Climate Change

In Education, Environment Is Everything

Schools where students feel safe, engaged and connected to their teachers are also schools that have narrower achievement gaps between low-income children and their wealthier peers. This research analysis found correlations between improved school climates and narrower achievement gaps between students in different socio-economic groups.

Authors of the analysis, published November 1 in Review of Educational Research, analyzed 78 school climate research studies published between 2000 and 2015 to detect trends in findings. They also suggested ways that school climate research could be strengthened.

All but one study analyzed found a relationship between school climate and student achievement.

“Our analysis of more than 15 years’ worth of research shows that schools do matter and can do much to improve academic outcomes,” study co-author Ron Avi Astor, a professor of social work and education at the University of Southern California, said in a statement. “Our findings suggest that by promoting a positive climate, schools can allow greater equality in educational opportunities, decrease socioeconomic inequalities, and enable more social mobility.”

All but one study analyzed found a relationship
between school climate and student acheivement.

While the studies used inconsistent definitions for school climate, the analysis generally defines it as “positive teacher-student relationships, sense of safety, and student connectedness to and engagement in school.”

Among the authors’ findings: A positive school climate can weaken the effects of low family income on achievement.

“About 13 percent of the studies found that climate has a moderating influence on the relationship between background characteristics and academic achievement,” the analysis says. “For example, some studies indicated that positive climate decreases the correlation between SES background and academic achievement, whereas negative school climate increases this correlation, primarily among students with lower SES backgrounds.”

The Challenge? Creating Community

This study is helpful but does little to mitigate the effects of bureaucratic inner city public school systems that keep administrators and teachers under tremendous pressure to move mountains with tighter and tighter budgets. Especially when faced with populations that arrive at schools traumatized by home and neighborhood environments that are steeped in poverty, violence, drug activity, neglect, food insecurities and so on.

Impoverished circumstances create a different kind of culture, often one that holds limited ideas about what’s possible. Our under-resourced schools cannot be expected to shift students from difficult backgrounds into feeling great about themselves and the world quickly or easily. It takes years of investment, consistency, and individualized attention; a tall order when you are an administrator with an overcrowded and underfunded school.

As a city, we can work to translate the important finding of this study and put it into action. This year, consider supporting a local school in a poor neighborhood, or better yet, volunteer or contribute to a community-based organization like Exodus. Most CBO’s have considerably more freedom than schools to create a nurturing environment that can be consistent year to year.

Portions of this article were originally published by NPR Education here.

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