Restorative justice in education can reduce the use of exclusionary discipline, but only if schools do it well, conclude co-authors and professors Kathy Evans, of Eastern Mennonite University, and Anne Gregory, of Rutgers University.
The policy brief, titled “The Starts and Stumbles of Restorative Justice in Education: Where Do We Go from Here?” was released this week by The National Education Policy Center, a university research center housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education. The policy brief was made possible in part by the support of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.
Evans says their research focus arose in part because many schools are implementing a variety of models of RJE. While this is a positive step, she notes, there’s a large discrepancy in how those models align with the values and assumptions of RJE.
“With all of the mixed findings from some recent national studies, we felt it was important to highlight that some of those mixed findings are the result of ‘mis-implementation models’ that are more about addressing misbehavior and less about creating restorative schools and classrooms,” Evans said. “We believe that while responsive approaches to RJE are important, those won’t be effective without also taking up the proactive approaches.”
Among their recommendations:
- Schools should adopt principle-based, comprehensive, and equity-oriented RJE;
- RJE be implemented with contextually sensitive, strategic, and long-term plans and practices; and
- Policymakers and researchers examine change over a minimum of 3-5 years and focus on fidelity of RJE implementation using mixed method designs.
According to an NEPC press release, both researchers view RJE as a comprehensive, whole school approach to shifting school culture in ways that prioritize relational pedagogies, justice and equity, resilience-fostering, and well-being. Each of these elements is important; schools cannot water down the reforms, implementing them in a half-hearted way, and realistically hope to see strong results. Guided by a set of restorative values and principles (such as dignity, respect, accountability, and fairness), RJE practices are proactive and are responsive in nurturing healthy relationships, repairing harm, transforming conflict, and promoting justice and equity.
The authors present the accumulating evidence that restorative approaches can reduce the use of exclusionary discipline. They describe promising evidence that such approaches can narrow racial disparities in discipline. They also consider some mixed findings related to improving school climate and student development in light of possibly faulty models and misimplementation of RJE.
Finally, they offer recommendations for comprehensive RJE models and strategic implementation plans to drive more consistently positive outcomes.
RJE at EMU
Evans is associate professor of education at EMU, teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in educational psychology, special education, and restorative justice in education.
The university offers a range of degrees in the field of restorative justice, including an MA in Education and graduate certificate focusing specifically on RJE and an MA in Restorative Justice through its globally renowned Center for Justice and Peacebuilding.
Among other professional development offerings, EMU hosts an annual summer RJE conference for educators and other practitioners. [Join the mailing list and read about the 2019 conference.]
EMU is also the home of the Zehr Institute for Restorative Justice, where Evans is the K-12 area specialist. She will present a free webinar, “Beyond Circles and Conferences: Everyday Restorative Justice Practices in PK-12 Education,’ on Jan. 22, 2020, from 4:30-6 p.m EST.
More on Dr. Kathy Evans
Evans has a PhD in educational psychology and research from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and has focused her teaching and scholarship on ways in which educators participate in creating more just and equitable educational opportunities for all students, including those with disability labels, those who exhibit challenging behavior, and those who are marginalized for a variety of reasons, including race, ethnicity, language, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
She is the co-author of The Little Book of Restorative Justice in Education and has provided interviews on RJE to The Atlantic and The Hechingter Report, among other news outlets covering its growth.
Evans recently contributed the foreword to “Creating Restorative Schools: Setting Schools Up to Succeed,”(Living Justice Press, 2018) by Dr. Martha A. Brown and was a consultant to educators and community justice advocates in Elkhart, Indiana.