USA Today attacks LEED schools next, again with selective use of data
USA Today is at it again with another attack on LEED, this time focused on schools. At least author Tom Frank has done a better job of asking the right questions, this time, in contrast to his bizarre accusations in previous articles that LEED buildings wrongly reward teams for reaping low-hanging fruit.
Do they save energy? Do they improve student performance? Any dispassionate reading of the tidbits of evidence scattered throughout this rambling, unfocused story would suggest that there is still not enough data to answer either of those questions confidently, although Frank’s sensationalistic tone does its best to imply that the answer is no.
The story is rife with selective use of data and internal inconsistencies: it acknowledges that acoustics are an important factor for the learning environment, and notes that only 31% of LEED schools have earned the Enhanced Acoustics credit, without even mentioning the Fundamental Acoustics prerequisite that is improving the acoustical environment in every LEED school beyond conventional practice, helping students focus on learning, and teachers on teaching.
It attacks LEED for not concentrating enough on the indoor environment, but oddly, it does this just after noting that: “Green schools look barely different from other new schools, except for the soaring windows that can brighten cinder-block classrooms.” I think that the students and teachers enjoying the light quality and connection to the outdoors offered by those large windows would call this a big difference,
The article also cites an inconclusive 2007 National Research Council report in stating that there is no evidence that green schools improve student performance, but it follows that with a summary of the report’s findings that encourage almost all the same things that LEED for Schools promotes: acoustics, light quality, thermal comfort, and moisture control.
Frank gets it right, however, in identifying the likely culprit for underperformance in some Houston green schools, when he quotes the district’s energy manager saying: “Poor equipment maintenance plagued the schools built in 2007.” If you don’t manage the building and equipment, it won’t perform. USGBC and others are working on collecting the data and connecting initial certification with ongoing performance. We need more of that, and sooner, to either prove that LEED is making a difference or change it so it does.
LEED v4 is also incorporating new requirements tailored to operations and maintenance of existing schools—helping encourage managers to make the transition from green design and construction to green operations.
There is plenty not to like about the article itself, but it's hard not to also take note of the company it keeps. Other featured headlines that USA Today thinks one might want to read after perusing this article? "Ohio State coach a mess after head-butting player," "Marisa Miller bares pregnant baby bump," and "Controversial video spreads virally after being banned." Perhaps we simply can't expect a reasonable article to emerge from this journalistic context.