Restoring Community

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Nirvi Shah reports in Education Week that researchers at Johns Hopkins University have found a relationship between suspensions and failure to graduate from high school. But they also say that other factors might be at work in reducing graduation rates.

About three-fourths of Florida 9th graders who were never suspended out of school as freshmen graduated from high school, compared with a 52 percent graduation rate for those suspended once and a 38 percent rate for those suspended twice in their first high school year, an analysis has found.

And often, researchers at Johns Hopkins University found, students suspended also were failing courses and absent from school for other reasons.

While there has been a push, especially in recent years, to cut out-of-school suspensions, the findings suggest that changing discipline policies in a way that would curb suspensions alone isn’t a sure way to improve student achievement or graduation rates, said Robert Balfanz, the co-director of the university’s Everyone Graduates Center in Baltimore, and the study’s lead author.

Schools must find ways to motivate students who aren’t engaged in their learning, he said, and intervene when students miss a lot of school, misbehave, and perform poorly in class—all of which are early warning signs that a student may drop out.

“We need a more holistic answer to this problem than ‘Suspend fewer kids,’” Mr. Balfanz said.

Restorative practices, while reducing suspensions, expulsions and other punitive measures in schools where it has been implemented, can provide a piece of that "holistic answer" the researchers intimate. Restorative practices build relationships proactively, helping to cultivate a school climate where conflict is appropriately addressed and impediments to students learning in classes are reduced. In many schools both student as well as staff absences have been reduced when restorative practices are implemented.

When things do go wrong, restorative practices find means to engage students and their families in a process to make things right. Students are also led to understand the impact their behavior has on others. This helps students rebuild relationships as well as learn new ways of behaving that benefits themselves and their peers.

The block quote about can be found at Education Week: Suspensions Linked to Lower Graduation Rates in Fla. Study.