California restorative justice efforts getting mixed reviews
- At least four of California’s largest school districts are promoting restorative justice in their schools as an alternative to punitive measures that experts say don’t work and keep students spending too much time out of school, disproportionately affecting minority students, according to one in a series of articles on the topic in EdSource.
- Restorative justice focuses on building relationships and bringing closure to issues among students and between staff members and students through conferences and negotiations. Experts say if implemented properly, the process is a fairer, longer-term solution to behavior issues and conflict.
- Critics, including some from teacher unions, have suggested that the efforts have not been undertaken with enough training and care, and that schools may remove punishment without having processes for making sure students are accountable for their actions. Because the approach is new, research on its effectiveness is limited, the article reports.
Others have criticized restorative justice efforts in New York City, Philadelphia and Virginia. And in Washington, DC, what was initially seen as a welcome drop in suspensions, thanks in part to the model, was later thought to be simply a failure to record them under pressure to reduce the number of students out of school for disciplinary reasons.
Advocates say the approach is a good alternative to punitive measures that result in expulsions and suspensions, along with other measures that districts are now using in an effort to slow the flow of students from schools to prisons. Others suggest schools must be structured differently, with new approaches such as personalization, blended learning and getting lower student/teacher ratios and more support staff members.
Some experts have also suggested that restorative justice needs to be better defined and consistently implemented, with an understanding of the way that various people involved communicate and making allowances for differences.