Republican Lawmakers in Wisconsin, Feeling Shut Out of State Decisions on ESSA, Vow to Grab Greater Control

Trump’s First Big Victory Is on Education Spending: How Obama Fought GOP on Title I — and Lost

Kansas Couple’s Donation Gives Teens Free Visits to Art Institute of Chicago for the Next 25 Years

Title I Portability, Grants, Tax Code Changes — The New Opportunities for Federal School Choice

Some Private Schools That May Benefit From Trump’s Voucher Plan Are Weak on Discrimination Rules

Barnum: The Growth vs. Proficiency Debate and Why Al Franken Raised a Boring but Critical Issue

DeVos Pledges Not to Gut Public Schools or Force School Choice During Confirmation Hearing

What a Big Personalized-Learning Study Showed About 5 Ways to Rethink Teaching and Learning

Republican Tennessee Lawmakers Gear Up for New Voucher Proposals in Wake of Trump Election

Rhode Island’s Big Bet on Classroom Innovation: A Statewide Personalized-Learning Initiative

Replay: Complete Video of Betsy DeVos's Senate Confirmation Hearing

The Question I’d Ask Betsy DeVos: Two Dozen Education Leaders Preview Tuesday’s Confirmation Hearing

Building the 3.0 High School: How Summit Basecamp Schools Pairs Teaching With Technology

Your DeVos Hearing CliffsNotes: These Are the 10 Education Issues Sure to Surface in the Senate

What Do Americans Think of School Choice? Depends on How You Ask the Question

With Amazon Inspire, Teachers Nationwide Can Share Classroom Materials, Learn From One Another

NYC Parents, Advocates Rally to Demand That City Address Its ‘Middle School Deserts’

Poll — 75% of Millennials Support School Choice; Majority of Americans Like Trump’s $20 Billion Plan

Supreme Court Justices Eye Possible Higher Special Ed Standard, but What That Should Be Eludes Them

Raw Supreme Court Transcript: The Justices Debate Special Education During the Endrew F. Case

The Detroit ‘Sick-Out’ Makes a Valid Point: Crumbling Schools Shown to Hurt Learning

January 14, 2016

Talking Points

Whatever you think of Detroit teachers tactics, they have a point about the importance of school facilities

Detroit teachers are calling attention to awful school conditions — and they have an important point

Sign Up for Our Newsletter

Detroit teachers have called off work en masse — widely referred to as a “sick-out” — in recent days to protest poor building conditions. The work stoppage has resulted in several schools cancelling classes, and led some observers, including Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, to condemn the protests, decrying the tactics as the wrong way to air grievances.

But few who have criticized the sick-outs have actually addressed the substance of what the teachers are complaining about. So are Detroit teachers right to worry that the poor conditions of their school facilities are harming their students?

In a word, yes.

When the mayor of Detroit visited schools in response to the sick out, he promptly turned up a dead mouse, poor heating systems forcing kids to wear coats indoors, and an unusable gym floor because of roof leaks.



The city teachers union has also pointed to black mold and rodent infestations.

It’s not clear how prevalent the problem is in Detroit, or how the city compares to the state’s other urban school districts, which often face facilities issues. It is clear from research, though, that school building quality has a meaningful impact on student outcomes.



For instance, a recent meta-analysis of research found a statistically significant relationship between building quality and student performance. Another study showed that California districts that just narrowly passed referenda to fund school bonds saw greater gains in student achievement (as well as increases in home values) than districts that narrowly defeated such referenda. The paper provides evidence that districts underinvest in facilities by a significant margin.

Particularly relevant is a similar study in Michigan, which again looked at districts that approved bonds in order to increase capital spending. The researchers found that the heightened facilities spending led to long-term increases in reading test scores. (Researchers have also found positive effects on achievement in Texas, Los Angeles and New York City)

Meanwhile, other studies have linked poor facilities to lower graduation rates, lower attendance rates, higher teacher turnover, and lower national test scores.

Proving cause–effect is always difficult for research like this, and there are a few studies that find no impact; there also may be important differences between the impact of building new schools and fixing old ones.

But the weight of the evidence is clear: Facility quality matters when it comes to improving student outcomes.

Moreover, these studies generally look at standardized tests, which may actually understate the importance of this issue. The fact that some Detroit students must forego gym might not immediately harm math and reading scores, but missing out on physical education is surely not beneficial to students in the long run. Similarly, few parents would want their kids to attend a rodent-infested school, whether or not that shows up in short-term test results.

So say what you want about Detroit teachers’ tactics, but they appear to be calling attention to a real issue that can seriously harm kids.