The current punitive approach to discipline used by most educational institutions in Texas and beyond has far reaching impact detrimental to students, schools and communities. Minority youth are disproportionally affected by current approaches, student suspensions correlate to academic failure including greater drop-out rates, and the school-to-prison pipeline is fueled as students are ticketed and otherwise fed into the juvenile justice system. The Institute for Restorative Justice and Restorative Dialogue (IRJRD) at The University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work partnered with Ed H. White Middle School to sequentially implement Restorative Discipline (RD) over a 3-year period for its sixth through eighth grade students. In just one year the use of Restorative Discipline at Ed White, a school with some of the highest discipline rates in the San Antonio area, saw an 87% drop in off-campus suspensions and a 44% decrease in total suspensions.
Other outcome data from the Ed White project such as tardies, severity of offenses committed, office referrals and testing improvements show equally remarkable change. For example, in Year Two, the greatest test score improvements in both reading and math were both grade levels for Special Education students. Children who feel like they belong, who feel like valued classroom members, who feel as though they are in relationship with their teachers and fellow students, and who are aided in developing empathy, healthy conflict resolutions skills, and the ability to “make right” when they do wrong, are better situated to live and learn in the school community. Punitive practices that focus on exclusion and isolation work in reverse. Children are expected to somehow learn social skills while excluded from their community and are expected to perform to social and academic standards before being made a valued part of the classroom.
Thanks to supportive funding from the Texas Education Agency (TEA), the Institute for Restorative Justice & Restorative Dialogue is providing readiness training for school administrators, and Coordinator training for future practitioners in ten of the state’s twenty Education Service Centers. That project will run through the summer of 2016.