Avoid Simple Solutions and Quick Fixes: Lessons Learned from a Comprehensive Districtwide Approach to Improving Conditions for Learning


Urban schools are often viewed as disorderly and unsafe and often have poor conditions for learning that affect student attendance, behavior, achievement, and safety. These conditions include the experience of emotional and physical safety, connectedness to and support from caring adults and peers, peer social and emotional competence, and academic engagement and challenge. Although connectedness and appropriate mental health services can improve safety as well as conditions for learning, many school districts focus on control through hardware and security officers. This paper examines the Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s (CMSD) systematic efforts during the past four years that incorporated regular use of school-level data to improve safety, order, and the conditions for learning. These districtwide approaches included implementing (1) an empirically validated social and emotional learning program that helps students in elementary grades to understand, regulate, and express emotions (Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies, or PATHS); (2) student support teams, a widely used planning model for students who exhibit early warning signs (including those related to attendance and behavior) with a referral process to respond to student needs in a timely, coordinated, and effective manner; and (3) planning centers, which replaced punitive in-school suspension with a learner-centered approach to discipline that focuses on student needs and helps students learn self-discipline, and aligns with the student support teams and CMSD’s focus on social and emotional learning.

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