THE IMPACT OF SETTING AND SIZE ON A SCHOOL’S CULTURE AND CLIMATE*
A B S T R A C T
This research investigated the impact of school setting and size on the culture and climate of a school. Twenty-five schools and 1163 teachers were involved in the study. There was a significant negative correlation between school size and the school’s culture and climate. Other findings were that elementary schools had more positive climates than middle and high schools and urban schools had less positive climates than rural and suburban.
The issue of class size has been studied extensively (Biddle and Berliner (2002), but the issue of school size has received much less attention. A review of doctoral dissertations found only two studies dealing with school size during the past seven years (Tucker, 1997; McKee, 1996). However, interest in school size could be increasing, as a result of the February issue of Educational Leadership which was devoted to school and class size. Eight articles are devoted to school size and five are devoted to class size. It is also interesting to observe that while there is research to document the benefits of class size, there is little research to show the benefits of school size. All the articles mentioned in the aforementioned journal are based on opinion. McKee, at the conclusion of his dissertation stated that there was no main effect between school size and student achievement. At the conclusion of his dissertation, Tucker stated that schools are not significantly different over a range of indicators as a result of size. One area where school size could possibly have an impact is a school’s culture or climate. However, in both dissertations and in all of the articles there was no mention made of school culture or climate.
The importance of school climate and to some extent culture for an effective school has been the subject of extensive research. Bulach, Malone, & Castleman (1994), in their research on 20 schools found a significant difference in student achievement between schools with a good school climate and those with a poor school climate. They also cited 17 references in their review of literature in support of this relationship. The relationship between school climate and achievement continues to be researched. Hirase (2000) and Erpelding (1999), found that schools with a positive climate had higher academic achievement.
While there is a plethora of research showing the importance of school climate for achievement, there is also some research that supports its importance for other factors. For example, Bulach and Malone (1995) in their work with 20 schools, investigated the relationship between school climate and how effectively two reforms (school-based decision making and/or the non-graded primary)were being implemented in Kentucky schools. They found significant positive relationships (+.50 and +.40, p < .001) between school climate and how effectively faculty perceived the reforms to be implemented.
*Parts of this paper are taken from Bulach (2001) and Bulach and Berry (2001)
Other research links school climate to job satisfaction, levels of work‑efficacy, and teacher
autonomy. Bahamonde‑Gunnell (2000) found that teachers who were satisfied with their jobs had
more positive views about school climate than those who were not satisfied. Hirase's (2000)
research found that teachers have a greater sense of work‑efficacy in schools where there is a
good climate. Erpelding (1999) found a strong relationship between teacher autonomy and school
climate. Research that did not find a link was completed by Bulach, Lunenburg, & McCallon
(1995). They investigated the impact of leadership style on school climate and found no
significant difference in climate as a result of leadership styles.
Sergiovanni and Starratt (1998) and Lunenburg and Ornstein (2000) are two of the
leading authors of leadership training textbooks for educational administrators. They both devote
a chapter to school climate and its importance for the effective operation of a school. In summary,
there is a great deal of support for school climate as an important factor that can directly and indirectly affect student achievement.
However, there was very little research devoted to factors that might impact school climate and culture. Given the importance of school climate, why has it not been mentioned in relation to school size? Is it a factor? Do small schools have a better climate than large schools? Another factor that could affect school culture and climate is the school setting. A school might have a positive climate in one setting, but not in another.
Purpose of this research
The purpose of this research was to compare the impact of school size and setting on a school’s culture and climate. Size was defined as the number of teachers and students in a building. Setting was defined as rural, suburban, and inner-city schools, elementary, middle, and high schools. Four culture variables and seven climate variables were compared in these various settings. The four culture variables are group openness, group trust, group cooperation, and group atmosphere. The seven climate variables are discipline, instructional leadership, classroom instruction, expectations, parent/community involvement, sense of mission, and time on task/assessment.
The size of a school definitely affects interpersonal interaction. In smaller schools there is a greater likelihood that faculty will know each other and the students. Opportunities to talk to each other, to know each other’s names, to know each other’s interests, etc. are more likely to occur. This could affect levels of openness, trust, cooperation, and atmosphere which are four culture variables that underlie the seven climate variables described above.
The setting of rural, suburban, and inner-city schools is quite different. Rural schools tend to be associated with a town or city and are often smaller in size. They also tend to have a more homogeneous student body. Suburban schools tend to have a more heterogeneous student body and tend to be larger in size. They also tend to be scattered in suburbs and are not part of a town or city. Inner-city schools tend to have students from lower socio-economic backgrounds and also tend to have a more homogeneous background. It is believed that these factors will combine to affect a school’s culture and climate.
