Black Chicago Public Schools students are benefitting from a shift in discipline practices at area schools, according to new research.
A study from the University of Chicago Education Lab showed using restorative practices led to an 18% reduction in suspensions, along with 35% fewer arrests at school and a 15% decrease in out-of-school arrests.
Restorative practices are a different approach to conflict. The response is to repair harm by restoring relationships and helping the perpetrator understand the damage they’ve done, rather than retaliating against them.
Fatemeh Momeni, a research director with the University of Chicago Education Lab and one of the contributors to the study, explained the goal of using restorative practices.
“What it will look like in schools is there’s a lot of accountability,” she said. “There’s a lot of emphasis on building relationships, positive relationships, and in general, a culture that reduces the likelihood of conflicts happening in the first place.”
When it comes to punitive practices, past research shows this has led to students who are more likely to drop out, less likely to go to college and more likely to be arrested when they enter society as adults. Momeni added that Black and Latino students are more likely to be exposed to this form of discipline.
Sharon Ponder is a performing arts and social and emotional learning teacher at Carter School of Excellence. She said she uses restorative practices to build trusting environments with exercises like talking circles.
She said she’s witnessed positive results in her classroom.
“I have noticed a decrease in lashing out, a decrease in students pretty much not feeling as if they’re being identified or targeted, and that they have a space where they can share what is actually happening,” Ponder said.
Beyond the classroom walls, the reduction in out-of-school arrests shows a greater impact, according to Momeni.
“It’s actually showing that students’ behavior is changing,” she said. “It’s showing us that students are learning some conflict resolution skills that they can now apply not just in schools, but outside schools when teachers are not there.”
Ponder said she and other teachers are feeling empowered with the shift in practices, which fulfills another goal of restorative practices, according to Momeni.
“The important thing about restorative practices is that it provides an alternative to educators and teachers that they can now use because you can’t just tell teachers, ‘Don’t use punitive practices to suspend them,’” Momeni said. “You have to give them another tool that they can apply.”