What Do DPS School Conditions Say to the Students and Teachers Inside Them?

Written by: Kacy Martin

Primary Source: Green & Write, January 22, 2016

Teachers Share Conditions

By now, many of us have seen the abysmal condition into which many Detroit Public School (DPS) buildings have been allowed to deteriorate. Teachers and parents have posted photos to social media sites in an effort to illustrate the magnitude of the problematic conditions in which they work each day. These posts follow a week of teacher-led protests, or “sick-outs,” that, at their height, closed 60 DPS schools in order to draw attention to the dire situation.

Institutional Support

As a result of the sick-out protests organized by teachers this month, Mayor Mike Duggan took a tour of the DPS facilities in question. According to The Detroit News story documenting the visit, Duggan agreed with teachers and parents, calling the conditions of many of the schools, “heartbreaking.” Duggan reported seeing, “4-year-olds in a classroom where it was about 50 degrees . . . They told me they usually wear their coats until lunchtime, when they warm up a bit.” While critics call the mayor’s visit a publicity stunt that will likely yield few changes, the conditions of DPS schools are now a part of a national conversation on the condition of America’s public schools.

Building Condition and Student Productivity

Beyond protecting the general health and well-being of students and teachers inside DPS facilities, seeing to it that schools are clean, functional places to work may have an impact on productivity. suggests that school buildings with “sufficient environmental elements such as indoor air quality, ventilation, thermal comfort, day lighting, and classroom acoustics that? are well-designed and properly maintained, school climate improves and students respond by producing higher academic outcomes.” Student success is correlated with school building condition. Likewise, when a school’s facility deteriorates, truancy surges. The condition of a school’s facility sends a message to students and teachers about the institution’s, and the community’s concern for their academic interests.

Workplace and the Value of Work

The physical conditions of our places of work and learning tell us a lot about how we, and our efforts, are valued. Our surroundings are a signal of the importance of the task at hand and have demonstrated psychological effects on well-being. We’ve known this implicitly for centuries. Cathedrals and university buildings have long stood as symbols for the grandiosity of the goals of their inhabitants. School buildings, while traditionally less opulent, should at the very least, provide physical representations of the gravity of the tasks in which its inhabitants engage.

The flipside, of course, is that when the building that we spend hours in each day is dilapidated and filthy, not only is it uncomfortable, it also contains a powerful message to students and teachers about the work being done: “You are forgotten. You don’t matter.”

 

Contact Kacy: kmartin@msu.edu

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Kacy Martin
Kacy Martin entered the Educational Policy program in the fall of 2013. After completing a Bachelor and Master's degrees at the University of Michigan, she taught in the Chicago Public Schools, serving on the Instructional Leadership Team and creating professional learning cycles to improve teacher practices in reading instruction. Her research focuses on the impact of parent social networks on school choice in urban districts, the relationship between urban planning and school enrollment, and the politics of education finance at the local and state levels.