The Growing Positive Impact of Restorative Justice In Schools

The Growing Positive Impact of Restorative Justice In Schools

The change in perspective about punishment within school systems has received varied responses. They range from, “It is past time we corrected the cycle of negative reinforcement.” to concerns that Restorative Justice in schools will ultimately result in an encouragement of repeat offenders. As the Restorative Justice approach has been fully vetted by the Department of Education and the Department of Justice, there is evidence that it has also helped a number of school systems throughout the nation takes steps toward best practices for behavioral rehabilitation.

Traditional Methods of Discipline in Schools:

Defined, the word “discipline” encompasses the actions; to educate, to instruct, and to correct. However, in many schools the meaning of this word has lost its traditional foundation and is more strongly associated with punishment, exclusion and reprimand.

These conventional approaches to discipline in our schools, have not provided the desired results. Instead, they have produced students who feel disenfranchised from their schools and consequently may further act out or drop out. The common current discipline models fail to actually promote peace or order within schools. Further, reprimand and punishment fracture the school community instead of allowing the affected parties to address the student responsible for the misconduct. The student is simply sent away from those affected without making things right with them. This leaves the student without alternatives or corrected behavior patterns. The result is that a behavioral cycle is supported, rather than broken.

A New Approach to Discipline in Schools

Conversely, institutions that have been using Restorative Justice in schools have been getting better results with their students. As an alternative to or in conjunction with traditional methods (i.e. shorter suspension or in school suspension followed by a restorative justice process) replace expulsion, suspension and other "zero tolerance" practices. One strong indicator that restorative school cultures are working has been cited in the improvement of reading and math test scores that restorative schools. Further, when the restorative schools are compared to those with similar demographics not practicing restorative discipline, the significance in improvement is even more evident.

Beyond standardized test comparisons, other statistical indicators also provide strong correlation with the positive outcomes.

Up to 25% reduction in chronic absenteeism
Over a 50% reduction in drop-out rates
Higher than 60% improvements in actual school graduation

These outcomes are not just reflective of positive change within the school system that has adopted the alternative approach, but also in comparison to schools that still use zero tolerance and punitive discipline rather than truly educational discipline.

In truth, Restorative Justice in schools is actually about healing the problem, rather than condemning a student to stigmas that will simply compound over time. The restorative justice practices create a context of care where teachers and administrators are not the enemy to be avoided, but rather are the guides who teach that discipline is accountability from within not the arbitrary judgment of others. Restorative justice processes provide a holistic form of the true definition of discipline adding to the value of the current educational systems. Perhaps most importantly, restorative justice practices in schools offer students a level of learning that ultimately leads to behavioral rehabilitation.

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