School Climate Making the Difference in Beating-the-Odds Schools

By Ginger Cook | Categories: Uncategorized

Today my son Owen finishes his Kindergarten year here in the Oakland Unified School District. While I have been professionally focused on creating positive school climates over the last number of years, this year I encountered one Oakland Unified school from a more personal perspective. As a new Kinder parent, I was able to see and appreciate the value of a positive school climate for students and adults in my son’s elementary school every day. Experiencing this first hand reinforced my passion for the work we do in elementary schools. And as I look (many years) forward for my son, I think about the importance of school climate in middle and high school as well.

WestEd is adding to a wide body of research making the case that a positive school climate is associated with high achievement. With their report, A Climate for Academic Success: How School Climate Distinguishes Schools That Are Beating the Achievement Odds, Adam Voight, Gregory Austin, and Tomas Hanson sought to answer the question, “What makes successful schools different from other schools?”

Looking at data from 1,700 California middle and high schools, the research team identified 40 schools that consistently performed better than predicted on standardized tests. They then compared these “beating-the-odds” (BTO) schools to others on school climate indicators, such as strong relationships, positive school engagement, and sense of safety.

WestEd found that the BTO schools had substantively more positive school climates than comparison schools (scoring in the 82nd percentile vs. other schools in the 49th percentile on average on the School Climate Index). In fact, schools with the highest School Climate Index value had a 44.5% probability of beating the odds (doing better than expected in relation to similar schools).

There are so many initiatives for underperforming schools, but without attending to school climate and creating the conditions for change to occur, teachers often just feel inundated with one more thing. Attending to school climate is an opportunity to “change the operating system” and habits and ways of being that may be getting in the way of learning.

Here’s one mom hoping that WestEd’s report helps fuel the fire for schools to focus more on establishing and maintaining a positive school climate and setting the conditions for learning-not just in elementary but throughout K-12.

Interested in learning more? Check out the summary here (the full report is linked above).