Long on promise, short on delivery The Houston Independent School District took a big step in 2007 toward becoming environmentally friendly by designing two new schools to meet a coveted "green" standard set by a private-builders' group. The nation's seventh-largest school district added features such as automated light sensors and a heat-reflecting roof, in hopes of minimizing energy use. But the schools are not operating as promised. Thompson Elementary ranked 205th out of 239 Houston schools in a report last year that showed each school's energy cost per student. Walnut Bend Elementary ranked 155th. A third "green" school, built in 2010, ranked 46th in the report, which a local utility did for the district to find ways of cutting energy costs. -- "Green schools save money," the council declares in an 80-page guide for state legislators that cites one cost study -- a council-funded report from 2006 that says certified schools use about a third less energy than conventional schools. The conclusion is based on estimates made before construction of 30 green-certified schools -- including Washington Middle School in Olympia, Wash., projected to use 28% less energy. The school used 19% more energy than a conventional school in its first two years and 65% more than planned, a 2011 state report says. Another Washington report said school designers "often overestimate the savings" in energy use, but that about 65% of a dozen green schools were shown to be more energy-efficient than conventional schools. -- "Green schools help improve student performance," the building council says in its legislators' guide. But a USA TODAY review of school-test records, LEED-certification documents and research reports shows little correlation between "green schools" and student performance or energy use. Buildings can get certified by following standard school-construction practice and adding features unrelated to energy use or the interior, such as steps to reduce car trips, water use, light pollution and storm-water runoff. The most comprehensive report on green schools found no studies showing they improve student or teacher performance. The National Research Council in 2007 said health and learning are "influenced by many individual family and community factors," making it difficult to pinpoint a building's effects. Its report says students could benefit from buildings that are dry, quiet, well-ventilated and clean. USA TODAY found no clear pattern in student test scores at 65 schools in 11 states that have been rebuilt to LEED standards and have been open for at least two years. Forty-two schools saw scores rise after students moved into a LEED building, and 23 saw declines. Many changes were small and moved in the same direction as the school district.