Children that attend run-down schools have been shown to have lower test scores and higher rates of absenteeism. This article examines the reasons for these problems.

Although it might not be a surprise that students that attend run-down schools fare much worse academically than students who attend school in well-maintained buildings, researchers have not been able to determine why. There have been many studies that have found that children who attend run-down schools have lower test scores than students at well-maintained schools. What might come as a surprise to many is that the buildings themselves are partly to blame. New research indicates that dilapidated buildings, poor plumbing and facilities result in poor academic performance. What can be done about this phenomenon?

A recent study conducted by Cornell University helps to shed light on this. Lorraine Maxwell is an associate professor of design and environmental analysis in the College of Human Ecology at Cornell. She recently looked at more than 230 New York City public middle schools to determine what factors affect performance. Maxwell controlled for students’ socioeconomic status and ethnic background in her study and found that while these student characteristics are related to test scores they do not tell the whole story. The condition of the school building and facilities is also a major contributing factor.

Maxwell found that things like run-down classrooms, broken furniture, smelly cafeterias and leaking toilets account for 70 percent of poor academic performance. Students reported that these things cause them to feel discouraged. This, in turn, leads to low motivation, high absenteeism, poor academic achievement and low test scores. Maxwell believes that schools that are in good condition send the message to students that someone cares. The positive social climate encourages better grades and attendance. Run-down schools, on the other hand, give the impression that no really cares about the students.

This latest research has serious meanings for policy-makers. Poorly maintained schools is an issue that affects minority and poor students in particular. Policy-makers must understand that school conditions are especially important for kids in minority and low-income communities as they are already facing a struggle. Policy makers must understand that well-maintained schools are necessary for student success. Well-maintained schools send the message that the larger society cares about and values these students. This, in turn, leads to more positive thoughts about education and reduces absenteeism.