School discipline shifts to fewer suspensions and more conversations. But does it work?

A conservative policy analyst says the Student Health Survey conducted and collected by the state crosses too many lines, (AJC File.)

Alarm over soaring suspension and expulsion rates has led many schools to embrace a holistic alternative known as restorative justice, which relies on peer mediation to help wrongdoers understand how their actions affected others and find ways to make amends.

Psychology Today had a recent article on restorative justice that explained it this way:

School restorative practices vary widely, but most such practices bring together those who were harmed and those who did the harm (along with adults representing the interests of the school community) for the purpose of mutual understanding, self-responsibility, community accountability, repairing of harm (including relationships) and reintgration of the person causing the harm back into the school community.

I attended a conference on school discipline a few years ago where presenters spoke about the conditions necessary for successful restorative justice programs. They stressed schoolwide buy-in of the approach and comprehensive training. They also said the motivation can’t only be lowering suspension rates; there has to be a commitment to empowering students to mediate and resolve conflicts.

I have since talked to parents and teachers discouraged about how restorative justice was unfolding in their schools. Teachers contended schools adopted restorative justice to reduce escalating suspension rates by forcing teachers to deal with offenders in the classroom rather than sending them to the office. Parents complained about the time lost to “classroom circles” where students share how the wrongdoing impacted them and talk through a resolution.

I thought about those complaints when I read this week’s story in the Fresno Bee about a California high school in which at least 70 of the 85 teachers signed a petition demanding stricter and more consistent discipline. The Fresno Bee pointed out the petition was circulating at McLane High School at the same time school district officials were at a state conference touting how well restorative justice was impacting the school.

The Fresno Bee reports: (If you are interested in this issue, read the Fresno Bee story. It is excellent.)

Starting in 2014, schools in the McLane High region became the first in the district to implement restorative practices: strategies that aim to fix issues at the heart of student misbehavior, instead of merely kicking students out of classrooms. While suspensions and expulsions at Fresno Unified have dramatically decreased since then, some teachers say the pressure to curb disciplinary action has led to zero consequences for students, and out-of-control classrooms.

McLane High teacher Jessica Ketchum says the programs have backfired. Just last week, when she called for a school resource officer for help with an alleged theft, she says she heard one student tell another: “Don’t worry, they won’t do anything.” Ketchum says she called for help four times within an hour for the students to be removed from her class, but ultimately, they were not disciplined. “Students have little to lose, and it would appear that they have become skilled at making the system work for them,” she said. “I rarely call for help, as do many of my colleagues, because nothing is done, and the student returns more angry with us or even louder.”

Researchers at the WestEd Justice & Prevention Research Center wanted to know how restorative justice was working and undertook a comprehensive review of the literature, interviewed experts in the field and surveyed  educators using restorative justice. In a report released earlier this year, they concluded:

In general, the research evidence to support restorative justice in schools is still in a nascent state. Despite the exponential growth of RJ in U.S. schools, and some evidence of its effectiveness abroad, the evidence to date is limited and the research that has been published lacks the internal validity necessary to exclusively attribute outcomes to RJ. However, the preliminary evidence does suggest that RJ may have positive effects across several outcomes related to discipline, attendance and graduation, climate and culture, and various academic outcomes.

In the literature reviewed for this report, RJ is generally portrayed as a promising approach to address climate, culture, and safety issues in school. The community of support for its implementation has grown exponentially over the past several years, but more research is needed. There are several rigorous trials underway that will perhaps provide the evidence necessary to make stronger claims about the impact of RJ, and the field will benefit greatly as those results become available over the next several years.

Many Georgia school systems are introducing restorative justice, including Atlanta Public Schools, which is training its new  Safety and Security Department in social emotional learning, positive behavior supports and restorative justice.

Writing on this blog in March, DeKalb Superintendent Steve Green said he hoped restorative justice would lower the high suspension rates at several of his district’s schools. An AJC analysis found that DeKalb County had five of the top 10 schools in metro Atlanta with the most suspensions.

Restorative approaches offer better alternatives than punitive disciplinary systems and procedures. In a punitive system, discipline really doesn’t link wrongdoers and those they harm. It fails to make any real connections between punishment and the actual offense. Authorities ask: What rule’s been broken? Who’s to blame? What’s the punishment?

The restorative approach asks questions that open a path to progress: What happened? Who’s been affected? How? How do we put things right? How do we move forward?

Increasingly, we see schools with restorative approaches more effective at shaping positive classroom cultures. They establish lasting changes in relationships and better connections among members of a school community. Victims speak, and wrongdoers face them and face accountability. The entire climate of care improves. In DeKalb, our restorative system of discipline will focus on the whole child, not just the bad a child does.

