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Restorative Justice in Education Is Working, but Smart Implementation Is Crucial

Schools are implementing Restorative Justice in Education (RJE) initiatives across the United States, often to reduce the use of out-of-school suspension, which is known to increase the risk for dropout and arrest. Many RJE initiatives also aim to strengthen social and emotional competencies, reduce gender and racial disparities in discipline, and increase access to equitable and supportive environments for students from marginalized groups. Yet whether these benefits emerge depends on whether the reforms are well implemented.

NEPC recently released a policy brief, “The Starts and Stumbles of Restorative Justice in Education: Where Do We Go from Here?,” authored by Professors Anne Gregory of Rutgers University and Katherine R. Evans of Eastern Mennonite University. The brief summarizes the research on restorative initiatives, with a focus on implementation and outcomes in U.S. schools.

Gregory and Evans 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. Educators in schools and classrooms with well-implemented RJE work to ensure that the “vulnerable are cared for, the marginalized are included, the dignity and humanity of each person in the educational setting matters, and everyone’s needs are heard and met.”

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.

Source: Rutgers University-New Brunswick