Cultivating Safe and Supportive Schools: The Implementation and Institutionalization of Restorative Justice Practices

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Mounting public concern about a school-to-prison pipeline has put schools and districts under increasing pressure to reduce their use of suspensions, expulsions and arrests. Many are turning to restorative justice practices (RJP) as a promising alternative for addressing school discipline and improving school climate. However, implementing RJP in a high-quality, sustainable way has proven to be a persistent challenge. In this dissertation I address several facets of the broad problem: What would it take for restorative justice practices to meaningfully transform school discipline? At the organizational level, I draw on 150 hours of fieldwork I conducted in three high schools, to investigate sources of support both for traditional, exclusionary discipline and for RJP. I find evidence of modest institutionalization of RJP, yet also find that on the whole RJP do not replace exclusionary discipline practices, but rather operate alongside them. Recognizing that the quality and sustainability of new practices rests heavily on how front-line educators interpret their core ideas, I also draw on semi-structured interviews with 80 educators to analyze varying conceptions of RJP at the individual level. I find that different ways of framing the nature of RJP offer overlapping but distinct conceptual resources for recognizing its key features. The dissertation as a whole is undergirded by a conceptual framework for analyzing multi-level persistence and change rooted in theorizing from organization studies and policy implementation as well as the learning sciences.

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  • 10/21/2018
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