Author Archives: Hailly Korman

Will Educators Lead Incarceration Reform?

Hundreds of thousands of people are released from state or federal prison every year, and nine million more leave local jails.  On the whole, very few people serve life sentences, and at least 95% of prisoners ultimately return home. 

In 2016, the Obama administration designated the last week of April as “National Reentry Week,” an attempt to bring public attention to the challenges facing people who return to their communities after incarceration. It doesn’t look like the Trump administration is upholding the designation — the Department of Justice’s site was archived — but last month, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos unexpectedly visited a youth correctional facility. There she spoke about the role that high-quality education programs play in supporting successful transitions back to community life.

It’s time that educators took the lead in creating substantive policies to support previously incarcerated people as they rejoin their communities. For young people, the move from a secure school back to a community-based program is a crucial moment when students are at risk of losing their earned course credits, experiencing barriers to enrollment, and dropping out entirely. I’ve recently shared data on the importance of this transition. And, for the first time in history, this moment is called out in federal education law: The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires states to develop plans to support that transition. And not only is it in the law,  it even made it into the final federal template:

Screenshot via U.S. Department of Education ESSA template.

While this is big, we should also recognize that progress could be bolder; this section will not be evaluated in the official peer review process, and the guidance says simply that it “will be reviewed by staff at the Department.”

And the news coming out of states suggests that they aren’t taking full advantage of this opportunity either. Of the plans submitted so far, most describe goals and strategies for transition plans that are cursory and vague (or both). One describes a committee that is planning to develop a plan. Another gives staffing levels that are woefully insufficient to meet the need — one transition specialist for an entire agency. Almost all describe a lack of good assessment tools to properly track achievement. Of course, doing something is better than nothing. But the problem has rarely been that states are truly doing nothing, it’s that what they are doing doesn’t work. Researchers estimate that upwards of 60 percent of young people who are incarcerated will never successfully return to school.

This opens a unique opportunity for state education advocates to push their education leaders to do more. DeVos’s visit, coupled with the explicit language in ESSA and in the federal template, suggests that this discussion — long relegated to the dusty corners of corrections reform — may have finally, firmly found a foothold in federal education policy.

We Need Real Education Transition Policies for Incarcerated Students

Last month, I gave testimony before the California Senate Education Committee on SB 304, a bill to define the required elements of an education transition plan for a student leaving a juvenile court school and returning to a community-based school. Current California law requires agencies to coordinate a transition plan but doesn’t specify what needs to be in that plan. Some jurisdictions have developed robust policies and practices supporting integrated service provision and continuous care, but many have not, leaving already marginalized students to fend for themselves when their education is disrupted.

The outcomes aren’t good: incarcerated ninth graders may eventually return to school in their communities but within a year of re-enrolling, an estimated two-thirds to three-fourths drop out. After four years, less than fifteen percent of them will complete high school. Aside from hurting these students’ lives and opportunities, this pattern destabilizes communities, creates a drag on our economy, and affects the outcomes for the next generation of young people.

This bill defines the elements of a transition plan, including the most basic expectations like a portfolio of documents that includes current transcripts and results of academic assessments. Conveniently, this bill aligns perfectly with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which now requires states to provide transition plans that assist students moving from correctional facilities to locally operated schools. Continue reading

Donald Trump, Public Education, and the Rise of the (New) New Federalists

donald-trump-1818950_1280Many of you might have woken up on November 9 (and perhaps each day thereafter) thinking to yourself “but Donald Trump can’t actually do that, can he?” As far as education goes, the answer is mostly “no, he can’t.” The federal executive branch cannot make binding education policy: it can only offer states funds in exchange for adopting preferred policies.

This is because thankfully there are structural limitations to the president’s power; in high school social studies we called them “checks and balances” and probably thought of them as quaint academic concepts. But these checks and balances — especially the intentional friction between the states and the federal government — will play a big role in education policymaking over the next four years.

Federalism is the name for the concept that the U.S. Constitution grants certain limited powers to the federal government and that all other powers are preserved by the states. Despite the possibly misleading name, it is the philosophy that constrains federal power and it is a fundamental principle of American government. And one of the most visible exercises of that state power is public education. (Others that will likely be very important over the next four years include policing and health care.) Continue reading

New Juvenile Justice Law Does a Lot for Students, But Not Enough

JJDPA is the Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention Act. After sitting for more than a decade without authorization, it passed the House last week and now moves on to the Senate.

Originating in the Education and Workforce Committee, it’s touted as a big progressive reform. And it is in fact, it does far more for young people who are incarceratstudent-1647136_1920ed than this year’s federal education package, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). There are reasons to cheer for the new statute, but it still doesn’t do enough to ensure that kids who are locked up have the high-quality education experiences that they need in order to return to their communities as productive participants.

The Committee factsheet lays out the four general sections of the bill:

  • provisions to ensure the continuity of young people’s education while incarcerated;
  • clear guidance and directions for states and localities on how to reduce racial and ethnic disparities among incarcerated youth;
  • better reporting of important juvenile justice metrics to the Office of Juvenile Jus
    tice and Delinquency Prevention;
  • and provisions to ensure accountability in the use of federal resources devoted to juvenile justice initiatives.

(Unrelated to education, it also refines and strengthens important protections for children detained in the juvenile and adult systems by clarifying a number of judicial and correctional regulations and procedures.)

That first bullet point: “provisions to ensure the continuity of young people’s education while incarcerated” is both promising and disappointing. In fact, this statute doesn’t do much more than most of us probably assumed was already a well-established minimum standard. Continue reading

The Black Lives Matter Education Platform Is Part of a Bigger Conversation

Last week, a collective of organizations engaged in the Black Lives Matter movement published two policy briefs (here and here) which together articulate an education platform. Although Black Lives Matter crystallized into a cultural force after several well-documented incidents of police violence, it has never been a single-issue movement. For many Americans, critical analyses of public schools have never lived very far away from conversations about racism, policing, and the fundamental role of government.BLM

In many education circles, these conversations became open and explicit with the introduction of  “school resource officers.” A school resource officer is an on-duty police officer assigned to a school campus. These positions ballooned after the Columbine tragedy, ostensibly to protect students in the event of another attempted school shooting. That hasn’t worked out as designed, and although there are stories of heroism, they’re dwarfed by the ongoing incidents of mass violence with student casualties. Unfortunately, the presence of school resource officers on campus has also meant that every discipline problem (even fake burping) can quickly escalate to an arrest.

And just like formal policing outside of the school gates, the unofficial policing of behavior on campus shows markers of racism and bias. Black students, both boys and girls, are disproportionately suspended and expelled. For a school, that might be the end of the story, but for a young person and their family, it’s likely just the latest in a series of disruptive encounters with agencies supposedly tasked with protecting and caring for them.

This new Black Lives Matter education platform acknowledges the central role that schools play in communities today and that they are woven into the fabric of families’ lives. Education, policing, and criminal justice are in constant interplay, and none of them function independently of the others. Some of the policy wonks among us might take issue with the particulars of the recommendations — and that’s fair — but the platform should be read in its intended context, and policy debates should be informed by an understanding of the complex relationships among these public agencies.