Chicago Public Schools is among the school districts that have replaced student suspensions and other exclusionary discipline policies with “restorative justice practices” that stress building greater trust between students and faculty.
In a new study, researchers Anjali Adukia and Fatemeh Momeni from The University of Chicago and Benjamin Feigenberg from the University of Illinois at Chicago examined the adoption of restorative practices in Chicago Public Schools and found that they reduced school crime and other disciplinary problems significantly.
The study compared student behavioral and academic outcomes, as well as student perceptions of school climate and involvement with the juvenile justice system, at schools that used restorative practices—such as conversation circles, peer mediation, and other relationship-building strategies—and schools that continued to rely on exclusionary practices.
Arrests in schools using restorative practices declined by 19 percent and out-of-school suspensions declined by 18 percent among high school students. School climate also improved significantly in the schools as gauged by CPS’s annual survey of students. And the researchers found a significant decline in both violent and non-violent offenses among students in schools using restorative practices.
The greatest decline in offenses occurred among Black male students, who on average experience more arrests and out-of-school suspension days than their White peers under traditional disciplinary systems. Following the introduction of restorative practices, Black males attended school more consistently and demonstrated significant gains in math test scores. The study found no evidence that the introduction of restorative practices led to an increase in misbehavior or classroom disruptions.
In addition to making schools safer for all students, these positive results suggest that when implemented effectively restorative practices can recapture the instructional time that’s often lost under exclusionary discipline practices, an improvement that benefits both students and teachers.