Rand Study: Reducing Suspensions Doesn’t Improve Academic Performance

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Here’s some unwelcome news. The usual caveat applies: it’s just one study in one place, so don’t take it too seriously. But in a large-scale test of “restorative practices” in the Pittsburgh Public School District, the results were disappointing. Half the district participated in a program to reduce disciplinary suspensions—especially the disproportionate use of suspensions among minority students—in an effort to improve both the atmosphere of the school and academic achievement. PPSD implemented a program from the International Institute for Restorative Practices called SaferSanerSchools Whole-School Change, and it did indeed reduce suspensions and improve school climates (as rated by teachers). However, there was also this:

Don’t worry too much about all the jargon in these tables. What’s important is that nearly all the numbers are negative. Student achievement (on the left) fell in all subjects and among all demographic groups. At the same time, student evaluations of teachers (on the right) declined on every single variable.

This was a large-scale test, so its results have to be taken seriously. At the same time, it ran for only two years, and that might not have been enough time for restorative practices to show any impact. The important thing, probably, is to take the results seriously enough to try to figure out how programs like this can be improved. We should give up on them only if we do that and they continue to fail.