School Climate Matters

A classroom in Guipuscoa

Chalk up more research confirming what-we’ve-been-saying-all-along here at Schools & Ecosystems: a school’s learning environment impacts student learning.

In case you don’t know, NYC has been collecting what folks call “school climate” data via surveys administered to teachers, parents, and students since 2007. It’s important information to have about a school–arguably more important, to my mind, than test scores (I believe both should be considered).

Last July, I had quoted Match Education’s Mike Goldstein asking an important question about all this data:

Is anyone aware of scholars and reporters digging deep into this data set?  Is there any other data set in the USA just as good?

I think it’d be hugely productive to identify NYC schools which have made progress in “Total Climate” — and then study why.

Well, Mike, you’ve got your answer.

NYU’s Research Alliance for New York City Schools published a study using NYC’s school climate information that demonstrates that a school’s learning environment not only impacts student learning, but furthermore teacher retention. As Chalkbeat NY’s Alex Zimmerman reports:

Each measure, the report found, is independently linked to decreases in teacher turnover. And gains on two of those measures, high academic expectations and school safety, were directly connected to better scores on state math exams.

The study found that if a school improved from the 50th percentile across the study’s four measures of school climate (leadership, expectations, relationships, and safety) to the 84th percentile, teacher turnover would decline by 25 percent, or 3.8 percentage points.

A similar percentile increase in measures of school safety and high academic expectations alone boosted math scores enough to account for an extra month and a half of instruction. (Improvements in school climate also boosted language arts scores on state tests, but those gains weren’t statistically significant.)

It’s important to note that this study confined its focus to the following aspects of school climate:

  • safety and order
  • leadership and professional development
  • high academic expectations
  • teacher relationships and collaboration

Missing in such an examination (and mostly from these surveys themselves) is a focus on the physical environment of a school. There are questions pertaining to cleanliness and conditions of a school, but as we’ve also been arguing on this blog, the actual design, and the incorporation (or absence) of access to natural light and greenery, colors, furniture, etcetera (all largely subconscious factors), all have an impact on learning and relationships in a school.

If your school is interested in collecting school climate data, the US Department of Education is sharing free surveys and information for collection of data similar to NYC’s. Check it out and share.

How Are We Using NYC School Survey Data?

Match Education’s Mike Goldstein asks some important questions about NYC School Surveys:

Unfortunately, my sense is: this wonderful NYC data [on school climate] is too buried to drive the policy conversation.  Maybe I’m wrong.

Is anyone aware of scholars and reporters digging deep into this data set?  Is there any other data set in the USA just as good?

I think it’d be hugely productive to identify NYC schools which have made progress in “Total Climate” — and then study why.  Sometimes you’ll just find good old-fashioned leadership and teamwork, without any fancy new policies.

And to study the “low tail” as well — which NYC schools have culture which plummeted.  I suspect sometimes you’d find that a few key staff departed, and it turned out “They were the glue that held it all together.”

–Mike Goldstein, “Lost at School” on Puzzl_ED  (read the whole piece also for an insightful critique of Ross Greene’s Lost at School approach (which I’m a big fan of))

A Curriculum as Catalyst for Productive Struggle

Along the lines of what I wrote about in my last post about balancing a productive struggle in the classroom, here’s a post on Puzzl_ED about an interesting curriculum for math called JUMP, created by a non-profit, which seems to strike that balance.

Mike Goldstein makes the following argument in his post:

Instead of creating a utopian public policy ideal where we attract teachers with unusually high math aptitude, and then train them really effectively, so they can invent their own clever lessons — utopian because none of the 3 things typically happens now in real life — put the teachers we have now in a position to succeed through very prescribed curriculum.

Though my favorite thing in the world is develop my own curriculum (really), I do think that having a strong “prescribed” curriculum in place is fundamental, given the lack of time and guidance teachers have. I’d rather have something I can draw from and re-interpret based on my own understanding, rather than nothing at all. And from what I’ve seen, teachers are hungry to have quality resources and content at hand.

Other than Expeditionary Learning’s and Core Knowledge’s K-5 material, anyone know of anything comparable to JUMP being done for ELA curriculum? Seems much harder to accomplish in the murky and fuzzy realm of that domain.