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Excessive heat and student learning — October 2018

Question

Could you provide research on the relationship between excessive heat and student learning?

Response

Following an established REL West research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports and resources on the relationship between excessive heat and student learning. The sources included ERIC, Google Scholar, and PsychInfo. (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response. We offer them only for your reference. Also, we searched for references through the most commonly used sources of research, but the list is not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance.

Following an established REL West research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports and resources on the relationship between excessive heat and student learning. The sources included ERIC, Google Scholar, and PsychInfo. (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response. We offer them only for your reference. Also, we searched for references through the most commonly used sources of research, but the list is not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance.

Research References

Cho, H. (2017). The effects of summer heat on test scores: A cohort analysis. Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, 83, 185–196. Abstract retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0095069616301887

From the abstract: “This paper analyzed the effect of summer heat on academic achievement. Summer heat can negatively affect student learning, as previous studies have shown that high temperatures in laboratory settings have a negative effect on cognitive abilities. For this analysis, the test scores of five different cohorts were combined with city-level daily temperature data. To control for unobserved heterogeneity, the test scores of students within the same school were compared over time (school-fixed effects estimation). Summer heat negatively affected student test scores. Specifically, an additional day with a maximum daily temperature exceeding 34 °C (93.2 °F) during the summer, relative to a day with a maximum temperature between 28 °C (82.4 °F) and 30 °C (86 °F), decreased the scores of math and English tests by 0.0042 and 0.0064 standard deviations, respectively. No significant effects were found on the reading test scores. In addition, these effects were larger in relatively cooler cities, but did not differ based on gender. Finally, the previous year’s summer also had negative effects on the current year’s test scores.”

Goodman, J., Hurwitz, M., Park, J., & Smith, J. (2018). Heat and learning (NBER Working Paper No. 24639). Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research. Retrieved from <https://ideas.repec.org/p/ecl/harjfk/rwp18-014.html

From the abstract: “We provide the first evidence that cumulative heat exposure inhibits cognitive skill development and that school air conditioning can mitigate this effect. Student fixed effects models using 10 million PSAT-takers show that hotter school days in the year prior to the test reduce learning, with extreme heat being particularly damaging and larger effects for low income and minority students. Weekend and summer heat has little impact and the effect is not explained by pollution or local economic shocks, suggesting heat directly reduces the productivity of learning inputs. New data providing the first measures of school-level air conditioning penetration across the U.S. suggest such infrastructure almost entirely offsets these effects. Without air conditioning, each 1°F increase in school year temperature reduces the amount learned that year by one percent. Our estimates imply that the benefits of school air conditioning likely outweigh the costs in most of the U.S., particularly given future predicted climate change.”

Park, J. (2017). Hot temperature, high stakes exams, and avoidance behavior: Evidence from New York City public schools. Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research. Retrieved from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/0a27/102e886ddeb88d08c5fc2662ba9a0f6703fc.pdf

From the abstract: “Understanding the link between temperature and educational outcomes is important in assessing the returns to various schooling interventions and the potential welfare impacts of climate change. Using student-level administrative data for the largest public school district in the United States, I estimate the causal impact of hot temperature on high-stakes exams and subsequent educational attainment. Hot days reduce performance by up to 14% and lead to lasting impacts on high school graduation status. An analysis of teacher grade manipulation provides the first available evidence for ex post avoidance behavior to hot temperature.”

Zivin, J.G. & Shrader, J. (2016). Temperature extremes, health, and human capital. Future of Children, 26(1), 31-50. Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1101427.pdf

From the abstract: “The extreme temperatures expected under climate change may be especially harmful to children. Children are more vulnerable to heat partly because of their physiological features, but, perhaps more important, because they behave and respond differently than adults do. Children are less likely to manage their own heat risk and may have fewer ways to avoid heat; for example, because they don't plan their own schedules, they typically can't avoid activity during hot portions of the day. And very young children may not be able to tell adults that they're feeling heat's effects. Joshua Graff Zivin and Jeffrey Shrader zero in on how rising temperatures from global warming can be expected to affect children. They review evidence that high temperatures would mean more deaths, especially among fetuses and young children (as well as the elderly). When combined with other conditions--such as high humidity, diseases, or pollution--heat can be even deadlier. Even when it doesn't kill, high heat directly causes heat-related illnesses such as heat exhaustion; worsens other conditions, such as asthma, by increasing smog and ozone pollution; and harms fetuses in the womb, often with long-term consequences. High temperatures can also make learning more difficult, affecting children's adult job prospects. What can we do to protect children from a hotter climate? Graff Zivin and Shrader discuss a range of policies that could help. Such policies include requiring air conditioning in schools; heat wave warning systems coupled with public infrastructure that helps people stay indoors and stay cool; and readjusting schedules so that, for example, children are mostly indoors during the hottest time of day or the hottest season of the year.”

Method

Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

[(“heat” OR “excessive heat” OR “hot weather”) AND (“student health” OR “student learning” OR “student academic performance”)]

Databases and Resources

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences. Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and PsychInfo.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When searching and selecting resources to include, we consider the criteria listed below.

  • Date of the Publication: References and resources published within the last 15 years, from 2003 to present, were included in the search and review.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally-funded organizations and academic databases. Priority is also given to sources that provide free access to the full article.
  • Methodology: Priority is given to the most rigorous study designs, such as randomized controlled trials and quasi-experimental designs, and we may also include descriptive data analyses, survey results, mixed-methods studies, literature reviews, or meta-analyses. Other considerations include the target population and sample, including their relevance to the question, generalizability, and general quality. Priority is given to publications that are peer-reviewed journal articles or reports reviewed by IES and other federal or federally-funded organizations. If there are many research reports available, we select those with the strongest methodology, or the most recent of similar reports. When there are fewer resources available, we may include a broader range of information.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the West Region (Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory West at WestEd. This memorandum was prepared by REL West under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0012, administered by WestEd. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.