09/09/2013 01:56 pm ET | Updated Nov 09, 2013

Order in the Classroom

There was a good reason why our teachers demanded our attention in class: it wasn't about power; it was about performance -- ours. As new analyses from PISA show, the disciplinary climate in schools is strongly related to student performance.

You might be surprised to learn that, according to the reports of students who participated in PISA 2009, most students in most PISA-participating countries and economies enjoy orderly classrooms. That is true for the U.S. even more so than for countries on average. Across OECD countries, more than two out of three students reported that never or hardly ever is there noise and disorder in their classrooms. In some countries, classrooms are models of orderliness: fewer than one in 10 students in Thailand and Korea reported that they cannot work well in class because of disruptions, and fewer than one in 10 students in Japan, Kazakhstan and Shanghai-China reported that their teacher has to wait a long time for students to quiet down before they can begin class.

But orderly classrooms are not ends in themselves; they seem to be the preconditions for learning. In 55 countries and economies that participated in PISA 2009, students in schools where the classroom climate is more conducive to learning tend to perform better. True, schools with more positive disciplinary climates also tend to have other qualities that are related to better student performance. For example, the students in these schools generally come from more socioeconomically advantaged backgrounds. Indeed, in 36 countries and economies, there is a positive relationship between schools' disciplinary climate and the average socioeconomic status of their students.

But PISA results show that even after accounting for the socioeconomic status and other characteristics of both students and the schools they attend, including the educational resources available to the school, the way the school is governed, and how the school assesses the performance of its students and itself, in 31 countries and economies, schools with a more positive disciplinary climate tend to perform better. In other words, disciplinary climate is one of few school-level characteristics that show a significant positive relationship with performance consistently across countries. In fact, given the strong relationship between students' socio-economic status and disciplinary climate, results from PISA suggest that a positive disciplinary climate in school can reduce the impact of a student's socioeconomic status on his or her performance. That is, in more orderly classrooms, students from all backgrounds have the same chances to succeed in their school work.

So maybe orderly classrooms really are, in the end, about power: about students being able to use their inherent power to seize opportunities to learn and work to realise their potential.

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