Is the Restorative Discipline Bandwagon Rolling Back? Five Reasons Why Its Roll-Out Wasn’t Warranted in the First Place

Is the Restorative Discipline Bandwagon Rolling Back?

Five Reasons Why Its Roll-Out Wasn’t Warranted in the First Place

Dear Colleagues,


   Scrolling through last weekend’s Twitter feed, my attention was drawn to one from the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP). It stated:

Leaders in district after district, sometimes with prodding from state legislators, are now rolling back more lenient restorative discipline policies and relying again on suspensions and other punitive measures.

   The post was linked to an article in District Administration by Matt Zalaznick, “Backlash Against Restorative Discipline is Growing as Behavior Breaks Down.”

   Zalaznick stated:

The pre-pandemic shift from zero tolerance to restorative discipline is buckling across K12, even years after the return to in-person learning, as educators continue to grapple with a surge of misbehavior in all grade levels.
The backlash is taking place even as data continues to show that Black students and other groups of children continue to face discipline that’s disproportionately more severe.

   In a section titled “A Restorative Discipline Dilemma?” he then proceeded to report that Restorative Practices have recently been removed in Prince William County (MD) and in the entire state of Nevada. He also noted that a new law in Kentucky (signed March 23, 2023) “requires school boards to expel for at least 12 months any students who threaten or pose a danger to classmates or staff,” while also suspending students who have been removed from class for discipline three times in a 30-day period.

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   Over the years, I have written many Blogs documenting—with data and evidence, science and analysis—the case against Restorative Justice programs.

   I have also discussed—again from a documented science-to-practice perspective—where restorative practices—that separately exist from packaged Programs— might effectively fit into a school’s discipline system.

   But here again, I do not globally discuss generic and unspecified “restorative practices” as many of my colleagues. Instead, I have talked about specific restorative strategies, and which ones are beneficial, and which ones are “fluff.”

   Critically, none of these practices or strategies are new. Many of them are simply effective classroom management approaches. Nonetheless, they have been “packaged and marketed” as something “new and improved.” When used strategically, they worked in the past, and they will work in the future—with or without the “restorative branding.”

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   And so. . . with this as an Introduction. . . in this Blog, I want to summarize some of my previous discussions, and then discuss the “Five Reasons” why the Restorative Discipline bandwagon needs to be put back into the garage.

   Clearly, per NAESP and Zalaznick, this is already beginning to happen.

Restorative Discipline is Not Supported by Objective, Well-Designed Research

   Historically, and consistent with a movement to use restorative justice as an alternative in the criminal justice system, school-based restorative practices can be traced to Queensland, Australia around 1994.

   While there is no chronological benchmark documenting its formal introduction into U.S. schools, enough schools were exploring Restorative Discipline approaches (we are using this term to combine both packaged Restorative Justice Programs and generic restorative practices) that, in 2013, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation funded the nonprofit research and development agency, WestEd, to study its use and efficacy.

   So let’s conservatively say that Restorative Discipline approaches have been in U.S. schools for the better part of ten to fifteen years.

   From the beginning, Restorative Discipline approaches were marketed to educators to solve two perennial school problems:

  • How to motivate students to make appropriate prosocial choices, while holding them accountable for their inappropriate behavior; and
  • How to eliminate the gap whereby students of color and with disabilities are disproportionately disciplined—especially for mild interpersonal, disruption, or noncompliance “problems”—while their White peers are not.

   But, as discussed in my last Blog. . .

June 24, 2023—CLICK HERE TO LINK

“New Paths to Address Disproportionate Discipline with Black Students: New Directives, Research, Solutions, and Another Example of Racial Hate”

. . . Restorative Discipline—along with so many other “promising” approaches—has not significantly changed these two problems.


  • Few school-based Restorative (Justice/Practice) programs have ever been objectively studied using sound research methods; and
  • The most methodologically-sound research studies report that their Restorative (Justice/Practice) programs have actually produced negative results relative to student behavior and academic achievement, and significant backlash relative to teacher/staff morale, administrative support, and sustained classroom management success.

   A critical point here is that—while there are articles with testimonials regarding the “success” of Restorative Discipline—there are few methodologically-sound research studies that, when analyzed objectively, empirically demonstrate its effectiveness.

