What is a positive school climate and why does it matter?
A positive school climate is one in which students, educators and staff feel safe, welcomed, supported and connected. Studies show that healthy school climates contribute to academic achievement and other positive outcomes for students.
However, when school climates aren’t positive, and students feel disconnected or in danger, they have trouble focusing on their schoolwork and are less likely to graduate and become productive members of their communities.
Measures of school climate include rates of suspensions and expulsions, data about school bullying, and survey results showing if students and teachers feel safe at school and if students are receiving the support they need to thrive.
Approaches That Work
If your district or school would like to improve school climate, here are some approaches that have shown success:
Positive Behavioral Intervention and Support (PBIS)
• What is it? PBIS is the most widely used positive school discipline approach in California and has been shown to reduce suspensions and expulsions and help create more engaging learning environments. You can learn more and download or print free toolkits from Fix School Discipline.
• Where is it working? PBIS is working at Pioneer High School in the Woodland Joint Unified School District, Garfield Senior High School in the Los Angeles Unified School District, Vallejo City Unified School District and others. Learn more about how PBIS is changing Pioneer.
Restorative Justice/Restorative Practices
• What is it? Restorative practices are approaches that respond to wrongdoing by seeking ways to repair the harm that has been done, instead of reflexively suspending or expelling those involved. Building positive relationships among students, teachers and school staff is at the heart of restorative approaches. You can learn more from Fix School Discipline.
• Where is it working? It is working in the Oakland Unified School District (learn more), Fresno Unified School District and many others.
• Where can I learn more? You can learn more from Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth.
• What is it? This approach recognizes too many children grow up exposed to violence, neglect and dysfunction, all of which affect their ability to learn and focus in school. In addition to responding to disruptive incidents at school, it seeks to address the underlying problems that contribute to misbehavior.
• Where is it working? A model program in California is the HEARTS (Healthy Environments and Response to Trauma in Schools) Project currently in use at the San Francisco Unified School District.
• Where can I learn more? You can learn more from the California Department of Education.
The Good Behavior Game
• What is it? The Good Behavior Game is a low-cost approach that helps teachers manage their classrooms and reduce misconduct by rewarding good behavior. It is most effective in elementary schools.
• Where is it working? The Sacramento City Unified School District, the Hacienda/La Puente Unified School District and many others across the nation have used this approach.
• Where can I learn more? You can learn more from the Good Behavior Game.
• What is it? Bullying prevention programs emphasize respect, compassion and peaceful conflict resolution as strategies for reducing bullying. The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program is widely considered to be among the best approaches.
• Where is it working? Olweus has been used successfully in Chula Vista and many other cities across the nation.
• Where can I learn more? You can learn more from Violence Prevention Works.
How is my district doing when it comes to school climate?
The Fair School Funding law, also known as the Local Control Funding Formula, requires school districts to collect information on school suspensions and expulsions as a way for parents and other local leaders to assess school climate.
High rates of suspensions and expulsions are associated with lower academic achievement and schools that are chaotic and unsafe. School districts report suspensions and expulsions to the California Department of Education every year.
You can look up your school district's suspension and expulsion rates from the California Department of Education. Just click on the name of your county, after which you can click on the name of a specific school district.
The UCLA Civil Rights Project’s Center for Civil Rights Remedies has analyzed all of the 2012-2013 school discipline data, within which you can look up your district's discipline data and include this in your LCAP to satisfy the “school climate” State Priority Area.
Data from the California Healthy Kids Survey provides information on local school climates and can be easily searched on Kidsdata.org. Relevant topics include:
• Bullying and harassment at school
• School safety
• Emotional health of students, including depression
• Feeling connected to school
The California Healthy Kids Survey includes an optional series of questions (PDF) that can be used to evaluate your school climate.
How can you improve school climate?
• Read and share this document, developed by Fight Crime Invest in Kids California, Partnership for Children and Youth, and Children Now, which provides guidance to the State Board of Education around school climate and the use of school climate surveys in the LCAP.
• Review this sample LCAP for School Climate, from the Los Angeles chapter of the Dignity in Schools campaign, as it might be helpful in reviewing your district’s LCAP related goals and priorities. Structured as a filled-in LCAP template, the document offers sample needs, goals, and metrics by which to measure progress around improving school climate.
• Explore this new paper on school climate, from Educators4Excellence, which focuses on school climate as part of the movement toward educational equity and makes specific recommendations around ways to leverage LCFF to improve school climate.
• Spread the word about school suspension and expulsion rates, including how many were issued by the school district, how many were issued at each school, the reasons for the suspension and the number of suspended students who were low-income, English learners, foster youth, African American, Latino and/or male.
• Find out if your school or school district is adopting the approaches described here. If not, ask them to start. They work!