What has been your experience with restorative justice in your schools?

 

Reader Comments 0

34 comments
Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

Discipline, or lack thereof, is a common complaint from teachers, parents, and students (at least those who want to learn).  The 5% who cause 95% of the issues at school have been conditioned from elementary school to the fact that NOTHING will be done to curb their bad behavior.

Send too many students to the office and the teacher gets dinged for "bad classroom management".  

The teacher calls for a parent-teacher conference in which the parent either doesn't show or defends the student with the administrator often siding with the parent.


What's the embattled teacher to do?

Ooh!  Ooh!  I know!   Let's sit in a circle and "talk about our feelings".  We can call it "restorative justice".


A couple of passages from the article caught my eye.  While administrators were at a conference extolling the "benefits" of restorative justice, their teachers were signing a petition because IT DIDN'T WORK.


Meanwhile, the APS is training their Safety and Security department about restorative justice.   Thinking back to my school days, if things got out of hand, they called the PE Coach in to administer the paddling.


Finally, the article says that restorative justice should not be used just to lower the number of suspensions.  Then, the Dekalb superintendent is quoted as saying "...he hoped restorative justice would lower the high suspension rates at several of his district’s schools."


Bottom line, by the time a student is suspended for behavior (as opposed to infractions such as fighting or drugs), they school has already talked themselves silly.  You think one more group session is going to change things?

ROFLMAO

Jack Gayle
Jack Gayle

Restorative justice... \U0001f602\U0001f602\U0001f602\U0001f602\U0001f602\U0001f602\U0001f602\U0001f602\U0001f602\U0001f602

newsphile
newsphile

We are sacrificing a generation of students because of our bleeding hearts for people who routinely make bad choices.  Today's trouble-making teens are very different from fifteen years ago; they are frequently violent and dangerous; some are gang members or trying to get into gangs.  No student or teacher should be put into a fearful, threatening situation or have to waste their class time because a trouble-maker is allowed/required to remain in the classroom.  While I favor trying to rehabilitate  students who can be helped, we must accept the fact that some people can not be rehabilitated. 

Another comment
Another comment

You all obviously haven't read the California article and most importantly the comments. The comments from Liberal California, bashing the Obama administration linking federal funds to reducing the suspensions of non-white students. Which is Bingo. Or as is clear the Apartment dwellers do not get any discipline for their actions. Our city police reports that 90% of the crime comes from the class C apartments which only account for 5-8% of the land mass. That is where the problem stems from.

ALso when your school test scores very 23% in one year, it is the delta of who is living year to year in the Apartments. Since the test scores don't track students year to year.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

One of my proudest moments as a classroom teacher was when I practiced "restorative justice," myself, in conference with a high school student whom I taught along with the principal and the student's two parents.  I was not aware of the term "restorative justice" at that time, which was in the early 1990s, but I did know that the effects of injustice, in the mind of any student on himself/ herself, could last a lifetime.


The student told the group his perceptions and I shared my perceptions of his classroom infraction.  The principal told the student that he should apologize to me.  I could see that that command to him by the principal only made the student more angry and hostile, whether he were to apologize to me or not, as an authority figure over him.  Immediately, I told the principal, the student's parents, and the student, himself, that I would prefer if the student not be forced to apologize to me if he did not genuinely understand why his infraction was wrong and felt genuinely sorry for his actions.  All in the conference room were stunned by my remarks but I knew that I had to make those comments if I were to teach this young man anything positive going forward in his life. As his teacher, I could not accept that I, knowingly, by simply accepting an inauthentic apology coerced through discipline only, would bear responsibility for bitterness in his heart forever because of the wrong way to discipline young people. 


Yes, this true story had a wonderful ending.  The student came to me and apologized in a sincere way and, as best as I can remember now 25 years later, he did so voluntarily at the close of that conference meeting after the principal, following my guidance, was not going to discipline the young man for not apologizing.  The student's apology was heartfelt because I believe, in those moments of dialogue, he saw how much I cared about his present and his future. 

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

Yesterday, I learned that  America's prisons are filled today in large majority with those citizens who have mental health issues who have not been given treatment for their mental illnesses since mental health hospitals have been closed and emphasis has been taken away from helping the mentally ill in effective ways in our state and nation.  I hope that this discipline technique will be used in prisons in days to come.


