Achievement and At-Risk Middle School Students' Perspectives of Academic Support
Chambers, Elisha A., Hylen, Michael, Schreiber, James B., Journal of Research in Character Education
Schools are implementing approaches such as character education, to improve school climate and student time-on-task and, consequently, achievement. In keeping with the Character Education Partnership (2003) principles, this research examined how at-risk middle school students' (n = 7,813) perspectives of academic support influenced their academic achievement. The results revealed that the more parent and peer support a student received, the higher the general achievement score; however, the more counselor support received the lower the general achievement score. Teacher support was only statistically significant for the lowest risk group. While the parent (Berkowitz, 1998; Berkowitz & Bier, 2006) and peer (Horn & Chen, 1998; Westfall & Pisapia, 1994) findings are consistent with previous research, the teacher and counselor finding are somewhat surprising with a 25-year history noting the importance of support in schools; thus, further investigation is warranted.
It has been estimated that as much as half of all classroom time is spent on activities other than instruction (Manke, 2005). One difficulty for teachers is that classroom management problems have become commonplace in schools (Lapointe & Legault, 2004). The impact of dealing with such discipline issues often reduces time on task and consequently, academic achievement. After A Nation at Risk (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983) was published, many schools began evaluating student outcomes in terms of behavior and competence (A Brief History of Alternative Education, n.d.). In response to this growing concern, public school districts began investigating a variety of approaches to enhance school climate-character education is one such approach.
The Character Education Partnership (CEP) (2003), a national nonpartisan coalition, has established 11 principles to serve as criteria for schools to use when developing a character education effort. Of these 11 principles, four in particular focus on the importance of student support. These principles are: "caring school community" (Principle #4), "includes a meaningful and challenging academic curriculum that respects all learners, develops their character, and helps them to succeed" (Principle #6), "strives to foster students' self motivation" (Principle #7), and "engages family and community members as partners" (Principle #10). These principles facilitate a supportive environment in which students are encouraged to succeed. Likewise, the premises of these principles overlap with research on school climate (e.g., Chambers, Hylen, Schreiber & Asner-Self, 2005; Levine & Lezotte, 1990; Marzano, 2003) and educational resilience (e.g., Chambers, Asner-Self, Schreiber & Giles, 2003; Elder & Conger, 2000; Finley, 1994). Thus, the goal of this paper is to illustrate the important overlapping contributions of these fields by examining the impact that academic support has on student achievement.
Similar to the research findings in school climate literature, character education initiatives recognize that all students have needs for safety, belonging, and the experience of meaningfully contributing, furthermore they are more likely to internalize the values and expectations of groups that meet these needs (Berkowitz & Bier, 2003; CEP, 2003). Thus, one of the common strands in character education and school climate is community (Berkowitz, Vincent, & McKay, 2002). As such, an effective character education initiative creates a caring school community (CEP, 2003). Although character education is intended to promote student character development (Berkowitz & Bier, 2006), there has been relatively little research on the role of school climate and sense of community and its impact on student achievement. Still, the possible linkages among the social context of the school, character education, students' problem behaviors, and subsequently academic achievement have begun to be explored (Battistich & Hom, 1997). …