The State of Peer Mediation 2011: Survey Results
"If all the statisticians in the world were laid head to toe, they wouldn't be able to reach a conclusion." Anonymous
It was great to receive so many responses to the "State of Peer Mediation 2011" Survey.
Ninety-nine people responded, about 4% of The School Mediator's subscribers.
Respondents represent a fairly wide geographic range: they live in 25 different US states and 8 countries.* About 4/5 of respondents are based in the US, and 29% percent of the total live and work in Massachusetts, where School Mediation Associates is based.
Respondents could choose more than one descriptor for their role. About half say they coordinate a peer mediation program. Half also note that they train peer mediators, either in the school in which they are based, or on behalf of an outside consulting organization.
|Age of Responding Programs (in years)
Poring over the survey results these past months has given me a new appreciation for the difficult work of quantitative researchers.
Caution is warranted in drawing conclusions from this survey, in part because respondents don't represent a "scientific" sample--a group that is randomly selected from a target population. We simply heard from whoever chose to respond.
My hunch is that those who participated in the survey were a more positive group than a scientific sample might produce: those whose programs have died might no longer be responding to (or even reading) this newsletter.
We received many responses from within School Mediation Associates' home state of Massachusetts, and so we have the most comprehensive sample, and perhaps the most accurate understanding of what's happening, in this region. As you'll see below, it is not very pretty.
A few clear themes emerged from the responses. The most consistent is that it is harder than ever for respondents to maintain peer mediation programs in their schools. Some wrote that their peer mediation programs have closed altogether; many more say their efforts face an uncertain future.
The reason most often cited for this is a lack of funding:
Funding discontinued and no new funding for foreseeable future
Lack of funds is the major concern for peer mediation in my state. Schools that have the same personnel and a strong program manage to continue. But changes in staff often mean the demise of a program.
This year (my state) is experiencing a huge reduction of school funding, which has led to staff reductions, which has forced the leadership to focus on other priorities, none of which is peer mediation.
Changes from the US Dept. of Education in funding for Safe Schools has meant that funding is no longer available for training/support for individual schools.
Programs like peer mediation are now a luxury item.
Of course, this is not surprising, and it is certainly consistent with what I have experienced here in Massachusetts.
Despite this clear challenge, I was surprised by how optimistic many respondents were about the future of their programs. Almost 40% reported that next year they think their program will be stronger than this year.
Interestingly, optimism was most often expressed by those whose peer mediation programs were less than five years old.
|Will Your Program Be Stronger Next Year (in %)
This contrasts rather sharply with the more pessimistic outlook expressed by those who have been associated with peer mediation for over ten years. These educators--who perhaps remember the headier days of the 1990's--report their efforts are much less robust, and see the future as uncertain at best:
Given the many other priorities that educators need to focus on, interest in peer mediation programs is slowly dying in a lot of local schools.
I can't help but ask the same question I've asked regarding community mediation (my main connection): Why hasn't peer mediation caught on in 25 years? Is this just a good experiment that won't go farther? Should we toss in the towel?
This work is falling apart at the seams. I train with the largest and oldest peer mediation company in [my country]. I have seen it rise and then collapse in 2008. Now we are literally struggling to survive, cut back from 40 trainers to 3! And that's just us...it's a very sad situation.
And talk about pessimism: The responses from Massachusetts were the most gloomy of all. Almost 60% reported that their peer mediation efforts were weaker this year than last, and 45% thought they would be even worse next year!
I honestly don't know how to interpret the Massachusetts data, the largest segment of responses (30%) that we received. Are there conditions unique to this state? If we had received a similar number of responses from another US state, would we have heard the same pessimistic outlook?
I know that schools in Massachusetts relied heavily upon the recently eliminated SDFS federal funding to support their peer mediation programs. Did other states not rely so heavily on these funds? Are there more schools with peer mediation programs here than in other states? It is impossible to know without more research.
There were hopeful comments, with some people expressing strong and continued commitment to peer mediation:
I believe that we need to continue to value this as an asset and not a liability. We have proven that peer mediation saves schools money and time. We need to continue to publicize this.
