There's Old School and then there's old school -- and that latter could have a serious effect on a child's education.

Research shows when students attend school in older buildings that need repair, their grades suffer -- particularly if those kids change schools often.

Researchers at Cornell University studied the connection between school building quality and student stability, socioeconomic background and scores on standardized achievement tests in 511 public elementary schools in the New York City school system.

Details are reported in the Journal of Environmental Psychology.

Learning environment

Earlier studies have confirmed a link between building quality and student performance independent of socioeconomic status, but most did not address the question of why -- although one provided a clue: absenteeism. Independent of socioeconomic status, students in poorer quality buildings were absent more often.

Gary Evans, professor of design and environmental analysis, and colleagues investigated how student mobility might also contribute to the linkage between school building quality and student achievement.

“We found that students attending schools with lower building quality and those attending schools with high student mobility had lower test scores,” says Evans.

They also found that when these two risk factors were combined, it was particularly damaging to academic achievement. These negative effects on test scores occurred independently of socioeconomic and racial composition of the school.

Inequality in education

The study is the first to demonstrate the interaction between the condition of school facilities and student mobility.

“Our findings highlight a serious issue in American education: inequality,” says Evans. “Although we controlled for socio-economic status and race in our analysis, in reality low-income children are both more likely to change schools and more likely to attend schools with lower quality buildings. We conclude that the school environment contributes to the income-achievement gap and, therefore, warrants greater attention.”