Saturday, November 23, 2019

Restorative Justice: Like Most Education Measure, It Needs Resources to Succeed

There's this phrase - "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good" - that I see used quite often when speaking of public education initiatives especially in defense of charter schools.  And then, districts, states, the feds plunge on into initiatives, apparently hoping it will all turn out well (see Race to the Top, remember that one?).

This issue, restorative justice, is a very good example. "We've got to do something" -  because student discipline is so skewed towards two groups of students - Special Education students and Black students is the cry from many in leadership.  But the work, the actual work, falls to those in the trenches.

There is an excellent, first-person narrative on this topic from Education Week by a veteran teacher, Allison Fried, on this subject.
If You Won't Do Restorative Justice Right, Don't Do It
My former school tried its best at restorative justice. But we needed more than good intentions
Last fall, I was physically attacked by a student while helping another teacher in their classroom. This was my fourth documented assault at my middle school, and I gave my two-month notice shortly thereafter. Teachers cannot teach, and students cannot learn, in an unsafe school.

Limiting suspension-worthy offenses and passing around a stuffed animal are no substitute for a well-run restorative justice program. Our toolbox was empty. I never had a restorative conversation with the student who physically attacked me. 
The Research

A 2018 study by Matthew Steinberg of the University of Pennsylvania and Johanna Lacoe at Mathematica Policy Research highlights several crucial lessons required to administer a healthy school-based restorative justice program:
  • First, suspending students for nonviolent misconduct does not benefit the misbehaving student or their peers.  But violent misbehavior, even under restorative justice, often demands a period of time during which the student should be off the school property. (Editor's note; I sure wish there were both room and personnel in schooles to have a quiet room so students CAN stay in school. If they are at home, they cannot be learning. But that's another big resource issue.)
  • Secondly, the study's authors found that, "We should not expect changes in student behavior simply by removing consequences for student misconduct." Effective restorative justice programming does not remove penalties. Rather, it makes consequences more intentional.  Rather, students may do an alternative suspension placement and complete constructive assignments that help them to process the incident. They might also engage in a guided reflective discussion and activity.
  • Finally, for restorative justice to work, schools must have additional supports. A school district cannot simply say that it's going to become a restorative justice district and add no additional training, funding, or partnerships. To quote the researchers, again, "district-level policy reforms designed to reduce the use of suspensions should be coupled with intensive school-level supports for schools struggling the most with student misconduct."  
Case Study
In 2003, Clayton County, Ga., created the nation's first school-justice partnership. Since then, it has become a model for effective school restorative justice programming. The more than 20 districts that have adopted the county's model use a "multidisciplinary approach," a cocktail of partnerships, people development, resources, and structures designed to effectively run restorative justice programs. 
The model relies on intentional collaboration between schools, mental and behavioral health specialists, law enforcement, juvenile justice officials, and local community organizations. These districts ensure adults have the support and training necessary to carry out restorative justice best practices. Services include crisis intervention, family-focused counseling, and cognitive behavioral therapy.
In Clayton County, this has meant investing the money and resources necessary to support those aims. In the fiscal year 2018, Clayton's budget for the partnership was $4,416,480. They also received an additional $838,366 in grant funding from a variety of sources. And it has paid off. Between 2003 and 2018, Clayton County's average daily population in juvenile detention fell 75 percent. The rate of youths of color committed to the juvenile-justice system has decreased 64 percent, and less than 1 percent of students referred to alternative programs were rearrested before their court case closed.
Back Story
While Denver public schools, where I taught, does not have a uniform policy on restorative justice for all its schools, the district had been teaming up with local organizations and making a concerted effort to implement changes, with trainings, data collection, and Restorative Practice Coordinators.  

Fifteen Denver schools currently have grants from the district to support this approach. At my school, however, we were given no additional funding or supports. The goal of restorative justice—to limit suspensions, detentions, and arrests (especially in racially inequitable systems of discipline) and replace them with intentional consequences that promote accountability and support personal growth—is incredibly important. But with poor implementation and inadequate resources, the results can be unacceptable
Her School
Our school did its best. We did some of the things necessary for restorative justice:
  • We made space for intentional discourse,
  • asked students to fill out reflection sheets during interventions,
  • and limited suspensions and expulsions.
However, our administrators and staff had little to no formal training in how to lead restorative conversations. We didn't have alternative suspension placements and activities, nor did we have the outside partnerships, therapy services, or funding associated with comprehensive and effective restorative justice systems. Students would get away with both minor infractions and more severe misbehavior, which eventually threatened the overall safety of our school. More crucially, the needs of these students were not being met. 
We need a comprehensive set of policies to help eliminate the school-to-prison pipeline. Students need firm boundaries at school, consistent positive and negative consequences, spaces to reflect, and trusted and trained adults who can help them to process trauma, emotional responses, and typical adolescent rebellion.
Finally, districts must put their money where their mouth is, through a dedicated application of funds for professional development, increased hiring of social workers and psychologists, and strategic programming. 
 Again, thinking of that $400K contract with a company so the district has coverage for the one (!) technical person who left payroll - how many social workers and psychologists might that pay for? Or, for training?


Anonymous said...

I have to say I love Restorative Justice in theory, but have yet to see it implemented in an effective way at any school my kids have attended. In fact, one of the reasons the LHE principal was so unpopular was because of the rise in bullying behaviors at the schools, which the parents linked to the lack of any consequences for misbehaving (e.g. "Restorative Justice" as interpreted by the principal). Kids were feeling unsafe. And the misbehaving kids (one can roll their eyes at a group of 1st grade boys known for punching at an NW school. But the kids being punched -as young as K girls- were really upset by this behavior) were well aware there would be few consequences for their misdeeds.

Parents wanted these actions addressed, and the Principal's interpretation of Restorative Justice was not addressing these actions in any real way.



Anonymous said...

Really? Ok then I would like to see the SPS administration restore the pain and suffering that SPED students suffered over the past 15 years while attending SPS. Are you really ready to write that check?