The term restorative justice, though by no means new, gained popular attention thanks to Obama’s 2014 “Dear Colleague” letter and guidance response to an Office of Civil Rights notice that, not only are some  2.6 million students suspended every year, those decisions are race-based.

Indeed and reportedly, black boys are suspended three times more often that white boys; black girls are six times likelier to be suspended than white girls.

Meanwhile, that 2014 Obama directive warned school districts across the country that…

  1. They could face funding cuts if they didn’t reduce “statistical disparities” in discipline by race.
  2. They would be held liable for the actions of “school resource officers… or other law enforcement personnel,” thus discouraging arrests.

As to what exactly is restorative justice…

  • explains that it “views ‘harm’ as a fracturing of relationships rather than something that demands punishment.”
  • Edutopia,org defines it as “an alternative to punitive responses to wrongdoing… It brings together persons harmed with persons responsible for harm in a safe and respectful space, promoting dialogue, accountability, and a stronger sense of community.”

Know, too, that during 2017-18, 42% of our nation’s schools used restorative practices.

Question is, though: Has it lived up to its promise of curbing disturbing, disruptive behavior in schools vs. out-of-school suspensions?

To find out, the Thomas J. Fordham Institute and RAND Corporation recently conducted a national survey of some 1,200 teachers of kids in grades 3 through 12–oversampling black teachers and those who work in high-poverty schools.

Ironically,  the survey’s results came out at about the same time as federal data which indicated our schools are currently experiencing more serious incidents of violence, including hate crimes and sexual assaults.

Among the findings:

  • Teachers in high-poverty schools report more verbal disrespect, physical fighting, and assaults from students, making teaching/learning difficult.
  • Most of the black teachers believe “exclusionary” discipline is racially biased—but about 50% of them say suspensions should be used more often.
  • 42% of teachers said that “uninvolved parents or troubled families” are most responsible for student behavior problems; about 25% put the blame on administrators who inconsistently enforce discipline.
  • About 50% say they tolerate bad behaviors due to lack of administrative support.
  • 13% of teachers in high poverty schools said they’d been physically attacked by students in 2017-18, 4% in low-poverty schools.
  • 41% say suspensions are down in recent years; 25% say that’s due to improved student behavior, but 38% say it’s because they put up with bad behavior more.
  • 75% of black teachers say black students are punished more than white students; almost 75% of white teachers say the consequences are the same regardless of race.
  • Most believe restorative justice and the like are “at least somewhat effective.”
  • Most have concerns about out-of-school suspensions, but most also agree that they’re useful. 86% say they send a strong message home to parents about the seriousness of the offense and that removing offenders allows for uninterrupted learning.
  • Black teachers in high-poverty schools are more likely than their white counterparts to call for more suspensions and referrals to alternative learning centers.

Does any of this matter? You bet!

  1. In 2015-16 alone, more than 220,000 teachers were physically attacked.
  2. Researchers have found a strong link between suspensions and future crimes.
  3. President Trump has rescinded Obama’s 2014 civil rights directive.

The upshot of it all?

Says David Griffith, the Fordham/Rand survey’s lead author: “I think at the end of the day, no matter what approach we take, there are going to be some inherent trade-offs we need to consider. We want to lower suspension rates, but, at the same time, we care an awful lot about racial achievement gaps and social-economic gaps. It’s going to be very hard to close those gaps if those classrooms are constantly being disrupted. I think teachers are really in a bind.”

I do, too.

~ With my thanks, Carol (