Study: Relaxed School Punishment Policy Decreased Suspensions But Did Not Help With Academic Outcomes

Neetu Chandak | Education and Politics Reporter

A study found suspensions decreased in Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS) when “restorative” measures were implemented in elementary schools, but the method was not as effective for middle school students.

Rand Corporation released the findings in January in what is believed to be first randomized controlled trial of restorative practices in schools. The study was carried out between June 2015 and June 2017 and observed 44 schools in PPS with 22 having restorative justice practices.

Restorative practices focus on addressing the problems without taking students out of class, with disciplinary measures like suspension and police arrests used as the last resort.

Schools with restorative practices saw a 36 percent decrease in suspensions from the 2014-2015 school year to 2016-2017, according to study. Black students also saw lower suspension rates and teachers reported safer school conditions. (RELATED: Virginia Democrat Says He’s Ready To Make DeVos Testify ‘As Often As Necessary’)

The method did not help with academic outcomes, however. Students in grades 3-8 were negatively affected on the state’s math test. Students in grades 6-8 with restorative justice not only suffered worse academic results, but also suspension rates remained the same, according to the study.

“There had been strong interest in pursuing restorative practices in PPS as a means to build and sustain a positive and supportive school culture as well as to reduce suspensions and address disparities in suspensions based on race and gender,” PPS Public Information Officer Ebony Pugh said to The Daily Caller News Foundation over email.

Pictured is a teacher disciplining students. SHUTTERSTOCK/ Lopolo

Pictured is a teacher disciplining students. SHUTTERSTOCK/ Lopolo

Pugh added that PPS was able to be involved with the study through the Department of Justice’s Comprehensive School Safety Initiative research grant, worth $3 million.

The study’s result came as President Donald Trump’s administration got rid of a relaxed disciplinary policy instated by former President Barack Obama’s administration. The Obama-era policy wanted to ease racial disparities by discouraging student punishment.

“I would encourage them to continue to implement discipline reforms that they believe will foster improved outcomes for their students,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said, The Associated Press reported in December.

PPS serves nearly 25,000 students in pre-K through 12th grade.

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