Credit: Susan Frey/EdSource Today
Fremont High School in Los Angeles.

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Nearly every school district says it wants to reduce student suspensions, but only some have created plans with the kind of detail, funding and statistical savvy that make it more likely they’ll succeed, according to a report released Wednesday that analyzed plans to improve “school climate” in the 50 largest school districts in California.

The school climate goals are found in districts’ three-year planning documents known as Local Control and Accountability Plans, or LCAPS, which are to be updated annually. Districts completed their first plans last summer, as part of the new state education funding formula designed to give local districts control over how they spend their money.

Ninety-two percent of the largest districts have goals to decrease suspension rates — which is not surprising, given that the state has made suspension reduction a priority — but only 58 percent have stated specifically how much of a reduction they’d like and how they’ll calculate the drop, according to the analysis by Fight Crime: Invest in Kids California. The group is a state office of a national nonprofit organization of law enforcement officers and prosecutors.

The median goal is to reduce student suspensions by 17 percent over three years, the report found.

The range of reduction varies from no change in suspension rates to a 75 percent reduction over three years, the report found. Eight districts — Eastside Union, Oakland, Riverside, Sacramento, San Bernardino City, Twin Rivers, Vista and William Hart — have set goals  to reduce suspensions by 40 percent or more over three years. Of the districts that have set specific goals — rather than an ambiguous desire to reduce suspensions — the median goal is to reduce suspensions by 17 percent over three years, the report found.

Brian Lee, state director of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids California, said it was “refreshing” to see school districts taking school climate seriously in their local plans. Still, he asked for districts to provide specific details about their goals, actions and expenditures so that parents and communities could know if changes need to be made to improve student behavior and achievement.

For instance, only 18 percent of the districts have specific suspension-reduction goals for students in ethnic and racial sub-groups that school administrators historically have suspended in high numbers. And only 26 percent of the districts have goals to reduce expulsions, which is a goal required in the Local Control and Accountability Plans.

One hundred percent of the 50 largest districts have listed actions they will take to address school climate, including 96 percent that say they intend to employ school counselors, psychologists and other support staff. Seventy percent say they plan to implement positive discipline approaches that emphasize building relationships with troubled students or allowing them to make amends, rather than taking more punitive actions. These approaches include Positive Behavioral Supports and Interventions, Restorative Practices or restorative justice, and social emotional learning.

The 50 largest districts represent 41 percent of the state’s public school students.

“While some of the report findings are encouraging, there remains significant room for improvement,” the report stated.

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