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Tag Archive: Schools that Work

  1. What is School Climate? Part 1

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    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

    Extensive research proves that school climate affects student outcomes.  School climate has been shown to affect middle school students’ self-esteem and a wide range of emotional and mental health outcomes.  A positive school climate is related to a lower frequency of students’ substance abuse.  Studies have also found that a positive school climate is correlated with decreased student absenteeism and lower rates of suspension.

    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.


  2. Stronger advocacy with you

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    This past Sunday, A+ Schools was featured on the front page of the Post-Gazette. We’re truly grateful for the recognition of our work on an important issue like making sure all students benefit from high quality instruction.

    We know that teaching is the most important job in Pittsburgh. Research shows that teachers are the SINGLE most important school factor in a child’s success.  And in Pittsburgh, we know that our most effective teachers can get students to learn almost twice as much compared to a failing teacher in a single school year.

    As an organization that’s focused on equity, we’re highly concerned that furloughing teachers based on seniority only disproportionately affects our most vulnerable schools – like King, Westinghouse, and Faison – where more than 40% of teachers were furloughed in 2012. High poverty schools have higher numbers of new teachers. Teacher layoffs based on seniority are disruptive and unfair to students, teachers and principals, and important gains by teachers and students year over year can be lost.

    We’ve supported efforts locally and at the state level to try to change these policies to be able to limit the disproportionate impact of furloughs on our most vulnerable students.   While changing these policies is critically important, it is not the only solution.  We know that mission driven schools, where a high performing principal and great teachers are working together to create positive teaching and learning environments, where parents are active and engaged and where students are partners in their own education – these are places where teachers want to teach and students can learn and staff turnover can be minimized.

    Creating mission driven schools with positive teaching and learning environments is why we work with parents who want to play a bigger role in their children’s schools as advocates and support the staffs at those schools to support learning through Parent Nation. Creating mission driven schools is why we support student leaders in TeenBloc who want to end zero tolerance policies in their schools that push children out and have little impact on improving learning.  We’ll continue to provide our community high quality research and analysis about what works in schools so we can advocate for change based on data.

    Our Board Chair said it best when she wrote to the Post-Gazette today, “We take a holistic approach — most of the work of the organization is alongside parents and youth in some of our most challenging schools supporting them as they advocate for quality and change.” We’re lucky to be able to do this work with such an involved community. And we’ll continue to fight for students with your support.