Better School Buildings Improve Student Achievement

Results of the second annual "School Energy and Environment Survey" from Honeywell reveal that almost 90 percent of school leaders see a direct link between the quality and performance of school facilities, and student achievement. However, districts face several obstacles when it comes to keeping their buildings up to date and well maintained. For example, 68 percent of school districts have either delayed or eliminated building improvements in response to the economic downturn.

Gathering input from nearly 800 school administrators and school board members, the survey finds that a quarter of respondents have seen their district's energy costs rise at least 25 percent in the past three years, compared to 17 percent of those polled in 2009. As a consequence of rising utility bills, almost 75 percent of the districts have cut spending in key areas such as maintenance, capital investment and staffing.

"Better, more efficient schools provide better learning conditions," said Paul Orzeske, president of Honeywell Building Solutions. "Using existing tools, including guaranteed performance contracts, school districts can modernize their buildings, improve comfort and drive significant energy savings without additional taxpayer dollars. It's imperative that administrators, government officials and the private sector continue to work together and promote solutions that don't require compromises in either student achievement or fiscal responsibility."

After salaries, utility costs are typically the second largest and most variable district expense, making them a focal point for administrators. Many schools are also looking to reduce carbon emissions and serve as models of conservation as the impact of global warming becomes clearer. The survey polled educational leaders nationwide to get their thoughts on a variety of energy and sustainability topics. Other noteworthy findings:

    * 98 percent of respondents consider energy management important to their district's long-term success, but more than one-third do not have a strategic plan for managing consumption and costs, similar to findings in 2009.
    * More than half of the respondents cited limited funding as the biggest obstacle to launching energy retrofit or renewable energy projects.
    * A majority of school districts applied for some form of stimulus funding through the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (ARRA); however, only 14 percent devoted those dollars to facility improvements. Most of the money was dedicated to core education programs, and teacher and staff salaries.
    * Almost half of respondents report that the typical age of buildings in their districts is more than 30 years old.

In addition, while there is growing interest for schools to incorporate sustainable practices into their building operations and curriculum, the survey showed a clear gap between environmental commitments and activity. More than 30 percent of districts have set carbon-reduction goals, for example, but only 6 percent have completed a greenhouse gas inventory to catalog emissions and create a baseline to measure the impact of related programs.

"Administrators are pulled in a thousand different directions, and most districts don't have the expertise or resources to make green initiatives a priority — especially when the financial benefits aren't clear," Orzeske said. "However, reducing a district's carbon footprint is not just a feel-good exercise. With the right mix of technology and service, these programs can deliver a substantial environmental and economic return."

Survey Methodology

In August 2010, Honeywell Building Solutions commissioned Education Week Research to conduct an online survey of Education Week subscribers identified as district administrators or school board members. The survey consisted of 794 respondents from across the United States.

For detailed survey results, please visit