Join the conversation on twitter about ways school climate are impacting student outcomes today, August 19, 2015 at noon by using the hashtag #pghschoolclimate.
Based on our extensive research, here are our recommendations for how we can make improvements to school climate:
Recommendations to Schools and the District
In order to create positive school climates where adults consistently support every student’s social, emotional, and academic success,
Demonstrate High Expectations for Students
Increase academic rigor by holding students to high standards and encouraging effort
Teachers and other school staff should model the school’s behavior expectations and teach students how to replace inappropriate behaviors with appropriate ones
Implement a plan for developing students’ social and emotional learning skills (i.e., managing emotions, conflict mediation, etc.)
Emphasize Accountability, Building Character, Making Amends, and Keeping Students in School
Remove students from school only when there is a real and immediate safety threat to the school community
Eliminate zero tolerance policies and replace them with restorative practices
Provide training, support, and time for schools to implement restorative practices that reduce the number of disciplinary actions taking students out of class
Provide support for parents and students to understand and use restorative practices
The District should:
Create stable environments for principals to lead, teachers to teach, and students to succeed
Support visionary leaders who develop strong instructional cultures that help all teachers improve and increase students’ academic success
Empower principals to hire their own team and hold them accountable for outcomes
Take part in the conversation at noon on twitter to find out what you can do to help us make these recommendations into policy. If you can’t join us, sign up for our biweekly email to stay informed about this and other initiatives we have to improve outcomes in Pittsburgh Public Schools.
As we noted in our blog last week, every year our School Works research reveals statistically significant relationships between school practices that are not necessarily academically related (like how a school chooses to discipline a child) and student achievement. National research on successful turnaround programs in Massachusetts from the American Institutes for Research backs this up as well.
Here are five ways (based on data from School Works research into Pittsburgh Public Schools that we compared against achievement data) that lay out a roadmap for changes that can help improve school climate.
1. Schools that work recognize that all students can achieve
Our vision for Pittsburgh is that 100% of students—white, black and brown—graduate ready for college or career.We acknowledge that many factors outside of a school’s control affect student achievement. However, schools that live and breathe by the proven fact that effort creates ability have higher-achieving students who are more likely to be prepared for life beyond high school. Research over many decades has proven that when adults in schools have high expectations for students and act on the belief that all students can learn and succeed, students will achieve at higher levels.
High expectations are linked to achievement in Pittsburgh Public Schools:
High school students who feel challenged generally attend schools with higher graduation rates, higher percentages of seniors eligible for the Pittsburgh Promise, higher percentages of Algebra proficiency by 11th grade, and higher percentages of graduates attending college or trade school directly after graduating.
High expectations are linked to student engagement in Pittsburgh Public Schools:
Modeling dignity and respect is linked to student achievement in Pittsburgh Public Schools:
Principals at less vulnerable schools—which have higher achievement, growth, and lower achievement gaps, report more staff members proactively working to create a positive school culture or actively addressing students when they make discriminatory comments toward one another.
Schools with more black and brown students must prioritize modeling dignity and respect:
Suspensions have a disproportionate effect on black and brown students. According to the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, black and brown students are three times as likely to be suspended as white students across the country. This pattern exists in Pittsburgh Public Schools, where 10% of all African American students were suspended in October and November 2014, compared to only 3% of White students. Black students received 76% of the suspensions even though they represent just 53% of the District’s students.
There are alternatives to exclusionary discipline. These alternatives prioritize keeping students in the classroom by helping them understand and address the root causes of their misbehavior. One promising alternative that has recently been embraced by the District is restorative practices. Restorative practices refer to a set of school wide values and actions that emphasize the importance of positive relationships as central to building community and provide opportunities to restore relationships when harm has occurred.
More schools reporting using restorative practices in Pittsburgh Public Schools:
Restorative practices are linked with lower suspension rates in Pittsburgh Public Schools:
The average suspension rate was lower overall in schools reported to have more effective restorative practices than in schools reported to have less effective restorative practices or that do not use restorative practices.
4. Schools that work provide stability in leadership
We know that effective leadership takes time to grow at a school. Principals must collaborate with teachers to establish a shared vision of instruction and performance. They must monitor and assess teaching and learning, ensuring that teachers receive meaningful feedback, resources, and flexibility with their time in order to grow their practice.
Principal stability is linked with positive student outcomes in Pittsburgh. We looked at the number of principals each high school has had in the past 4 years (range: one to three). Every school with students in the top quartile of college or trade school attendance, eligibility for the Pittsburgh Promise, and enrollment in advanced courses (Advanced Placement and Center for Advanced Studies) had only one principal in the past four years.
