By Andrea Ochoa, Johns Hopkins University
A recent study by Grant and colleagues evaluated the effect of implementing Restorative Practices and Diplomas Now on school climate and teachers’ intentions to leave their school. Restorative Practices refers to a schoolwide shift away from punitive disciplinary methods and toward open dialogue that allows students to make amends by processing how their behavior affects others. Diplomas Now, another schoolwide reform model, focuses on building collaborative teacher teams, providing professional development, using early warning systems to provide students with tiered supports, and incorporating all supports by providing additional human resources to accomplish the work. It was hypothesized that when implemented together, the interventions would have a positive effect on school climate by improving student-teacher relationships, providing students with relevant and engaging learning opportunities, and increasing teacher retention.
The analytic sample for the study included 25 schools from large urban school districts that were randomly assigned to either implement both interventions or continue business as usual (control group). For the school climate measure, students and teachers responded to a survey designed for each stakeholder group. The intervention was implemented over two years. Because whole-school reform is complex and challenging to implement long-term, schools varied in their level of execution. Thus, Grant and colleagues conducted an intent-to-treat analysis. This means that they compared the average effect of intervention schools to the average effect of control schools without considering differences in implementation fidelity.
The study found that students and teachers in schools that implemented both programs reported perceiving a more positive school climate than in the control group (student ES= +0.15, teacher ES= +0.27). However, the study did not find that implementing both programs was associated with teachers’ intentions to continue working in their schools. Although modest, these findings suggest that implementing Restorative Practices in conjunction with Diplomas Now can have a positive effect on student and teacher perceptions of school climate such that teachers and students believe they have the support they need to be successful.
By Ashley Grant, Johns Hopkins University
The international call for justice reform in the wake of George Floyd’s murder links to similar reform needed in in US schools to address the school to prison pipeline. Restorative Justice (RJ, also called Restorative Practices) is one rapidly-spreading school-based intervention that promotes less punitive and exclusionary practices and more positive school environments. The most recent review of the evidence for RJ in schools, from Sean Darling-Hammond and colleagues in Contemporary School Psychology, reveals that the evidence base supporting RJ is growing, but some questions remain, and there is still a need for more rigorous causal research.
The research team looked at the past 20 years of quantitative studies of RJ in the U.S. Across these studies, RJ has consistently improved discipline, discipline disparities, and school climate, and reduced misbehavior. There is some evidence to show that RJ also reduces bullying and absenteeism, but RJ’s effects on academic achievement are inconclusive. Unfortunately, almost all of the studies of RJ in the U.S. remain limited by small samples and/or weak causal designs, in which it is uncertain if RJ is what is causing the observed effect. Clearly, further research is needed on outcomes of RJ. The authors particularly call for future studies using rigorous causal research designs (e.g., RCTs), examining RJ implementation (supports, pre-conditions, and success stories), and RJ’s interaction with other interventions.
The results of a randomized controlled trial of a whole-school intervention designed to build a supportive school environment and reduce bullying found that it did not produce significant changes in the treatment schools.
The study, published in Journal of Youth and Adolescence, evaluated the Restorative Practices Intervention to assess the extent of implementation and changes in school connectedness, positive developmental outcomes, and bullying. The intervention involves training all school staff on how to carry out 11 restorative practices (e.g., communication approaches that aim to build stronger bonds among leadership, staff, and students such as using “I” statements, encouraging students to express their feelings).
For the randomized controlled trial, Joie Acosta and colleagues collected baseline and two-year post survey data from students in grades 6 and 7 at 14 U.S. middle schools. Schools were randomized so that seven schools received the Restorative Practices Intervention and seven did not.
The results of the study suggest that the intervention did not produce any significant changes in the treatment schools. Intervention schools did not report more school connectedness, better school climate, more positive peer relationships, or less victimization. Indeed, the Restorative Practices Intervention only delivered a modest amount of restorative experiences, and not much different from the amount control schools received.
However, students’ self-reported experience with restorative practices significantly predicted improved school climate and connectedness, peer attachment, and social skills, and reduced cyberbullying victimization. The researchers conclude that, while more work is needed on how interventions can reliably produce restorative experiences, this study suggests that the restorative model can be useful in promoting positive behaviors and addressing bullying.
A new research brief by Catherine H. Augustine and colleagues at the RAND Corporation examines findings from an evaluation of restorative practices as implemented in the Pittsburgh (PA) Public Schools. Restorative practices are described as inclusive and non-punitive ways to respond to conflict and build community, and in the Pittsburgh Public Schools, these practices were implemented through the SaferSanerSchools Whole-School Change program. Some key elements of the program include:
- Affective statements: Personal expressions of feeling in response to specific positive or negative behaviors of others
- Small impromptu conferences: Questioning exercises that quickly resolve lower-level incidents involving two or more people
- Fair process: A set of transparent practices designed to create open lines of communication, assure people that their feelings and ideas have been taken into account, and foster a healthy community as a means of treating people respectfully throughout a decision-making process so that they perceive that process to be fair, regardless of the outcome
The research team conducted a randomized controlled trial of restorative practices in 44 Pittsburgh Public Schools between June 2015 and June 2017. Data included findings from observations, surveys, and interviews, and administrative data collected from the district and the county.
Key findings of the study were as follows:
- Restorative practices were successful in reducing student suspensions in the Pittsburgh Public Schools.
- Restorative practices reduced suspension rates of elementary grade students, African American students, students from low-income families, and female students more than for students not in these groups.
- Restorative practices did not improve academic outcomes, nor did they reduce suspensions for middle school students or suspensions for violent offenses.
Overall, the research team concludes that restorative practices are promising, particularly for elementary schools seeking to reduce suspension rates.