In my professional experience as a high school teacher and administrator, coordinating the peer mediation program has been the most gratifying experience I have had. Guiding and observing students who provide authentic service to their peers by resolving conflicts, as they practice the very practical and invaluable skills of mediation, has been so satisfying. I am on the constant lookout for ways to sustain our mediation efforts at our school.
A significant number of respondents mentioned the attention that the issue of bullying is currently receiving. There were divergent opinions, however, regarding the impact this attention is having upon peer mediation. Some expressed frustration that the focus on bullying has hurt their peer mediation efforts:
I am tired of hearing [our local anti-bullying expert] put mediation down!
Peer mediation does NOT seem to be growing. The focus is on bullying.
The focus here is on anti-bullying. Information that conflict resolution and mediation should not be used in bullying situations has hurt peer mediation programs (even though I think conflict resolution education broadly is a deterrent to bullying).
I am worried about peer mediation after talking with colleagues. Many fear the new anti-bullying legislation in my state. They are afraid to send referrals to mediation in case they are actually a bullying issue.
Conversely, many wrote that the attention that bullying has received has led to greater sensitivity to student conflict in general, which in turn has led to more referrals to peer mediation:
Our mediation program is stronger as it is a part of our bullying program. After the investigation of a bullying report, mediation can be an alternative if it is decided that the incident was more of a conflict and not bullying.
In our state, anti-bullying work has tied in with peer mediation, not so much as a way to deal with actual bullying but in terms of improving school climate.
Peer mediation is a long standing part of our school culture: students self-refer, and administrators depends on it due to the constant flow of student conflict. The recent anti-bullying law has given administrators additional incentive to retain the program. They believe peer mediation may prevent bullying.
So many bullying behaviors could be interrupted and stopped before they escalate to bullying with excellent conflict resolution programs in our schools.
It is worth noting that many of the comments offered by respondents concern the standard challenges of peer mediation program implementation, and were not directly related to the current state of affairs. Their good advice would be useful to anyone initiating a program, whether now or 20 years ago:
The success of a program like peer mediation appears most dependent on the advocacy, commitment and passion of the person running the program.
Weekly marketing of the peer mediation program is key!
If the administration is committed to conflict resolution and peer mediation, then magic can happen as the teachers follow! Without this staff support it is a struggle for anyone to start and maintain a program!
Finally, about 8% of respondents mentioned restorative practices, whether as something that was important to integrate with peer mediation, or as a new effort that is reducing enthusiasm for it:
I also think that broadening our school-based mediation programs to include restorative justice practices (such as victim-offender mediation or other practices) would serve our schools well.
What is making our program work? Our system's priority on restorative practices being implemented across our board, staff enthusiasm, and the reduction of office referrals, especially during recess periods.
I see a sad diminishing of peer mediation, but some support for restorative justice circles led by adults.
Peer Mediation is part of a general push towards Restorative approaches in all schools in my region.
So that is that. Difficult news, overall, though it is a complex picture.
Not long ago I believed that a day would come when, just as most schools have a guidance counselor, most schools would have peer mediation efforts.
It certainly seemed likely: Peer mediation has a clear positive impact on students and their schools, there was ample research to prove it, and the educational establishment had demonstrated its support by funding the work.
But today, my guess is that there are fewer students mediating in schools than at any time in the past 15 years.
We have taken a step backwards.
Certainly peer mediation is not going away. Despite the current grey clouds, new efforts are being initiated in schools around the world every week.
There are hundreds if not thousands of experienced educators who know the power and utility of this work in their bones, and who will find a way to maintain their peer mediation programs in spite of the current challenges.
When this movement will recover, however, is an open question. With the global economy as bad as it is, it might not be in the short term.
But things will turn our way again.
And so we push on...
Please share your thoughts about the survey results. We can all learn from you...
For those of you who didn't see it, the survey is here.
*US States represented: AK, CA, CO, CT, DC, FL, HI, IL, MA, ME, MD, MI, MO, NC, NH, NJ, NM, NY, OR, PA, TN, TX, VA, VT, WI. Countries represented: Canada, Latvia, Netherlands, Norway, Onondaga Nation, Scotland, Uganda, United Kingdom, United States