How the Physical Learning Environment Affects Academic Achievement

Studies have confirmed what our educators have known for many years: students in too hot or too cold classrooms do not learn as much as students in classrooms where properly maintained HVAC controls are in place. Even within the same school district or zip code, there can be inequities in the learning environment. As 2023 was the hottest summer on record, these inequities in learning environments are becoming more pronounced. Furthermore, extreme temperatures in learning spaces make it more difficult for support staff to help make sure that our buildings are clean and safe. Reach out to your school entity to address concerns with the temperature of the learning environment and a properly maintained HVAC system.

The Environmental Protection Agency also has a toolkit for schools and community members to help address healthy learning environments for our students. 

The Impact of Class Size on a Positive Learning Environment

CAPS supports well-planned and gradually implemented class-size reduction initiatives for several reasons. Since the mid-1990s, there has been a growing consensus among academic researchers that, under certain conditions, smaller class sizes improve academic achievement and other important outcomes.

Class Size Studies on Academic Achievement

Twenty years ago, the Tennessee Student/Teacher Achievement Ratio (STAR) program was the first large-scale look at the impact of class size. STAR showed that K-3 students in smaller classes experienced substantial academic gains. Overall, kindergarten classes of 13-17 students performed one month ahead of their peers in classes with 22-25 students. By the end of second grade, the smaller class size students were about two months ahead. For African American students, students in the smaller classes outperformed their larger class size peers at a rate two to three times higher than Caucasian students.

Follow-up studies of the smaller class-size students in 7th grade showed high levels of achievement in reading, language, math, science and social studies. Students who had been in smaller class sizes for at least three years were significantly more likely to graduate from high school – especially low-income students. The gap between African American and Caucasian students taking college entrance tests was lowered by 60 percent in the group of students in smaller classes.

The Cost Benefits of Smaller Class Sizes

The study also conducted a cost-benefit analysis. Reducing class sizes from 22 to 15 in grades K-3 resulted in a $2 return for every $1 spent – based on the assumption that an increase in school achievement equates to higher earnings later in life. Smaller class sizes were also shown to provide additional benefits, such as better health, reduced crime rates and fewer Welfare recipients.

The Bottom Line on Class Sizes

Smaller class sizes are often cited as a primary reason why families move to different public school districts or choose to send their children to private or charter schools. Teachers value the greater opportunity for individualized attention and instruction of students that results from the reduction in time required for managing large classes. Students, parents, teachers, staff, and the public believe that smaller classes are beneficial for all students from kindergarten through twelfth grade.

Don’t let your school entity lower student learning outcomes by increasing class sizes. Contact your legislators and district administrators to let them know your thoughts on this topic.