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.
SCHOOL SIZE OR FLEXIBLE SCHOOL STRUCTURE
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.
SUBSTANTIAL TEACHER AUTHORITY
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.
COMPONENTS OF A GOOD SCHOOL ETHOS
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.
CONSISTENT AND SHARED VALUES AND STANDARDS
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.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
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.