TEA Grant to School of Social Work Will Take Innovative Discipline Program Statewide

AUSTIN, Texas  School and district administrators across Texas will be offered training in Restorative Discipline, an alternative to "zero tolerance" methods, through a grant from the Texas Education Agency to the Institute for Restorative Justice and Restorative Dialogue (IRJRD) 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. The $521,000 grant will be used to conduct training sessions in Restorative Discipline in 10 Education Service Centers, which provide support to school districts and charter schools throughout the state.

The training is 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 are honored to work with the Texas Education Agency in this very important initiative," said Marilyn Armour, IRJRD director. "We have implemented Restorative Discipline with great success in a San Antonio school, and we are excited about making this critical program accessible to hundreds of schools across the state."

In 2012, Armour and her team inaugurated implementation of Restorative Discipline in Texas through partnering with Edward H. White Middle School, a San Antonio school with some of the highest disciplinary sanction rates in its district.

After the first year of Restorative Discipline, 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 overall school climate improvement was reflected in student performance. Ed White Middle School ranked No. 2 for improved student progress among 40 other middle schools with the same demographics, and it earned State Accountability System distinctions for student achievement in English, math and social studies.

The success of Restorative Discipline at Ed White Middle School piqued the interest of other principals, education administrators and professional organizations, and it generated demand for training sessions and technical assistance.

"Texas is on the leading edge of a national discussion regarding effective and equitable discipline in our schools," said Texas Commissioner of Education Michael Williams. "Through our continued partnership with The University of Texas at Austin's 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."

Studies have found that school suspensions correlate to academic failure, including higher school dropout rates, and that they 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.