Academic journal article Journal of Research in Childhood Education

Reexamining Quality in Early Childhood Education: Exploring the Relationship between the Organizational Climate and the Classroom

Academic journal article Journal of Research in Childhood Education

Reexamining Quality in Early Childhood Education: Exploring the Relationship between the Organizational Climate and the Classroom

Article excerpt

This study examined the relationship between the organizational climate, the work environment for preschool teachers, and classroom quality among a sample of 37 centers serving low-income families in a large northeastern city. Although a robust body of literature indicates the importance of classroom quality for child outcomes, especially among low-income children, little research has explored whether school-level factors contribute to classroom quality in preschool centers. A significant association between overall organizational climate and classroom quality was found such that classrooms located in centers rated as more positive in terms of overall organizational climate (e.g., collegiality, professional growth, supervisor support, clarity, reward system, decision-making, goal consensus, task orientation, physical setting, and innovativeness) and relational organizational climate (e.g., ratings of teachers' relationships with their colleagues and leadership) were rated higher in regard to classroom quality. Interestingly, a stronger relationship between the organizational climate and classroom quality was found among teachers with more experience and less education. Implications for early childhood education are discussed.

Keywords: organizational climate, early childhood education, work environment, quality


A robust body of literature demonstrates positive associations between preschool children's current and long-term social and academic development and their experiences in high-quality preschools, with especially strong associations among children from low-income families (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Early Child Care Research Network, 2000; National Research Council, 2001; Schweinhart, 2005). For example, several major syntheses of typical preschool program effects on low-income children report that children enrolled in high-quality preschools evidence achievement and school readiness skills scores approximately one half of a standard deviation higher than peers not in preschool and/or in low-quality programs (National Research Council, 2001; Scarf & McCartney, 1988). "High-quality" early childhood education classrooms are defined by structural indicators (e.g., small group size, low student-teacher ratios, and high levels of teacher education) (Scarr, Eisenberg, & Deater-Deckard, 1994) and process indicators (e.g., positive teacher-child interactions and relationships, and developmentally appropriate activities/materials and curriculum) (Phillips, Mekos, Scarf, McCartney, & Abbott-Shim, 2000). In general, associations between process indicators and child outcomes are especially strong (National Research Council, 2001).

Despite significant amounts of research documenting the importance of process quality for child outcomes, very few studies have examined whether school characteristics are related to process quality in the classroom. A classroom is nested within a school or early childhood center, comprised of fellow teachers, administrators, and the physical setting. Although classroom and school characteristics are generally viewed as static and isolated, they are interconnected and interdependent and must be researched as such (Pianta & Walsh, 1996). Only once all the factors that are related to process quality are known can researchers, practitioners, and policymakers work toward improving and sustaining high-quality learning environments for children.

Past research indicates that the organizational climate of the school is related to classroom process quality (Bloom, 1989; Hoy, Tarter, & Kottkamp, 1991; Iutcovich, Fiene, Johnson, Koppel, & Langan, 1997; Lower & Cassidy, 2007). The organizational climate is defined as the distinct and unique atmosphere, hence the weather metaphor, that characterizes a setting. Thus, an organizational climate theory can be thought of in terms of a social-ecological model of behavior that stresses the interactive nature between people and their environments (Bloom, 2010). …

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