Abstract: The Just Discipline Project: Year 1 Implementation Results (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

The Just Discipline Project: Year 1 Implementation Results

Saturday, January 18, 2020
Treasury, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Rachelle Haynik, MPA, Research and Evaluation Coordinator, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Shawn Thomas, MSW, Restorative Practice Coordinator, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Shante Stuart McQueen, Ph.D, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
James Huguley, Ed.D, Assistant Professor, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Background/Purpose:  Restorative practices are touted as a high potential approach toward ensuring a relational and just school climates for all students, and particularly for students of color who are disproportionately issued harsh discipline in schools. However, research documenting best practices in how restorative practice might impact not only disciplinary outcomes, but also academic outcomes, is limited. In response, PACS researchers supported two schools in implementing the Just Discipline Project, a whole-school relational and restorative climate intervention designed to reduce the use of exclusionary discipline. The current paper details the successes and challenges of these program implementations in its pilot year.  

Method: Just Discipline was implemented in two sites: the Lincoln Elementary intervention served a 221-student preK-5 school that was 91% African American and 91% economically disadvantaged; the Woodland Hills site served a school of over 600 students in grades 4 through 6 that was 72% African American and 78% economically disadvantaged. PACS placed full-time, specially trained restorative practice coordinators in each school to design and lead all activities. The Just Discipline model then utilized primary, secondary, and tertiary behavioral and relational interventions, including school wide games and competitions, student leadership programs, community-building circle discussions, and healing circles in response to student-student and student-teacher conflicts. The programs were evaluated by analyzing pre- and post- school-wide discipline and academic outcomes, and at Woodland Hills interviews with teachers and surveys with both teachers and students were also conducted.

Results: At Lincoln, the number of individual students suspended declined dramatically, by 90% in the first year. At the same time, academic proficiency levels improved in Math, English Language Arts, and Science, reversing two downward trends from previous years.  At Woodland Hills the discipline results were less dramatic but still substantial: individual students suspended decreased by 9%, fights leading to suspensions declined by 55%, and referrals related to student aggression declined by 16%. In terms of climate, students at Woodland Hills reported significant improvements in feeling safe in school, while teacher results showed increased perceptions of student trust. Academic achievement at Woodland Hills also increased in ELA, Math, and Science, with the ELA and Math outcomes reversing previous downward trends. Teacher interviews at Woodland Hills led to direct changes in program components for year 2, including developing a positive behavior reward system, and increased training opportunities. Currently, suspensions and referrals at Woodland Hills are down in year 2 by over 40% and 50%, respectively.

Conclusions and Implications: Overall, the early findings from the Just Discipline Project are encouraging. Thee consistently positive pattern of results in areas of discipline and achievement across two school sites suggest that the PACS program is having a positive impact in its first two years. This implementation helps validate the usage of restorative practices to alleviate the overuse of suspensions that plagues urban school settings, while demonstrating another potential avenue for university-K-12 school partnerships.