School districts across the country are facing pressure to improve classroom performance under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, but are giving short shrift to problems like bad lighting or poorly heated classrooms that can affect learning, says a spokesman for the American Federation of Teachers.

“It’s a topic that doesn’t get nearly enough discussion in the education dialogue,” says spokesman George Jackson. “We don’t talk about the [buildings] where we expect students to go and hit all these [legislated] benchmarks. It can’t be a separate conversation.”

The union sought to call attention to the problem in a December 2006 report on deteriorating school-building conditions. That report cited, among other evidence that included federal studies, the “D” grade given to schools nationwide in 2005 by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

In Chicago, schools fared somewhat better on the grading scale. In a 2002 survey commissioned by the 21st Century School Fund, the average grade given by CPS teachers on the condition of their school building was “C+,” on average.

The survey examined the effect of school facilities on teaching and teachers’ attitudes in Chicago and Washington, D.C.

Other notable findings: Among the CPS teachers who gave their school a grade of “C” or lower, about 45 percent said poor building conditions made them consider leaving their schools; about 25 percent said the conditions made them think about quitting the profession.

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