How The US Lets Hot School Days Sabotage Learning

Picture of Dr. Ionel Coltea

Dr. Ionel Coltea

How The US Lets Hot School Days Sabotage Learning

The human body reacts quickly to overheating. The blood rushes to the skin in search of cool air. Body heat is dissipated by sweat evaporating from the skin. This process, however, has a cost: it reduces blood circulation, which means our brain gets less blood. Researchers at Penn State University who study the effects of heat on the body say that with reduced brain blood flow, the brain function will decrease. We are affected by heat in a variety of ways. There is no need for a PhD to understand this. Students in middle school will tell you that. Throughout history, researchers have understood heat’s profound impact on the human body – and discovered an easy method for combating it: air conditioning.

Still, nearly a century later, a large part of American classrooms remains in the sweltering heat without air conditioning. According to new research, hotter days at school negatively impact students’ performance – and it is even worse for students of color. It is another way of saying, “We aren’t investing in you,” said Shelley Goulder, who teaches in Oakland public schools without air conditioning.

In a study by Patrick Behrer, he found that students are less likely to do well on state-sponsored standardized tests, during hotter school years, since they are testing on what they already know. Particularly hot days at school were important. It didn’t matter whether it was a hot weekend or summer day. The study analyzed data from almost every school district in the US, and they estimated that for every five days of school with temperatures above 80F, students were about 1% less likely to excel on standardized tests during the final semester.

However, researchers have found that heat does not affect all students in the same way. When they looked at students by race, they found that black and Hispanic students lost the most learning due to hot school days. In fact, white college students have been able to alleviate almost all of the effects of hot school days.

Photo by Ron Adar stock photo /

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