TOP > Projects > Past Projects > brownU > Vol.22, No.12, December 2006 - Making measurement meaningful in K-12 schools: Promoting a climate for learning - Keep Your Eye On......bullying patterns may persist beyond high school

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Vol.22, No.12, December 2006 - Making measurement meaningful in K-12 schools: Promoting a climate for learning - Keep Your Eye On......bullying patterns may persist beyond high school

In American K-12 education, what is measured is what "counts." For example, we spend a great deal of energy measuring reading and math abilities. As important as these are, educators and parents alike understand that there are other aspects of our children's school experience that matter. Furthermore, most K-12 educators, as well as state and national education leaders, appreciate that mental health, social emotional learning, and character education shape children's capacity to learn and develop in healthy ways. Most educators appreciate that adults are always social, emotional and ethical "teachers" when they interact with children at home or at school.

Over the past 32 years, Americans have said the single most important purpose of (public) schooling is to prepare people to become responsible and caring citizens or members of our communities (Rose & Gallup, 2000). I often ask parents what they want their children "to know" and "to be" when they graduate from high school. Pubic, parochial and independent school parents have consistently responded by saying, "I want my child to be happy and responsible," "to get a good job," and "to have good friends and a good marriage." These wishes reflect social, emotional and ethical as well as cognitive or "academic" dimensions of student learning. Yet, these dimensions are not regularly "tested" in K-12 schools and hence, they don't really count.

A growing body of longitudinal research has underscored the fact that social emotional competencies and ethical dispositions provide the optimal foundation for K-12 students' ability to learn and resolve conflicts non-violently. For example, being able to "read" our selves and others (reflective and empathic capacities); creatively solve problems; and collaborate with others involve essential skills and dispositions that we can teach.
Of course, these are the same capacities that provide the foundation for adults being able to love, work and participate effectively in a democracy (Cohen, 2006).

Over the last two decades research from a number of fields (school-based mental health, social emotional learning, character education, risk prevention and health promotion) has shown that there are two core processes that significantly promote K-12 school - and life - success: (1) purposively teaching students to become more socially, emotionally and ethically "literate" and (2) teachers, parents and school-based mental health professionals working together to create a safe, caring, participatory and responsive school. There are over 300 empirical studies that support the notion that when schools make these core processes integral facets of school life, student achievement increases and school violence decreases.

There is a glaring gap between these research findings and educational policy and recommended practice guidelines. A growing number of mental health and educational leaders believe that one of the important reasons why these social, emotional, ethical and academic research findings are not an integral facet of educational policy, teacher education and practice guidelines is that their impact is not regularly measured.

President Bush's act No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which drives today's educational policy and practice, is filled with rhetoric about the importance of character education and "school climate." In fact, there has been a growing body of educational research showing how school climate powerfully predicts student learning, effective risk prevention and health/mental health promotion. On the one hand, this is common sense. When children do not feel safe, for example, it is easy to understand that this complicates learning. But unlike reading and math, character education and school climate are not rigorously measured and hence, do not count on a policy level.

As a result of these trends, the Center for Social and Emotional Learning has embarked on a process of developing a scientifically sound survey tool that evaluates how K-12 students, parents and school personnel feel about being in school: the Comprehensive School Climate Inventory (CSCI). The Center recently commissioned a national survey of 40 school leaders (principals, superintendents, State Departments of Education and national-level leaders) from across America to learn to what extent they valued school climate and measured it.

Over 90% of the school leaders interviewed indicated that school climate was an area of interest and focus. In fact, 82% stated that school climate was an "extremely important" or "very important" topic. And, four out of the five school leaders who used school climate evaluations discovered that they generated positive school change. However, almost half of the school principals who evaluated school climate did not use a reliable or valid measure. In other words, they didn't really know if they were evaluating the dimensions that researchers have discovered color and shape school climate. Nor did they know if the people answering the survey understood the questions that they intended to ask!

Of course, meaningful change - be it at an individual or school wide level - is necessarily a process. To enhance the likelihood that the Comprehensive School Climate Inventory (CSCI) is used to set in motion a process of school climate improvement, we have built an online School Climate Resource Center. Educators, administrators and parents will find a growing body of research, guidelines, tools and learning communities to support a multi-year process of change: planning; evaluating a school's strengths and needs; understanding the evaluation findings; action planning and implementing the action plan; and finally, re-evaluating and developing a revised action plan for school improvement. (See www.csee.net for details.)

One premise of the School Climate Resource Center is that we can position students to be our teachers. In the Center's recent study of 12 schools, for example, parents and educators reported that social bullying was a "mild" to "moderately severe" problem. But, in every school studied, the students reported that bullying was a "severe" problem. The Center's guidelines include a range of ways that schools can use this kind of discrepancy as an opportunity to "dig deeper" into a fundamentally important problem. We can empower students to be "action researchers," to study what contributes to bullying, and recognize the "passive bystanders" who inadvertently collude with the problem.

Whether you are a parent, a mental health professional or an educator, it is interesting - and important - to reflect on what is measured in your school. Regardless of what specific measures you use or recommend, consider how the school is succeeding or failing to measure the social, emotional and ethical, as well as cognitive, dimensions of school life. To the extent that this becomes a focus of within school and/or school-home-community discussions, you have the potential to set in motion a process that will promote schools being a place where K-12 students can develop the skills and dispositions that support school - and life - success.



Jonathan Cohen, Ph.D., is the president of the Center for Social and Emotional Education; Adjunct Professor in Psychology and Education, Teachers College, Columbia University; and a practicing child and adult clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst.
Center for Social and Emotional Education (www.csee.net) 1841 Broadway, #713, New York, NY 10023

References:
Cohen, J: On the uses and misuses of psycho educational evaluations. Adolesc Psychiatry 1997; 21:253-268.
Cohen, J: Social, emotional, ethical and academic education: Creating a climate for learning, participation in democracy and well-being. Harv Educ Rev 2006; 76(2): 201-237.


Keep Your Eye On...bullying patterns may persist beyond high school

For some people, being a bully, being a victim of a bully, or both, may continue well beyond one's early school years into college. The long-term consequences of being bullied may lead to serious mental health outcomes such as depression or suicidal thoughts. In a study to be published in the journal Adolescence, 119 undergraduates were asked to indicate their experiences as victims or perpetrators of bullying during elementary school and high school. Although the rates of bullying and victimization fell from elementary school to high school to college, the researchers found that both behaviors were still present among college students. Most of the bullying among college students was verbal, with social and physical bullying occurring much less frequently. Dr. Mark Chapell, one of the researchers, suggests that given the growing rates of anxiety, suicide and depression among college students, "it may be time for American colleges and college counseling centers to recognize bullying as a factor in the growing rates of mental disturbances." Although zero-tolerance anti-bullying programs do not work, bullying prevention programs involving schools, students and parents have been shown to be effective, says Chapell. [Reuters Health]

The Brown University Child and Adolescent Behavior Letter, December 2006
Reproduced with permission of John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
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