Emergency lighting was rated as borderline.
  • Building energy efficiency was reported as poor or borderline in older facilities.
  • Building accessibility, handicapped accessibility, student drop-off areas, and vehicular ingress and egress were often rated poor or borderline in the older schools.

Arkansas, Virginia, Washington, DC., North Dakota, and other states also have been the topic of similar studies.  Dewees and Earthman’s (2000) research on rural schools noted that it was not unusual that rural students attend schools over 100 years old.  The Educational Facilities Clearinghouse has fielded calls from rural areas that report problems due to deferred maintenance and bond issues, which have been voted down numerous times.  The vote by the community may or may not be due to lack of support for the local schools; it may be a lack of income on the part of the voters or the low assessed value of local real estate.  In contrast, school age of urban schools is improving, and funds to build new urban schools are more available through local or state support or in some instances federal dollars.

Finally, I request you review the EdBuild student poverty map (Click here Lines.html#).  You can click on any of the pink to dark pink areas to see the population, student population, student poverty population, and student poverty rate.  Do you note that many rural areas have high rates of poverty?  Do you recognize that areas of poverty are in the midst of prosperous districts?

After analyzing the EdBuild map, take a look and compare the map of cities, towns, suburbs, and rural areas.  Pictorially note the rural areas (fringe, distant, and remote); many times they are in the heart of areas of poverty (NCES).

It would be negligent should I not mention that rural schools do produce students who achieve, many rural schools have small class sizes, and students are able to take advanced coursework by making use of distance learning and technology.  What I want to be recognized, however, is that rural schools often face the same challenges as our urban schools.  When it comes to research and funding, their needs must be recognized, if education reform is going to be successful in all of our united states.

Figure 1:  Student Poverty and School District Borders (Click here for interactive map)










EdBuild (2015).











Data Source : U.S. Census Bureau; Urban-centric Locale Codes, developed by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)

References and Resources

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, where she advises students, directs student research, and directs a project at Taibah University in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  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.

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