Professional Development

School Climate Sways Teacher Effectiveness and Turnover

While the latest focus on education transformation seems to be teacher professional development and evaluation systems, a new study has suggested that the teaching environment is just as important. A research team from Brown University and Harvard examined the impact on teacher turnover and student achievement of changes in school climate.

The project, explained in a new paper published by the American Educational Research Journal, looked at data culled from 278 New York City middle schools between 2008 and 2012. Researchers examined teacher responses to the school system's annual school survey, as well as student test scores, human resources data and school administrative records.

As "School Organizational Contexts, Teacher Turnover and Student Achievement: Evidence from Panel Data" explained, schools as organizations have four "distinct and potentially malleable dimensions":

  • Leadership and professional development;
  • High academic expectations for students;
  • Teacher relationships and collaboration; and
  • School safety and order.

They found "robust relationships" among increases in those aspects of the school climate and decreases in teacher turnover. That suggested, the researchers wrote in a working paper, that "improving the environment in which teachers work could play an important role in reducing turnover."

Likewise, improving safety and academic expectations were associated with "small, but meaningful gains in students' performance on standardized math tests."

"The degree to which students and teachers feel their school is a safe, orderly learning environment is of central importance for student achievement in the New York City middle schools we studied," the researchers wrote. "When aspects of the school context — for example, a principal who is an ineffective instructional leader, a school that lacks a consistent disciplinary code — are partly, or largely to blame for poor performance, efforts to measure and strengthen individual teacher effectiveness are unlikely to be adequate remedies in themselves."

These findings "suggest that closing achievement gaps and turning around struggling schools will demand a focus on not only individual teacher effectiveness, but also the organizational effectiveness of schools."

The research paper is available to subscribers of the journal or via short-term access for $36.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.