School Climate Central to California’s New Quality Schooling Framework

As we begin this new school year, recognition of the importance of creating a positive school climate and culture continues to grow. Just last week this was reflected in CDE’s release of its new online Quality Schooling Framework (QSF). School climate and culture is one of the set of 10 fundamental research-based, interrelated elements that the QSF emphasizes are needed to ensure that all students learn and thrive and are prepared for college and career.

This tool acts like a map, providing timely tools, resources, best practices, and guidelines to help schools and districts make effective plans, policies, and instructional and financial decisions, particularly at the district level for the Local Educational Agency Plan and the Local Control and Accountability Plan. It is also intended as “a conceptual model for gauging and supporting a school’s effectiveness.”

The QSF places a strong emphasis on the importance of school climate and culture, drawing on the framework used in CDE’s Safe and Supportive Schools Project and in developing its California School Climate, Health and Learning Survey System (Cal-SCHLS). The QSF website notes that “the school environment, like family and community environments, has either a powerful positive or negative effect on whether students learn and thrive.” It elaborates: “Physical, environmental, and social aspects of a school have a profound impact on student experiences, attitudes, behaviors, and performance. School culture and climate help determine whether students are motivated to learn and stay in school. In a healthy and positive school culture, all students experience equally supportive learning environments and opportunities that help them learn and thrive.”

Indeed, it can be argued that school climate and culture are the glue that binds all the framework’s elements together and creates the foundation on which to build effective school improvement efforts. Too often it has been the missing piece in school reform, which has tended to focus on governance, curriculum, and instruction, an oversight that helps explain why too often these reforms have fallen short.

Assessment is another of the framework’s ten elements and the Cal-SCHLS system is an invaluable tool for assessing not only school climate and culture but other elements of the QSF and LCAP priorities. Last year, we restructured the secondary Healthy Kids and Staff surveys to enhance their value for providing data to guide school improvement efforts. Secondary schools can also now request a School Climate Report Card based on their Healthy Kids data. This year, we have restructured the elementary Healthy Kids Survey to align it with these changes. For further information, visit the survey websites: chks.wested.org and cscs.wested.org.

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