One school characteristic that needs to be considered as important in keeping schools safe is school climate. The purposes of this study were to develop and validate an instrument that measures the ethical climate of middle and high schools. To create the School Ethical Climate Index (SECI), we adapted the Ethical Climate Index for graduate and professional school programs to apply to middle and high schools. The SECI measures a school's sense of community by assessing student and teacher interactions and relationships through the application of five ethical principles: respect for autonomy, nonmaleficence, beneficence, justice, and fidelity. To provide evidence of the SECI's reliability and validity, we distributed the SECI to 101 teachers and administrators who worked at middle and/or high schools. The reliability coefficients for each of the SECI subscales were greater than .80. Differences between middle and high school teacher and administrator perceptions provided evidence of construct validity. The SECI could be used in school districts to assess areas for school improvement and, thereby, help to reduce school disorder and violence.
With the general concern for disorder and violence in schools today and the efforts of school staff to provide a safe environment for students, school climate is one school characteristic that needs to be considered as important in keeping schools safe. Each school has a unique climate or personality that research indicates may be unrelated to student body size or socioeconomic level (Jobe & Parrish, 1995). Several programs have been utilized to enhance school climate, such as student leadership, conflict resolution, peer mediation, and violence prevention programs (Gallagher & Satter, 1998; Nor, Tait, & Winfield, 1996). Before these programs can be used successfully to prevent school disorder and violence, school leaders need to assess a school's climate in order to tailor programs to each school's unique climate (Rojewski & Wendel, 1990; Welsh, 2000).
The purposes of this study were to develop and to validate an instrument that measures the ethical climate of middle and high schools. In this study we focused on the ethical climate because a review of the research indicated that the common element in maintaining a safe school environment is a climate of mutual trust and respect among students and school staff (Gallagher & Satter, 1998; "A Guide to Safe Schools," 1999; MacDonald, 1997; Wanat, 1996; Welsh, 2000). In fact, MacDonald (1997) found that the school climate may cultivate "a culture of violence through lack of empathy and caring towards students" (p. 12). Schools need to identify the causes of school disorder and violence, such as teasing, bullying, and the lack of mutual respect among students and staff ("It Can Happen in Your School," 1999). Students who survived the tragic shootings at Columbine High School have been speaking at schools around the country to send a message to students to accept and respect others (O'Connor, 2000). The assessment of the nature of the interactions and relationships among students and staff could enable school staff to pinpoint areas where changes could be made to enhance the climate and, thereby, reduce school disorder and violence.
Evidence is plentiful for why there is a need for a positive ethical climate within schools, which is characterized by caring relationships (Bryk & Driscoll, 1988; Noddings, 1988, 1992) that involve an "acceptance of others with respect, justice, and appreciation and ?peaceful cooperation within difference" (Furman, 1998, p. 312). When students experience caring relationships and a sense of belonging within a school, positive student attitudes and increased motivation and participation in school occur (Byrk & Driscoll, 1988; Deci, Vallerand, Pelletier, & Ryan, 1991; Goodenow, 1993; Goodenow & Grady, 1993; Ryan, Stiller, & Lynch, 1994; Wentzel, 1998). …