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Another Kind of Climate Change

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Don't worry, this blog has nothing to do with the weather—although it is about a science of sorts, and it's definitely about change.

With this new venture, Education Week actually will be exploring classroom conduct, school climate, student engagement, and a host of other nonacademic factors that affect students' learning—sometimes just as much as the textbooks they read and the tests they take. (We entertained the idea of calling this blog "Climate Change" but we didn't want to drive the weather world nuts.)

I and my intrepid colleague Ross Brenneman will bring you the latest news and research on what gets students invested in lessons, how schools across the country are changing the learning climate on their campuses, and how approaches to managing and developing student behavior are evolving. We think our efforts are well-timed. School discipline and climate are already the focus of a number of recent federal initiatives, and the old standbys for dealing with disruptive students—suspension and expulsion—are under an avalanche of fresh scrutiny. Here's a deal the U.S. Department of Education just worked out in Oakland, for example.

And this week, a coalition of organizations is asking again that schools shift away from punishing students by suspending them out of school and instead approach discipline in a way that keeps students learning and in school.

The Dignity in Schools campaign is observing its third annual week of action, with events planned in at least 20 cities to call attention to the 3 million out-of-school suspensions from public schools each year. The organization is marking the week with rallies, trainings, and other events in cities including Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Miami, and New Orleans.

But this year's events coincide with a very specific request from these organizations: They want a ban on suspensions for at least a year. The groups want schools to replace suspension with a variety of other approaches. The organizations told me recently that students can't afford to continue being kept from school while schools figure out what effective discipline looks like.

"If we know there are alternatives out there... many advocated by the kids themselves, we would be foolish to not try them," said Tina Dove, director of programs for the National Opportunity to Learn Campaign.

Joyce Parker, whose parent-, student-, and educator-led advocacy group Mississippi Delta Catalyst Roundtable, which works on education issues in that region, was more blunt.

"Our children cannot wait until we figure out the right way."

In this blog, we also will write about bullying, students' health and well-being, and other facets of school life that can have a direct effect on student learning—or their motivation to learn.

Between Ross and me, there's more than a decade of education policy reporting experience, from the hyperlocal, state, and national perspectives. In particular, I have been writing about school safety and discipline issues for Education Week for nearly two years now, including a number of pieces about pervasive disparities in how student discipline is meted out across the country and the new attention being paid to social and emotional learning. We will be writing about these topics in the months to come (while I'll still be covering special education policy for my blog, On Special Education).

Ross, an online producer here and a pseudo movie-analyst for Education Week, is a Michigan native who spent high school and college looking for something that would hold his attention. Those varied experiences, he says, make him especially interested in student engagement, in what it takes to make students interested in learning, and in how to create a safe, healthy school climate. (He promises to limit the use of thermostat metaphors.)

Email us—[email protected] and [email protected]—with your thoughts, experiences, and ideas. And find us on twitter: @Rulz4Engagement.

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