Skip to main content

Tree Cover Boosts Academic Performance in Chicago Public Schools

An elementary school within the Chicago Public School system  . Photo by Sonya Sachdeva, USDA Forest Service

An analysis of academic achievement within Chicago Public Schools suggests that a higher proportion of tree cover, relative to grass and other vegetation, on school yards is associated with higher math and reading scores.

A growing body of research has uncovered a link between greenness in and around schools and students? academic achievement within those schools. However, most of these studies have established this relationship in mostly middle-class or wealthier school districts and failed to distinguish between impacts from trees and other types of vegetation. A Northern Research Station scientist and partners investigated greenness and academic achievement in Chicago Public Schools, where 9 out of 10 children are eligible for free lunch, indicating a majority low-income population. Study results showed a robust positive relationship between greenness and achievement in math and reading, independent of other factors important for academic success, such as income, race/ethnicity, and pupil-teacher ratio. To determine what forms of green cover were most strongly tied to academic achievement, tree cover was examined separately from grass and shrub cover, but it was trees that made the difference. Scientists also assessed where tree cover was most predictive of academic performance, e.g., on school grounds, or in the neighborhood attendance area, and found that greenness on school grounds was the more significant predictor. Greening and tree planting efforts within urban, low-income schools could be a low-cost intervention to boost academic achievement.