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Academic Stress in an Achievement Driven Era: Time and School Culture Open Access

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Whether academic achievement is defined as passing a state-mandated test for graduation or earning "A's" in a rigorous course load and having a resume full of extra-curricular accomplishments, the pressure to achieve is pervading public education, creating a culture of competition and causing academic stress. A culture of competition within a school can negatively affect adolescents during a developmental stage in which other's expectations influence the way adolescents' view themselves. Many school leaders struggle with how to rigorously prepare students for the 21st century and global markets, within the confines of a seven-hour school day.Popular and journalistic literature acknowledged the issue of academic stress (Robbins, 2006), and some researchers recognized the prevalence of academic stress among high achieving students (Connor, Pope, & Galloway, 2009; Pope, 2001; Pope & Simon, 2005; Richard, 2009) in this academically competitive time. However, the literature had not yet addressed how the school's organizational culture, specifically the scheduling of courses, organization of time, homework and workload policies, and extracurricular activities caused or alleviated academic stress. The researcher conducted three-part interviews with students and school leaders to learn about their experiences with academic stress in an academically competitive school culture. The researcher learned that there were positive and negative impacts of academic stress and that some of the main causes included simultaneous deadlines, conflicts between extracurricular activities and homework, and busywork. This study is important for school leaders, particularly to examine whether and how high school students perceive and articulate that time-related school components common in high school culture (such as scheduling, homework/workload policies, and extracurricular activities) contribute to these students' stress levels. The study illuminated similarities and differences in student versus school leader perception about the stress of time-related school components on students. The researcher hopes that the understandings gained from this study will help school leaders make decisions on how to schedule teacher and student time.

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