Cover: Can Restorative Practices Improve School Climate and Curb Suspensions?

Can Restorative Practices Improve School Climate and Curb Suspensions?

An Evaluation of the Impact of Restorative Practices in a Mid-Sized Urban School District

Published Dec 27, 2018

by Catherine H. Augustine, John Engberg, Geoffrey E. Grimm, Emma Lee, Elaine Lin Wang, Karen Christianson, Andrea A. Joseph

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Research Questions

  1. How was the Pursuing Equitable and Restorative Communities (PERC) restorative practices program implemented in Pittsburgh Public Schools, and what challenged and facilitated use of restorative practices?
  2. What were the impacts of the restorative practices program?
  3. How likely is it that use of the restorative practices will be sustained in Pittsburgh Public Schools?

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.

Key Findings

Effects of the Pursuing Equitable and Restorative Communities (PERC) program in Pittsburgh Public Schools

  • Implementation of restorative practices through PERC improved overall school climates, as rated by teachers.
  • Implementation of restorative practices reduced the average suspension rate: During the study period, average suspension rates decreased in both PERC and non-PERC schools, but rates decreased more in PERC schools.
  • Suspension rates of African American students and of those from low-income families also went down in PERC schools, shrinking the disparities in suspension rates between African American and white students and between low- and higher-income students.
  • Academic outcomes did not improve in PERC schools, and actually worsened for grades 6–8.
  • Arrest rates among PERC schools did not decrease.


  • Given the constraints on teachers' time, emphasize restorative practices that can be woven into the school day.
  • Ensure that school leaders understand and can model restorative practices, including by providing mandatory professional development, books and other materials, and coaching on restorative practices.
  • Establish a mechanism for school staff to meet at least once per month as a professional learning community on restorative practices.
  • Ensure that leaders at the district level can coordinate this work.
  • Set, and update, clear expectations regarding the use of restorative practices.
  • Implement data collection systems to collect accurate information on all types of behavioral incidents and remedies.

This study was sponsored by the National Institute for Justice as part of its Comprehensive School Safety Initiative and conducted by RAND Social and Economic Well-Being and RAND Education and Labor.

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