When it comes to helping students succeed in school, academic factors like curriculum and teacher quality are only part of the puzzle. How happy and unified the school feels as a community has a big impact too, according to a study in the Review of Educational Research recently reported by NPR. Happy schools, it turns out, produce better students, even accounting for socioeconomic differences.

Israeli and U.S. researchers analyzed 78 studies on school climate published between 2000 and 2015 to study the links between school climate, socioeconomic factors, and academic achievement. “School climate” encompasses the personality of the school, including how well its students, teachers, and administrators work together.

As one example of a happy school environment, NPR describes an elementary school where each morning starts with an all-school assembly that includes a dance party, birthday celebrations, a “Student of the Day” award, and learning about a different international city. Positive schools "see themselves as vehicles to change society"—as study co-author Ron Avi Astor told NPR—"that these kids are going to go out and not just reflect where they came from and who they are, but change all that."

The study [PDF] found that positive school climates—where there’s a mutual sense of respect and support between all the students, parents, and employees, and a communal sense of engagement with educational goals—do raise grades, and not just in wealthy areas. Sure, a yoga-centric school in Beverly Hills might have a positive climate, but so can a public school where most of the students receive free lunch. Indeed, schools with more positive environments tended to offset the negative impact that lower socioeconomic status has on academic achievement, according to the study.

Unfortunately, what constitutes a positive school environment is hard to pin down from a scientific standpoint. And without a clear definition of what makes a positive school, it’s a little hard to help schools move in that direction. Still, in the U.S., where educational policy is geared toward raising student grades, it’s pretty important that educators realize that creating an environment where everyone at the school is happy and excited about learning can be just as important to academic achievement goals as reworking the math curriculum.

[h/t NPR]