   Indeed, the most comprehensive and sound research-to-practice study of a Restorative Practice Program (the International Institute for Restorative Practices’ “SaferSanerSchools” program) is still the one implemented during the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 school years in the Pittsburgh (PA) School District.

   Involving 22 randomly-selected schools matched to 22 non-participating Comparison schools, the surface-level results (that the Program Developers touted) were that, in the Restorative Practices schools: (a) alternative school placements decreased; (b) students were less likely to be suspended multiple times; (c) disparities in suspension rates between African-American (vs. Caucasian), and low-income (vs. higher-income) students, respectively, decreased; and (d) suspension rates for female students declined.

But when you read the 132-page independent Rand Corporation report that objectively analyzed this study, the deeper-level results tell a different story:

  • While suspension rates in the Restorative Practices schools declined by 36% during the two-year study, suspension rates in the Comparison schools also declined 18% during the same time period.
  • The overall suspension results were driven by lower rates in the Restorative Practices elementary schools.
  • Fewer suspensions were not found in the Restorative Practices Middle schools (Grades 6 to 8).
  • Fewer suspensions were not found for male students or students with disabilities.
  • There were no reductions in student arrests, or for incidents of violence or weapons violations.
  • In the Restorative Practices Middle schools, academic outcomes actually worsened when compared with the Comparison schools.
  • Survey results from staff in the Restorative Practices schools indicated that they did not think the IIRP program was affecting student behavior. They did, however, report that their relationships with students had improved because of program involvement.

   For more details and analysis, see my previous Blogs:

January 26, 2019—CLICK HERE TO LINK

“New Rand Corporation Study Finds Restorative Practices Produce Mixed and Underwhelming Results: But Some Publications are “Spinning” the Outcomes and Twisting these Results”

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July 10, 2021—CLICK HERE TO LINK

Reconsidering or Rejecting SEL/Character Education, Meditation/ Mindfulness/Trauma-Informed, and Restorative Justice Programs: Put on Your Hard Hat and Bring Your Lunch Pail”(Part II)

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   These less-than-glamourous deeper results were compounded a few years later when two 2022 reports questioned the student discipline, suspension, and arrest data from the Pittsburgh School District for the 2017-2018 school year (one year after the SaferSanerSchools study concluded).

   One of these studies found discrepancies between the District’s and the County’s data—suggesting that school districts were under-reporting student referrals to police and arrests.

   The other study found—according to data reported to the U.S. Department of Education—that no Pittsburgh District students were arrested at school during the 2017-2018 school year—an impossible-to-believe statistic.

   These reports were discussed in my February 5, 2022 Blog:

“Why Do They Keep Trying to ‘Validate’ Restorative Practices with Lousy (or Worse) Data?More Proof that Schools Need to Avoid Restorative (Justice) Programs and Practices”


   This February 2022 Blog reflected on the discipline data errors addressed in these two reports, wondering about the validity of the Restorative Discipline study’s data the two years before.

   Indeed, what if the Restorative Discipline results also were under-reported? That would suggest even worse outcomes than were reported.

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   Finally, a more recent Pittsburgh School District update was just published.

   A June 26, 2023 story a few weeks ago by Julia Felton in the Western Pennsylvania on-line newspaper, TRIBLive (“Activists call on Pittsburgh Public Schools to stop issuing citations against students, cut back on suspensions”) reported the following:

According to data provided by 412 Justice (an advocacy organization), the rate of summary citations (these are real tickets written by campus police for student offenses) was 12 times higher for Black students than white students in the 2021-2022 academic year, a disparity that has tripled since the 2017-2018 school year.

The organization cited statistics showing that Black girls are more than 24 times more likely to get a summary citation at school than white girls, and the rate of summary citations is almost 11 times higher for Black boys compared to their white counterparts.

The rate of summary citations was nearly double for students with disabilities compared to students without disabilities, according to 412 Justice.

According to Pittsburgh Public Schools data, the district (also) saw a 13.3% suspension rate in the 2022-2023 school year, up from 12.1% the prior year. Black students saw a 19.3% suspension rate during the last academic year, compared to a 6.7% suspension rate for white students.

