ERIC Identifier: ED235247
Publication Date: 1982-12-00
Author: Ascher, Carol
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education New York NY.

Secondary School Ethos and the Academic Success of Urban Minority Students. ERIC/CUE Fact Sheet Number 14.

A school ethos or climate conducive to students' academic success combines many interrelated educational features. According to Rutter and others (1979), who developed the notion of school ethos, an urban school with a good school ethos is characterized by student and teacher cohesion, a strong academic emphasis, positive teacher expectations of students, positive teacher attitudes toward students, a stress on positive rewards, and consistent and shared values and standards. These secondary schools create students who perform well academically, have good discipline and have high attendance records, while schools with a poor ethos create the opposite student behaviors.


Researchers disagree about the relationship between school size and effective schooling. Several reviews of research on school violence assert the importance of small school size in contributing to a peaceful atmosphere (Asner and Broschart 1978; Gottfredson and Daiger 1979; Office of Juvenile Justice 1980). The rationale for most alternative schools and for the major evaluations of these programs assumes that small is peaceful, particularly for students who are likely to be marginal (Office of Juvenile Justice 1980).

Other researchers argue that the negative effects of a large school can be mitigated by other factors, such as a flexible school structure. Rutter found school size to be of little importance to a good school ethos; instead, in a related finding, he points to the need to keep students together as they proceed through school from year to year and to prevent rotating them from class to class each period. Allowing students to remain together prevents the alienation that is common to the large school and promotes student cohesion.

Sizer (1984) offers an intellectual or academic argument for eliminating class rotation and the fragmentation of seven or eight rigid time units; in his view, a simple, flexible structure makes possible a variety of learning settings and provides students the opportunity to choose among them.


Several recent studies point to the importance of returning to teachers the substantial authority for planning, policy, and curriculum and for determining individual teaching styles.

Based on a nationwide study of secondary schools, Goodlad (1984) suggests far greater decentralization of authority than now exists, including giving teachers the authority to develop programs and choose materials that they and their students will use. Kusimo and Erlandson (1983) demonstrate the importance of a school organization that supports upward and horizontal as well as downward communication. Sizer (1984) argues for resisting standardization because it limits teacher autonomy and authority.


Evidence suggests that participation, particularly by marginal students, declines with increased school size (Office of Juvenile Justice 1980). Although Gottfredson and Daiger (1979) report that student participation does little to decrease school violence, Rutter finds the opposite to be true. Behavioral and academic outcomes were higher in schools where a high proportion of students were given active roles and positions of responsibility, and where teachers and students shared extracurricular activities.

Phillips and Rosenberger (1983) point to the effectiveness of empowering students--allowing them to tutor other students, to assist adults in planning, and to join school improvement task forces--in creating a good school ethos and an effective school.


A good school ethos, according to a number of studies, is created by a strongly academic atmosphere, high expectations for student success, and a stress on positive rewards.

Arganbright (1983) reviews research showing that one common feature of effective schools is teachers who believe that all students can learn and who have an instructional orientation reflecting this belief. Phillips and Rosenberger (1983) suggest the necessity for a "conspiracy of concern": intentional efforts by adults to be hopeful and optimistic.

Rutter points to a number of components that characterize a positive school ethos: vigorous lesson plans that allow little wasted time and that elicit high performance standards; regular and consistent homework; high grading standards (with grades not being used for disciplinary purposes); and immediate and positive reactions to students' performance. He found punishment, particularly corporal, to be associated with poor attendance and delinquency.


Increasingly, studies of urban secondary schooling note the importance to a school's effectiveness of consistent and shared values and standards of both academic excellence and discipline. Greeley (1982) argues that, although it is particularly difficult in a pluralistic society for a public school principal or teacher to act with confidence on issues of values and standards, the success of Catholic schools with minority students indicates that legal mandates and bureaucratic alterations are no substitute for personal attention and clear and strong beliefs and values.


Arganbright, Jerry L. "Teacher Expectations--A Critical Factor For Student Achievement." NASSP BULLETIN 67 (September 1983):93-95.

Asner, Martha R., and James Broschart, editors. VIOLENT SCHOOLS--SAFE SCHOOLS: THE SAFE SCHOOL STUDY REPORT TO THE CONGRESS. Vol I. Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1978. ED 149 464.

Goodlad, John I. A PLACE CALLED SCHOOL: PROSPECTS FOR THE FUTURE. New York: McGraw Hill, 1984.

Gottfredson, Gary D., and Denise C. Daiger. DISRUPTION IN SIX HUNDRED SCHOOLS. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University, Center for Social Organization of Schools, 1979. ED 183 701.

Greeley, Andrew W. CATHOLIC HIGH SCHOOLS AND MINORITY STUDENTS. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 1982.

Kusimo, Patricia S., and David A. Erlandson. "Instructional Communications in a Large High School." NAASP BULLETIN 67 (November 1983):18-24.

Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. "Delinquency Prevention through Alternative Education." Part of PROGRAM ANNOUNCEMENT: PREVENTION OF DELINQUENCY THROUGH ALTERNATIVE EDUCATION (a request for proposals from The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention). Washington, D.C.: Department of Justice, 1980. ED 183 707.

Phillips, Gary, and Thomas Rosenberger. "Breaking the Failure Circle in an Inner-City High School." NAASP BULLETIN 67 (November 1983):30-35.

Rutter, Michael and others. FIFTEEN THOUSAND HOURS: SECONDARY SCHOOLS AND THEIR EFFECTS ON CHILDREN. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979.

Sizer, Theodore. HORACE'S COMPROMISE: THE DILEMMA OF THE AMERICAN HIGH SCHOOL. Boston, MD: Houghton Mifflin, 1984.

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