New report reflects C-DRUM’s expertise in the implementation of restorative practices

In partnership with the Open Society Institute (OSI)-Baltimore, the Center for Dispute Resolution (C-DRUM) at Maryland Carey Law published Restorative Practices in Baltimore City Schools: A Research Update and Implementation Guide. C-DRUM served as lead author on the new report.

Using a Johns Hopkins University (JHU) Institute for Education study from 14 pilot Baltimore City schools that implemented restorative practices, the report highlights the effectiveness of these practices, with outcomes including steep drops in school suspensions, improved school climates, and better relationships among teachers and students. C-DRUM authors also situate JHU’s findings with an overview of other recent empirical studies about the effectiveness of restorative practices and offer implementation guidance to schools interested in adopting restorative approaches.

“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, who collaborated closely with C-DRUM on the work. “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.”

Johns Hopkins University Institute for Education researchers found that in schools implementing restorative practices, suspensions dropped by 44% in one year, with 72% of school staff reporting improved school climate, 69% of school staff reporting improved student respect for one another, and 64% of school staff reporting improved student respect for staff. A 5th-grade Baltimore City student, quoted in the report, shared how restorative practices help participants develop empathy: “We don’t know what other kids are going through in life, so it [restorative practices] helps other students understand this.”

The report reflects the deep expertise C-DRUM has developed as a leader in helping Maryland schools pivot away from exclusionary discipline strategies, such as suspensions and “zero tolerance” policies, which disproportionally impact students from minority backgrounds. For more than 15 years, C-DRUM staff have drawn from principles of mediation and restorative justice to be a key provider of training for educators and school leaders in practices such as peer mediation, dialogue circles, and restorative conferences, which promote a culture that is inherently just, racially equitable, and conducive to learning for all students.

“C-DRUM’s work in conflict resolution education connects to the law school’s broader mission of promoting a more equitable and racially just society,” says Prof. Deborah Thompson Eisenberg, C-DRUM’s faculty director. “Conflict is an inevitable part of the school day, and restorative models help educators and students build strong connections and handle conflicts in constructive ways.”

In recent years, C-DRUM has been helping to lead a broad expansion of restorative approaches to school districts across the state. In 2018, the Maryland General Assembly appointed C-DRUM staff to chair a 26-member interdisciplinary Commission on the School-to-Prison Pipeline and Restorative Practices to study statewide school disciplinary practices and the “school-to-prison pipeline.” In its final report, the commission found that Maryland school districts were overusing zero tolerance discipline and recommended the implementation of restorative approaches in Maryland schools.

In response, the Maryland General Assembly passed legislation in 2019 directing the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) to provide significant support to Maryland schools in the implementation of restorative approaches. This includes “technical assistance and training to county boards regarding the use of restorative approaches,” as well as assistance to “each county board with the implementation of the guidelines.” The law also requires schools to report data about their use of restorative approaches in schools for accountability and further research.

To fulfill its mission under the legislation, the MSDE asked C-DRUM to join forces to form the new Restorative Approaches Collaborative. Together they will combine expertise in an unprecedented effort to inform and support school districts statewide in the implementation of restorative approaches, launching the initiative in the 2020-2021 academic year.

“It’s exciting because now MSDE is charged with helping the 24 districts unroll restorative approaches,” says Barbara Sugarman Grochal, who has led C-DRUM’s conflict resolution education work since 2004. “C-DRUM will be central in making that happen.”

The plan includes online professional programs, which are a natural extension of C-DRUM’s current series of webinars, supported by the Charles Crane Family Foundation, which focus on restorative approaches in schools. On Nov. 18, the webinar will focus on the findings in the newly released OSI report.

According to Grochal, this work has never been more important, as COVID-19 has a severe impact on children’s social, emotional, and academic health, and highlights racial inequities in education. Considering recent research showing the effectiveness of restorative practices, however, she is optimistic.

“I am looking forward to a time when schools are a safe and restorative community for every child and adult, even those who carry deep challenges that sometimes derail acceptable behavior,” says Grochal. “It’s not just me dreaming pie in the sky. I think this is entirely possible.”

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