An online newsletter produced by EdSource
with support from The California Endowment 


April 7,
Issue 59
School Climate and Discipline
Nearly half of California school districts report lower suspension rates in preview of new accountability system
Legend: Blue is the most desirable rating and indicates a district or school's positive performance relative to a standard set by the State Board of Education and the California Department of Education. Red is the lowest rating. Suspension rates are for the 2014-15 school year. Source: California Department of Education. Chart: Danny Willis/EdSource.

Nearly half of all California school districts received top ratings from the state for lowering their suspension rates, according to an EdSource analysis of data from the California School Dashboard, a school evaluation tool released in a field test version last month by the California Department of Education.

More than 45 percent of districts received either the most positive rating, "blue," or the second most positive rating, "green," indicating a positive performance relative to suspension rate standards set by the state.The suspension rates are based on 2014-15 data, with more recent data expected when the dashboard officially launches next fall. The bloggers at Ed100 created this helpful, albeit unofficial, translation of the color code: blue (great!), green (nice work), yellow (doing okay), orange (some problems) and red (danger).

Separate from the district ratings, schools reported more positive progress in lowering their suspension rates, with 57 percent of schools receiving either a blue or a green rating. According to the California consortium Fix School Discipline, research has found that out-of-school suspensions do not motivate behavior improvement and may make student behavior worse. Students who are suspended from school are at increased risk of dropping out.

Yet as suspension rates have fallen, some principals, teachers and staff, including those in Fresno Unified, say they haven't been trained to deal with disruptive behavior and now face chaotic classrooms with little recourse to send students to the office.

At the same time, some districts say that investments in helping teachers and students get along with each other are paying off. Here are two districts that recently touted their progress:

  • Bellflower Unified School District, in Los Angeles County, said it reduced the number of instructional days missed because of suspension by 85 percent in 2015-16 compared to 2014-15 -- from 3,245 to 483 days. The decline came after the full roll-out of "a new discipline system that emphasizes rewards for positive behavior and guides students toward correcting disruptive habits," the district said. In-school suspensions also dropped by 75 percent in 2015-16 compared to 2014-15 -- from 248 to 64. One key to success was that the new system, known as Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, "was not implemented from the top down" but instead was put in place through the work of teams of teachers, the district said. Also deemed helpful was the hiring of additional elementary school counselors in 2015-16.
  •  In the Stockton Unified School District, two elementary schools reported a sharp decline in suspensions and office referrals after their teachers were trained to run "classroom circles," an element of restorative justice practices, the district said. The circles allow students to talk about their peer conflicts, including hitting and shoving incidents. At Harrison Elementary, referrals to the office and suspensions fell 70 percent in 2015-16 compared to 2014-15, the district said, while office referrals at El Dorado Elementary fell by nearly half. "We teach kids how to communicate with each other, and (teachers) change our mindset on how we deal with kids," El Dorado Elementary Principal Kristin Buckenham told the Stockton Record. 
Social and Emotional Learning
Teachers turn to curated news stories to encourage students' empathy
Sample stories in Newsela's A Mile in Our Shoes project.
A Silicon Valley start-up is bringing grade-level versions of news stories into classrooms with the goal of helping students to read and reflect on the lives of people from a range of communities. 

Newsela launched its "A Mile in Our Shoes" online reading project in partnership with the Southern Poverty Law Center's Teaching Tolerance curriculum. The news stories are adapted from major publications and are tailored to student reading levels.

The stories include "Muslim girl wants to knock out old boxing rules to wear hijab in the ring" from the Washington Post, "Fresno family represents the plight of Syrian refugees" from the Fresno Bee and "Major called on iron will during journey to becoming 3rd female Army Ranger" from the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer in Georgia.

"They love the website," Kelly Payton, a 5th grade teacher in Union City, said of her students' affection for browsing Newsela. Payton uses the basic, no-cost version of Newsela and says the stories provide fodder for the "open discussion" morning circle held on Fridays in class.


By Tyrone C. Howard, professor of education at UCLA

Professor Howard writes in Education Week about the effect of school police on students and offers alternatives. He writes:

On the surface, the presence of law-enforcement personnel would seem to be a good step in helping to create and sustain safe learning environments for students and school personnel. However, a deeper look at the presence of SROs on school campuses raises serious concerns that reflect a pattern of racial inequities about who is policed, who is profiled, and who is punished. Read more.
Middle school students of color who lose trust in their teachers due to perceptions of mistreatment from school authorities are less likely to attend college even if they generally had good grades, according to psychology research at The University of Texas at Austin published in the journal Child Development.

Read more at EdSource.
School-Based Health Centers
A survey of more than 500 adolescents who visited school-based health centers in Colorado and New Mexico found that nearly half reported they would have liked more advice than they received about issues including healthy diet, stress and body image, according to a new article in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Related: The Fresno Unified School District announced it will open six additional school-based health centers in partnership with Clinica Sierra Vista and Valley Children's Healthcare. "We know that they benefit from having quality health care, which keeps them in school longer, makes them more successful and immediately impacts their learning," said Bob Nelson, interim superintendent for the district, at an event announcing the new health centers.

Health News Alerts
Here's what's new:
Webinar on youth in the justice system and a conference on mental health

Mentor, the National Mentoring Partnership, is hosting a webinar about how mentors can help youth, ages 10 through 17, who are dealing with the juvenile justice system. Mentors from the community can learn how to engage the students and "stop the cycle."

What: "ReEntry Mentoring: Conversations from the Field on Working with System-Involved Youth."
When: Thurs., April 20, 10 to 11:15 a.m. PT
Register here.
Wellness Together, which places therapists in California public schools, and the California Department of Education are hosting the  inaugural conference on student mental health issues and solutions. The all-day conference will be at William Jessup University in Rocklin.

What: California Student Mental Wellness Conference
When: Mon., April 17, 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. PT
Register here.
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