Restorative Practices Vs. Zero Tolerance in Schools

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Components of Restorative Justice

John Hattie, a well-known educational researcher, introduced Visible Learning, a study of 800+ meta-analyses of educational research. He introduced the barometer of effect size. Taking a wide range of studies, he determined which studies and interventions were most effective. Hattie’s influences that are important to restorative practices include, teacher-student relationships, prior achievement, problem-solving teaching, not labeling students, home environment, socioeconomic status, classroom cohesion, peer influences, classroom management, and second/third chance programs.

Each of these items was in the top 50 on Hattie’s list of highest effects on students in school. (Hattie p297-298) Restorative Practices are beginning to be used all across the United States in schools and in many other countries because the influences listed in this study and many other studies (CITE HERE) indicating that if students have a sense of belonging, relationships and trust with teachers, (STUDENTS?), and staff, there is a higher likelihood they will achieve academically in school.

The positive effects of restorative justice practices reveal an even larger effect when implemented in schools with a higher population of African American/low socioeconomic students. Restorative justice practices allow schools to create individualized solutions that are manageable for the offending students to fulfill, allow victims to receive closure, and repair the harm caused by the misbehavior (Payne and Welch p541).

In studies completed by the Oakland Unified School District, they found that African American students needed to feel that they can succeed in school. African American students responded best to a homelike atmosphere, with teachers and administrators interacting with students in relationships much comparable to extended family (OUSD results p 69). Creating a cultural norm with an emphasis on understanding relationships between one’s self and others confirmed the importance of building an extended family to African American students.

African American students expressed the desire to be treated with respect and care, and the desired to learn with high expectations in place (Results OUSD p 69). Where understanding relationships and appropriate friendly atmospheres were not in place, the potential of misbehavior and defiance increased. Further, the lack of interpersonal caring behavior from teachers and other adults in schools contributed to rebellion, defiance, and other disrespectful misbehaviors, which then lead to more suspensions of African American students.

Restorative Practices have many components that will help African American/low socioeconomic students achieve more, reduce suspensions, reduce drop-out rates, and increase attendance. In looking at a family of research, restorative practice specialists indicated that the components listed below were most important to implementing restorative practices in schools, not only for African American students, but for the entire school community. First, the three Core Principle of Restorative Justice: One must first repair harm of any wrongful occurrence and be encouraged to make positive change.

Next, the community must find ways to reduce the risk of behaviors occurring again while making students feel safe in order to prevent and control behaviors in the future. Lastly, the community as a whole must feel empowered, and everyone must play an active role in addressing the impacts of wrong doing (Pelveka pg 15). Four of the most popular restorative justice practices include: peer mediation, peer/accountability boards, conferencing, and circles. These approaches become important because, “”Restorative justice practices provide school administrators and teachers with collaborative solutions to disciplinary violations such as conflict, misbehavior, bullying, and criminal activity.”” (Pelveka p15).

Then, district level considerations must provide a continuum to feeder schools so that cultural practices can be continued beyond current placement (i.e., from elementary to middle school, or middle school to high school). Lastly, a district must establish restorative practices within their policies in order to show the school community’s commitment to the restorative practices and an embrace in the change of approach. If these components are implemented with true fidelity, positive outcomes follow in reduced suspensions, reduce dropout rates, and increased attendance, thus increasing the opportunity for greater student achievement.

Implementation and effects of the Oakland Unified School District

The Oakland school district serves 45,000 students, one third African American and over 70% low-income students. They voluntarily went into agreement with Office of Civil Rights in 2012 to reduce disproportionality for African American students, and to make policy changes to close the discipline gap between Black and White students. They achieved better student outcomes through the implementation of restorative justice.

They originally began back in 2005 with data collection and have expanded the program until 2010. In 2010, the board passed a resolution adopting restorative justice as a system-wide alternative to zero tolerance disciplinary practice in an attempt to create healthier school climates (results OUSD p 8 ). Some key qualities in the resolution of the board policies included the endorsement of restorative practice and realignment to the district school improvement frame work. They planned to do this through the support of the community and the approach to integrate rather than exclude. They offered violence prevention programs and other alternatives to suspension and recognized the need to repair harm and restore relationships. The six key areas they addressed were accountability, continuous improvement, relationships and community building, defining and teaching expectations, facilitating communication between families and schools, interventions and misconduct, and the use of data and problem solving meetings.

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Restorative Practices vs. Zero Tolerance in Schools. (2019, Apr 09). Retrieved from

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