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UCLA Study: Climate Change Overheats Classrooms, Slowing Learning

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In most states, school districts where families are primarily poor or minority populations tend to have less money to spend on infrastructure. (Giovannacco/Pixabay)
In most states, school districts where families are primarily poor or minority populations tend to have less money to spend on infrastructure. (Giovannacco/Pixabay)
September 13, 2019

CHARLESTON, W. Va. – Climate change is overheating classrooms and in the process, hurting education, especially for poor and minority students, according to a new study from the University of California at Los Angeles.

As Assistant Professor at UCLA’s department of Public Policy and the Luskin Center for Innovation, R. Jisung Park led the team that compared standardized test results with weather records. For students without proper classroom air conditioning, said Park, they found every added degree means about 1% less learning.

"That may not seem like much," he acknowledged, "but with the climate change that's coming down the pike without further action, we're talking about 5% to 7%, to 10% less learning, on average, per year."

The fossil-fuel industries and their allies in public office have either said climate change isn't real or isn't a serious problem. But Park noted the nation has already seen at least one degree higher on average, and is on track for several more.

He stressed that, since school districts across the country have a huge imbalance in their ability to afford new buildings or repairs, the effects seen by this research are "two or three times" greater for students in poor and minority communities.

Park said if a pupil starts out a little behind, that impact is likely to get greater every year. So, while climate change might seem to have subtle impacts on education, the changes overall can be dramatic.

"Even in a developed, rich economy, like the United States, climate change affects us here and now," he said. "Not in some distant future, and not just in India or China or Bangladesh, somewhere else – but here."

In a recent opinion column published in USA Today, Park argued that investing in air conditioning would be a good way to help close the race and wealth gap in education.

But he contends that only works well if the nation is already doing what it has to, to reduce carbon emissions.

"That's the premise, right?" he added. "I don't want people to get the impression that we're somehow going to try to solve climate change by adding air conditioning."

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV