Students Think School Culture Could Use a Makeover

When the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was signed into law a year ago, many educators celebrated the idea that non-academic measures such as school culture could finally play a part in demonstrating school quality. But that might be a bit premature. According to most American students, the culture at their schools could use a makeover.

A survey among students in grades 5—12 found that only one in three rate their school cultures positively. As the age goes up, the perception goes down. While 37 percent of middle schoolers rate the culture positively, only 30 percent of high schoolers do. Likewise, while 44 percent of sixth graders give a favorable rating, only 32 percent of ninth graders and 28 percent of 11th graders do.

Those results came out of a multi-year survey done by YouthTruth, a national nonprofit that researches student and other stakeholder perceptions in education. The survey ran between 2013 and 2016, taking input from 80,000 public school students in 24 states. Districts that participated also received customized versions of the results of the survey, reflecting perspectives of their own students.

Students blame themselves more than the adults for at least one aspect of negative school culture: respect. Respondents agreed with the statement that the adults in their schools treat them with more respect (57 percent) than they treat the adults (34 percent). As one high schooler noted, "I observe students both disrespecting the authority of teachers and disrespecting the ideas, beliefs and personalities of their peers. This bothers me because disrespect discourages openness and safety."

Also, most students consider discipline at their schools unfair, with the results varying by demographic. While 49 percent of Asian students, 39 percent of white students and 39 percent of Hispanic students agreed that discipline at their schools was fair, only 34 percent of multiracial students and 28 percent of black or African-American students agreed. "We know that students' experiences with discipline affect many aspects of their lives and learning experience; the cost of not addressing this gap is high," the report stated.

A summary of the results of the national survey are available on the YouthTruth website here.

About the Author

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