Back to School: Preparing Students and Schools for Success

Image of teacher sitting in a circle with young students

As students across the country return to school, those responsible for their care and education are finalizing their plans to ensure a productive year. For administrators, policymakers, teachers, and others, this is a multifaceted, complex goal. Ensuring that schools are equipped to maximize the potential of their students is about more than graduation rates or test scores. In order to learn and grow, students need to feel safe and supported, not just physically, but emotionally and intellectually. Students also need a supportive learning environment that successfully prepares them for college and careers.

AIR’s evidence-based resources for back to school support educators through three essential lenses: school climate, safety, and social and emotional learning (SEL); school improvement; and college and career readiness.

School Climate, Safety, and Social and Emotional Learning

Explore more of our work in school climate, safety, and SEL.

School Climate and Social and Emotional Learning: Integrating Complementary Approaches (Brief)

School climate and SEL have often been treated separately by researchers and practitioners, but both are necessary to build healthy schools. A positive school climate creates the conditions for SEL; the social and emotional competence of each member of the school community, both individually and collectively, affects school climate. This brief covers research on how positive school climates support SEL and how improved SEL, in turn, contributes to improved school climate in elementary and secondary schools.

Illustration of AIR expert David Osher Meet AIR’s SEL Expert: David Osher (Q&A)

David Osher, Ph.D., is a vice president and Institute Fellow at AIR, a leader in the field of social and emotional learning, and coauthor of “Creating Safe, Equitable, Engaging Schools: A Comprehensive, Evidence-Based Approach to Supporting Students.” In this Q&A, he discusses prevention science, school equity, and interdisciplinary projects.

Toolkits and Supports for School Climate

AIR has developed toolkits and resources to support educators in their efforts to transform school climate and improve safety in our nation’s schools. The National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments, operated by AIR, offers a range of resources for educators in states considering how to use Title IV, Part A or other funding to improve conditions for learning.

School Improvement

Learn more about our school improvement work.

The District and School Improvement Center

Better schools can improve students’ chances of success—and lead to stronger communities. AIR experts use research-based strategies to help schools and districts build systems that improve outcomes and sustain improvements over time. Our work is based on a school improvement framework that is grounded in research and evidence and informed and refined by practice.

Image of map of Arizona showing ChinleBuilding Leadership Skills to Strengthen Schools in Chinle, Arizona (In the Field Story)

In the 2015-2016 school year, nearly half of the Chinle Unified School District’s principals left their positions and the district’s three-year teacher attrition rate reached 68%. For smaller schools, like those in Chinle, losing and replacing principals and teachers has a significant effect on students’ ability to feel like they are a part of a stable, safe, and welcoming school. In fall 2017, AIR began providing the district with competency-based turnaround leadership coaching, and early outcomes suggest that they are on their way to sustaining effective systems and processes.

Improving Student Outcomes and Building Positive Relationships through the BARR Model (Video)

Building Assets, Reducing Risks (BARR) is an evidence-based strategy that uses research and real-time data to increase teacher effectiveness and improve student outcomes. An AIR evaluation found that the BARR model leads to better academic performance, fewer course failures, more courses attained, and better relationships. This video shows how the BARR model is implemented at West Valley High School, in Hemet, California.

College and Career Readiness

Center for Applied Research in Postsecondary Education (CARPE)

CARPE at AIR is committed to improving postsecondary education for today’s students by generating rigorous evidence and helping those in the field connect research and practice.

College and Career Readiness (Spotlight)

Preparing students nationwide for college and career is a major multifaceted endeavor. It will require maximizing existing laws to align the education-to-workforce pipeline; emphasizing career and technical education (CTE); and monitoring at-risk students to keep them on track to graduate high school. This spotlight provides an overview of AIR’s varied work on this topic.

Image of report coverHow ESSA and IDEA Can Support College and Career Readiness for Students with Disabilities (Brief and Infographic)

Students with disabilities are often left out of the conversation about college and career readiness, but states and districts also have a responsibility to prepare them for their futures. In this brief, learn about funding available through the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to support these initiatives.

A Quick Word With: Alexandria Walton Radford, on Postsecondary Education and College Admissions (Q&A)

Admission to elite universities is extremely competitive, and understandably so: research shows that students who attend elite colleges are more likely to graduate, more likely to earn a graduate degree, and more likely to have higher earnings and achieve positions of prominence. In this Q&A, Alexandria Walton Radford, Ph.D., an AIR managing researcher and director of AIR's Center for Applied Research in Postsecondary Education (CARPE), discusses why less-affluent students remain underrepresented at elite schools, and how these institutions and policymakers can help propel greater equity. 

David Osher
Vice President and Institute Fellow
Alexandria Radford headshot
Senior Director, Center for Applied Research in Postsecondary Education (CARPE)