How Restorative Justice Is Wrecking Schools

School discipline in the days before students told teachers to go f— themselves.

As Virginia lawmakers brainstorm ways to prevent school shootings, recommending more funding for mental health and school resource officers, they continue to ignore the breakdown in school discipline that is causing the decline last year in Standards of Learning in schools across the state. They are fixated on hypothetical calamities while remaining oblivious to the very real disaster unfolding before our eyes.

If I’m right about what’s happening in Virginia’s public schools — school discipline is worsening under “restorative justice” disciplinary regimes, and the quality of classroom instruction is deteriorating as a direct result — SOL scores will continue to erode. And the decline will be concentrated in lower-income schools populated disproportionately by African-Americans where discipline problems are worst. White supremacists could not devise a more clever, insidious way of keeping African-Americans ignorant and poor than the social-justice regime imposed by the ACLU and the U.S. Department of Justice.

Maintaining school discipline has always been a challenge, especially as the family structure has broken down among Virginia’s lower-income groups, creating generations of neglected, defiant, and poorly supervised youths. Relying heavily upon suspensions and even arrests, the Zero Tolerance disciplinary regime that prevailed until recently may well have been harsh and arbitrary. But it did have one positive benefit — it removed the disrupters from the classroom. Teachers could get on with the job of teaching.

The new therapeutic approach may or may not be helping the bad students — there’s not enough good evidence to know — but it is definitely distracting teachers from doing their jobs. As evidence, I proffer the thoughts of a former Henrico County school teacher who blogs under her pen name, Christine S., on the Unbarbaric Yawp blog.

Christine S. loves teaching and loves her students. After quitting her job at an unidentified school to have a baby, she has no plans to return to teaching any time soon. She doesn’t think society sufficiently appreciates what teachers do, and she believes administrators and parents fail to give teachers the trust and confidence they deserve — sentiments that are commonly expressed and are no secret to the rest of the world. But her most compelling post addresses the new realities of school discipline, which have gotten very little attention. She makes several key points:

Discipline takes time. Under restorative justice protocols, more of the disciplinary burden now falls upon teachers. Instead of booting trouble-makers out of class — or school — teachers now are called upon to deal with student’s misbehavior on the spot through coaching and reasoning. She writes:

It takes time to address it in the moment. It takes time away from learning. It takes time (that frankly I don’t always have) during my planning period or before/after school.

I appreciate that experts, Central Office, administration, and parents want teachers to be the first point of contact for discipline issues. Teachers SHOULD be the first point of contact, for sure! Instead of immediately writing a student a referral to the administrator, teachers should have conversations with kids, come up with a behavior contract, assign a detention of their own, or do whatever other steps they deem appropriate.

But in order to do that, teachers need TIME. When I taught, I had one 90-minute planning period every other day. I often had meetings before school, during lunch, or after school (or I was a coach and had practice after school).

I really didn’t mind calling parents or writing up behavior contracts or having a kid in my room for detention. But I needed time to do this. A planning period every day would’ve been so helpful for discipline (and other things, of course). Or teacher workdays that are ACTUALLY teacher workdays (teachers nowadays have so much professional development and few actual workdays, which many who are not in education don’t realize).

And one reason that sometimes my discipline wasn’t followed through, on MY part as the teacher, is because I simply did.not.have.time. I guess I could’ve made time — at the expense of grading assessments, making copies, tutoring, sponsoring clubs, coaching…

Teachers spend 80% of their time on 20% of the students. Writes Christine S.: “This is the most frustrating part of discipline issues for me: I literally spent the majority of my time addressing the same handful of students all year long.”

They have a right to an education, but at the expense of all of my other kids? I don’t think so. But as a teacher, sometimes my hands are tied. The system is flawed. The disruptive student who is making poor choices gets to stay in class, and no matter what I try or who talks to him or how many behavior plans we go over or how many times I call home, the student’s behavior doesn’t change, and class is ruined for 25 kids who actually want to learn.

