Can Restorative Practices Improve School Climate and Curb Suspensions?
An Evaluation of the Impact of Restorative Practices in a Mid-Sized Urban School District

Across the country, school districts, their stakeholders, and policymakers have become increasingly concerned about suspensions, particularly about suspending students from elementary school and disproportionately suspending ethnic/racial minority students. Suspended students are less likely to graduate, possibly because they miss the instructional time they need to advance academically. Restorative practices have gained buy-in in the education community as a strategy to reduce suspension rates. Proactively improving relationships among students and staff and building a sense of community in classrooms and schools may make students less inclined to misbehave. And addressing severe misbehavior through a restorative approach may help students realize the impacts of their actions and make them less likely to offend again.

This study of the implementation of restorative practices in the Pittsburgh Public Schools district (PPS) in school years 2015–16 and 2016–17 represents one of the first randomized controlled trials of the effects of restorative practices on classroom and school climates and suspension rates. The authors examined a specific restorative practices program — the International Institute for Restorative Practices’ SaferSanerSchools™ Whole-School Change program — implemented in a selected group of PPS schools under a program called Pursuing Equitable and Restorative Communities, or PERC. The researchers found that PERC achieved several positive effects, including an improvement in overall school climates (as rated by teachers), a reduction in overall suspension rates, and a reduction in the disparities in suspension rates between African American and white students and between low- and higher-income students.