Extreme heat is making it increasingly difficult for students to learn and teachers to teach in schools across the United States. As classrooms become stifling, some schools are pivoting to remote learning or canceling classes. Prolonged exposure to heat has been shown to lead to cognitive impairment, distraction, and increased aggression among students. The issue also has demographic implications, as schools in minority neighborhoods are often less equipped with air conditioning, widening the educational achievement gap.
- In some schools, classrooms can reach temperatures as high as 84 degrees Fahrenheit by 7:30 in the morning, leading to conditions where both students and teachers find it difficult to focus.
- Overheating affects cognitive abilities as the body diverts blood from the brain to cool down, leading to reduced concentration and learning efficiency. Students with asthma are particularly vulnerable due to high temperatures causing airway irritation.
- Research shows that hot classroom environments can have a long-term impact on student performance, with one study linking a 1% lower PSAT score to each 1-degree Fahrenheit increase in temperature in schools without air conditioning.
- There are disparities in how excessive heat affects learning across different demographic groups. Black and Hispanic students are three times as likely as white students to have their learning inhibited by heat, largely due to less access to air conditioning in schools in their neighborhoods.
- Heat also impacts mental health, raising the risk for mood and anxiety disorders. Teachers report that aggression and fights are more common in schools during warmer weather.