Restorative Practices: Attitudes and Evidence

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School of Public Policy


Public Policy

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Restorative practice initiatives (RPIs) have the potential to reverse the negative consequences associated with punitive, exclusionary discipline which may make them attractive to the public. The collaborative processes and tools utilized in RPIs focus on proactively building relationships to prevent conflict and mitigate harm when conflict occurs. This approach has the potential to transform school policies and the nature of relationships within the school setting, influencing school culture by fostering a stronger sense of community (Mirsky, 2007). Together, these factors should make RPIs attractive to the public and increase the sense of community in schools, yet little evidence exists to support either of these assumptions. In three papers, this dissertations aims to address these gaps. The first paper is a systematic review of the published, quantitative evidence on RPIs using McMillan and Chavis' sense of community model as an organizing framework. 18 studies met the criteria for inclusion in the study. The interventions and outcomes for each study were analyzed according to the model. The findings indicate that RPIs positively impact sense of community in K-12 under certain conditions. Further, results point to three priorities for future research: a clear organizing framework, a focus on RPI's impact on community outcomes, and RPI interventions and impacts in post-secondary environments. The primary purpose of the second study was to determine if there is support for restorative practices initiatives (RPIs) in the Baltimore metro area where K-12 schools are involved in a multi-year implementation. Drawing on relevant literature in criminal justice, the study also seeks to determine if characteristics of respondents' affect their punitive or restorative attitudes toward misconduct in K-12 schools. Results indicate that RPIs are supported by a slight majority of Baltimore metro area residents. Results also show that ideology and political affiliation drive support or opposition for RPIs. The findings are discussed with consideration of recent policy shifts in Baltimore and the United States which indicate a concerted move toward RPI implementation in schools. The third paper builds on prior research showing that providing information about alternatives to the status quo can shift support for education reforms (e.g. Common Core). This study is the first to explore whether participants' attitudes on discipline policies in K-12 schools are similarly malleable. The theory of conceptual change is applied to determine whether providing brief information about RPIs to Baltimoreans will build support. Linear probability modeling was used to identify the statistically significant predictors of attitude change and whether those shifts were associated with demographic characteristics. The findings showed that there was no increase in supportive attitudes for RPIs post-treatment, and among some respondents may have raised questions in their minds about RPI that led to a shift from restorative to punitive responses. More detailed information than a brief statement may be needed to build support for restorative practice initiatives in schools. These findings have important policy implications for educators and policymakers seeking to build support for RPI implementation in the Baltimore metro area, and other similar communities.