Simple Solar Solutions

by Bill Duesing

First broadcast on WSHU/WSUF-FM, November 12, 1999

Using the sun's energy directly to provide for our needs conserves energy, prevents pollution and saves money. Natural lighting is a simple solar solution which can do all that and improve students' scores on standardized tests.

The headline reads: "Want to raise school test scores? Lighten up." An article in The Waterbury Republican reprinted from The Seattle Times reports on the correlation between lighting and student test scores in three elementary school districts. The results come from a study which included districts in California, Colorado and Seattle.

The conclusion of the study was that students exposed to the most natural light in school had higher test scores! This is true even after making adjustments for family income and other factors which affect test results. The increase in standardized test scores in the schools with the most natural light was seven percent in Colorado and nine to 13 percent in Seattle. An Orange County, California district collected data which allowed for even better comparisons. They showed the greatest improvement with natural light: 20 percent better scores in math and 26 percent higher in reading.

Don't misunderstand! I'm not advocating standardized tests. The current emphasis on them may be antithetical to authentic learning. Designed to be a sorting mechanism, this kind of test is rewritten to be more difficult if over 50 percent pass. Standardized tests tell us that students from rich districts with 20 pupils per teacher and lots of extra resources generally do much better than students from poorer communities who sit 30 in a classroom and don't even get a substitute if their teacher is absent. But let's not go there.

Given our species' long history of using sunlight, it is not surprising that humans perform better in natural light. Light from the sun contains the rich full spectrum of colors with which our eyes evolved.

Only the relatively recent advent of electric lighting allowed classrooms to be built without windows. It is amazing how many schools, especially in urban areas, were built with no windows: out of ignorance, concern for security or because of some architect's fancy.

That was in the days when we thought that electricity was cheap and trouble-free. Now we've discovered that producing electricity has high environmental and financial costs. So much so, that Pacific Gas and Electric Company sponsored this study. If more buildings use natural light, it will need fewer expensive power plants to satisfy demand.

Other simple solar solutions such trees for cooling, south-facing windows for heat, intelligent building design for comfort and lighting, local organic food production and solar clothes dryers also produce multiple benefits. And, they all connect us to the ever-changing beauty of the natural world.

This is Bill Duesing, Living on the Earth

This page and its contents are copyright © 1999 by WSHU-FM, Fairfield, CT, and by Bill Duesing.