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Volume 30, Number 5
September/October 2014

From “Cells and Bells” to Learning Communities

Renovating school facilities for student-centered learning


A hallway is transformed into a learning community at Hillel Academy in Tampa, Fla.

The United States has more than $2 trillion of net worth tied up in its school facilities, making it the country’s single largest educational investment. The average age of schools in most districts across the nation is between 30 and 50 years. On top of increasing routine maintenance expenses that total many hundreds of millions of dollars, more than $12 billion is spent annually to modernize, add to, or build new schools.

Traditional school buildings, however, fall far short when evaluated against the goals of modern-day teaching and learning in which teachers facilitate, rather than direct, learning and students are personally and actively engaged in their own education. In fact, an older school building actually prevents the delivery of a true 21st-century education, while well-designed school buildings can be a catalyst for pedagogical change.

Given the huge investment school districts make in facilities each year, it’s worth investigating how, with modest funds, traditional buildings can be reconfigured to change the dominant teacher-centered educational paradigm to a more student-centered one. While the buildings themselves are only one piece of the change process, they become a powerful, visible symbol of a new way to deliver education.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


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