Commentary and Criticism about the National Education Association
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“We’ve been working to … [highlight] … the philosophy of restorative justice while focusing on ‘restorative practices,’ including peace circles, peer juries and mediation and community service ...” [bold and underline added].
NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia, Lily’s Blackboard, October 24, 2017
“In general, the research evidence to support RJ [restorative justice] in schools is still in a nascent state. Despite the exponential growth of RJ in U.S. schools … evidence to date is limited and the research that has been published lacks the internal validity necessary to exclusively attribute outcomes to RJ.” [bold and underline added]
Conclusion - Restorative Justice in U.S. Schools: A Research Review (2016)
THESIS OF THIS BLOG POST: For years the NEA has been promoting a liberal policy initiative called restorative justice despite the limited amount of evidence to prove its effectiveness.
COME ON, THE NEA ISN’T REALLY THAT POWERFUL …
A comment appeared on my Facebook page which I need to address first and foremost. In response to my criticism of NEA policies, an individual noted:
“To ascribe so much power to the teacher’s union is pure hysterics. They work to earn the loyalty of teachers but it is not easy and teachers are not fools.”
I thought about his point quite a bit.
Maybe my criticism of the NEA is a bit over the top. After all, does the union really have all that much power? I mean, just because it has millions of members and publishes articles on all sorts of topics, does this really have any major effect on education in general or teachers in particular?
THE NEA’S POLITICAL POWER
Let me address the first sentence of that quote:
“To ascribe so much power to the teacher’s union is pure hysterics.”
It didn’t take long to find proof that the NEA has a definite and quantifiable amount of political power.
According to OpenSecrets.org, in the 2016 election cycle, the NEA made contributions totaling $28,012,420. To put this in perspective, this was the 13th highest amount of money contributed by an organization that year (out of 18,661). And when it came to lobbying in 2016, the NEA spent $2,734,000 (185 out of 3,766). Finally, the NEA’s outside spending was $5,686,987 (32 out of 166).
Money like that almost certainly translates into political pull of some kind.
But other sources also describe the power of the NEA.
The FreeBeacon.com says:
“DeVos, a pioneer in the school choice and charter school movements over the last two decades, has received vocal opposition from Democrats and some of the country's most powerful unions. The National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers, and AFL-CIO” [bold and underline added].
And according to Askmen.com, the NEA is the 3rd most powerful union after AFSCME (#2) and SEIU (#1).
BUT DO TEACHERS, ADMINISTRATORS AND SCHOOLS REALLY LISTEN TO THE NEA?
This brings me to the second sentence of that Facebook comment:
“They work to earn the loyalty of teachers but it is not easy and teachers are not fools.”
I interpret this sentence to mean that that NEA works hard to help teachers directly (lobbying for pay increases, health care, pensions, etc.) but that the NEA’s liberal policy agenda pretty much falls on deaf ears.
I will agree that there are plenty of independent minded members (like us) who don’t accept the union’s liberal agenda. But the real influence of the NEA can’t be so easily dismissed. This influence is perhaps more subtle and indirect, but it still finds its way into the nooks and crannies of the education establishment. From there it becomes part of the standard paradigm of education. Not realizing the complex and underhanded process by which liberal ideas become mainstreamed, teachers just naturally embrace what often just appears the normal way of doing business.
Take my district as an example. The superintendent, director of curriculum, head of special education and the principal are constantly requiring us to implement new-fangled policy ideas into our classroom. But these administrators have never said we should use these “best practices” because they read about them in an NEA publication (even though they are all discussed there).
As I indicated above, NEA promoted policies become part the current educational paradigm by constant and consistent repetition.
Which brings me to the purpose of this blog post - the NEA’s support for the liberal policy idea known as restorative justice.
WHAT IS RESTORATIVE JUSTICE?
The following description of restorative justice is taken word for word from a post I published back in early December entitled: The NEA Supports a “Kinder & Gentler” Solution to Ending Sexual Assault in the Classroom: “Restorative Justice”
Restorative Justice refers to discipline without a punitive component.