I remain optimistic that our society will continue to grow in consciousness.  Whatever Dr. Steven Green recommends regarding discipline in his school system, I believe will be sound.

newsphile
newsphile

@MaryElizabethSings Yes.  We have Carter to thank for beginning the closure of the mental hospitals in GA.  When the facilities closed, many of the residents became homeless because they could not live in a household and their families could not manage their care.  Go figure.  After giving home life a try, they disappeared into the streets. 

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@newsphile @MaryElizabethSings


And, after "the streets," these mentally ill patients become incarcerated into the prison system where they remain the majority of inmates, today.  Inhumane and unconscionable to those who are aware.  As a society, we must start to recognize that social equity has equal value in a society as does money and power.  If we fail to see this, especially under the leadership of Donald Trump, our democratic-republic will become obsolete and those few with money and power will rule the lives of 95% of the people on this Earth.  That is what was a critical mistake in this year's election choice, imo.  It is never too late to wake up, however, and to save our democratic-republic as a model for this world.

Harlequin
Harlequin

@newsphile @MaryElizabethSings "Saint Ronnie" also made his own contribution to the dismantling of mental health facilities, also. He needed the money to get those four obsolete battleships out of mothballs and up and running again (not to mention manned!). He may have believed that mental illness was not really a problem in this country, that it was all in our imaginations!

Astropig
Astropig

Buzzword Bingo-


"Holistic" is a free space.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

@Astropig

There were actually some novelty "Buzzword Bingo" cards making the rounds a few years ago.  Great fun at a conference when the speaker is droning on and someone in the audience yells "BINGO!".

WardinConyers
WardinConyers

Oh, my Lord!  So you think just talking to a thug is going to matter?  Get a grip.  So many of these kids come to school with so many emotional and behavioral problems, we teachers say: where do we start?  That's what got me out of public education. I did not want to deal with it anymore.  It got to be that I had to make a choice, teach discipline only or quit, because the bad behavior prevented covering the subject I loved and was suppose to teach.  It caused tons of stress, so much that I got a letter from my doctor that gave me a medical leave for the rest of the year after which I refused to sign my contract.


Fortunately, I was good enough to land a college teaching job that I kept until I retired that probably saved my life.  However, in the last few years of that job, we noticed that that shades of that bad behavior that I had experienced 18 years earlier was beginning to permeate the entry level colleges.  


I still firmly believe that the main issue is parenting to which many "authorities" are totally blind.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@WardinConyers



It's time we get tougher on school misbehavior, taking chronic disruptors to court, with their parents,and letting the courts assign boot-camp for students and other "incentives" to parents!  It is completely unfair to the rest of the students,the teachers,and the taxpayers to waste the time and money we are wasting on chronic, serious misbehavior.


This just shifts the responsibility to teachers and classmates--a ridiculous shift!

Liza Jackson
Liza Jackson

It's not meant to be used on its own. It is meant to be used on conjunction with other much needed resources in public schools like more teachers, more counselors, more psychologists, and more physical resources. It only addresses the behavior, after an infraction. Challenging behaviors are just symptoms or a reaction because a child has a need that's not being met or they do not have the skills or ability to change their situation. Addressing behavior without addressing the cause will only help temporarily.

FredinDeKalb
FredinDeKalb

Though noble in the attempt to provide options for misbehaving students, it has hurt those students that come to school to learn.  It especially hurts students that that need additional encouragement and nurturing to master subject matter.  An in house suspension model could work however we've seen abuses with this in the past. 

Developing a fair behavior management plan that is also consistent is the challenge in many schools, especially those that are low performing.



Pelosied
Pelosied

These are kids. It's in their nature to act up, and those who won't face consequences at home (notably those from single-parent families) typically do more of it.

Is it adult to think nature might suspend its laws to suit political correctness?

Astropig
Astropig

@Pelosied 

 You know,you're 100% right here...But I still expect the usuals that find fault with everything you post to chew you a new one over your remarks.


That said, "restorative justice" is more "Tinkerbell" wishfulness than an actual root-cause solution to the problem.Kids are smart.They know when you're bluffing.Students in middle and high school figured out a long time ago that nothing is going to happen to them if they misbehave and disrupt class.This "discipline" regime is just a gigantic bluff and they know it.