5. Schools that work for students work for parents
Parents across the district responded to a survey about their satisfaction with their child’s school. While survey response rates were generally low and uneven across schools, we found significant relationships among the data we analyzed. Overall, when parents say they would recommend their child’s school to another parent, the following positive indicators of school climate are in place:
More teachers feel the school is a good place to work and learn
Student stability rate is higher
Chronic absences are lower
Fewer students are suspended
More students proficient in English and Language Arts and Math
Smaller racial achievement gaps
Want to learn more? Join us Wednesday, August 19, 2015 on Twitter for a tweetup. Use #pghschoolclimate to follow the conversation.
When you walk into a school with a positive school climate, you observe many things: students are challenged, thinking hard, and actively participating in their own learning. Adults and students interact in positive and caring ways. Teachers enjoy the flexibility to collaborate, working under leaders who create supportive instructional environments. These schools have something in common that helps bring about higher student achievement, fewer suspensions, and better attendance: they all have positive school climates.
Our students can best succeed when they come to school every day feeling safe, welcomed, and respected. They also succeed when taught by teachers who expect them to achieve at high levels and who encourage them to think, reason, and try hard.
What is school climate and why does it matter?
Students thrive in positive school climates, which are defined by the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) as the quality and character of school life. According to the National School Climate Center (NSCC) a positive school climate includes:
norms, values, and expectations that support people feeling socially, emotionally, and physically safe, engaged, and respected;
students, families, and educators working together to develop, live, and contribute to a shared school vision and care of the physical school environment; and
educators modeling and pursuing attitudes that emphasize the benefits and satisfaction gained from learning
What do we know about school climate in Pittsburgh?
Since 2009 we have been conducting our own research with principals, counselors, social workers, teachers, and students to better understand what school climate factors are linked to positive student outcomes. Year after year, the results indicate statistically significant relationships between school practices and student outcomes. Namely, when schools and their staff have high expectations of students, positive disciplinary practices that address root causes of behavior and help students make amends, and a stable teaching staff that treats students with respect and dignity, their students have higher achievement, higher graduation rates, lower chronic absenteeism, and lower suspension rates.
Check back in next week to explore what’s working in our schools with positive school climates and our recommendations for change at PPS to get all schools to have them.
Rick Wertheimer (founding principal of City Charter High School and author of The Principal’s Office) hits the nail on the head today with his post about the Post-Gazette’s wrong-headed editorial claiming that “suspension has a role in keeping order.”
Our research in Pittsburgh’s schools, and research done by many others including the ACLU of Pennsylvania and UCLA Civil Rights Project, has shown that suspension rates are more predicted by the practices of adults in the building than student behavior.
What Dr. Wertheimer’s post lays out so effectively is the inherent institutional bias that underlies arguments for “getting tough on kids.”
We are a simple minded, mean-spirited people. It is easier to blame the child… or the child’s parent. It is more nuanced to blame the lack of jobs, the breakup of families, the lack of ability of schools to be sensitive to the mental/physical/emotional health of all of its students. How dare the Post-Gazette use its bully pulpit to encourage removing children before they encourage schools to become healthy supportive institutions.
We know what works, and suspension for minor infractions, isn’t it. Schools with principals reporting effective restorative practices, were more likely to have much lower out of school suspension rates, and reported better teaching and learning environments:
But don’t just take it from us. Read the words of a local parent who wrote the following after reading the Post-Gazette’s editorial:
The editorial board, in their piece, “A Place to Learn – Student Suspension has a role in keeping order”, Feb 25th, suffer from the same point of view that many educators and administrators in Pittsburgh Public Schools do. “If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail” – Abraham Maslow.
As a mother of two special needs children who suffered neglect as infants and toddlers, and who has seen what their history has wrought in behavior and learning deficits, I can tell you that the typical “no tolerance” policy in PPS or even the disciplinary system under which I was educated 40 years ago cannot and will not help children who come from an a-typical environment.
A-typical can be children who live in neighborhoods that are stressed, who have two working parents or single parent households, uneducated or undereducated households, living under the poverty line (28% in Pittsburgh), caring for ill family members, even one-time witnesses to violence, just to name a few. And who of us has not seen our children go through difficult periods when “an event” has taken our kids off the rails?
Pittsburgh children are stressed, as are all children, in ways that can be addressed by non-punitive, restorative justice and not by police. Police are for adult crimes. Children need thoughtful child behavior specialists setting the bar for discipline in schools. Children need thoughtful, communicative school administrators and teachers who are willing to do the work to create a better school environment that in the long run will make for a better neighborhood environment.
Better students will not suffer, but will also profit short and long term if restorative practices become the norm. What child wouldn’t profit from learning how to “repair the harm, address the conflict, meet the needs to repair and restore relationships and the community?”
The data and research is clear about how to help children grow into better adjusted adults. Is it easy? I can tell you, after five years of adjustment with my children, that it is not. But the rewards are astounding. PPS and the PG Editorial Board just have to stop seeing everything as a nail and put down their hammers.
We agree. Let’s put down our hammers and follow the example of principals and schools within our own district that are working on changing school discipline so that it’s proactive, that it teaches children to make amends, and that helps children learn the social and emotional skills they’ll need to be successful in life.