“Restorative justice” is a euphemism for trying to impose less punishment on disruptive students because these students are, as a group, disproportionately African-American. The motive for “restorative justice” is racial. The sociology/pedagogy brought to bear on its behalf is superstructure, to put it as kindly as I can.
The Obama administration tried to impose “restorative justice” on schools by threatening to cut off federal funding. It did so through its infamous “Dear Colleague” letter. Last month, the Trump administration finally got around to rescinding that letter.
Last week, the RAND Corporation published a study of “restorative justice” in the Pittsburgh Public Schools. According to Max Eden of the Manhattan Institute, it’s the first “randomized control study” of restorative justice in a major urban district.
Reading mainstream media reports on the study, one would think that the study vindicated “restorative justice.” For example, U.S. News and World Report ran an article called “Study Contradicts Betsy DeVos’ Reason for Eliminating School Discipline Guidance,” i.e. rescinding the “Dear Colleague” letter.
But Eden reads the study differently and, I think, more persuasively. He writes:
The results were curiously mixed. Suspensions went down in elementary but not middle schools. Teachers reported improved school safety, professional environment, and classroom management ability. But students disagreed.
They thought their teachers’ classroom management deteriorated, and that students in class were less respectful and supportive of each other; at a lower confidence interval, they reported bullying and more instructional time lost to disruption. And although restorative justice is billed as a way to fight the “school-to-prison pipeline,” it had no impact on student arrests.
The most troubling thing: There were significant and substantial negative effects on math achievement for middle school students, black students, and students in schools that are predominantly black.
You wouldn’t know about these adverse findings if you relied on U.S. News and World Report.
I tend agree with Eden that student perception of their classroom environment is probably more reliable than teachers’ reports. Students haven’t yet been conditioned to buy into politically correct narratives. It may be easier for social justice warriors to brainwash some teachers than to brainwash young students, at least when it comes to what’s going down in the classroom.
In addition, the finding of a negative effect on math achievement at the middle school level supports the students’ perceptions, rather than those of their teachers.
Eden tallies up the results of studies of the academic effects of discipline reform on school districts. He finds three negative (Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Philadelphia) and one null/positive (Chicago). As for student surveys, the results are four negative (NYC, Los Angeles, Washoe County, Seattle) and one negative/positive (Chicago).
With teacher surveys, says Eden, the results are eleven negative (Oklahoma City, Baton Rouge, Portland, Jackson, Denver, Syracuse, Santa Ana, Hillsborough, Madison, Charleston, Buffalo) and one positive (Pittsburgh). Thus, the RAND study of Pittsburgh appears to be an outlier when it comes to teachers’ perceptions.
Supporters of “restorative justice” in the classroom claim their program is “evidence based” (a propagandist label also used by supporters of criminal justice reform, even as they ignore or blatantly distort the evidence supplied by recidivism rates, and oppose proposals, such as Sen. Tom Cotton’s, to collect evidence). As evidence accumulates that restorative justice is bad for black students, how will its supporters respond?
In part, they will respond by misreporting what the studies show, as has happened with the RAND study of Pittsburgh. But this tactic can only get them so far.
Expect supporters to argue that the adverse evidence comes from jurisdictions that didn’t implement the program correctly. Like communism, no one ever seems able correctly to implement restorative justice.
As Eden observes, “the mental itch to label negative results as a product of ‘bad implementation’. . .is not only anti-scientific, it also short circuits thoughtful policy discussion.” In effect, the “the so-called ‘evidence-based policymaking’ community has rendered itself immune to the intellectual breakthrough that enabled the scientific revolution: accepting the falsification of a hypothesis.” Their logic is “Heads, I win; tails, I would have won if my program were implemented correctly.”
Fortunately, now that President Trump has rescinded the 2014 “Dear Colleague” letter, school leaders can make policy based on what common sense and genuine evidence tell them about how to serve the interests of their students, not based on fear of losing federal funding.