We are not making the student take responsibility for his or her actions. Too much of the responsibility for student behavior is put on everyone except the student. 

We excuse their behaviors.
We have low expectations for them.
We, as the adults, are permissive.
We make empty threats and don’t follow through.

And now to the bottom line: Lower suspension and expulsion numbers don’t mean kids are behaving better. People point to the declining number of suspensions as evidence that restorative justice is working. But the numbers don’t necessarily mean schools are any safer or students are behaving any better, writes Christine S.

It may mean that a) teachers aren’t writing referrals and are perhaps being more permissive or b) administrators are assigning other consequences (such as a verbal warning or a lunch detention) instead of a suspension.

While she doesn’t advocate increasing suspensions, she says we should not deceive ourselves about what’s happening in the classroom.

One reason people don’t like when students are suspended is because it means they’re missing instructional time. I agree with that. … I do want to clarify, though: just because the kid isn’t suspended doesn’t necessarily mean that kid is in class learning. The kid might be present at school but skipping. The kid might be present at school in class but sitting on his/her phone the whole time or not doing any work. So, we cannot make the assumption that JUST because a kid isn’t suspended means he/she is sitting in class studiously completing assignments.

Add it up: Teachers, required to spend more time counseling trouble makers, spend less time teaching.  It is questionable whether the trouble makers are getting any real benefit. But there’s no escaping the reality that students who do want to learn are getting less instruction. Under pressure to show improving numbers, administrators conceal the breakdown in discipline. The only hard evidence of what’s happening in classrooms comes from the SOLs. When school systems are in deep denial, there is zero prospect that conditions will improve. To the contrary, as even the most idealistic teachers get fed up, turnover will get worse, infighting and gamesmanship will intensify, and conditions will continue to deteriorate.

Virginia ceded school disciplinary policy to the ideologues at the ACLU and Department of Justice, and now poor, African-American kids are paying the price.

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11 responses to “How Restorative Justice Is Wrecking Schools

  1. Fantastic post, Jim.

    Love this:

    “People point to the declining number of suspensions as evidence that restorative justice is working. But the numbers don’t necessarily mean schools are any safer or students are behaving any better, writes Christine S.”

    How true!

    IN Addition, retention rates in college do NOT mean kids are learning. Graduation rates in College do NOT mean kids are learning. Transfer rates from CC to 4 year college do NOT mean kids are learning.

    Same applies to all levels of schools.

    We have to stop focusing on process and start focusing relentlessly on substance – are kids learning, and learning the right things and habits – otherwise retention and graduation rates are worse than meaningless, they are signs of great harm done.

    More later.

    • Above I said:

      “IN Addition, retention rates in college do NOT mean kids are learning.”

      Why?

      Keeping kids in college (retaining them in a place they should not be) is malpractice in education. It’s immoral, too. It is particularly immoral when an institution’s policy in retaining as many students as it can violates the students’ self interest, while at the same time it promotes the self interest of the school.

      For example, when such a retention policy drains money from the student’s pocket or loan while the institution then pours those monies of its improperly retained students into its own institution’s pockets. This is cynical beyond imagination, and it goes on all the time in education. And it is now standard practice. Its done not only to take the students’ money when the students are not learning but it is also done in order to falsely raise the rankings of institution at the students expense, while falsely claiming to benefit the student, including the claim that the student is being educated, when the student is receiving little or no education at all, only learning bad habits.

      We know this behavior is rampant. The false gods of rankings, and money, now powerfully motivates all of our schools of higher education, from the best to the poorest. As regards the poorest, see for example my post found at:

      https://www.baconsrebellion.com/wp/inquisitor-investigate-thyself/

      That is one reason now why most all our schools inflate students grades. Why they refuse to grade on a curve. Why they refuse to enforce outside study by students. Why they refuse to demand that students read or write outside the classroom. Why they refuse to legitimately test and grade their students, and report results. Why our schools refuse to be accountable for how they educate their students, or whether they educate students at all.

