There’s little doubt that traditional discipline practices are counterproductive for many students but considerably more people doubt whether restorative justice programs right those wrongs, Bryan Goodwin writes in Educational Leadership magazine. The concept of seeking reconciliation rather than punishment is rooted in Indigenous theories of trust and many schools have had success with it, but no solid definition of the term “restorative justice” has yet emerged, and very few empirical studies have been published.
Long-term, the only fix for lack of studies is to generate more studies. In the meantime, what should educators do if they oppose the practice of suspending students on the grounds that it compounds injustice by depriving them of their education? Schools could still explore restorative justice, it’s just that in the absence of a clear-cut program design to follow, they should proceed slowly, Bryan suggests. One Virginia high school started with a small faculty group who gathered in-house data, devised professional learning for colleagues, and after four years found that suspensions were down 50 percent.