Students missed more than 10,900 days of school due to suspensions, with more than 8,000 of those days impacting Black students.

Students in kindergarten through second grade missed 230 days due to suspension in the last school year, according to PPS data, while students in grades three through five missed more than 1,000 days.

The district reported that 2,624 students were suspended in the 2022-2023 school year, up from 2,457 the prior year.

   Clearly, one year after the conclusion of the study, the Pittsburgh School District did not maintain its Restorative Discipline program. Moreover, as reported by Zalaznick in the Twitter-feed article at the beginning of this Blog, this has resulted in a return to suspending more students, and continued disparities for students of color and with disabilities. 

Some Articles Disingenuously Report Restorative Discipline Successes (or Are They Just Not Doing their Homework?)

   We have also previously discussed how educators cannot trust the Restorative Discipline headlines in some popularly published articles—much less the highlights, or even the analyses.

   We demonstrated this by citing a number of specific examples in our January 26, 2019 Blog (cited/linked above).

   But educators also cannot trust the headlines and technical reports sometimes published by highly-regarded research and development centers that are supposed to be trustworthy.

    In our February 5, 2022 Blog (cited/linked above), we told the story of a July 2021 Research Brief from WestEd, a “non-profit” agency that receives millions of dollars in contracts each year from the U.S. Department of Education. Some of these funds support a number of National Technical Assistance Centers—including the National Center for Systemic (Special Education) Improvement and the Center to Improve Social and Emotional Learning and School Safety—that WestEd, in essence, runs for the Federal government.

   The study, “Can Restorative Practices Bridge Racial Disparities in Schools?” was promoted in numerous national press releases. . . but, as we delineated in our February, 2022 Blog, the survey used in the study was (a) neither about Restorative Practices, (b) nor was WestEd’s culling or interpretation of the data methodologically sound

   In our independent critique of the study, we quoted the Research Brief’s admission of its own limitations, and then we identified three methodological flaws. 

   Quoting from our previous Blog:

As a first step in critiquing the WestEd research, let’s listen to what the authors of the Brief said in the piece:

Limitations. It is important to note that our models are not designed to estimate “causal” effects. In other words, we cannot glean from these models whether exposure to restorative practices causes fewer suspensions or improved GPAs. Instead, we can only say that restorative practices are associated with the aforementioned positive outcomes.

That is, student exposure to greater levels of restorative practices tended to coincide with less discipline exposure, smaller racial discipline disparities, and better academic achievement.

While we controlled for a range of student, parent, and district factors, there were many factors that we did not control for because they were not available in our data.

Thus, based on the data available to us, while it is possible that student exposure to restorative practices does indeed abridge discipline disparities and improve academic achievement, it is also possible that unobserved student-, school-, or community-level characteristics drove both student exposure to restorative practices and student outcomes. Additional research is thus warranted to estimate the causal effect of these practices.

Another critical facet of this research is that we were (intentionally) not identifying the impact of restorative programming (i.e., teachers receiving professional development in restorative practices). Instead, we were attempting to evaluate restorative practices (i.e., students being exposed to teachers who actually, for example, help resolve conflicts or inculcate conflict resolution skills).”

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Given this “confession” by the authors (with more to come below), there are three primary reasons why this Brief should never have been published and why it cannot be used to validate the utility of the Restorative practices “investigated.”

Research Rejection #1: “Restorative Practices” data. This was NOT a study of Restorative practices; it was a study of what the authors subjectively decided were Restorative practices, pulled from a large statewide survey.

Research Rejection #2: Student Achievement Data. ALL of the data in this study involved student survey responses. Thus, this was a study evaluating students’ perceptions.

No objective data was collected, and none of the students’ perspectives or perceptions were validated using cumulative record, teacher, administrator, or other data.

Research Rejection #3: Student Suspension Data. Similar to the achievement data, the authors did not analyze objective student suspension data. . . they analyzed student survey reports of suspensions that were never validated.

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   The “bottom line” here is that unsuspecting (perhaps, overly-trusting) educators have fallen prey to researchers, authors, and journalists who either are incompetent (which I doubt), or are forwarding their own agenda.

   The more serious problem here is that—when unproven and unsound Restorative Discipline approaches are implemented—they may replicate the Pittsburgh School District results and actually do damage to students.

