connecting facility conditions to learning outcomes - Lance W. Roberts, Ph.D.


Schools are the central, pubic institutions.  On any given day, about 20 percent of the population spends at least part of every day in a school building.  Up to age 18, students will have typically spent 24,000 hours (i.e. 15 percent of their life span to that age) in schools.  No other type of public building is subject to the wear and tear of schools, since their population density of actors undergoing socialization is four times that of office buildings.

The goal of this literature review is to provide an overview of what is known about how facility conditions affect student achievement.  The conclusions are based on a comprehensive review of the literature, including over 300 journal articles, papers, and published reports.  The research literature contains a wide-ranging set of studies that differ in their focus, level of sophistication, and comprehensiveness.  The review takes these differences into account and reports the conclusions that appear most reliable.

                                       The evidence reported in this review indicates that there is                                                reasonable empirical support for the idea that the

                                       facility condition of schools is a relevant, consequential,                                                      manageable set of considerations affecting student

                                       academic achievement, the core mission of schools.  Protecting                                          and promoting school facilities is a serious responsibility for                                                both symbolic and instrumental reasons.  Because public schools                                        are central community institutions, their physical condition                                                  symbolizes “pride of place” and commitment to the next                                                    generation.  In this regard, attractive school facilities are                                                    inspirational; just as opposite conditions are demoralizing.                                                  Beyond symbolism, this review has shown that facility conditions in schools have important consequences to the central academic mission of schools.

Learning Outcomes Literature Review



The effect of school construction on test scores, school enrollment, and home prices

This paper provides new evidence on the effect of elementary and middle school construction projects on home prices, academic achievement, and school enrollment.

The impact that a well-maintained, clean and safe school environment has on student achievement

This study demonstrates the importance of adequate funding for the maintenance of current structures and demonstrates that improving the overall building condition is a cost effective way to achieve measurable improvements in student performance.

Making a Difference in Education: What the Evidence Says

Making a Difference in Education should be essential reading for faculty and students in education and social policy, and of great interest to teachers.


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study shows how the built environment impacts student ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE


Assessments have been made of 153 classrooms in 27 schools in order to identify the impact of the physical  classroom features on the academic progress of the 3,766 pupils who occupied each of those specific spaces.

University of Salford study confirms the utility of the naturalness, 

individuality and stimulation conceptual model as a vehicle to 

organize and study the full range of sensory impacts experienced 

by an individual occupying a given space.  In this particular case 

the naturalness design principle accounts for around 50% of the 

impact on learning, with the other two accounting for roughly a 

quarter each.


Within this structure, seven key design parameters have been identified that together explain 16% of the variation in pupils' academic progress achieved.  These are Light, Temperature, Air Quality, Ownership, Flexibility, Complexity and Color.  The muted impact of the whole-building level of analysis provides some support for the importance of “inside-out design”.


The identification of the impact of the built environment factors on learning progress is a major new finding for schools' research, but also suggests that the scale of the impact of building design on human performance and wellbeing in general, can be isolated and that it is non-trivial.  It is argued that it makes sense to capitalize on this promising progress and to further develop these concepts and techniques.


Publication access provided by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.



The Facility Manager Versus the Educator  -  PART ONE

The English language has a long history of creating catchy new phrases that quickly become overused and 

misunderstood.  Words like, “full service”, “best practice”, or “scalable.”  They have all been used to mean so 

many different things that the intent of their meaning is now unclear and confusing.

A similar dilemma exists in the education world between these two phrases; the quality of “school facility conditions” 

and the quality of the “teaching and learning environment.”  People easily perceive these phrases to mean the same thing.

Facility conditions - a phrase taken from the 1991 publication, “Managing the Facilities Portfolio,”  was used to characterize the physical condition of buildings, or building components.  It was originally applied to naval facilities, and later to higher education facilities.  This property management phrase is commonly used in reference to the “Facility Condition Index” (FCI), a mathematical formula commonly applied to any and all types of buildings.  The process of determining the FCI of buildings is best undertaken by people with suitable skills in architecture and engineering.  This phrase is not unique to facilities in the education world.

The phrase ‘physical teaching and learning environment’ was used in several publications in the early 1980s to describe the physical ‘built environment’ in which teaching and learning took place.  This phrase is unique to facilities in the education world, and assessment of the ‘quality’ of the physical teaching and learning environment is best undertaken by people with suitable academic skills. 

Over the years these two phrases have unfortunately been used interchangeably to mean the built environment, the school building, and the classroom environment.  Clearly, given the significant difference in their intent, these phrases cannot be used to describe the same thing.  In addition, it is not practical to assume that a person with architectural and engineering skills is the best resource for assessing the “quality of the physical teaching and learning environment”, any more than it is to assume that a person with academic skills is the best resource to assess the "facility condition index."

The important difference between these terms has become so badly ignored that the duty of care required to ensure that physical quality of the teaching and learning environment does not hinder student outcomes has been obscured.  

Government departments responsible for allocating capital and maintenance funding have – almost exclusively - limited themselves to relying on the architectural and engineering perspective to assess the quality of the built environment.  This process has become so institutionalized that it continues despite extensive research that shows no systemic connection between these FCI-type measures and student outcomes.  This confusing view has made some people blind to the negative academic impact the built environment can have on student outcomes.

A recent questionnaire survey of twenty-six Directors of Education (Chief Superintendents) asked them to describe what they felt was the most important strategic objective of their Facility Manager.  Ninety-six percent said, “Create and maintain a high quality teaching and learning environment”.  This became an especially important objective once these top educators realized that poor quality teaching and learning environments can have a significant impact on student outcomes.

However, after being made aware that investing in improved facility conditions (better FCI ratings) provided no systemic assurance of improved teaching and learning environments, they all acknowledged that they had no tangible action plans for achieving their most important strategic objective.  Since you cannot manage what you cannot measure, it was clear that achieving this strategic objective will require new thinking, and new tools.

This distinction does not - in any way -  diminish the important job of managing the physical quality of facility conditions, but it does highlight the fact that this focus alone is not sufficient for managing the physical quality of the teaching and learning environment.  In 1966 the prominent psychologist Abraham Maslow published The Psychology of Science: A Reconnaissance, in which he makes this statement, “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail."  Since you cannot manage what you cannot measure, it is clear that achieving this strategic important objective will require new thinking, and new tools.

Check back soon for PART TWO:  Aligning Stakeholders for Optimal Facility Performance


The QTLE Network provides educational 

organizations with the tools and techniques needed to

set the physical stage for high quality teaching and learning environments.