A study examines 160 schools in the United Kingdom that made changes in order to turn their campuses around. The results are fascinating.

Which changes improved student academic performance? Which changes didn’t work? How much did the changes cost?

Out of the numerous insights offered on how to turn around a failing school, one key finding wound its way through the article…

The results of the study demonstrate clearly that a positive school climate and positively reinforced student behavior program is critical to turning around a failing school.

In fact, the article goes so far as to caution schools from improving classroom instruction before creating an environment that promotes positive student behaviors.

“You can’t expect teachers to sort out all the problems themselves,” warns the authors. “You need to create the right environment first.”

It then emphatically states that “governance” and “leadership” need to be improved or schools will be “putting great teachers in a position where they fail…” Without a positive school culture, teachers will waste their time on programs and policies that were doomed to fail from the start.

Which policies were considered a waste of time?

To begin with, zero tolerance policies.

“Many schools tried to come down hard on poor behavior with a ”zero tolerance“ policy. However, the short term, positive impact didn’t last and in some cases, students revolted and even rioted.”

And out-of-school suspensions and expulsions?

The data showed starkly that any short-term benefit derived from removing trouble students fades over time. When the core issues causing or exacerbating poor student behavior are not dealt with, the undesired behaviors tend to reoccur later.

“Controversially, we found that the fastest way to do this is to exclude poorly behaved students: Pay other schools to teach them or, as most academies did, build a new, smaller school for these students. However, while this “quick win” produced immediate results, it was not the best long-term solution (and indeed, it’s probably not the best solution for society either). The better, more sustainable practice was to move poorly behaved students into another pathway within the existing school, so that they can be managed differently and reintegrated into the main pathway once their behavior has improved.

The authors of the article pointed out that schools must be prepared to spend more money at first to see improvements.

Even facing tighter than ever budgets, education leaders have to manage the difficult tension between fiscal stewardship and investing properly into students to see results.

“Expect financial performance to dip in the short-term. Pursuing financial performance over operational performance will not serve students well in the long term.”

In particular, the article stressed the importance of allocating funds to hire staff “to manage parents so teachers can spend more time teaching and leaders can spend more time leading.”

These family-facing staff members, while certainly a cost for the school district, are a necessary component of the team. As we’ve written HERE and HERE, creating a positive school climate is near impossible without parent engagement.

The study confirms our belief that any investment in creating a positive school climate, pursuing alternatives to exclusionary discipline policies, and increasing parent engagement will prove to be a worth-while investment.

Source: Harvard Business Review