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The Effects of Restorative Approaches to Discipline in New Orleans Schools

This study by Beth Glenn, Nathan Barrett, and Estilla S. Lightfoot finds that non-punitive restorative practices had the greatest impact on previously suspended students.

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The Effects of Restorative Approaches to Discipline in New Orleans Schools

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by Beth Glenn, Nathan Barrett, Estilla S. Lightfoot

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The rise of zero tol­er­ance poli­cies in recent decades has led to high­er rates of exclu­sion­ary dis­ci­pline such as sus­pen­sions and expul­sions in schools nation­wide. School and com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers have raised con­cerns that this form of dis­ci­pline dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly affects stu­dents of col­or and that affect­ed stu­dents are more like­ly to fall behind aca­d­e­m­i­cal­ly or drop out of school. To min­i­mize exclu­sion­ary dis­ci­pline, a grow­ing num­ber of schools have instead tried restora­tive approach­es to dis­ci­pline, which put an empha­sis on repair­ing harm and restor­ing rela­tion­ships rather than puni­tive action.

In this study, Beth Glenn, Nathan Bar­rett, and Estil­la S. Light­foot exam­ine whether using restora­tive approach­es to dis­ci­pline affects stu­dent sus­pen­sion rates and stan­dard­ized test scores using data from a non-prof­it in New Orleans that facil­i­tates restora­tive prac­tices in schools. These data specif­i­cal­ly focus on restora­tive cir­cles which are meet­ings and dis­cus­sions among those involved in the inci­dents. Study researchers com­pare stu­dent out­comes at schools that report­ed using restora­tive approach­es with sim­i­lar stu­dents at schools that did not report using restora­tive approach­es and draw the fol­low­ing conclusions:

-Restora­tive approach­es had lit­tle effect on sus­pen­sion rates for stu­dents over­all. How­ev­er, in two of the three years after the schools began using restora­tive approach­es, there is some evi­dence that stu­dents who had pre­vi­ous­ly been sus­pend­ed saw a 35% reduc­tion in their aver­age num­ber of sus­pen­sions per year and a 32% reduc­tion in the num­ber of days they were sus­pend­ed. ‑Researchers find strong evi­dence that these changes for stu­dents who had pre­vi­ous­ly been sus­pend­ed were large­ly dri­ven by a decrease in sus­pen­sions for vio­lent infrac­tions. Reduc­tions in vio­lent sus­pen­sions were seen every year for these stu­dents. ‑Schools that held the fewest restora­tive cir­cles saw declines in all sus­pen­sions pri­mar­i­ly in the first year. The schools that held the most restora­tive cir­cles saw reduc­tions in sus­pen­sions main­ly in the third year of part­ner­ing with the non-prof­it. ‑Researchers find incon­sis­tent evi­dence of the use of restora­tive cir­cles’ impact on the aca­d­e­m­ic per­for­mance of stu­dents who had not expe­ri­enced pri­or sus­pen­sion. There is lit­tle evi­dence of restora­tive cir­cles’ impact on the aca­d­e­m­ic per­for­mance of stu­dents who had expe­ri­enced pri­or suspension.

To help under­stand the effect of restora­tive prac­tices as per­ceived by stake­hold­ers, researchers also inter­viewed stu­dents and staff mem­bers at two schools using restora­tive approach­es. These stu­dents and staff report­ed pos­i­tive expe­ri­ences with restora­tive prac­tices. Inter­views helped pro­vide use­ful con­text to under­stand how these poli­cies were imple­ment­ed in prac­tice and how peo­ple expe­ri­enced them. 

Over­all, these results offer promis­ing evi­dence that restora­tive meth­ods can improve school cli­mate and reduce a school’s reliance on poten­tial­ly inequitable forms of discipline.

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