      Indeed now, for many students, college is a summer at the beach, or far worse. Most students hardly study at all. College is not the real world, nor does it prepare most students for the real world. Indeed, it does quite the reverse. College is a largely bogus teaching industry for most kids without real or legitimate standards, much less coherent standards. It is without accountability. It is a place that touts itself as a Temple of Learning where far too often there is little or no learning going on at all. It’s just a stopover place where our kids can acquire a toxic brew of horrible habits – acquire the sexual habits of rabbits (the hook-up culture), binge drinking and drugs, or learn to be victims of, and aggrieved by, others said to be different from them. Or they learn self-hate of themselves, their families and their culture by reason of who they are, and/or by reason of who their parents are, or where they worship, or what the believe in by reason of where they came from.

      Quite literally, many students today graduate as damaged children, instead of educated adults. They have attended college that are in process of destroying their culture and ours, not preserving and enhancing our culture and passing it onto our young students. Many school are in the business of money laundering toxic cults and ideologies instead. Thus college don’t teach kids real history, most particularly their own. They erase the history of their students instead, then poison a clean slate in the heads of their students, instead. Yes, it is true. College today mostly destroy our history, they destroy our faith, destroy our culture, they destroy our traditions, they destroy out system of government, churning out ill educated children with ideas in their heads to bear no semblance to the real world they will encounter. Armies of Bernie Sanders truth believers.

      Of course this conduct of uncountable and out of control intellectuals and pedagogues has happened again and again through history Hence, because its common is sick societies, it should be setting off alarm bells in our heads.

      Hence, many of our students would have been far better off not to have graduated at all, but to have dropped out, and/or never attended, or funked out, and only then returned to college with an altogether better attitude, call it maturity given the life lessons learned during their time in exile, in the real world.

      I saw the time and time again at UVA. The students who dropped out or funked out often gained a great advantage over the rest of us. One of those guys who funked out, went into the army and returned to UVA went on to totally redefine the skyline of the city of Philadelphia. Had he been “retained” at Virginia under its current policies, instead of taking that army intermission, more likely then he would have learned nothing save how waste away ever more of his life, perhaps even beyond the point of repair.

      The policy that high college ratings require high retention rates is an awful policy that does great harm to colleges and students alike. And it is only one awful policy driven by ratings among many awful policies driven by ratings.

      • Most students hardly study at all. College is not the real world, nor does it prepare most students for the real world. Indeed, it does quite the reverse. College is a largely bogus teaching industry for most kids without real or legitimate standards, much less coherent standards. It is without accountability. It is a place that touts itself as a Temple of Learning where far too often there is little or no learning going on at all. It’s just a stopover place where our kids can acquire a toxic brew of horrible habits – acquire the sexual habits of rabbits (the hook-up culture), binge drinking and drugs, or learn to be victims of, and aggrieved by, others said to be different from them. Or they learn self-hate of themselves, their families and their culture by reason of who are, and/or by reason of who their parents are, or where they worship, or what the believe in by reason of where they came from.

        Quite literally, many students today graduate as damaged children, instead of educated adults. They have attended college that are in process of destroying their culture and ours, not preserving and enhancing our culture and passing it onto our young students. Many school are in the business of money laundering toxic cults and ideologies instead. Thus college don’t teach kids real history, most particularly their own. They erase the history of their students instead, then poison a clean slate in the heads of their students, instead. Yes, it is true. Colleges today mostly destroy our history, they destroy our faith, destroy our culture, they destroy our traditions, they destroy out system of government, churning out ill educated children with ideas in their heads that bear no semblance to the real world they will encounter. Armies of Bernie Sanders truth believers.

        Wow, Reed, I suspect you have overstated the case, but you have overstated it most eloquently. This is quite an indictment.

