When I think about ecosystems, the first thing I think about is a physical environment: a tropical rainforest, the arctic tundra, a city park. When we talk about school as ecosystems, we should also be talking about the physical space of the school. Do the students have access to sunlight and fresh air? Are the classrooms big enough for each student to sit comfortably?
To city teachers, accustomed to dank, toxic, overcrowded conditions, these are urgent questions. Yet very few school reformers talk about constructing, safer, healthier, more comfortable physical environments for our children.
This is a shame, and not just because the need is so great. According to the people at the Economic Policy Institute, building newer, better school buildings would have significant economic benefits. In a proposal titled “FAST: Fix America’s Schools Today,” the folks at EPI note:
“The current backlogs of school maintenance and repair projects are worth between $270 billion and $500 billion—at a time when state and local governments and school districts are facing unprecedented budget crunches. At the same time, the U.S. is facing an unemployment crisis; within the construction industry alone, 1.5 million workers are unemployed… Eliminating even half of the entire backlog and improvements could eventually create more than two million jobs, over a period of years. Addressing even one-tenth of the needed improvements could immediately create half a million jobs.”
This numbers are supported by, among other people, economist Jared Bernstein, who served as Chief Economist and Economic Adviser to Vice President Joe Biden from 2009 to 2011. He knows how to crunch complicated numbers.
We know the need is real; we know the benefits are great. Why wouldn’t we do this, fast?