When schools implement restorative justice programs, the bad students are not punished in the traditional sense. Suspension and expulsion are frowned upon. Instead, students are encouraged
“… to come up with meaningful reparations for their wrongdoing …”
Also, they are challenged …
“… to develop empathy for one another through talking circles led by facilitators…”
At least that is how the New York Times describes restorative justice.
NEA Today explains it in a similar fashion in its October 19, 2017 article “5 Ways to Support Restorative Justice”:
“School districts, including those in San Francisco, Houston and Denver, have replaced punitive disciplinary practices with restorative justice.”
Finally, an article by Ryan Wheeler (October 11, 2017) entitled “Suspensions Don’t Teach” explains it this way:
“Restorative practices—an alternative to punitive justice—keep kids in school, where they can learn how their behavior affects others.”
HOW POPULAR IS RESTORATIVE JUSTICE? VERY
I couldn’t find one perfect source to prove that restorative justice is in widespread use in schools across the United States. But I did come across a number of individual articles which suggest the true extent of its reach.
“While many school districts are embracing restorative justice ..."
“… many schools are exploring the use of restorative practices. “
“The approach [restorative justice] now taking root in 21 Oakland schools, and in Chicago, Denver and Portland, Ore.”
“In Colorado Restorative Practices in Schools are on the rise. “
Restorative Discipline Makes Huge Impact in Texas Elementary and Middle Schools
“Districts from Los Angeles to New York City are experimenting with new policies designed to eliminate zero-tolerance discipline. “
“Educators across the United States have been looking to RJ as an alternative to exclusionary disciplinary actions …Despite the popularity of RJ in the United States …”
THE NEA AND RESTORATIVE JUSTICE: A LONG HISTORY OF PROMOTION
I did a search on the NEA website and found something like 100 articles promoting restorative justice (RJ) policies. These articles go back as far as 2012.
Here is a decent representative sample arranged by year:
2012 - A National Call to Stop Using Out-of-School Suspensions
2012 - Prevention and Intervention of Workplace Bullying in Schools (A Report Prepared for the National Education Association)
2013 - Denver educators, police take interesting route to protect students
2014 - NEA and Partners Promote Restorative Justice in Schools
2014 - Sowing Empathy and Justice in Schools Through Restorative Practices
2014 - The Kids Are All Right: Meet the Next Generation of Social Justice Activists
2014 - More Educators Adopting Restorative Discipline Practices
2015 - The School-to-Prison Pipeline: Time to Shut it Down
2016 - Restorative Discipline Makes Huge Impact in Texas Elementary and Middle Schools
2016 - Advocating that school districts use restorative justice techniques amounts to Experimenting on our children in this
2017 - From 2017 Annual Meeting and Representative Assembly: New Business Item 15
NEA will support the implementation of restorative justice practices
2017 - NEA National Leadership Summit Session Outcomes: Create opportunities for Restorative practices in your daily interactions. Advocate at the local level to ensure Restorative practices become part of your culture
2017 - Conference on Racial and Social Justice - Growing the Education Justice Movement
2017 - School-Wide Restorative Practices: Step by Step
CONCLUSION: “EDUCATIONAL NEGLIGENCE” ON THE PART OF THE NEA?
I return now to the study quoted at the beginning of this blog post: Restorative Justice in U.S. Schools: A Research Review.
The conclusion of that study is pretty clear:
“evidence to date is limited and the research that has been published lacks the internal validity necessary to exclusively attribute outcomes to RJ [Restorative Justice].” [bold and underline added]
So think about it.
The NEA has been promoting the idea of restorative justice since at least 2012. Then a study comes out in 2016 which concludes that evidence to support its legitimacy is “limited” and that the research behind it “lacks the internal validity necessary.”
Well, if there was “limited” evidence to support restorative justice in 2016, how much more “limited” would the evidence have been in 2012?
Did this stop the NEA from promoting it in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 anyway???
And after the 2016 study was released, did the NEA re-think its promotion of this liberal policy idea?
No. In fact, they continue to promote it to this very day.
Is it, therefore, logical to claim that the NEA is and has been engaged in a type of “educational negligence” with regard to the promotion of restorative justice?
I will leave it for you to decide.