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Restorative Practices within School Communities

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By Anh Nguyen

A+ Schools is dedicated to informing and engaging the public, and mobilizing support around efforts to advance equity in our schools. One way to build more equitable schools is to reduce out-of-school suspensions and adopt restorative practices as an approach to address discipline among students.

Over the past several years, we have examined the troublesome and potentially biased method of exclusionary discipline to combat student conduct, misbehaviors, and conflicts. Exclusionary discipline describes any type of school disciplinary action that removes or excludes students from the classroom, such as suspension and expulsion.

By the numbers

According to the Education Rights Network, more than 8,200 out-of-school suspensions were handed out in Pittsburgh Public School (PPS) during the 2015-2016 school year. Of the total, African-American students were suspended four times more than white students. In the same school year, 65 percent of out-of-school suspensions were for “disruption of school” which does not pose a safety threat.

In our annual Report to the Community on Public School Progress in Pittsburgh, A+ Schools reports on the rate of students suspended at least once during the school year for each school in the district. We use suspension rate as an indication of school climate.

Background

In 2014, the Pittsburgh Public Schools Board passed the first-ever Student Bill of Rights (SBR) to be incorporated into the district’s official Code of Student Conduct. The SBR was written by students from our TeenBloc program in response to observations they made of irrefutable inequities, one of them being the disproportionate suspensions rate among African-American students in PPS. Since our TeenBloc Students first explored restorative practices, A+ Schools has taken the lead in research and training on the approach and advocated for its implementation in PPS.

Last year, A+ Schools urged the Pittsburgh school board to commit to implementing restorative practices in all schools by 2020, recognizing that students, staffs, and parents will need time to learn about and engage in using restorative practices within each school.

Recently, PPS planned for a district-wide rollout of restorative practices. Understanding that school climate can directly impact indicators of success such as teacher retention, dropout rates, incidences of violence, and student achievement, the school board’s first and foremost objective is to meet the needs of all students.

What are Restorative Practices?

Restorative practices (RP) works to reform wrongdoers, understanding the reasoning behind harmful decisions and emphasizing the healing of relationships1. In an educational setting, the philosophy of restorative practices aims to address the cause of behavior, works to restore the relationships of those involved in a conflict, helps the student catch up on missed school work, and keeps students in the classroom instead of focusing on minimizing and controlling the harm caused by bad behavior. Affirming the intrinsic worth of the offender rather than inspiring feelings of guilt is one of the main focuses of restorative practices.

Restorative practices are numerous and include victim-offender mediation conferences, group conferences, and various restorative circles that allow for the meeting of all parties involved in or impacted by harmful actions. Restorative sanctions are developed during and after these meetings and could include community service, restitution, apologies or behavioral change agreements. Implementing restorative practices is challenging, and best practices are still being developed. However, restorative practices provide helpful guidelines for the future of school discipline.

In 2004, researchers at Glasgow and Edinburgh Universities conducted a study regarding the success and challenges U.K. schools experienced, and the impacts of RP on the school’s climate. The study found that the implementation of restorative practices is challenged and needs the collaboration of all involved parties, especially teachers and school’s staff. However, once successfully implemented, there was a clear positive impact on relationships, seen in the views and actions of staff and pupils and in a reduction of playground incidents, discipline referrals, exclusion and need for external support2.

In addition to this study, between 2005 and 2008, restorative practices were implemented in schools in California, Philadelphia and Los Angeles. The implementation accompanied with a close examination of changes in dropout rate, and percentage of violent acts and incidents. The result shows that while California’s youth recidivism is 90 percent, the recidivism rate of students completing restorative justice programs ranges from between 10 to 20 percent. In addition, after a year of implementing restorative practices, West Philadelphia High School’s percentage of violent acts and incidents fell 52 percent, suspensions decreased by 50 percent and recidivism decreased by almost 50 percent3.

Success of Restorative Practices in Pittsburgh and Future Work for A+ Schools

Before TeenBloc’s advocacy around SBR and recognition of restorative practices, the approach was not well-known in Pittsburgh.

In April 2015, PPS received a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to implement the practice in half of the schools in the districts (23 schools). This implementation is for a case study to see the impacts RP has on public schools’ students. The report of this study is expected to be released in December 2017.

Though the case study and positive responses from parents and communities promise more future successes for RP, A+ Schools plans to increase the frequency of community and school-based workshops and information sessions to continue to raise public awareness around RP. Trainings will target stakeholders who can directly make a change in schools: school administrators and staffs, community-based partners (such as those running after-school programs), students and parents. In addition, we will focus more on getting parents and students to monitor and push for exact implementation in all school buildings.

Restorative Practice Discussion Panel

Next month, A+ Schools will host a Restorative Practices Discussion Panel. We have partnered with the Pittsburgh Black Elected Officials Coalition to host the panel on August 29th, 2017 at the Elsie H. Hillman Auditorium at the Kaufmann Center. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. and the program will begin at 6:00 p.m. The panel will focus on the use and effectiveness of Restorative Practices as an alternative to exclusionary discipline approaches. The discussion will also create a space for conversation surrounding the benefits and challenges of implementing Whole School Change in a given school district.


For more information and to register for the event, click here.

To find out more about the speakers and panelists, and to receive updates about the event, sign-up to receive our newsletter.

For more information about restorative practices, click here to watch a discussion about the topic.

References:

1 A+ Schools Community Brief, October 2016. Restoration over Criminalization. “What are Restorative Practices?”

2 McCluskey, Gillean; Lloyd, Gwynedd; Kane, Jean; Riddell, Sheila; Stead, Joan and Weedon, Elisabet, November 2008. Educational Review. “Can restorative practices in schools make a difference?” DOI: 10.1080/00131910902393456. http://www.informaworld.com

3 A+ Schools Community Brief, October 2016. Restoration over Criminalization. “It’s hard work, but it’s worth it: Case Studies.”


Anh Nguyen is an intern at A+ Schools. She is a junior at Chatham University in Pittsburgh. Anh is a double major in Marketing and Economics.