Since this Report, the issue of learning environment has risen to the forefront of education policy discussions in the country. As little research has been done examining the relationship between class environment and student achievements, Taub Center Policy Fellow Carmel Blank and Taub Center Education Policy Program Chair and Tel Aviv University Professor Yossi Shavit chose to examine this issue in Israel’s non-religious state schools.
Blank and Shavit examined the characteristics of schools and classrooms using a questionnaire that asked students about school and class discipline and environment, school enforcement policies, and the student’s own behavior with regards to absences and tardiness. Afterwards, they assessed the impact of these characteristics on the likelihood of a class being considered “undisciplined” (that is, falling in the upper quartile of disciplinary infractions) as shown in the first figure. Their results show that the teacher’s role is important: when students perceive a teacher as unfair, the likelihood of that class being undisciplined is double that where students consider the teacher to be fair. Furthermore, in classes where the parents of the students have an above average education level, there are fewer disciplinary infractions. The overall school climate plays a central role as well. There are twice as many undisciplined classes in schools that have more than the average level of disciplinary infractions compared to schools that have fewer infractions. Similarly, in schools characterized by relatively strict disciplinary enforcement policies, the percentage of undisciplined classes is about half that of schools with relatively nonstrict enforcement policies.
Disciplinary environment is important in terms of its ultimate impact on students’ learning and educational achievements. The study’s central finding is that class disciplinary infractions have a significant negative effect on student achievement regardless of the student’s own behavior or past performance.
The second figure shows that MEITZAV (a Hebrew acronym for Measures of School Efficiency and Growth) test scores are negatively correlated with both the student’s individual disciplinary infractions as well as with the infractions at the class level. The impact of disciplinary infractions at student and class levels are quite similar. An 11-point achievement difference (80.4 versus 69.4) exists between a particularly disciplined student and an especially poorly-behaved student. The difference in test scores between a student who learns in a very disciplined class versus one in an especially undisciplined class (controlling for the student’s previous achievements and individual infractions) is 8.4 points (79.1 versus 70.7, respectively). In contrast, the study found no achievement differences between students studying in schools with varying discipline levels or different discipline enforcement policies.
The Taub Center study is part of a growing effort to examine the role of discipline in order to improve student achievements. Even so, it is one of the few studies to focus on classroom level characteristics rather than only on school characteristics, which allowed Blank and Shavit to discover that there are differences in the level of disciplinary infractions between different classes in the same school. It also identified that lower levels of disciplinary infractions and stricter enforcement policies at the school level, together with fair treatment by teachers, all have a positive impact on class discipline.
Finally, a student’s own level of discipline has a significant impact on the student’s academic achievements and, even after the student’s own characteristics are accounted for (by controlling for these statistically), classroom discipline also has a significant effect on student achievements. The Blank and Shavit study identifies the importance of classroom discipline, directing policy makers to the important role of school disciplinary climate and enforcement policies, together with the role of teachers’ treatment of students in promoting a positive and productive classroom environment.