AERA 2018 Annual Meeting: “The Dreams, Possibilities, and Necessity of Public Education”
April 13-17, 2018
Title: The Effect of School Climate on Students' Social-Emotional Competencies
Authors: Matthew A. Kraft, Erik Ruzek (PhD Alumnus), Katerina Schenke (PhD Alumna), Katie H. Buckley, Chris S. Hulleman
A large body of research has demonstrated the importance of social-emotional competencies for academic, career and life outcomes, even after accounting for students’ cognitive skills. Exposing students to school environments that cultivate the development of these competencies provides a potentially important and scalable lever for preparing students for success in higher education and the labor market.
To contribute to this field, we address the following research question: Which school policies and practices promote students’ social-emotional skills? We examine the degree to which social-emotional competencies, including self-management, growth mindset, self-efficacy and social awareness, are affected by aspects of the school environment as perceived by students and staff. School climate includes perceptions of support for academic learning; knowledge and fairness of discipline, rules and norms; perceptions of school safety; and feelings of connectedness. Further, we examine issues of equity and investigate whether school climate effects differ across gender, race, and socio-economic groups.
To answer these research questions, we use data from the CORE districts, which have collected a rich set of measures of students’ social-emotional competencies as well as student, teacher, and parent perceptions of the school culture/climate across several years. Our descriptive sample consists of over 200,000 students in grades 4-12, covering 1,127 school over two years (2014-15 and 2015-16).
We employ a quasi-experimental research design that exploits student transitions across schools over time. As such, our analytic sample consists of over 70,000 students who transferred schools in terminal grades with full survey and demographic data in each of the two years of panel data. Using this sample, we examine the degree to which changes in students’ social-emotional competencies among those students who transition across school levels are related to the differences in the school climates of the schools they left and entered, relative to any secular change over time we would expect.
Preliminary results suggest that student perceptions of the school culture – as compared to staff perceptions – are stronger predictors of student social-emotional competencies. Of the school climate factors, academic support, which measures the extent to which students perceive teachers to be supportive and helpful, has the strongest impact on students’ social-emotional skills, particularly social awareness. However, perceptions of school connectedness and discipline fairness are also important levers for students’ self-management and social awareness.
Our study is among the first to explore – beyond the broad construct level – how students’ and teachers’ perceptions of school climate are related to students’ social-emotional skills. Results from this paper are intended to inform the field at large about the school-level factors and practices that have the largest potential to foster social-emotional development.