Research Review: A Positive School Environment is Fundamental

In a post on Education Week in May, “School Climate Matters”, Nirvi Shah points to a new research review that strongly bolsters viewing a school as an ecosystem. In this report, the National School Climate Center and Fordham University demonstrate that the environment of a school has a profound impact on student performance and well-being.
Here is Shah’s outline of some of the key findings from the review:
  • School climate affects middle school students’ self-esteem and lessens the negative effects of self-criticism.
  • A positive and sound socio-emotional climate at school is related to the frequency of students’ substance-abuse and psychiatric problems.
  • Even better: A positive school climate is linked to lower levels of drug use as well as fewer self-reports of psychiatric problems among high school students. In early adolescence, a positive school climate is predictive of better psychological well-being.
  • A series of studies revealed that a positive school climate is correlated with decreased student absenteeism in middle school and high school. Furthermore, a growing body of research has indicated that positive school climate is critical to effective risk prevention.
The following quote from the article also demonstrates that a school’s environment can have an especially critical impact for students raised in challenging circumstances:

“Improving school climate should help any school, but it particularly should be part of turning around a low-performing school,” Gregory Austin, the director of WestEd’s Health and Human Development program and a co-author of the study, told EdSource. “For low income communities with a lot of nonschool problems, such as poverty, the research suggests that providing a safe, developmentally supportive school will help mitigate the risk factors” (bold added).

As they state in their executive summary of the report, “school climate is a malleable factor that schools or districts are able to manipulate.” In other words, there’s no excuses for not addressing a school’s environment. Some of this can be created, as the authors in the report suggest, by an environment of high expectations and caring for all students. But as we’ve explored on this blog, the physical environment also can have a strong impact. These are both areas that we must address.

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