Educators Agree—The Three Rs Aren’t Always Their Biggest Concern

And this is shaping trends across the country.

Safety and a positive school climate helps students succeed. (Photo: Christian Science Monitor/Getty Images)
Suzi Parker is a regular contributor to TakePart. Her work also appears in The Christian Science Monitor and Reuters.

Shouldn't education go beyond reading, writing and arithmetic?

The theory that it not only should, but must, is the focus of the 2013 edition of Education Week’s Quality Counts report: Code of Conduct: Safety, Discipline, and School Climate. The report is a collaboration between the Education Week newsroom and the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center. It examines “the impact of a school’s social and disciplinary environment on students’ ability to learn and on the teachers and administrators tasked with guiding them.”

Sterling Lloyd, senior research associate on the project, said in an interview that the theme was chosen months before the Newtown, Conn., tragedy because the subject is one of major concern for educators and administrators.

More: 5 Things You Can Do Right Now to Support Newtown, CT

“We see there is a growing consensus among educators about the climate and safety of school,” Lloyd said. “Students can’t learn as well if they don’t feel safe or if they are not developed in a well-rounded way. Some schools are starting to use social and emotional skills for students to learn to cope with adversity, resolve conflicts with their peers…and find ways to develop skills that aren’t just academic, but deal with the ups and downs of the school year. That can have a big impact on a student’s success.”

In fact, nearly 75 percent of respondents report that school climate is “very important” to student achievement.

Lloyd said that certain trends are emerging in schools. He pointed out that 53 percent of educators and administrators surveyed said they had enacted school-wide behavioral management programs, and another 35 percent were implementing social and emotional learning initiatives. More than half of respondents report that their schools have used multiple strategies in this area.

“Some schools are helping students by teaching appropriate behavior,” he said. “Others are identifying patterns of behavior in their schools by looking at the numbers the incidences in misbehavior and types of infractions and how to address those because they have the data in hand.”

The report also contains the annual Quality Counts report card, which is the most comprehensive ongoing assessment of the state of American education. The news isn’t great, but it is better than last year. The United States received a C+, only a half-point improvement from last year, when graded across the six distinct areas of policy and performance.

The top five states in the rankings are Maryland, the only state to receive a B+ (the highest overall grade given this year), followed by Massachusetts, New York, Virginia, and Arkansas.

South Dakota was the lowest ranking state in the study. Alaska, Mississippi, Idaho, and Nevada are also at the bottom of the list.

The report shows that President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top initiative, along with the Common Core State Standards, may be working. In 2012, 38 states defined college readiness, which are five more than in 2011 and 18 more than in 2009.

Lloyd said that discipline, which is addressed in the report, is one area that will continue to dominate the education conversation in the next few years.

The study noted that administrators and teachers tend to support less severe disciplinary options and prefer in-school to out-of-school suspensions. Less than half of those surveyed (48 percent) think zero-tolerance policies, which emerged in the 1990s, work successfully.

“There is more and more attention as we have incidents of school violence, and people want to know how they should deal with these incidents,” Lloyd said. “There’s a difference of opinion about more severe penalties as being ineffective. Students who are suspended are more likely to drop out, and students who are expelled could end up in the criminal justice system. This discussion of punishment is an emerging topic of interest for educators across the country.”

Do you think the school climate is just as important as academics? Share your thoughts in comments.

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