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UCLA Center for the Transformation of Schools Partners in New Statewide Effort to Change School Discipline Practices, Strengthen School Culture and Climate

This article originally appeared in UCLA Ed & IS online magazine, Ampersand, and is reposted with permission.

CTS joins with Orange County and Butte County to expand California’s Multi-Tiered System of Support for educators and school systems.

In recent years, California has greatly reduced the number of student suspensions. Between the 2011-12 and 2016-17, the number of suspensions each year dropped by nearly half, from about 710,000 to a little over 381,000 students.

That’s important progress, but researchers at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies think far too many students are still suspended, especially students of color who are removed from the classroom and school each year at much higher rates. While the number has declined, about 9.8 percent of all African American students, 7.4 percent of Native American students and 3.7 percent of Latinxs were suspended from school during the 2016-17 school year.

“Schools are still putting too many kids, especially black and brown kids, at risk of educational failure by removing them from the classroom,” says UCLA Distinguished Professor of Education Pedro Noguera. “We don’t just need to stop suspending kids. We need to help schools to see the connection between discipline and student learning, and to understand that all efforts to improve school discipline must be based on efforts to deepen academic engagement. We need to change the culture of schools.”

Noguera, the founder of the UCLA Center for the Transformation of Schools is not alone in this belief. This fall, the UCLA Center for the Transformation of Schools at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies will team up with the Orange County Office of Education and the Butte County Office of Education to expand California’s Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) for educators and school systems. MTSS aims to better support the academic, behavioral and social needs of students statewide. A new $15 million grant from the state will allow the UCLA Center to develop evidence-based tools and specialized training to support restorative practices, bullying prevention and positive behavior strategies, as well as minimizing the use of exclusionary responses like suspensions and expulsions.

“California’s Multi-Tiered System of Support is of critical importance in schools because it clearly enhances students’ academic, behavioral, social and emotional skills,” said Dr. Al Mijares, Orange County Superintendent of Schools. UCLA’s Center for the Transformation of Schools will add another invaluable layer of expertise to this initiative.

The UCLA Center was selected by the State Board of Education, Orange County and Butte County to serve as a lead higher education partner for the project. The Center will develop and identify existing resources, professional development activities and other efforts currently available at the state, federal and local levels, designed to help agencies create positive school climates. UCLA will work in collaboration with the project partners to create a pilot program to assist local education agencies to promote positive school climates. The project will include training and regional workshops. The effort will aim to improve pupil-teacher relationships, increase student engagement and promote alternative discipline practices.

A primary focus for the pilot program will be to help move schools away from traditional approaches to school discipline, particularly across race, class, language and cultural differences.

“We’re excited to be part of this critical effort to establish California as a national leader in positive discipline approaches. This is a great opportunity to match the shift away from zero tolerance practices and policies to a clear focus on empowering educators with new tools and strategies to further student learning and achievement,” says Dr. Joseph Bishop, Director of the UCLA Center for the Transformation of Schools.

California’s Multi-Tiered System of Support is a comprehensive framework that has been successfully used by schools and districts to identify students who need social-emotional, academic or behavioral support. The effort helps schools and districts to initiate a response plan, track progress, and make improvements over time. Rather than relying on a single program or practice, CA MTSS aligns multiple strategies and leverages staff collaboration and data-driven decision-making to help schools increase attendance, prevent dropouts, lower disciplinary rates, improve school climates and boost academic performance for all students.

For more information about the UCLA Center for the Transformation of Schools, please visit http://transformschools.ucla.edu.

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John McDonald

University of California, Los Angeles

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