Last week, the first randomized control trial study of “restorative justice” in a major urban district, Pittsburgh Public Schools, was published by the RAND Corporation.
The results were curiously mixed. Suspensions went down in elementary but not middle schools. Teachers reported improved school safety, professional environment, and classroom management ability. But students disagreed. They thought their teachers’ classroom management deteriorated, and that students in class were less respectful and supportive of each other; at a lower confidence interval, they reported bullying and more instructional time lost to disruption. And although restorative justice is billed as a way to fight the “school-to-prison pipeline,” it had no impact on student arrests.
The most troubling thing: There were significant and substantial negative effects on math achievement for middle school students, black students, and students in schools that are predominantly black.
This commenter, Max Eden, faults journalists and RAND for burying or even ignoring the bad news. More:
Restorative justice is frequently presented to teachers as “evidence-based” and on the cutting edge of “social justice” as something that works if they embrace it. Man’s capacity for self-deception cannot be discounted, and if teachers think they’re doing better even as students think things are getting worse, that would be consistent with the policy drama that has played out writ large over the last two years: In the face of increasingly overwhelming negative evidence, social justice education reformers have only grown more vociferous in their insistence that discipline reform works.
Right now, the tally of studies on the academic effects of discipline reform on school districts are three negative (Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Philadelphia) and one null/positive (Chicago). In terms of student surveys, my tally has four negative (NYC, Los Angeles, Washoe County, Seattle) and one negative/positive (Chicago). When it comes to local teacher surveys, I’ve seen eleven negative (Oklahoma City, Baton Rouge, Portland, Jackson, Denver, Syracuse, Santa Ana, Hillsborough, Madison, Charleston, Buffalo) and one positive (Pittsburgh).