The Jury Is Still Out on the Effectiveness of Restorative Justice

One study has found that New York City’s recent student discipline reforms have negatively affected campus climate.

Over the past five years, American K-12 schools have shifted their student discipline policies to reduce the use of suspensions in favor of restorative justice. From 2011 to 2014, the number of suspensions in American schools fell by nearly 20 percent.  But has this shift resulted in positive outcomes and greater student safety?

Max Eden of the conservative-leaning Manhattan Institute studied the effects of this shift on school climate in New York City. He argues that school climate in New York City – which has nearly halved its suspensions since 2011- has degraded overall.

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In his new report, Eden found:

  • In 2015-16, a higher percentage of teachers reported that order and discipline were not maintained in their school, compared with two years earlier (2013-14).
  • In 2015-16, more than half of nonelementary schools saw a higher percentage of students report that their peers did not respect one another than in 2013-14.
  • In 2015-16, in 443 nonelementary schools, a higher percentage of students reported frequent physical fighting than in 2013-14
  • In 2015-16, more than three times as many nonelementary schools as in 2013-14 saw a higher percentage of students report frequent drug use or gang activity as saw a lower percentage report them.
  • Nonelementary schools where more than 90 percent of students were minorities experienced the worst climate shifts under the current mayor Bill de Blasio’s reform, compared with schools serving a lower percentage of minority students and compared with 90+ percent minority schools under the reform efforts of the previous mayor, Michael Bloomberg. (The de Blasio administration implemented additional reforms to Bloomberg’s.)

Eden acknowledges to NPR, however, that his findings might be the result of greater awareness by students and teachers of incidents, such as fights, due to restorative justice initiatives. The study also didn’t compare the quality of restorative justice programs in schools that experienced improvements vs. schools that saw reductions in the perception of safety.

Additionally, because the policies are so new, it can’t be determined if the students who don’t get suspended will eventually wind up better off.

Campus Safety has reported frequently on school discipline reform and the effects that zero-tolerance policies have on minority students and students with disabilities. Researchers have expressed concern that the overuse of suspensions could lead to dropouts and incarcerations. According to the National Education Policy Center, suspensions have been increasingly handed out for offenses such as dress code violations and improper cell phone use.

In another study, the NYCLU found that between 2008 and 2009, one in 14 students was suspended and that black and special needs students were the most affected. Another report found that adopting zero-tolerance policies to combat bullying in schools has not had an impact in keeping schools safer.

Eden calls for more research on the effectiveness of school discipline reforms.

About the Author

Robin Hattersley Gray
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Robin has been covering the security and campus law enforcement industries since 1998 and is a specialist in school, university and hospital security, public safety and emergency management, as well as emerging technologies and systems integration. She joined CS in 2005 and has authored award-winning editorial on campus law enforcement and security funding, officer recruitment and retention, access control, IP video, network integration, event management, crime trends, the Clery Act, Title IX compliance, sexual assault, dating abuse, emergency communications, incident management software and more. Robin has been featured on national and local media outlets and was formerly associate editor for the trade publication Security Sales & Integration. She obtained her undergraduate degree in history from California State University, Long Beach.

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