Today we released a follow up to our community brief on school climate from last year about restorative practices in Pittsburgh Public Schools. In it, we discuss our findings from a survey and focus groups we conducted this past spring with parents and students in schools that are participating in a Department of Justice study into the impact restorative practices can have on improving school climates.
While there is still much to learn about the efficacy of restorative practices in schools, it is a practice that is showing some promise locally and nationally. We would urge the school board to:
1. Commit to implementing restorative practices in all schools by 2020, recognizing that students, staff, and parents will need to time to learn about and engage in using restorative practices within each school .
2. Commit to provide ongoing support and training to all staff on restorative practices, and other social emotional behavioral supports .
3. Stabilize principal leadership at schools by supporting building leaders to be effective and providing services and supports from central office that meet the unique demands of each school.
We recognize that one size does not fit all when it comes to building school cultures that work for children. Implementing restorative practices in a manner that meets the needs of students, parents, and educators will be important to building long-term cultural change at each school. We hope PPS will continue to build upon what it has learned in the study to create school climates that seek to repair and avoid harm.
You can learn more about restorative practices and pushout by signing up for our email newsletter and taking part in community trainings being conducted by Parent Nation and TeenBloc.
Join the conversation on twitter about ways school climate are impacting student outcomes today, August 19, 2015 at noon by using the hashtag #pghschoolclimate.
Based on our extensive research, here are our recommendations for how we can make improvements to school climate:
Recommendations to Schools and the District
In order to create positive school climates where adults consistently support every student’s social, emotional, and academic success,
Demonstrate High Expectations for Students
Increase academic rigor by holding students to high standards and encouraging effort
Teachers and other school staff should model the school’s behavior expectations and teach students how to replace inappropriate behaviors with appropriate ones
Implement a plan for developing students’ social and emotional learning skills (i.e., managing emotions, conflict mediation, etc.)
Emphasize Accountability, Building Character, Making Amends, and Keeping Students in School
Remove students from school only when there is a real and immediate safety threat to the school community
Eliminate zero tolerance policies and replace them with restorative practices
Provide training, support, and time for schools to implement restorative practices that reduce the number of disciplinary actions taking students out of class
Provide support for parents and students to understand and use restorative practices
The District should:
Create stable environments for principals to lead, teachers to teach, and students to succeed
Support visionary leaders who develop strong instructional cultures that help all teachers improve and increase students’ academic success
Empower principals to hire their own team and hold them accountable for outcomes
Take part in the conversation at noon on twitter to find out what you can do to help us make these recommendations into policy. If you can’t join us, sign up for our biweekly email to stay informed about this and other initiatives we have to improve outcomes in Pittsburgh Public Schools.
As we noted in our blog last week, every year our School Works research reveals statistically significant relationships between school practices that are not necessarily academically related (like how a school chooses to discipline a child) and student achievement. National research on successful turnaround programs in Massachusetts from the American Institutes for Research backs this up as well.
Here are five ways (based on data from School Works research into Pittsburgh Public Schools that we compared against achievement data) that lay out a roadmap for changes that can help improve school climate.
1. Schools that work recognize that all students can achieve
Our vision for Pittsburgh is that 100% of students—white, black and brown—graduate ready for college or career.We acknowledge that many factors outside of a school’s control affect student achievement. However, schools that live and breathe by the proven fact that effort creates ability have higher-achieving students who are more likely to be prepared for life beyond high school. Research over many decades has proven that when adults in schools have high expectations for students and act on the belief that all students can learn and succeed, students will achieve at higher levels.
High expectations are linked to achievement in Pittsburgh Public Schools:
High school students who feel challenged generally attend schools with higher graduation rates, higher percentages of seniors eligible for the Pittsburgh Promise, higher percentages of Algebra proficiency by 11th grade, and higher percentages of graduates attending college or trade school directly after graduating.
High expectations are linked to student engagement in Pittsburgh Public Schools:
Modeling dignity and respect is linked to student achievement in Pittsburgh Public Schools:
Principals at less vulnerable schools—which have higher achievement, growth, and lower achievement gaps, report more staff members proactively working to create a positive school culture or actively addressing students when they make discriminatory comments toward one another.
Schools with more black and brown students must prioritize modeling dignity and respect:
Suspensions have a disproportionate effect on black and brown students. According to the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, black and brown students are three times as likely to be suspended as white students across the country. This pattern exists in Pittsburgh Public Schools, where 10% of all African American students were suspended in October and November 2014, compared to only 3% of White students. Black students received 76% of the suspensions even though they represent just 53% of the District’s students.
There are alternatives to exclusionary discipline. These alternatives prioritize keeping students in the classroom by helping them understand and address the root causes of their misbehavior. One promising alternative that has recently been embraced by the District is restorative practices. Restorative practices refer to a set of school wide values and actions that emphasize the importance of positive relationships as central to building community and provide opportunities to restore relationships when harm has occurred.
More schools reporting using restorative practices in Pittsburgh Public Schools:
Restorative practices are linked with lower suspension rates in Pittsburgh Public Schools:
The average suspension rate was lower overall in schools reported to have more effective restorative practices than in schools reported to have less effective restorative practices or that do not use restorative practices.
4. Schools that work provide stability in leadership
We know that effective leadership takes time to grow at a school. Principals must collaborate with teachers to establish a shared vision of instruction and performance. They must monitor and assess teaching and learning, ensuring that teachers receive meaningful feedback, resources, and flexibility with their time in order to grow their practice.
Principal stability is linked with positive student outcomes in Pittsburgh. We looked at the number of principals each high school has had in the past 4 years (range: one to three). Every school with students in the top quartile of college or trade school attendance, eligibility for the Pittsburgh Promise, and enrollment in advanced courses (Advanced Placement and Center for Advanced Studies) had only one principal in the past four years.
5. Schools that work for students work for parents
Parents across the district responded to a survey about their satisfaction with their child’s school. While survey response rates were generally low and uneven across schools, we found significant relationships among the data we analyzed. Overall, when parents say they would recommend their child’s school to another parent, the following positive indicators of school climate are in place:
More teachers feel the school is a good place to work and learn
Student stability rate is higher
Chronic absences are lower
Fewer students are suspended
More students proficient in English and Language Arts and Math
Smaller racial achievement gaps
Want to learn more? Join us Wednesday, August 19, 2015 on Twitter for a tweetup. Use #pghschoolclimate to follow the conversation.