   This additionally translates into wasted administrative, teacher, and support staff time, effort, funding, and personnel (also, personal) commitments.

Five Reasons Why Restorative Discipline’s Faulty Roll-Out Has Persisted

   There are five reasons that explain the beginning and the continuation of Restorative Discipline’s “group contagion bandwagon.”

   They are:

  • Simplicity vs. Complexity
  • Social Psychology vs. Singular Voices
  • Supernatural vs. Scientific Thinking
  • Self-Protection vs. Self-Evaluation
  • Social Media vs. Social Justice

Simplicity vs. Complexity

   While it is important to “keep things simple,” it is also important not to over-simplify when dealing with human (system, staff, and student) behavior.

   From a systems perspective, we have seen how some educators gravitate to over-simplistic “solutions” to student misbehavior and disproportionality because they cannot or do not want to acknowledge the complexity of students’ inappropriate behavior. Critically, their solutions simply have not changed the disproportionality numbers.

   For example, zero tolerance and “no-suspension” policies, respectively, have not worked and have, in fact, been counterproductive.

   While zero tolerance policies and procedures have not changed many students’ inappropriate behavior, they have increased disproportionate suspensions and alternative school placements. And yet, according to Zalaznick above, some states are shelving restorative discipline (which is good), but returning to zero tolerance approaches (which is ill-advised).

   No-suspension policies (where students cannot be suspended, for example, from kindergarten through Grade 3) have lowered school suspension numbers, but not changed students’ inappropriate behavior or the disproportionality gaps.

   Human behavior is complex. And there are many possible reasons (see below) to explain students’ misbehavior. But psychologically, it is easier (e.g., more comfortable or comforting) for some to over-simplify. It takes far more work to analyze and address the complexities of student behavior and act in more strategic, individualistic ways.

   Suggesting Restorative Discipline has become another “easy” policy and practice recommendation. But—as discussed above and in our past Blogs—the desired outcomes have not resulted.

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Social Psychology vs. Singular Voices

   The Restorative Practices bandwagon has been fed both by social psychological group-think and social contagion processes.

   The group-think “movement” has been fed by public testimonials, pressure, and publicity, as well as vendors and naïve (and sometimes well-meaning) practitioners with approaches that have never been validated through methodologically-sound research.

   Given all of this, the line of lemmings has gotten longer and longer—a reflection of the effects of social contagion.

   And both processes make it almost impossible for those “caught in the whirlwind” to disengage and look objectively at the facts. Hence, anyone presenting contrary data or results that suggest that Restorative Practices do not work (or worse) are rejected and summarily dismissed.

   It’s difficult to detach yourself from the whirlwind to potentially side with a singular voice—even though it is the correct voice. It is unsettling, feels risky, and produces fears of ostracism or loneliness—especially when you are not “an expert” in the area.

   Social contagion occurs when individuals “lose” (or give up) their identities because of overt or covert group presence or pressure, and they blindly conform to the group’s ideas, attitudes, or behavioral patterns.

   While Zalznick is suggesting that, right now, there are more “singular voices” questioning Restorative Discipline practices, the question is,

”Will these voices merge and become loud enough to combat still-existing social psychological pressure so that a systemic recalibration can occur?”

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Supernatural vs. Scientific Thinking

   The beginning of the headline song in Disney’s Pinocchio reads,

When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires
Will come to you

   Unfortunately, I have consulted with too many school leaders who try to address their significant disproportionate discipline problems though “magical thinking” tied to Restorative Discipline (and similar) approaches.

   Beyond their inattention or disregard to the body of research that has never objectively validated the approach, they often believe that they can just (a) talk with their staff about why Restorative Practices are important, or (b) host a “spray and pray” in-service workshop, and—magically—all of their disproportionality problems will disappear like Pinocchio’s nose after he decides to tell the truth.

   But beyond the absence of Restorative Discipline validation as a whole, the fact is that many of its individual “practices” are simply effective classroom management strategies branded by the Restorative Discipline vendors.

