Social Psychology of Education

, Volume 7, Issue 3, pp 257–287 | Cite as

Ineffective Schools as Organizational Reactions to Stress

  • James Griffith


Educational research has identified effective schools in terms of characteristics associated with high student achievement, and conversely, schools lacking these characteristics are often conceived as ineffective schools. In this article, I propose that organizational stress responses create the conditions that make schools effective or ineffective. In other words, low achievement does not make schools ineffective but rather organizational behavior associated with stress creates and perpetuates school ineffectiveness, including low achievement. Drawing on the threat-rigidity thesis and open systems theory, hypotheses regarding how groups and organizations respond to stress were tested using demographic and achievement data for students attending elementary schools, in addition to survey data obtained from students (N= 18,189), principals (N= 75), and parents (N= 13,768). Using cluster analysis, schools were grouped and described in terms of the school’s stress level (student populations requiring more resources for learning), school adaptations to stress (emphases on varied school internal processes), and school output (student achievement). To lessen input from the external environment, schools experiencing more stress had less permeable bound- aries, as indicated by parent reports of less school involvement and less positive school climate. Schools experiencing more stress also had more internal disruption, as indicated by less consensus among parents and students regarding school internal processes and by more principal changes. However, in such schools, there was little evidence of more control over school internal processes in terms of principals’ self-reported behavior and student and parent perceptions of school order and discipline, and teacher support of learning. Results call for a better understanding of school ineffectiveness in terms of organizational adaptations to stress and points at which to intervene for more effective school adaptation and functioning.


Student Achievement School Climate Teacher Support Effective School Positive School 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • James Griffith
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Damascus, MarylandUSA
  2. 2.10956 Bellehaven BoulevardDamascusUSA

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