If settings such as urban, suburban, and rural or elementary, middle, and high school or school size influence how teachers perceive the culture and climate of the school, this would provide school administrators with additional insight in developing school improvement plans. For example, if school size has an impact on a school’s culture and climate, this could influence building construction. If setting affects a school’s culture and climate, school officials would be more alert to potential problems.
culture/climate: those psychological attributes (culture) and institutional attributes
(climate) that give an organization its personality (Bulach, Lunenburg, and McCallon, 1995). An analogy of an iceberg can be used to further explain climate and culture. The part of the iceberg that can be seen above the water could not exist without the part the that cannot be seen below the water. The climate variables can be seen whereas the culture variables cannot be seen and like the iceberg, climate cannot exist without the underlying value and belief systems that form the culture (see instrumentation for the culture and climate variables). Petersen and Deal (1998)
define culture as the set of values, beliefs, traditions, and rituals built over time. While this is the more commonly accepted definition of culture, we prefer ours because it distinguishes between two concepts that are closely intertwined: culture and climate.
This causal-comparative study involved six high schools, seven middle schools, and twelve elementary schools. The largest school was a high school with 2191 students and smallest school was an elementary school with 290 students. Data were gathered from 1163 teachers regarding their perceptions of each school's culture/climate. School officials at these schools volunteered to take part in this study as part of their involvement in a grant to implement a character education curriculum (Bulach, 2001). The data were collected at a faculty meeting. The administration convened the meeting and explained that their responses were confidential. They were told to complete the survey and turn the data over to one of the teachers who would place it in an envelop, seal it, and turn it in to central office personnel. The data were then sent to the authors for analysis.
The instrument that measures culture/climate is called the "Instructional Improvement
Survey." It consists of four items that measure the demographic factors and 96 behaviors that
measure a school's culture and climate. The culture variables (psychological attributes) are as
follows: group openness, group trust, group cooperation, and group atmosphere. The climate.
variables (institutional attributes) are also the effective school variables as follows: discipline,
instructional leadership, classroom instruction, expectations, parent/community involvement,
assessment/time on task, and sense of mission. The instrument has an overall reliability of + .95
as measured by the Cronbach alpha. Reliability on each of the subscales varies from +.79 to +.85
(Bulach, 2001). Teachers respond to each of the 96 behaviors on a five‑point Likert scale
ranging from "completely disagree" to "completely agree." Completely disagree was scored as a
"one" and completely agree was scored as a "five." An agree response was scored as a 4.0. Since
nine of the factors are measured by eight behaviors, a score of 32 (4 x 8 = 32) is considered a strength and scores below 32 are considered areas needing improvement. Group trust and group openness have more than eight behaviors and have been mathematically controlled to equal a score of 32 (see Appendix A for a listing of the behaviors for each culture/climate factor).
The survey was administered to the faculties of 25 schools in the spring of 2001. Ten of the schools were rural with one high school, two middle schools, and seven elementary schools. Twelve of the schools were suburban schools with four high schools, four middle schools, and four elementary schools. Three of the schools were inner-city with one high school, one middle school, and one elementary school. A limitation of the study is the unequal number of schools from the different settings.
Method of Analysis
Analysis of variance and descriptive statistics were used to analyze differences between the settings. Post hoc comparisons were made with Tukey’s HSD test. Pearson correlation was used to see if there is a relationship between culture/climate and size.
A comparison of the culture/climate data for elementary, middle, and high schools indicated that elementary schools with an average score of 31.43 tended to have a better culture/climate than middle and high schools with average scores of 28.52 and 28.66 respectively (see Table 1). The ANOVA yielded an F-score of 6.96 (p < .003). The post hoc comparison of means using Tukey’s test showed that elementary schools are more positive than middle and high schools (p < .01). There were no significant differences between middle and high schools (p > .05)
A comparison of culture and climate means for elementary, middle, and high schools.
Setting Mean SD df F-score P
Elementary schools 31.43 2.40 2 6.96 .003**
Middle schools 28.52 2.24 2
High schools 28.66 1.92 2
**p < .00 Elementary N =321, Middle N =343, High N=450
A further comparison using descriptive statistics, revealed that elementary schools had more positive scores on all 11 variables (see Table 2). Further, elementary scores approached or exceeded 32.0 (areas of strength) on eight of the 11 variables. A score of 32.0 is an “agree” response that the 96 behaviors measured by the survey are practiced by the faculty and administration. The middle and high schools, on the other hand, had no scores approaching 32.0. Based on the data, it was concluded that elementary schools have a better culture/climate than middle and high schools.
