Heat Exacerbates Educational Divide, Park Finds

Illustration credit: Alvin Chang/The Guardian

June 22, 2021

In sweltering hot classrooms, it can be nearly impossible for students to learn, especially in schools without air conditioning.

R. Jisung Park, associate director of the Luskin Center for Innovation, spoke to the Guardian about his research that quantifies the ramifications of heat on learning. Readers can explore the local impacts in their school districts, using an interactive tool that features data from Park and his team.

His studies have shown that students learn less when there are more hot school days. Yet many American classrooms lack air conditioning, especially in neighborhoods of color.

In one study, Park found that in years with more hot school days, students tend to do worse on state standardized exams. He also found that, on hot school days, Black and Hispanic students lost the most learning while white students were able to mitigate nearly all of the effects.

In another study, Park found that central air conditioning mitigates the effects of heat by about 73%.

“It’s not that we don’t understand atmospheric effects or don’t have technology to cool a room,” Park said. “So why is it that the plurality of U.S. classrooms don’t appear to have working air conditioning?”

To learn more about our research on extreme heat, see our other climate adaptation studies.