Panel Paper: Education Policy & Environmental Justice: Noise Pollution, Education Performance and the Perpetuation of Socioeconomic Status

Thursday, November 7, 2019
Plaza Building: Lobby Level, Director's Row E (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Elizabeth E. Olson, Pepperdine University

Horace Mann, an education reformer and a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, stated in an address to the Massachusetts State Board of Education in 1848, that “education, then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men, the balance-wheel of the social machinery. …it gives each man the independence and the means by which he can resist the selfishness of other men. It does better than to disarm the poor of their hostility towards the rich; it prevents being poor” (Mann 1891, 251). Obviously, this idealized vision of what the public education system should accomplish has not yet been fully realized. One of the many factors that has prevented education from being such a great equalizer is the level of pollution around schools, which has been found to reduce the academic performance of students in those schools (Boman, Enmarker, and Hygge 2005; Bistrup 2003; Bronzaft 2000).

In this research, I hypothesize that noise pollution in schools is one factor that serves to reinforce, rather than equalize, socioeconomic status through the generations and that noise is disproportionately collocated with minority student populations. Specifically, I hypothesize that noise pollution will be higher at schools located in poor and minority neighborhoods. This noise will reduce the ability of these students to learn at school. Students at these schools will then be more likely to perform poorly on test scores and placement exams, even holding constant other factors. This restricts the public school system from serving as a great equalizer in society and also provides evidence that noise placement can be unjust throughout society. In this analysis I use the public school system in the city of San Francisco as a case study: comparing data on noise pollution collected through GIS mapping, to school locations, and test scores of each school, while linking this data to the socioeconomic status and other demographic factors of the schools’ students.

This research is of particular interest since it brings to the forefront an important negative driver in education outcomes as well as environmental injustice that public policy could help reduce and, thereby improve learning in schools that are currently negatively impacted by noise pollution. Therefore, this research seeks to contribute to both educational policy literature as well as environmental justice research.