        • Jim – yes, you are right. I do overstate it. There are some excellent colleges and universities in America, many excellent teachers, many many fine students who do learn incredible things, it is the best time in history to be great student, and most all the rest in college are wonderful kids.

          But I am after terrible trends in higher education, and on this format some overstatement and lack of full nuance is too often necessary, I believe.

        • “Tolerance is having an identity crisis. Today, the western canon is increasingly being purged from universities by faculty in favor of identity- based curriculum.

          Meanwhile, classical liberalism has been relabeled conservatism, liberalism shape-shifted into “progressivism”, “anti-fascism” has donned Jackboots of its own, and a poorly defined yet virulent identity politics has virtually replaced citizenship, its language permeating the public sphere and officially respectable discourse.

          Simultaneously with this rising tide of divisive racial, sexual, and gender politics, free speech and inquiry have come under attack by the very institutions that should protect them.

          Speakers are disinvited by universities or shouted down by virulent “social justice” radicals, angry mobs deface or seek to tear down statues of notable historical figures, political leaders oscillate between politically correct appeasement and authoritarianism, and mere allegations foment public outrage together with dire personal and occupational consequences for those who run afoul of such dynamics.

          Watching this, I find myself feeling a deep, increasing sense of unease about the fate of the once familiar world around me. Yet, in questioning this state of affairs, I feel like a medieval heretic already tossed down an oubliette to be forgotten.

          Yet I can no longer morally afford to scream silently. If I just sit, ruminate, and do nothing as western civilization crumbles before me, I simply won’t be able to live with myself. I really need to articulate things more fully, to find my voice, to leave a record – at least – of the lived experience of someone navigating this rotting dystopia as our civilization totters and lurches towards its apparently dismal dismal future …”

          This is the opening of a short essays titled “Can we talk? Life under the Frankfort School” by Professor J. Scott Kenny, Associate Professor, Dept. of Sociology, Memorial University of Newfoundland, and part of a discussion with others, published by the National Association of Scholars headquartered in New York City in their 2018 Fall issue of “Academic Questions.” It was also published on line on July 10, 2018. (See http://WWW.NAS.ORG)

        • Earlier this year on this subject I said in revised form:

          I have little confidence in the metrics used by schools and by others to judge their performance in educating our kids. Far too often these statistics show the reverse of what they are claimed of show.

          In fact, all to often they acerbate the problems of educating kids in school, where for example kids refuse to behave and instead interfere with others who truly want to learn but are not given a chance to learn despite their best efforts by reason of the misconduct or negligence of others, including kids and teachers alike.

          Take retention rates, they often hide and breed problems.

          Our real problems in school are cultural and ethical. We must find ways to restore our means and ethics to teach again. And to demand that teachers possess the power, skills, and safe spaces to teach.

          This means we must find ways to insure and enforce standards of acceptable and unacceptable conduct in schools and academics, including giving teachers the power to label excellence, mediocre and failing performance, and render appropriate consequences as necessary to insure that all kids who want to learn or will learn have the very best chance to do so, without hindrance or interference from others.

          Amazingly today, that is apparently a radical idea in our schools, whether in lower or higher education. But without such reforms our teachers and institutions can accomplish little or nothing but mostly injustice for everyone involved, whether they be teachers, students, administrators, or parents. For, only with such standards, can we recognize and reward good teaching, and restore the job of good teaching to the high status that its deserves, and must enjoy in all our schools, if teachers are have the tools to do their job.

          Only then can we restore the respect and authority within the classrooms that our good teachers deserve and must have to do their job, that is to teach.

          So we must stop coddling students. They should have no right to judge, to grade, or to interfere with teachers. That is not their job. Their job is to learn. So we must find ways to enforce real learning by students, and give that power to enforce it back to the teachers. Without that power teachers are neutered and disrespected. We must require them to grade on a curve and mandate consequences for excellent, Okay, and bad performance, including flunking out.

          In short we must get serious about education, and be proud of it.

