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Restorative Practices in Schools Work ... But They Can Work Better

As the scrutiny over “zero tolerance” discipline policies has intensified over the past decade, more school districts across the country have been looking at alternatives. Alternatives that don’t push out an excessive number of students, don’t create wide racial disparity gaps, and that overall foster a more inclusive and constructive learning environment. To many, the answer has been restorative justice, an old concept but a relatively new one to U.S. schools.

As more districts shift away from exclusionary discipline, restorative practices have inevitably invited their own scrutiny. Does restorative justice in schools work? If so, where and in what ways? How can it improve? A new policy brief by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) takes a look at the evidence so far.  Anne Gregory of Rutgers University and Katherine Evans of Eastern Mennonite University conclude that restorative justice in schools is playing a positive role, but schools must work hard to avoid the pitfalls that can blunt the programs’ impact – usually the result of faulty design and implementation.

According to the NEPC brief, research shows that restorative justice programs have helped reduce exclusionary discipline and narrow the glaring racial disparities in how discipline is meted out in schools. The evidence is a bit more mixed or inconclusive on two other fronts: school climate and student development.