Student Perceptions of Discipline and Punishment: An Experimental Test of Zero-Tolerance and Restorative Approaches
The implications of discipline policies remain a salient topic in the public sphere as efforts to find effective alternatives to exclusionary discipline continue to pervade school communities. The comparative effects of alternative models, such as restorative justice, compared to the current zero-tolerance policies remain poorly understood. This dissertation thus examined the perceptions of two school discipline approaches: zero-tolerance and restorative justice. Using a within- and between-subjects experimental design, this dissertation answered three main research questions. The first research question explored the effect of discipline conditions on student perceptions of the disciplinary decision. The second research question explored the effect of discipline conditions on student perceptions of social cohesion. Finally, the third research question explored the effect of discipline conditions on student perceptions of punishment in the criminal justice system. Findings revealed that: (1) restorative justice was associated with greater willingness to change behavior and greater agreement that the punishment was reasonable, relative to zero-tolerance; (2) restorative justice was related to greater feelings of social support and feelings of inclusion in the school community, relative to zero-tolerance; and (3) restorative justice was associated with greater agreement that punishment prevents crime and that wrongdoing deserves punishment, relative to zero-tolerance. Across all three research questions, perceptions of procedural justice of different authority emerged as an important mediator between the discipline conditions and the outcomes of interest. Taken together, this dissertation addresses the complexity of how different discipline approaches impact student perceptions of discipline and punishment as well as adds to the dearth of research regarding effective discipline policies in schools.