Texas Focusing on Restorative Discipline

I’m proud to say that Texas is on the leading edge of a national discussion regarding effective and equitable discipline in our schools. School and district administrators across Texas are now being offered training in Restorative Discipline, an alternative to "zero tolerance" methods, through a partnership that includes the Texas Education Agency and the Institute for Restorative Justice and Restorative Dialogue at The University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work.

Restorative Discipline is a prevention-oriented approach that fosters accountability and amends-making to resolve school conflict such as bullying, truancy and disruptive behavior. And at a recent national conference, our state’s work on this front was spotlighted. Education representatives from other states who attended the biannual National Conference on Restorative Justice – organized by the National Association of Community and Restorative Justice – learned what TEA is doing to introduce this concept to our school districts and how those districts that have implemented the approach are seeing significant results.  

The reason for taking this approach is simple. Studies reveal school suspensions correlate to academic failure, including higher school dropout rates. Students are not in position to learn if they are not in the classroom.

In turn, suspensions affect minority students disproportionally. In Texas, African-American students comprise 13 percent of students but are, on average, two times as likely to be suspended as white and Hispanic/Latino students.

TEA and the UT Institute for Restorative Justice and Restorative Dialogue have launched Restorative Discipline training sessions in 10 Education Service Centers across Texas. These sessions provide training for school administrators, who will be able to customize Restorative Discipline to their campuses, communities and student bodies, and for Restorative Discipline coordinators, who will be in charge of managing the successful implementation of the method on each campus, training teachers and staffers and collecting data to evaluate results.

We remain in the early stages of this statewide effort. However, the figures on those campuses that have implemented the Restorative Discipline approach confirm it can work – if implemented effectively. One San Antonio middle school implemented Restorative Discipline in 2012. At that time, the school had some of the highest disciplinary sanction rates in its district.

After the first year of using the Restorative Discipline approach, there was an 87 percent drop in off-campus suspensions and a 44 percent decrease in total suspensions. After the second year, the trend of lowering suspensions continued, and the overall school climate improvement was reflected in improved student performance.

Through our continued partnership with the UT School of Social Work, I am confident that expanding the concepts of Restorative Discipline with more districts across our state will benefit students and educators. Texas is once again leading the way with others ready to follow.

To learn more about Restorative Discipline, visit the Institute for Restorative Justice and Restorative Dialogue website at http://www.utexas.edu/research/cswr/rji/index.html.

Commissioner of Education Michael Williams

June 12, 2015