BALTIMORE—Baltimore City Schools that have adopted restorative practices since 2018 have seen dramatic drops in suspensions, improved school climate, and better relationships between students and teachers, according to a new report released today by Open Society Institute-Baltimore, Baltimore City Public Schools, Johns Hopkins University Institute for Education Policy, and the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law.
The report, Restorative Practices in Baltimore City Schools: A Research Update and Implementation Guide, gives the clearest indication yet that implementation of restorative practices in Baltimore City Schools is having a definitive, positive impact for students, teachers, and administrators. The study found that, in schools where restorative practices had been implemented:
- School suspensions dropped by 44% in one year
- 72% of school staff reported improved school climate
- 69% of school staff reported improved student respect for one another
- 64% of school staff reported improved student respect for staff
The report also highlights how restorative practices are being used in schools, including restorative circles (84%), restorative conferences to respond to student misconduct and conflicts (60%), and restorative circles and conferences with families (39%). The report also identifies challenges to implementation, including lack of support from students’ families (38%), the need for additional training (31.9%), and student resistance to the process (26.6%).
“The goal of restorative practices is to create positive school communities by strengthening relationships and helping everyone work together to make decisions, resolve problems, and engage in teaching and learning,” says Karen Webber, director of OSI’s Education and Youth Development Program and a former teacher, principal, and Director of Student Services at Baltimore City Public Schools. “This report demonstrates that we are on the right track and also provides a road map for other school districts to implement this transformative practice in their school communities.”
Baltimore City Schools’ connection to restorative practices dates back to 1996, when 1998 OSI Community Fellow Lauren Abramson conducted the first restorative conference at Calverton Middle School. It continued under the auspices of the organization Abramson founded in 2000, Community Conferencing Center (now called Restorative Response Baltimore). In 2008, OSI began supporting schools like City Springs Elementary/Middle and Hampstead Hill Academy to train staff in restorative approaches. In 2016, Baltimore City Schools’ Board and CEO made an ambitious pledge to implement restorative practices in the daily workings of all of its schools and programs over a five-year period. In 2018, the district designated its first cohort of fourteen schools as “intensive learning sites” that would receive training and coaching in restorative practices. The data in this report comes from those schools.
Since 2018, the District has vastly expanded implementation. In September, 2020, just before the start of remote learning for the 2020-21 school year, OSI arranged for Dr. Abdul-Malik Muhammad of Akoben, LLC. an OSI grantee that provides culturally relevant and practical restorative practices in public schools, to provide a training for about 4,000 city educators on how to integrate restorative practices into remote learning. “Restorative practices is perhaps more important now than it ever has been in that it helps students and teachers navigate the impact that COVID-19 is having on their lives at home and in school,” says Webber.
Brandon Pinkney, principal of Walter P. Carter Elementary/Middle School was an early adopter of restorative practices. “Restorative practices provide teachers with a tool that enables them to check in with students on a social-emotional level while also imparting important teachings,” he says. “This daily ‘checking in’ process develops strong and welcoming classroom environments where everyone’s voice matters.”
The report compiles data from several sources, including the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law’s Center for Dispute Resolution and Johns Hopkins University’s Institute for Education Policy.
“We are honored to partner with OSI on this important work, which connects to the law school’s broader mission of promoting racial justice and disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline,” says Deborah Thompson Eisenberg, law professor and faculty director of the Center for Dispute Resolution. “The Center has been helping schools across Maryland integrate conflict resolution education and restorative practices for well over a decade.”
Al Passarella, a research analyst with Hopkins’ Institute for Education Policy, led the institute’s evaluation of restorative practices in city schools. “The Institute is very pleased to have been involved in this important work,” he says. “We are encouraged by the results of the evaluation thus far, and we look forward to the continued evolution of Restorative Practices in Baltimore City Schools.”