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Student perceptions of school and personal factors.

Abstract

This study examined the relationship between urban student perceptions of the school climate, parent attitudes, education and self, at 10th and 12th grade, and the influence of race and gender on these perceptual relations. Another issue examined was the extent to which change occurred in these perceptions from 10th to 12th grade.

Introduction

Students hold attitudes and behaviors grounded in personal observations, and culturally-based experiences (Delpit, 1988) that are rarely addressed within past or current educational contexts. These students often feel that the school is insensitive and perceives them as inferior (Kohl, 1991). Some researchers suggest that this phenomenon represents a mismatch between the school structure and students' social, cultural, or economic background (Deschenes, Tyack, & Cuban 2001). School processes (Rumberger & Palardy, 2005), such as scripted mandated instructional and management programs in schools serving poor and African American students (Delpit, 2003), contribute to the widening achievement gap (Carey, 2005; Rothman, 2002; Sadowski, 2001), and lingering high dropout rates among students of color (Synder & Llagas, 2003; U.S. Department of Education, 2005).

Education researchers suggest that racial inequity and unequal treatment of African American and Latino students (Hagan, 2002) still exists in American schools (Orfield, 2002) leading to their refusal to learn, reducing their propensity for academic engagement. Such disengagement is reflected in Ogbu's (2003) research where African-American students reported feeling disparaged, misrepresented, fearful and socially distant from Whites. Ogbu further observed that students internalize the beliefs of others by questioning their intelligences, and often acted as if they were less intelligent than their white peers. They also believed accepting the school curriculum, language, and pedagogy would mean rejecting their collective identity. Ferguson (2002) reported similar results with African American and Hispanic students appearing more academically engaged in their studies than White and Asians. Some scholars suggest that these issues may be informed by asking students' opinions (Levner, 2006), engaging discussions about the challenge of excellence and equity (Powell Pruitt & Jones, 2006), define what equity means, and address how race/ethnicity affects students' experiences in school (Legler, 2004)

The growing diversity of the student population, particularly in urban school districts, emphasizes the importance of addressing differences in sociocultural perceptions students bring to school from the home and community experiences (Eitzen, 1992,). Thus, perceptions students hold about their family and school should be examined within unique race/ethnic and gender contexts. Yet in spite of the general knowledge that affective factors are important to student academic performance, too little attention has been given to "perceived" family and school factors that might influence students' attitudes. Affective features of student experiences represent personal orientations grounded in family, school, and community norms that ultimately influence behaviors in school and in life. Efforts to improve the academic performance of all students, particularly those in urban schools serving low income students and students of color, might benefit by an examination of the perceptions of these students within a social systems context as means to enhance family, school, and community relations. To address these issues, this descriptive study examined the relationship between urban student perceptions of the school climate, parent attitudes, and perceptions of education and self, at 10th and 12th grade, and the influence of race and gender on these perceptual relations. Another issue examined was the extent to which change occurred in these perceptions from 10th to 12th grade. The following research questions guided the investigation.

1. What is the relationship of selected school climate and parent attitude on self concept and educational perceptions of urban high school students at the 10th and 12th grade?

2. What is the extent of change, if any, in these perceptions?

3. Does race and gender effect these perceptions at the 10th and 12th grade?

Conceptual Framework

The conceptual framework in this study is based on concepts from models of social systems theory, organizational climate, and self efficacy/social cognitive theory. Social systems theory holds that all organizations are open systems with interdependent parts that interact and depend on each other and the external environment (Hoy & Miskel, 2003). The school, as an organization, is viewed as an open social system having an endless cyclical input-output relationship to the larger environment. Organizational climate is the perceptions of persons in the organization that reflect norms, assumptions and beliefs (Owens, 2001). Therefore, in this study the school and family are assumed to be open social systems, interacting with and influencing each other; imposing, goals, and expectations that influence student beliefs about the school climate, parent attitudes, education, and self.

This study are also framed within the context of social cognitive constructs such as self efficacy beliefs (Bandura, 1997). Social cognitive theory (Bandura, 2001) holds that personal efficacy is a person's beliefs that a given behavior will lead to certain outcomes, and expectations about one's ability to successfully execute the behaviors needed to produce outcomes. Efficacy beliefs influence whether people think pessimistically or optimistically and in ways that are selfenhancing or self-hindering. Efficacy expectations are influenced by vicarious experiences, or seeing peers or members of reference groups perform a given task. In this study, it is assumed that students' perceptions of the school learning climate (importance of education to friends) and social climate (school spirit, discipline fairness, teaching and teacher interest in student) may influence their education perceptions (motivation to learn and education expectations) and perceptions of self (self concept and sense of optimism). Finally, variations in social interaction styles and social norms among and within cultural (Hillard, 1992; Lundy & Firebaugh, 2005) and gender groups suggest differences in perceptions and reactions to the home and school environment. As such, it is assumed that the proposed perceptual relations may be influenced by race/ethnic and gender differences.

