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School Climate (see data for this topic)

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Why This Topic Is Important
When school climate is positive—for example, when students feel safe and connected to school, and when they have caring relationships with adults and meaningful ways to participate—young people are more likely to succeed academically and engage in healthy behaviors (1, 2). When schools support students’ social, emotional, and physical needs, behavioral problems can be avoided and academic performance improves (2, 3). Improving school climate also is a promising strategy to narrow achievement gaps between lower and higher income students and students of different racial/ethnic backgrounds (4). California law now requires school districts to address school climate as part of the Local Control and Accountability Plans (2).
For more information on school climate, see kidsdata.org’s Research & Links section.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  California Department of Education. (2020). Positive school climate. Retrieved from: https://www.cde.ca.gov/ls/ss/se/schoolclimate.asp

2.  Lee, B. (2016). Improving school climate through LCAPs. Fight Crime: Invest in Kids California. Retrieved from: https://www.strongnation.org/articles/165-improving-school-climate-through-lcaps

3.  National School Climate Council. (2015). School climate and pro-social educational improvement: Essential goals and processes that support student success for all. Teachers College Record. Retrieved from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/325178158

4.  Berkowitz, R., et al. (2017). A research synthesis of the associations between socioeconomic background, inequality, school climate, and academic achievement. Review of Educational Research, 87(2), 425-469. Retrieved from: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.3102/0034654316669821
Policy Implications
A positive school climate—determined by factors such as students feeling safe and connected to school, and having caring relationships with adults and meaningful ways to participate—is linked to higher academic achievement and improved student behavior (1, 2, 3). A positive school climate has the potential to reduce achievement gaps between students of different income levels and racial/ethnic backgrounds (4). Recognizing this as a promising strategy to improve student outcomes, California law requires school districts to address school climate (as well as student engagement, parent involvement, and other priorities) in annual Local Control and Accountability Plans (2). While California districts have made progress in recent years, considerable room for improvement remains (2). Education leaders can continue to strengthen policies and practices that build positive school-family-community partnerships and support students’ social, emotional, and physical needs (3, 5). Students who have become disconnected from school or experience frequent school transitions may need additional support (3, 6).

Policy and practice options that could improve school climate include:
  • Engaging all school stakeholders—leaders, staff, students, families, and community members—in developing and maintaining a shared understanding of positive school climate and how it can be achieved (3, 6)
  • Creating environments that foster caring relationships, trust, and open communication among students, teachers, staff, administrators, families, and community partners (3, 6)
  • Engaging students in decision-making processes and meaningful activities during and outside of school hours, such as providing opportunities to participate in cooperative learning, class meetings, and service learning projects (3)
  • Creating opportunities for families to participate actively in school activities and decision-making processes (3, 6, 7)
  • Offering training and coaching to teachers and school staff so that they can effectively support the diverse needs of students, develop meaningful student-staff relationships, promote healthy behavior, and support a whole-child approach to education (3, 5)
  • Providing students with opportunities to learn pro-social skills—e.g., problem-solving, relationship-building, self-regulation, and decision-making—along with the support necessary to develop them; as part of this, incorporating social-emotional learning as an intentional part of classroom instruction (3, 5)
  • Implementing school-wide, prevention-oriented discipline policies that are fair, consistent, and promote a positive learning environment; such policies should be based on a tiered system of appropriate responses to misconduct that keep students in school when possible (5, 6)
  • Creating clean, appealing physical environments at school (6)
  • Ensuring that school practices and policies reflect and respond to the diverse cultural norms and values of its students, their families, and the broader community (3, 5, 6)
For more information, see kidsdata.org’s Research & Links section or visit California Safe and Supportive Schools. Also see Policy Implications on kidsdata.org under Bullying and Harassment at School, Pupil Support Services, and School Attendance and Discipline.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  California Department of Education. (2020). Positive school climate. Retrieved from: https://www.cde.ca.gov/ls/ss/se/schoolclimate.asp

2.  Lee, B. (2016). Improving school climate through LCAPs. Fight Crime: Invest in Kids California. Retrieved from: https://www.strongnation.org/articles/165-improving-school-climate-through-lcaps

3.  National School Climate Council. (2015). School climate and pro-social educational improvement: Essential goals and processes that support student success for all. Teachers College Record. Retrieved from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/325178158

4.  Berkowitz, R., et al. (2017). A research synthesis of the associations between socioeconomic background, inequality, school climate, and academic achievement. Review of Educational Research, 87(2), 425-469. Retrieved from: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.3102/0034654316669821

5.  Voight, A., et al. (2013). A climate for academic success: How school climate distinguishes schools that are beating the achievement odds. WestEd. Retrieved from: https://www.wested.org/resources/a-climate-for-academic-success-how-school-climate-distinguishes-schools-that-are-beating-the-achievement-odds-full-report

6.  Morgan, E., et al. (2014). The school discipline consensus report: Strategies from the field to keep students engaged in school and out of the juvenile justice system. Council of State Governments Justice Center. Retrieved from: https://csgjusticecenter.org/publications/school-discipline

7.  California Department of Education. (2014). Family engagement framework: A tool for California school districts. Retrieved from: https://www.wested.org/resources/family-engagement-framework-a-tool-for-california-school-districts
How Children Are Faring
In 2017-2019, an estimated 51% of California 7th graders, 45% of 9th graders, 40% of 11th graders, and 36% of non-traditional students had high levels of school connectedness—meaning they felt safe, close to people, and a part of school, were happy at school, and believed teachers treated students fairly. Among racial/ethnic groups with data, estimates of high levels of school connectedness ranged from 37% (African American/black) to 52% (white). Statewide, the percentage of gay, lesbian and bisexual students with high levels of school connectedness was 31%, compared with 48% of straight students, and the share of those with low connectedness (19%) was nearly double that of their straight counterparts (10%).

Students with higher levels of school connectedness tend to have higher levels of academic motivation. In 2017-2019, among California students in grades 7, 9, 11, and non-traditional programs with high levels of school connectedness, 48% had high levels of academic motivation, compared with 14% of students with low connectedness. Younger children, girls, and students whose parents graduated college also tend to have higher levels of academic motivation in comparison with their peers.

Levels of school supports—which reflect student reports about the quality of their relationships with adults at school and their opportunities for meaningful participation—vary by race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status. For instance, 24% of Hispanic/Latino students in grades 7, 9, 11, and non-traditional programs statewide were estimated to have high levels of school supports in 2017-2019, compared with 34% of white students, while 21% of students whose parents did not finish high school had high levels of school supports, compared with 34% of students with a parent who completed a college degree.
In 2017-2019, fewer than one in three responses by California elementary, middle, and high school staff reported that youth development, resilience, or asset promotion was fostered a lot at their school, compared with nearly half (46%) of responses from staff at non-traditional programs. When asked whether students at their school respect each other's differences, 29% of responses by California elementary school staff reported strong agreement, compared with 16% of responses from middle school, 20% of responses from high school, and 27% of responses from non-traditional staff.