   Specifically, here are the “David Letterman Top-Ten Restorative Practices across the web (no surprises here):

  1. Affective statements that express feelings and impacts of actions
  2. Setting classroom agreements or norms that establish shared expectations and values
  3. Community-building circles that create safe spaces for dialogue and connection
  4. Small impromptu conferences  that involve the parties affected by an incident
  5. Problem-solving circles that involve a group of stakeholders needing to resolve a conflict
  6. Peer-based conferences or mediation, peer juries, or justice panels
  7. Victim-offender review, resolution, and/or remediation conferences or mediations involving a face-to-face meeting between a victim and an offender
  8. Victim assistance that supports the needs and rights of victims and survivors of crime
  9. Community service, restitution, or reimbursement that allows offenders to make amends for their actions
  10. Family group conferencing that empowers the family and community of the offender to take responsibility and find solutions

   There are no surprises here. We’ve been using these strategies in schools for well over the forty years that I have been a school psychologist. What is surprising is that these are “new” strategies to some educators, the Restorative Discipline “gurus” have the chutzpah to claim these as their own, and some educators (again) have fallen into this branding and marketing ploy.

   Critically, the biggest problem with the assortment of individual restorative practices above is that there is no empirical research identifying exactly which practices will successfully change what social, emotional, or behavioral student problems in the presence of specific school or classroom conditions.

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Self-Protection vs. Self-Evaluation

   Our last Blog:

June 24, 2023—CLICK HERE TO LINK

“New Paths to Address Disproportionate Discipline with Black Students: New Directives, Research, Solutions, and Another Example of Racial Hate”

. . . re-visited the ongoing persistence of disproportionate office discipline referrals and school suspensions for students of color and with disabilities by reviewing two very new research studies.

   The first experimental study, involving 1,339 virtually-recruited middle and high school teachers who taught at 295 different schools across the United States, showed that:

   (1) at the individual teacher level, Black boys are perceived as being more blameworthy and referred to the principal more readily than White boys for identical misbehavior, and

   (2) at the organization level, blaming climates among teachers in minority schools mean each percentage-point higher Black or Latinx enrollment is significantly associated with greater perceived blameworthiness for students of all racial/ethnic backgrounds, compared to teachers viewing identical misbehavior in White schools.

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   The second study, analyzing data from four full school years and involving 227,922 student-year observations in a large urban school district in California, found that

While Black students only accounted for 7% of all students enrolled in the district and 12% of students in top office discipline referrers’ classrooms, they represented close to 22% of all referred students and 27% of students referred by top referrers.

Years of experience seems to be a particularly salient predictor of disproportionate office discipline referrals involving Black student—one that holds across school levels. Together, the results suggest that teachers who are White, early career, and serve middle schools are the ones who engage more in extensive referring.

   These studies clearly implicate the presence and effects of explicit and implicit bias of White (and other) teachers against Black students who demonstrate the same mild to moderate interpersonal, disruptive, or noncompliance challenges that White students demonstrate.

   Despite this clear bias, it is easier for district leaders and school administrators to ignore the apparent.

   They do this by “intellectualizing” the issue, focusing on teaching staff Restorative Discipline strategies that they will then use with students, instead of having the staff discussions, training, and supervision that may make their colleagues uncomfortable.

   Critically, based on research-to-practice, this training should focus on the presence and effects of bias, as well as how to (a) build and sustain positive staff-student and student-student relationships and classroom climate; (b) use positive, equitable, and responsive classroom management systems; and (c) correct and change inappropriate student behavior in a multi-tiered system of supports context.

   By avoiding the bias issue, school leaders reinforce everyone’s natural inclination to protect our feelings of adequacy, integrity, and self-esteem, while discouraging the self-evaluation that we all need to continue our personal and professional growth.

   Moreover, this avoidance is parallel to what has occurred in some states where they have sanitized Black history and “outlawed” discussions of race in our schools. . . for fear that some students will feel uncomfortable or even guilty?

   Parenthetically, why is it that we can (or must) discuss the Holocaust, the Japanese internment camps of World War II, and the mid-17th to 20th century Boarding Schools filled with Native American children. . . and we cannot honestly address the depth and breadth of Black history?

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Social Media vs. Social Justice

   This last reason—that explains the beginning and continuation of Restorative Discipline’s “group contagion bandwagon”—reflects the contrast between social media and social justice.