Methodology

Data source and sample

Data were taken from the first and second follow-up student surveys of the National Educational Longitudinal Study of 1988 (NELS:88). Funded by the U.S. Dept. of Education, the NELS:88 study is a nationally representative, two-stage stratified design in which schools, students, their teachers, and one administrator per school are surveyed at two year intervals. Approximately 24,599 students, enrolled in eighth grade during the 1987-88 school year, participated in the base-year survey. First (10th grade) and second follow up (12th grade) surveys were conducted in the spring of 1990 and 1992, respectively. Another data collection occurred in 1994, when most participants were 2 years past high school (third follow-up), and in 2000 when most participants were 8 years past high school and about 26 years old (fourth follow-up). The final sample included 10,827 respondents who participated in all five waves of data collection. The complex design of the NELS:88 study and editorial space limitations prohibit detailed discussion. An overview of NELS:88 is available at http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/nels88 and details of sampling and other technical issues are in Base-Year to Fourth Follow-up Data File User's Manual (Curtin et al., 2002).

The sample for this study consisted of 3707 urban public school students who participated in the NELS:88 first (10th grade) and second (12th grade) follow-up surveys. One percent of the sample students were American Indian, 10 percent Asian, 19 percent Black, 26 percent Hispanic, and 42 percent White. At 10th grade, 51 percent of the students were male, 49 percent female, and by 12th grade 49 percent of the cohort was male and 51 percent female.

Data Limitations

Although the data are stratified the NELS:88 study is non-experimental in design, limiting the ability to make causal interpretation of the results. Further there are a limited number of items available to measure the many facets of race, gender and family involvement. There is also lack of detailed information from teachers about their attitudes and practices of involving families in the middle grades.

Measures

Questionnaire items were selected from the 10th and 12th grade student files of NELS:88 presumed to measure students' perceptions of social and learning climate of the school environment, their perceptions of parent trust, parent educational aspirations, and their education and self perceptions. Four items were selected to develop a composite (multi-item) measure of the school social climate, yielding a Cronbach Alpha coefficient of .91 at the 10th grade and .88 at the 12th grade. Similarly, five survey items were selected to measure the school learning climate resulting in an alpha of .98 and .99 at each grade level respectively, indicating that these items are strong measures of the social and learning climate of the school environment. While one item was used to measure parent trust, two were selected as a measure of parent educational aspirations, also yielding an alpha coefficient of .91 at 10th grade and .93 at the 12th grade.

This same process was used to develop composite measures of education and self perceptions. Educational perceptions is a two dimensional concept consisting of student motivation to learn, a 5-item composite with an alpha coefficients of .74 and .77 10th and 12 grade respectively, and expectations to graduate and go to college, a four item measure with an alpha of .91 and .90. respectively. School climate and parent attitude are the independent variables in the study. School climate is a two-dimensional construct consisting of the social and learning climate of the school environment. The school social climate is defined as student perceptions that at the school "there is real school spirit, discipline is lair, teaching is good, and teachers are interested in students." And the learning climate of the school is based, in part, on students' beliefs about the "importance their friends think it is to study, attend school regularly, get good grades, finish high school and continue education past high school." Parent attitude is also a two-dimensional variable including student perceptions of parent trust and parent educational aspirations for them. Parent trust is defined as student perceptions that their "parents trust them to do what is expected," and parent educational aspirations is their beliefs about "how far in school their mother and father want them to go."

Education and self perceptions are the dependent variables. Education perceptions is a two dimensional construct including the motivation to learn, and educational expectations. Motivation to learn is measured by how often students "go to class without pencil/paper, books, and homework done." Self perceptions are viewed in terms of self concept beliefs and sense of optimism, where self concept beliefs is defined as the extent to which student agrees "feeling good about him/herself, feels a person of worth, feels able to do things as well as others, and on the whole feels satisfied with self." The sense of optimism is the degree to which a student feels "chances are that he/she will have a happy life, be able to live anywhere, and will be respected in community." Race and gender are the only student background characteristics used in this study. Family income and parent education level were not included in the results of the current study because these factors were examined in correlational analysis and found to have weak correlations (ranging from .01 to. 11) with the dependent variables.

Results

School climate, education and self perceptions--At the 10th grade the social and learning climate of the school had the strongest relationship to student self concept beliefs and sense of optimism. The school learning climate was also strongly related to students' education expectations at the 10th grade. Parent attitude and self perceptions--Urban 10th graders' perceptions of parent educational aspirations for them was the strongest factor associated with their motivation to learn. At the 12th grade social climate of the school was the strongest perceptions associated with student motivation to learn, while perceptions of parent trust were more strongly associated with students' educational expectations. School learning climate had the strongest association with 10th graders' sense of optimism across all gender and racial groups. At 12th grade learning climate remained the strongest correlate with sense of optimism, but only for Black females, Asian, Black, and Hispanic males. Perceptions of parent trust was the strongest correlate with sense of optimism for Asian, Hispanic, and White females, and White males at the 12th grade.

