Monday, April 29, 2019

What Is Restorative Justice?

After the Parkland school massacre the bien pensant left rushed to the airways to denounce… the NRA. And, of course, guns. They put up so much static and noise that few people dared address the real issues.

Among them, as reported here, the serial dereliction of government agencies, from the FBI, which had been warned, to the Broward County sheriff’s department, which had been called to the Cruz home over three dozen times, to the school authorities who allowed the obviously dangerous Hektor Cruz to stay in school.

Writing at the Independent Women’s Forum, Inez Stepman has focused on the last. She has drawn attention to the Obama administration policy of “restorative justice.” It directed schools not to expel or suspend disruptive students, but rather to engage them in a conversation. In something very like therapy.

Perhaps the bureaucrats who dreamed up restorative justice really believed that these students would do better by staying in school. They did not think about how it would affect other students.

We should also consider the possibility that they were trying to rejigger statistics in order to make it appear that minority children were not more likely to be expelled. After all, what better way to reduce the incidence of minority crime than by decriminalizing crime. And by engaging miscreants in therapy.

So, how did it happen, Stepman asks, that Hektor Cruz allowed to stay in school after bringing weapons to school and threatening other students. And how was he able to pass a background check to buy guns?

In the aftermath of the tragic shooting in Parkland, Florida, that claimed 17 lives, the nation descended into its usual debate over guns. But an important underlying factor in Parkland went mostly unexamined: how was the shooter, who had brought weapons to school and made threats on multiple occasions—criminal acts—able to keep a clean record with which to pass a background check to buy guns in the first place?

The reason is the policy called restorative justice. Stepman defines it:

Few parents in America may have heard the phrase “restorative justice,” but this new fad in school discipline is sweeping through districts, replacing more traditional practices like suspension, expulsion, and referral to law enforcement with a focus on “talking through” serious infractions and even criminal acts on campus.

Restorative justice is a well-intentioned experiment, and it may sound compassionate, but early results have given parents serious reason to doubt its effectiveness and safety. Only empowering parents with educational freedom will restore their ability to decide whether their children will be the subjects of experimental discipline projects, sometimes jeopardizing their safety.

Naturally, we want to know how this has all worked out in practice. Stepman explains:

Student surveys of school climate and safety, where available, can give us insight into how school culture and the lives of students change after traditional discipline is swept aside in favor of RJ policies. Suspension rates might go down in official reports, but students often report that they are less likely to feel safe and respected at school. And, contra the intentions of discipline reformers, those negative consequences were actually more severe at schools that serve low-income students and students of color, which deal with serious infractions more frequently than suburban schools.  

When disruptive students are not removed from the classroom, it’s most often their fellow students who suffer as teachers spend more time controlling an unruly classroom and less time actually teaching. “A significant portion of the achievement gap is actually a time-on-task gap, and much of that time-on-task gap is caused by disruptive classroom behavior,” says Robert Pondiscio, advisor to a high-performing charter network and a classroom teacher. According to a poll from the American Federation of Teachers, nearly four out of ten teachers report losing 2-4+ hours a week of instruction time to disruptive behavior, and those losses are worse in urban schools. This has serious consequences for student academic achievement. In Philadelphia, math and reading achievement dropped after RJstyle discipline policies were implemented. In California, student achievement in math dropped from the 50th percentile to the 32nd after implementation.

Statistically, the results are discouraging:

Schools in Los Angeles that implemented suspension bans lost an average of one fifth of a year of learning. In schools that, prior to the reforms, had more than 10 suspensions annually— schools already struggling with discipline problems—students lost a full third of a year of learning. A study of Pittsburgh’s RJ reforms not only found that academic achievement dropped in response, but also that the impact of those falling scores disproportionately hit minority students. The average black student scoring in the 50th percentile in a school that changed its policies saw his scores drop to the 44th percentile as a result.

Replacing expulsion with therapy ends up ruining the educational experience of all the children. Another victory for the Obama administration. And score one for therapy.


trigger warning said...

Restorative justice, a "theory" that captured my interest when I was deeply involved in prison ministry, is based on a wishful thinking, born in safe spaces, about human nature. As "theory", it's amusing; as policy, it's dangerous. Any community that permits or encourages its implementation in policy deserves the consequences.

Quartermain said...

Any form of idealism not grounded in reality is doomed to failure at best, and disaster at the worst.

Sam L. said...

"Well-intentioned". Reminds me of "what could have been"...and 'stupid, not-thought-through, and NUTS". Took an Obama to come up with this.

David Foster said...

Don't have time to look up the link at the moment, but there's research suggesting that disruptive students have a major effect on the futures of other students in the class: that one single disruptive student can impact the earnings of the other students decades in the future.

Here's an analogy. Back when *fuses* were used for the functions for which circuit breakers are now used, idiots would respond to a blown fuse by putting a penny in the fusebox. Worked...kept the toaster toasting or the TV playing for a while...but would likely result in burning down the whole house.

Much Prog policy is about putting pennies in the fusebox.

Anonymous said...

Classic MkUltra.

Sam L. said...

Restorative Justice: Obama's revenge for us not liking him sufficiently.