However,this subject is timely.You may want to review this piece that ran locally about the consequences of letting discipline lapse in the name of political correctness in our schools:


http://www.chattanoogan.com/2016/12/3/337295/Roy-Exum-Why-Our-Schools-Stink.aspx

newsphile
newsphile

@Pelosied Actually, more than a few of these teens are dangerous criminals.  Their crimes are escalating in danger because they are released into the custody of their parents and must return to school.  They are committing armed robbery, home invasions, assault with deadly weapons, etc.  Teachers end up with responsibility for them, and our children end up in their classrooms.  Please research for yourself.  It's alarming.

class80olddog
class80olddog

PC is destroying our schools!  And people on here wonder how Donald Trump got elected!  It is not from lack of intelligence, like the snobs and elites want to think.  It is because people are tired of doing things PC rather than doing things right.  Muslims are killing Americans - for heaven's sake, don't call them radical Islamic terrorists. It offends the PC gods.  Blacks have higher discipline rates?  It is obviously racism on the part of the black teachers.  We all know it is not the STUDENTS' behaviors.  Don't refer to illegal immigrants like that, call them undocumented - because if it weren't for laws, they would have the proper documents.  And NEVER, EVER lay a hand to the backside of a child, because RESEARCH has shown that every child who was spanked in the 50's and 60's is now in jail on murder charges.

class80olddog
class80olddog

God help us all.  I hear they are going to start using "restorative justice" for our criminal justice system, since it seems to be imprisoning too many criminals.  They are going to start with murderers, and you will see amazing positive results as these evil people are successfully released back into the community.  I think Dylann Roof is going to be the first test subject.  He is preparing now to give his remarks on how his actions have affected the victims.

gactzn2
gactzn2

I have read about the program.  I support restorative justice WITH consequences still applied.  Together they would be a more powerful tool than restorative justice alone.  There has to be something to "restore". Make them face the music then apply restorative measures.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@gactzn2 If you apply any consequences, it sort of negates the whole idea of the program.  The goal is to REDUCE punishments given (not reduce the number of infractions).  No way are the administrators going to listen to teachers! I think they should REWARD schools with higher punishments given - that is indicative that they are adressing the problem.  Of course, all punishments besides ISS and OSS have been eliminated, and those are ineffective, so...

Shira Newman
Shira Newman

We know suspension does nothing. Have you seen the movie the mask you live in?

AJC  Get Schooled
AJC Get Schooled

I agree with you that suspension doesn't solve the problem and may make it worse. Have not seen that documentary but just watched the trailer. I need to see it. Looks compelling.

Jessica Whitehead
Jessica Whitehead

I agree with Jennifer Kraften. Suspension may not help anything but it gives the teacher a much needed break.

Shira Newman
Shira Newman

The point of education is to educate the child at least that was my impression. The child doesn't have to go back to the classroom. But needn't be kicked out of school. Another resource is dr. Ross Greene. One of his books is lost at school. He just came out with a new one...raising human beings.

Jennifer Kraften
Jennifer Kraften

Suspension may not do anything positive to the child being suspended, but it can allow some breathing space for a class of students and a teacher whom are constantly off task due to one student's behavior. (That's just anecdotal since I've never seen research on that subject.)

CH Snapped
CH Snapped

Where should the child go then and for how long? We say that suspended children are not learning anything at home and in fact may learn more negative behaviors at home. HOWEVER, the children who remain and see that child get to remain in class think it's okay for them to misbehave as well. Secondly, the child who is not suspended is only sent back to class either the next day (after spending time in ISS) or worse, that same day! Teachers have been hit by children only to have that same child in their class- AFTER TRIBUNAL. We may be there to educate the child, but a disruptive child is not learning and is preventing teachers from educating other children. Period.

CH Snapped
CH Snapped

Shira Newman Where do you teach? Have you had students kick at your door and tear the bulletin board outside of your classroom down? Have you had that student's mother curse you out and say she already went through curse word with her older child and wasn't going to go through it with the second. Then proceed to tell you that he's your curse word curse word problem? Tell me again how education is about educating the child? Maybe if children and their parents learned that there were consequences for bad behavior then there would not be a need for the County D.A. to hold a meeting with concerned citizens asking why juveniles who had 30 or more arrests were allowed to go home and not in jail free to commit more crimes.

Shira Newman
Shira Newman

My son is at trillium charter and my other son at a private school. No they do not kick kids out. They use restorative justice. And other schools use Ross greene's model...he just wrote yet another book called raising human beings. We are creating a situation where kids go from school to prison. Is that okay with you? Kids need love and empathy and we aren't giving it to them. And no I wouldn't teach in a school like that. Perhaps there is a reason teachers don't last long in the system. Yes I have taught.

Elisa Maria Chiara
Elisa Maria Chiara

I would love to see some solid data that shows whether if does or not!

AJC  Get Schooled
AJC Get Schooled

Appears to be none yet according to a report I quote from earlier this year -- several studies underway, but no reliable evidence yet.

Elisa Maria Chiara
Elisa Maria Chiara

Yup...I was hoping you would have something new but still nothing new. And in the meantimes some schools are zoos...