Discussion

In the current study 10th grade students' perceptions of the school social and learning climate was related to their self concept beliefs and sense of optimism. The school learning climate was also strongly related to students' education expectations at the 10th grade, suggesting the school climate may be a strong factor influencing the self perceptions and education expectations of urban 10th graders. Perceptions about parent attitude, particularly the education aspirations parents hold for their children was another strong factor associated with the motivation to learn of urban 10th graders in this study. At 12th grade the school social climate, (teacher attitude and school factors) was the strongest factor associated with the motivation to learn. Taken together these findings support the assumption that school climate and family factors are important to the way students feel about education and themselves, particularly at the 10th grade. This is an important school improvement issue, particularly in developing home-school relations, and family support for schooling. It also seems important to consider the issue of parent aspirations for their children in education policy aimed at changing the attitude toward school, and overall school performance of low achieving, less motivated students.

The importance they believe their friends place on education and perceived chance of graduating from high school and chance of going to college supports the concept of efficacy expectations where students perceive their chances of finishing high school and going to college in relation to the behaviors and attitudes of their friends. The issue of peer influence is particularly important at 10th grade, where many students report intentions to leave school, or actually leave school because their friends drop out (Wu, 1994). Educators may be able to affect dropping out behavior among peers by helping students to understand how their behaviors might influence the school learning climate. Race and gender appears to effect perceptions of the students in this study at both grade levels. For example, with the exception of White females school learning climate was a strong correlate with 10th graders' sense of optimism across all gender and racial groups, suggesting that most 10th graders in this study might feel optimistic because their friends feel that way and think learning is important. The school social climate had the strongest association with White female 10th graders motivation to learn. This finding might be due, at least in part, to the fact that a majority of teachers in the nation's schools are White females, affording them "racial/culturally similar role models" who support, understand, and affirm their behavior and identity These perceptions changed at 12th grade with perceptions of parent trust having the strongest influence on sense of optimism for Asian, Hispanic, and White females, and White males.

Conclusion

The aim of this study was to examine the influence of school climate and parent attitude factors on urban student perceptions of education and self at the 10th and 12th grade, and to determine if race and gender effects these relations. Results of the current research suggest that the social and learning climate of the school might be a strong influence on the self perceptions (self concept beliefs and sense of optimism) of the urban 10th graders in this study. While perceptions of the school social and learning climate remained a strong correlate with self perceptions at the 12th grade, change occurred from some students where parent trust also had a strong influence on the self perceptions of some students. Race and gender group analyses indicated other variations in these perceptions. For example, the school climate perceptions of White 10th grade females were strongly related to the motivation to learn, while the motivation of their classmates was influenced more by their parents' educational aspirations for them. Perceptions of the school social climate was the strongest factor associated with the self concept beliefs of only Black and Hispanic females, and White males at 10th grade. Urban educators seeking to increase student self concept and attendance behaviors should consider the affects of teacher traits/behaviors, and school practices, in relation to the cultural orientations held by students in these groups. Knowing, for example, that peers of Asian and Hispanic 10th graders have the strongest influence on their self concept beliefs, might be an important factor in designing self efficacy/esteem programs. In summary, these results provide some sense of what urban students with diverse backgrounds feel about the school climate, and family attitude toward education, and how these perceptions relate to their attitudes about self and education. Administrators in large urban school districts may be aided by empirically-based research regarding race and gender differences in these perceptions as they seek to improve achievement and educational opportunity for all students in their schools.

References

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Levner, A. (2006). First ask the students: A new lens on equity and excellence in public schools. Voices in Urban Education. 11, Providence, RH, The Annenberg Institute for School Reform. Retrieved July 20, 2006 from http://www.annenberginstitute.org/VUE/spring06/Levner.html.

Lundy, G. F., Firebaugh, G. (2005). Peer relations and school resistance: Does oppositional culture apply to race or to gender? Journal of Negro Education, Summer. Retrieved June 25, 2006 from http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3626/is_200507

Ogbu, J. (2003). Black American students in an affluent suburb: A study of academic disengagement. Mahwah, NJ, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

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Pajares (2002). Overview of social cognitive theory and of self-efficacy. Retrieved July 12, 2006 from http://www.emory.edu/EDUCATION/mfp/eff.html.

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Rothman, R. (2002). Closing the achievement gap: How schools are making it happen. The Journal of the Annenberg Challenge. 5(2). Winter 2001/02. Retrieved July 19, 2006 from http://www.annenberginstit ute.org/challenge/pubs/cj/gap_cj.htm

Sadowski, M. (2001). Closing the gap one school at a time. Harvard Educational Letter. Retrieved June 20, 2006 from http://www.edletter.org/past/issues/2001-mj/gap.shtml

Snyder, T. & Llagas, C. (2003). Status and trends in the education of Hispanics (NCES 2003 008). U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved June 25, 2006 from http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2003/2003008.pdf.

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Delois L. Maxwell, Virginia State University, VA

Dr. Maxwell is an Associate Professor of Administration and Supervision in the department of Educational Leadership at Virginia State University.
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Author:Maxwell, Delois L.
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Date:Sep 22, 2006
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