A comparison of climate/culture averages by school type.
Instruction Related variables Elementary schools Middle schools High schools
Group trust 31.68 29.56 29.54
Group openness 25.03 23.66 23.74
Group cooperation 30.10 27.78 28.34
Group atmosphere 30.62 26.43 26.94
Sense of mission 32.01 29.38 29.44
Parent involvement 33.61 31.13 30.30
Teaching 32.27 26.00 29.46
Discipline 31.49 27.91 28.56
Assessment/Time on Task 33.12 29.93 30.17
Leadership 31.97 27.53 28.71
Expectation 33.67 30.65 30.22
Average 31.43 28.52 28.66
Elementary N =321, Middle N =343, High N=450
ANOVA procedures comparing the means of urban, rural, and suburban schools (see Table 3) yielded an F-score of 15.02 (p < .000). The post hoc comparison of means using Tukey’s test showed that urban schools were less positive than rural and suburban schools (p < .000). There were no significant differences between rural and suburban schools (p > .05)
A comparison of culture and climate means for urban, rural, and suburban schools.
Setting Mean SD df F-score P
Urban schools 26.65 1.80 2 15.02 .000***
Rural schools 29.75 2.24 2
Suburban schools 30.00 2.19 2
***p < .000, Urban N =96, Suburban N =775, Rural N=243
A further comparison of the culture/climate data for urban, suburban, and rural schools indicated that rural schools with an average score of 30.00 tended to have a slightly better culture/climate than suburban schools with an average score of 29.8 (see Table 4). Urban schools had an average score of 25.7 indicating that “sometimes those behaviors are practiced. Based on the closeness of the scores, it could be concluded that while there are some differences on individual variables for rural and suburban schools, the difference overall is very slight. Further the urban schools in this study were less positive on all dimensions of the culture/climate scale.
A comparison of climate/culture averages by type setting.
Instruction Related variables Urban schools Suburban schools Rural schools Group trust 26.30 30.60 30.20
Group openness 22.60 24.10 24.60
Group cooperation 25.00 29.40 28.20
Group atmosphere 23.00 27.80 29.10
Sense of mission 26.40 30.40 31.20
Parent involvement 27.30 32.60 31.80
Teaching 27.50 30.30 31.10
Discipline 24.10 29.80 29.80
Assessment/Time on Task 26.60 31.20 31.80
Leadership 25.40 29.70 29.90
Expectation 28.00 31.40 32.40
Average 25.70 29.80 30.00
______________________________________________________________________________Urban N =96, Suburban N =775, Rural N=243
A comparison of the culture/climate data revealed that the three culture variables: group openness, group cooperation, and group atmosphere were the lowest with scores of 24.34, 29.03 and 28.56. Since climate depends on the underlying culture, it becomes more difficult to have good climate scores when the culture needs improvement. The behaviors related to the “discipline” factor, with a score of 29.80, were the lowest in the climate domain. The faculty agreed with scores of 32.0 that the behaviors associated with three climate factors were present. They were parent involvement, expectations, and time on task/assessment. The remaining climate factors: discipline, teaching, leadership, and sense of mission were all below 32.0
A comparison of the data using Pearson correlation to see if their was a relationship between school size and a school’s culture and climate resulted in a negative correlation of -.350 for all 25 schools (p > .05). As noted earlier, the culture and climate scores of the three urban schools were not as positive as the other 22 schools. Removing their data from the comparison resulted in a negative correlation of -.425 (p < .05). The difference is probably a result of the lower culture and climate scores for the urban schools. Because the three urban schools did not appear to be representative of other schools in Georgia, their data were removed from the data in Tables 5 and 6.
In looking at the correlations of the four culture variables (see Table 5 with size, while all are negative, only two are significant (p < .05). They are group trust (-.434) and group atmosphere (-.425) Three of the climate variables were also significant (p < .05). They are teaching (-.545), assessment/time on task (-.510) and expectation (-.592). While only five of the 11 culture and climate factors are significant, all 11 are negative indicating that as school size increases, culture and climate scores tend to decrease.
A comparison of the relationship of school size with the four culture bariables.