Schools as Organizations
In the last decade, there has been growing awareness in education research and policy that schools are not simply collections of individual teachers and students; they are also organizations, with structures, practices, and norms that can either hinder or support effective teaching and learning. Many districts across the country have begun developing mechanisms to better understand and improve key organizational characteristics of schools.
New York City has been at the forefront of this work. Since 2007, the New York City Department of Education has administered an annual School Survey to all parents and teachers, as well as students in grades 6-12, to illuminate their perceptions of things like safety, relationships, instructional quality, and leadership at their school. The NYC School Survey is, by far, the largest such effort in the nation.
The Research Alliance began working with the district in 2010, to ensure that the Survey was capturing valid and reliable information, and to enhance its usefulness to school and district leaders. This early work resulted in concrete improvements to the Survey and provided valuable lessons for other cities engaged in similar initiatives. Our collaboration deepened in 2014, when the Research Alliance helped the NYC DOE develop its "Framework for Great Schools." This project leveraged research conducted in Chicago to outline and measure specific areas of school functioning that had been found to be important for improving student outcomes. More recently, we helped the district revise the 2023 Survey to make it shorter and more user-friendly.
Measuring What Matters for Long-Term Success
In the latest incarnation of this work, the Research Alliance is continuing our partnership with the NYC DOE to define, measure, and support effective learning environments in NYC schools. With a focus on the new Chancellor’s vision of schools as “the pathway to economic prosperity,”—where all students graduate well prepared for “a rewarding career, long-term economic security, and equipped to be a positive force for change”—the Research Alliance is helping the DOE reimagine its framework for school accountability and improvement. Together, we are reviewing relevant research and grappling with important questions about how to define “success” for students and schools: What do young people need to earn a high-quality degree and/or be employed with a meaningful, family-sustaining job? What skills and experiences will help students be “a positive force for change”? How can we measure and support progress toward these objectives, for all students, beginning in the earliest grades? Findings from a range of Research Alliance studies, including those focused on Career and Technical Education and the CS4All initiative, are helping provide answers to these vital questions.
Through this work, the Research Alliance will continue to build knowledge about the organizational factors that support strong teaching and learning. Ultimately, we hope this information is useful, both to individual schools and the district as whole, as they work to improve outcomes—and to provide better, more equitable experiences, opportunities, and resources for all NYC students.
This project was made possible through general operating support to the Research Alliance.
What are we missing when we focus on the “average” student experience? How do students’ perceptions of school climate vary? And could a clearer picture of this variation inform efforts to develop more inclusive and equitable learning environments, within schools and across the system? (2021)
This collection and policy brief highlight key lessons from the highly collaborative NYC School Survey redesign process between the Research Alliance and the New York City Department of Education. This work also demonstrates how a robust research-practice partnership can inform school district decisions and create useful measurement tools for the field. (2018)
Could strengthening key aspects of a school's climate actually improve teaching and learning? This study examines how changes in school climate were related to changes in teacher turnover and student achievement in 278 NYC middle schools, between 2008 and 2012. (2016)
Strengthening Assessments of School Climate outlines a set of broader lessons that have emerged from our work, which can provide guidance to the growing number of cities and states around the country that are implementing school survey efforts. (2013)