   For less than $100, anyone can purchase a website, open a social media account, conduct a survey, and post “research” that their approach to Restorative Discipline is “effective” and even “favored” in the field.

   And while I am somewhat over-stating this reality to make a point, the popular press, social media, and some publishers and vendors (as shown above and in past Blogs) have helped drive the Restorative Discipline bandwagon.

   To confuse the issue even further, some Black advocacy groups also have promoted Restorative Justice in the name of social justice (note the historical roots of restorative practices in Australia within the criminal justice reform movement).

   This is all very confusing to many educators—especially those who (as above) do not recognize the Restorative Discipline research gaps.

   But we need to get this right.

   Disproportionate school-based office discipline referrals, law enforcement arrests, corporal punishments, alternative program placements, suspensions, and expulsions are a true social justice challenge.

   They follow in the same historical footsteps as slavery, lynchings, false incarcerations, the Jim Crow laws, segregation, Red Lining, the Tulsa Race Massacre, and many other atrocities.

   We need to be more critical consumers of the research and practice, false or disingenuous social media marketing, and political and profit-centered “wolves” hiding in “sheep’s clothing.”

   But we also need to use our own social media posts to advocate for social justice by emphasizing (as in this entire Blog section) that disproportionate discipline issues in our schools require:

  • Complex analyses with strategic interventions—based on Science and not Magical Thinking—that are directly connected to those analyses;
  • A cacophony of elevated Singular Voices that unite (a) to counter the “noise” of those who recommend unproven strategies or interventions that waste our time and set us back; and (b) to guide the implementation of the multi-faceted, multi-tiered interventions needed for this complex situation; and
  • Self-Evaluation, self-awareness, and self-improvement, rather than avoidance, self-protection, and defensiveness.

   As noted, we need to get this right.

In the Final Analysis. . .

   In the final analysis, restorative practices typically are only needed or used when students have already misbehaved or demonstrated antisocial behavior.

   Moreover, the hypothetical restorative belief is that—when students are held accountable for their behavior, and are “confronted” with their offense, for example, by participating in a restorative circle of their peers, apologizing, restoring a damaged setting or relationship, and/or providing physical or monetary restitution—they will consciously avoid future inappropriate behavior.

   And this is the point.

   Scientifically, restorative practices (a) occur after an inappropriate behavior has occurred—even though all of us want to prevent the inappropriate behavior in the first place; and (b) they occur because a student has made a choice to demonstrate the inappropriate behavior.

   And yet, there are many other reasons why students demonstrate inappropriate behavior. . . reasons that restorative practices will not change.

   Indeed, inappropriate student behavior also occurs due to one or more of the following root causes:

  • The student is experiencing a significant biological, physiological, biochemical, neurological, cognitive, or other organically-determined behavioral health issues or concern
  • The student is experiencing a setting with a significant negative climate and/or relationships (e.g., that is toxic, dangerous, threatening, or unpredictable)
  • The student does not have the interpersonal, social problem-solving, and/or conflict prevention or resolution skills to demonstrate the appropriate behavior
  • The student does not have the emotional awareness, control, communication, or coping skills to handle emotional situations that require appropriate behavior or interactions
  • The student is not held consistently accountable for inappropriate behavior (e.g., by adults or peers) which reinforces and strengthens that behavior as, for example, some teachers allow it or “look the other way”—letting the student “get away with it,” while other teachers appropriately confront, stop, and provide consequences for it
  • The student has a teacher who has not been taught or has poor classroom management skills, or the student is in a common school area (e.g., a cafeteria, playground, bus, bathroom) with insufficient or poor supervision, or unclear expectations or incentives/consequences
  • The student’s inappropriate behavior is reinforced by a peer culture or group where this reinforcement is stronger or more valued by the student over the appropriate expectations or the adult consequences
  • The student’s inappropriate behavior occurs due to clinical anxiety, stress, or trauma; a disability or mental health issue (e.g., conduct disorders); or a related special or unique situation

   Once again, retroactive restorative practices will not enact or facilitate a change in students’ inappropriate behavior when the root causes above are present.

