Last week, the first randomized control trial study of “restorative justice” in a major urban district, Pittsburgh Public Schools, was published by the RAND Corporation.
The results were curiously mixed. Suspensions went down in elementary but not middle schools. Teachers reported improved school safety, professional environment, and classroom management ability. But students disagreed. They thought their teachers’ classroom management deteriorated, and that students in class were less respectful and supportive of each other; at a lower confidence interval, they reported bullying and more instructional time lost to disruption. And although restorative justice is billed as a way to fight the “school-to-prison pipeline,” it had no impact on student arrests.
The most troubling thing: There were significant and substantial negative effects on math achievement for middle school students, black students, and students in schools that are predominantly black.
What are we to make of these results? For education journalists like U.S. News and World Report’s Lauren Camera, there’s an easy solution: Don’t report the negative findings and write an article titled “Study Contradicts Betsy DeVos’ Reason for Eliminating School Discipline Guidance.”
When asked why she left her readers in the dark regarding the negative effects on black student achievement, Camera said that it “wasn’t intentional,” explaining that “it wasn’t meant to be a deep dive into the study. And we linked to it, so readers who wanted to follow up could.”
Chalkbeat’s Matt Barnum is somewhat unique among education journalists for his practice of reading academic studies in full before writing about them. Barnum commented, “Well, I will say that the researchers didn’t do any favors in framing the results for reporters. The negative test for effect for black kids is buried on like page eighty with no mention (that I saw) until then…. [T]he research itself is excellent; their choice in framing is…notable.”