Education Advocates Urge State Departments of Education to Improve School Climates through ESSA State Plans

New York- As the Senate considers the next U.S. Secretary of Education, ultimately responsible for approving state plans under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), a coalition of education advocates sent letters to Departments of Education in eight states advising officials to include measures in their state ESSA plans to reduce the overuse of discipline practices that push students out of the classroom.

The letters, which were sent by members of the national Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC), a network of over 100 parents, students and advocates, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., detail the disproportionate impact of exclusionary discipline practices—including suspensions, expulsions, and school-based arrests—on students of color, and advocate for states to include school climate as an accountability indicator, as permitted by ESSA. According to data reported by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, during the 2013-14 school year, 2.8 million public school students nationwide received at least one out-of-school suspension, and Black students were 3.8 times more likely than white students to receive such a suspension. Black students were also more likely to be expelled and disciplined through law enforcement.

As the letters observe, “School disciplinary practices impact school quality and students’ educational success. There is ample research showing that positive school climates will increase several aspects of student success, including school attendance, academic achievement and graduation rates.” School climate should be measured by using school discipline data and student and parent surveys, in addition to any other indicator of school climate the state may select—such as chronic absenteeism. The coalition also noted that “ESSA requires that states and school districts publish this school discipline data on annual report cards. Therefore, using this data to measure school climate would not be an added burden.”

It is also imperative for states to ensure that community stakeholders are meaningfully engaged throughout the development of state plans, as required by ESSA, and to use ESSA funding to assist districts with improving conditions for student learning by providing meaningful supports, such as ongoing monitoring and technical assistance regarding the effective implementation of restorative practices, School-wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (SWPBIS), and school-based mental health services.

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s final regulations for accountability and state plans, states may submit ESSA implementation plans to the USDOE for approval on April 3rd or September 18, 2017.


The Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) is a national coalition of over 100 organizations in 27 states dedicated to dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline. DSC fights for the human right of every young person to a quality education and to be treated with dignity.