A statewide poll sponsored by the Oregon Education Association declared a “crisis of disrupted learning” and noted that 56 percent of teachers reported experiencing at least one “room clear” in the past year. (A “room clear” is when teachers direct all children to leave the classroom for their own safety while a disruptive student throws a tantrum.)
A not-yet-peer-reviewed doctoral dissertation examined several California school districts that banned suspensions for nonviolent “willful defiance”: Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco and Pasadena. It found no effects on reading but a harm to math achievement large enough to take a student from the 50th percentile to the 39th after three years.
Earlier this year, the RAND Corporation published a randomized control trial examining the effects of restorative justice in Pittsburgh as the district aggressively reduced suspensions. The results were mixed. On one hand, teachers in schools that implemented restorative justice reported an improvement in school safety, staff morale and their classroom management abilities. But students disagreed: They said their teachers’ classroom management abilities deteriorated and that students became less supportive of one another. Perhaps most alarmingly, academic achievement for African-American students decreased.
Taken as a whole, the academic literature suggests that modest efforts to reduce suspensions may be pursued with minimal effect, that aggressive efforts pose a serious risk to academics and that restorative justice may exacerbate rather than ameliorate harm.
School and system leaders should, of course, take their bearings not only from academic studies but also from the perspective of teachers. Nationwide, a majority of educators express sympathy for the idea of discipline reform. But, as I’ve documented, teachers in school districts that implemented discipline reform under pressure from federal investigations do not believe it works.