School climate includes factors that serve as conditions for learning, and support physical and emotional safety, connection, support, and engagement, as the U.S. Department of Education suggests. In this study, published in School Psychology Quarterly, Bear and colleagues examined how students in China and the U.S. perceive school climate differently and how it relates to their engagement in schools.
A total of 3,716 Chinese students from 18 schools in Guangzhou and 4,085 American students from 15 schools in Delaware were compared in the study. All schools were suburban schools or urban schools. The sample of American students was randomly selected from a larger dataset consisting of 37,255 students prepared by the Delaware Department of Education to match the student numbers of the Chinese student sample. Students who participated in this study were from grades 3-5, 7-8, and 10-12. Grade 6 and grade 9 were excluded from this study since students in these two grades were placed in different levels in Chinese and American schools.
Students were compared in their perceptions of school climate, which included teacher-student relations, student-student relations, fairness of school rules, clarity of behavioral expectations, respect for diversity, school safety, engagement schoolwide, and bullying schoolwide. Students' engagement was measured by the Delaware Student Engagement Scale. The findings showed:
- Chinese students perceived all aspects of school climate significantly more positively than American students during middle school and high school.
- The difference was smaller in elementary schools, with no significant differences for fairness of rules, clarity of behavioral expectations, and school safety.
- U.S. students' engagement was greater in elementary schools, while Chinese students reported greater emotional engagement in middle and high schools.
- A significant relation between school climate and engagement was found for American students but not Chinese students.
The authors suggest that the findings might encourage schools to develop and promote those social-emotional competencies, values, and norms which have been shown to underlie the high academic achievement of Chinese students in addition to school climate.