          See: https://www.baconsrebellion.com/wp/reform-agenda-virginias-higher-ed-critics/

  2. I don’t dispute the issues though I think there are some conclusions being drawn than are not substantiated and instead based on premises and beliefs and some of it like blaming the ACLU is just blatant right-wing blather.

    Any teacher in any classroom will tell you that it’s ALWAYS the 20% that take more of him/her time ..no matter if it is a “good” school or a troubled one. Some kids are just high maintenance.

    But a lot of us on both sides agree that pushing low income people into “projects” is a recipe for trouble but aren’t we doing something very similar to that with the kids – when our “neighborhood” schools essentially reflect the stratified economic status of their low income neighborhood?

    The truth is in the data but we have to look at individual schools in a district if we really want to know that truth. There are schools in Henrico that have good SOLs and less discipline problems. There are schools in Henrico that have abysmal SOL scores as well as significant discipline problems and my bet is if you subtract the SOL scores of ANY school with a high number of free & reduced lunches that the remaining SOL scores would be GOOD and competitive with other countries.

    So what does this really mean and more important – as easy as it is to point out the problems – what would we advocate to reform/improve it?

    I totally reject any overt or implicit concept that poor black kids are the problem and we can’t fix it… let’s move on in these tomes to what we think we’d actually do once we get finished thoroughly blaming everyone we can …

  3. We DO know this. We know that a child who is 10 years old in the 3rd grade is not the same “discipline” problem that a kid who is 15 is in high school.

    We also KNOW that a 3rd grader who has not learned to read – is in big trouble and in turn so are those who are supposed to be teaching them – and those who are responsible for disciplining them.

    So what I get out of these tomes is that these kids who are discipline problems are hurting black kids.. not white kids mind you..but black kids.

    Why would we say that explicitly to start with?

    People who actually DO know will tell you that in virtually any high school regardless of the “colors” of the kids – there is a subset of kids who are trouble-makers.. discipline problems.. and yes ..there are actually schools that are majority white with these problems. So why do we focus this problem on blacks to begin with?

    Beyond that – why do we indict black kids in these tomes – then walk away without a word about how we might go about trying to fix it?

    It’s all about blaming someone.. parents, teachers, the public school system and the kids with precious little about how to actually address the issue.

    I just don’t find that kind of dialogue worth a whole lot, myself and as I have reiterated over and over – trying to make this about black kids is just plain wrong, wrongheaded.. and despicable.

    It’s about people who live in poverty regardless of color , who never got a good education themselves and who don’t have good jobs as a consequence, who often have been drawn up into the criminal justice system and yes are not good parents. Whoopie Do!

    We say this is “articulation” of an issue. Well.. I’m not impressed.

    • The ACLU, operating in conjunction with the DOJ, imposed the “restorative justice” disciplinary regime on many Virginia school systems. The ACLU made it all about race. Race was the ENTIRE justification — school suspensions, expulsions, arrests, etc., disproportionately impacted African-Americans, therefore they were bad.

      Live by the sword, die by the sword. The reason I emphasize the negative impact of the new regime on African-American kids is to show that the policy hurts the very ethnic group it purports to help.

      Gotta love it — the ACLU makes it all about race, I show how the policy backfires, then Larry criticizes me for making it all about race!

  4. Gotta love that teacher, but this part she wrote is pure unadulterated B.S.: “… come up with a behavior contract, assign a detention of their own, or do whatever other steps they deem appropriate.”.

    Teachers shouldn’t have to do any such thing as that. My mother was a seventh grade English teacher at Binford Junior High in Richmond and she had way more to do than crap like “come up with a behavior contract” as it was with lesson plans and grading homework and tests for six or seven classes of 30 students.

    Let’s get REAL here, folks.

  5. I decided a few weeks ago to vote straight SJW. I want these white well to do SJWs to get exactly what they want. I have no kids anyway so let them retire in the new Argentina… It’s going to be hilarious.

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