   Explicitly. . . restorative practices do not change or prepare a student:

  • With a significant biological, physiological, biochemical, neurological, cognitive, or other organically-determined behavioral health issues or concern
  • In settings with a significant negative climate and/or relationships
  • Who has not learned and mastered the interpersonal, social problem-solving, and/or conflict prevention or resolution skills needed to demonstrate appropriate behavior in specific situations
  • Who has not learned and mastered the emotional awareness, control, communication, or coping skills required to handle emotional situations
  • Who is not held consistently accountable for inappropriate behavior by adults or peers
  • Who has a teacher or others (depending on the school setting) who has not learned or has poor behavior management skills
  • Whose inappropriate behavior occurs because peer attention and reinforcement is stronger or more valued than adult reinforcement or consequences
  • Whose inappropriate behavior occurs due to a disability, mental health, or traumatic (or similar) situation

   Beyond this, when students consciously choose to demonstrate inappropriate behavior, restorative practice responses will not change (and are illogical and out-of-place for) behaviors that are intense, extreme, dangerous, physically harmful, abusive, destructive, or significantly anti-social.


   This Blog began with a simple National Association of Elementary School Principal’s Twitter post—linked to a recent District Administration article—that proclaimed:

Leaders in district after district, sometimes with prodding from state legislators, are now rolling back more lenient restorative discipline policies and relying again on suspensions and other punitive measures.

   We used this post and article to reinforce some critical research and points from our past Blogs, and some new perspectives (in this Blog) to emphasize that Restorative Discipline (a) has largely been a media-fed bandwagon that (b) has never been validated through methodologically-sound research, (c) included some effective classroom management strategies in its branding efforts, and (d) has been maintained by a “group contagion bandwagon” buoyed by educators’ psychological inclination for:

  • Simplicity (vs. Complexity)
  • Being Part of a Group (vs. Standing on their Own)
  • Supernatural or Wishful Thinking (vs. Scientific or Data-Driven Thinking)
  • Protecting their Feelings of Adequacy and Self-Esteem (vs. Evaluating their Beliefs, Biases, and Behaviors)
  • Trusting the Popular Press and Social Media (vs. Recognizing Explicit and Implicit assaults on Social Justice)

   In the end, we are hopeful that (a) a full roll-back of Restorative Discipline programs occurs, (b) states and districts do not accompany this roll-back with a return to zero tolerance approaches, and (c) school leaders continue to use the scientifically-proven classroom management strategies and interventions that have been long-established (and do not need concurrent Restorative Discipline frameworks for success).

   Beyond discussing the five dynamics above in detail, we also:

  • Discussed Restorative Discipline in the context of schools’ disproportionate office discipline referrals and suspensions of students of color and with disabilities;
  • Revisited the Pittsburgh School District study where a specific Restorative Practice program produced negative results relative to student behavior and academic achievement, teacher/staff morale, administrative support, and sustained classroom management success’
  • Showed how both the popular press and some professional organizations have irresponsibly published works that ignore or misinterpret the Restorative Discipline data, offering false support to its implementation;
  • Noted that Restorative Discipline is not a preventative process as it occurs after a student has misbehaved or demonstrated anti-social behavior, and assumes that the student has chosen the inappropriate act; and
  • Detailed a number of other reasons why students behave badly, emphasizing that Restorative Discipline will not change their future behavior because it does not scientifically connect to these root causes.

   In the end, this is not a rant to “take down” Restorative Discipline, and—other than wanting educators to use effective practices that have the highest probability of classroom management and student behavior success—this is not a personal agenda for me.

   As an student and social justice advocate, however, there is a professional agenda here.

   But it is a professional agenda that all of us should embrace—regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, political affiliation, or family history or background.

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   As always, I appreciate those of you who read these Blogs—especially during your summer break, and I hope they are useful to you.

   If you want to read more research-to-practice solutions for the disproportionate disciplinary actions taken against students of color and with disabilities, go to our three-part Blog Series that began on July 31, 2021.

[CLICK HERE for Part I:

"The Critical Common Sense Components Needed to Eliminate Disproportionate School Discipline Referrals and Suspensions for Students of Color: This is NOT About Critical Race Theory (But We Discuss It)]"

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   Meanwhile, if I can help you, your colleagues, your school, your district, or those in your professional setting to address your students’ social, emotional, or behavioral challenges, send me an email and let’s set up a time to talk. This first consultation hour is on the house.