The Council of State Governments Justice Center recently published a new report sharing their findings from a study of South Carolina’s probation system and probation’s negative effect on student attendance. I asked the report’s author, Josh Weber, a few questions about the goals of the study and what he thinks it means for schools. I also asked his thoughts about the impact of distance learning in light of the recent news about young people being referred to law enforcement for not attending online classes.
What motivated the research behind this report? What were you hoping to better understand?
Nationwide, juvenile arrests and court referrals have declined substantially over the last decade, but referrals for truancy have remained largely stable and actually increased to over 60,000 in 2018. In addition, over 288,000 young people are placed on some form of probation every year, at least some of whom are placed under system supervision primarily due to concerns about their school attendance. Likewise, for almost all youth placed on probation, daily school attendance is a mandatory condition of their supervision, and youth can be incarcerated for their failure to comply.
We conducted this study because we felt that most jurisdictions were not questioning whether the use of the juvenile justice system to intervene in youth’s education in these ways is an effective approach. We wanted to understand whether being placed on probation actually led to improvements in youth’s school attendance.
What is the key takeaway for schools and educators? Is there something they should be doing differently? Continue reading
Earlier this week, we released a publication looking at the education opportunities provided to the thousands of young people detained in juvenile detention each year. We found that as a general rule, the poor quality of education provided in most of these institutions makes it even harder for young people to get back on track.
That said, we acknowledge the serious research limitations surrounding juvenile facilities, including little survey data and outdated information. We could not even determine conclusively how many young people are sent to juvenile detention centers each year. So it is extremely difficult to understand any one young person’s education experience in these centers, and nearly impossible to confidently identify those detention centers that are providing high-quality services to young people and achieving positive outcomes.
We spoke with Randy Farmer, a long-time educator working in a juvenile detention facility, to paint a more complete picture of what happens in these centers and identify the good work going on that cannot be captured in a national aggregate analysis. (We also spoke with Randy in January of 2018.) There are many educators and school leaders deeply devoted to serving this population of students, and they too are frustrated by the limitations and challenges to providing high-quality education in detention centers.
The conversation below has been edited for length and clarity.
Hailly: What is your high-level reaction to our newest report?
Randy: Generally speaking, the points you raise are spot on, but it’s really hard to talk about this very complicated issue, especially with an audience that might not be familiar with some of the challenges we face. There are important details that can be hard to see without working in a detention center and with these young people day in and day out. For example, it is not as though these young people just show up ready to learn and jump right back into a traditional school. They come with complex, often traumatic, personal histories, and many of them haven’t been going to school for years. Continue reading
It’s no surprise that conferences and convenings are often packed to the gills with sessions and speakers, making it difficult to go deep on any one issue.
But when I attended the 3rd annual Janet Reno Forum on Juvenile Justice last week, I expected the topic of education in juvenile justice facilities to get some airtime. I was disappointed that the event, held at at the Georgetown University Center for Juvenile Justice Reform (CJJR), largely overlooked the issue.
As Bellwether demonstrated in a report last year, academic programming at juvenile justice schools is wholly insufficient. For example, students in juvenile justice facilities have far less access to critical math and science courses necessary for high school graduation. Moreover, they have less access to credit recovery programs, which help them catch up if they’re behind. Next month we will release a follow-up analysis delving more deeply into the inadequacies and disparities in juvenile justice education.
As part of the event, the Center released a new report, “A Roadmap to the Ideal Juvenile Justice System,” which stresses eight key operating principles:
- Developmentally appropriate;
- Research-based, data-driven, and outcome-focused;
- Fair and equitable;
- Trauma-informed and responsive;
- Supportive of positive relationships and stability;
- Youth-and family-centered; and,
But as my colleague Hailly Korman has written, education has to be part of any juvenile justice system. Education is the best and most consistent through line for young people navigating a complex path through juvenile justice and other systems. While CJJR’s report offers an important approach, the success of reforms will be hampered if they do not address education in these facilities.
Nevertheless, several important themes emerged across the panels and discussions: Continue reading
Last week, Congress finally passed the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA). I wrote about this legislation two years ago as part of our ongoing work to improve education access and quality in juvenile justice facilities. Nearly 50,000 kids are attending school behind bars today, and most of them aren’t getting the kind of education experiences that will prepare them to return to their schools and communities ready to thrive.
My blog post talked about how JJDPA closes loopholes in ESSA and gaps in state statutes to improve the consistency and continuity of education opportunities for young people who are attending school in secure facilities:
The statute requires that juvenile justice agencies coordinate with education agencies so that education agencies can comply with their federal mandates . . . .This might sound straightforward — and it is — the important point is that it’s new.
I fully expect this statute to be signed by the President — but access isn’t enough. I hope that we then quickly move to the next step: ensuring that these education opportunities are actually good ones.
Amid recent fuss about the accuracy of the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights Data Collection, it’s important to look at how those data errors can meaningfully impact education experiences for young people for whom no other substantive national research exists: students attending school in secure juvenile justice facilities.
Approximately 50,000 young people are incarcerated in juvenile justice facilities across the country on any given day, and they are supposed to attend school while they are in custody. For many of these students, attending school in a secure facility is the first time they have engaged with school consistently in three to five years. Their school experience while in custody is their last best chance to change the trajectory of their lives.
The problem is we know very little about the quality of these educational opportunities.
The biannual data collection conducted by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is intended to be a comprehensive survey of education access in all schools in the country, and it now includes these juvenile justice schools. But our analysis from earlier this year found that states, and OCR at large, have not taken the responsibility for accurate reporting seriously. In fact, inconsistencies and incompleteness render the OCR data nearly meaningless. Alarmingly, the data still do not allow us to answer even the simplest question: How many students were enrolled in a juvenile justice school in 2013-14? Continue reading