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Expensive High Schools: A Worthy Investment?

This story in the Chicago Tribune discusses the increasingly high price tag of building high schools--sometimes upwards of $100 million. These six-figure high schools can include pools, gardens, planetariums, and other high-priced facilities, says the article.

Although this kind of spending does seem somewhat excessive in light of tight state budgets, I wonder how these facilities influence the academic and emotional well-being, as well as the motivation, of the students who attend them. Part of the article hints that it may have a positive impact. Here's an excerpt:

"Some of these $100 million-plus schools are magnets serving an affluent or high-achieving demographic, while others are designed to function additionally as community centers and even sanctuaries from neighborhood violence. The 2,400-student Panorama High is the latter.

While Assistant Principal Sergio Guzman and other officials say the school has become a valued refuge for students, it wasn't always that pretty. The school was nicknamed "Bloodbath High" before it opened in autumn 2006 because it is in violent gang turf, which scared off some prospective students, faculty members said.

Now students protect their school, reporting any graffiti, and the school's tall gates protect them. A nearby strip mall is adopting the school's exterior colors of saffron and burgundy. Some faculty members say they may spend their entire careers there. And parents even have their own room for meetings."

The article then goes on to say, however, that it's uncertain whether expensive facilities translate into higher achievement. But whether or not those schools produce higher test scores, it makes sense that students in well-kept or new schools would feel a greater sense of pride, and maybe even increased motivation, in that setting.

What do you think? Does the actual physical classroom or school building influence student and faculty morale? Or are expensive school facilities an excessive use of tax dollars?

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