The Cleveland school district has an inconsistent approach to how it handles students’ behavior problems that must be addressed, in part, by better training of school personnel, says a study by a Washington-based research group.
The 52,000-student district requested the report on schools’ capacity to handle students with mental and behavior needs after a 14-year-old opened fire at a school last August, wounding two teachers and two other students before killing himself. Another report requested in the wake of the shooting focused specifically on security improvements.
The American Institutes for Research study was based on more than 100 interviews, a student survey, site visits, and a review of school documents. David Osher, the lead author and a managing director at the air, said the report was one of the most thorough he has conducted on an urban district.
Among the challenges noted by the researchers were harsh and inconsistent punishments in schools, poor adult role modeling, and a weak family-school connection.
Students were asked to rate their schools on a “safe and respectful climate,” which measures how physically and emotionally safe students feel. About 46 percent of middle school students thought their school environment “needs improvement.” Also, more than 48 percent of responding high school students said they worry about crime and violence in school, and almost 43 percent reported that students are threatened or bullied at their high school.
Mr. Osher said Cleveland officials took pains to convince him that they wanted a deeper look at mental-health capacity in the city and schools, and weren’t just looking for a symbolic gesture. In press reports, Cleveland officials said they welcomed the report’s candor.
“People are poised to be willing to take the next implementation steps,” Mr. Osher said in an interview. The institute drafted a four-year plan and intends to work with Cleveland schools for six months, he said.
A version of this article appeared in the August 27, 2008 edition of Education Week