A new campaign to improve the quality of education in juvenile-justice facilities aims to help incarcerated students meet federal education requirements and form a network of administrators to share best practices in the field.
The National Collaboration Project—based at the college of criminology and criminal justice at Florida State University, in Tallahassee—has gathered data showing that many education programs for juvenile offenders need significant help in fulfilling their mandates under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
The law mandates the delivery of “best education” practices for delinquent youth to increase their chances of a successful transitions back into their community after release from juvenile justice institutions.
Nineteen states reported that they were unable to calculate whether students in such programs had achieved adequate yearly progress, according to data the project collected last year. Eighteen states reported collecting fewer than three measures of student outcomes, and 13 states claimed an exemption for, or indicated they did not know how to meet, the law’s requirement that teachers be highly qualified.
Thomas G. Blomberg, the project director and the dean of Florida State’s criminology college, said a national effort to address the particular challenges of juvenile-justice education is long overdue.
“The education of delinquent youths has never gotten much attention,” he said. “There is a general kind of benign neglect when it comes to this kind of population. It’s almost viewed in some circles as a disposable population.”
The national project, financed by a $500,000 federal grant, seeks to build on lessons learned from improvements in Florida’s schools for juvenile offenders through what is known as the Juvenile Justice Educational Enhancement Program.
The Florida state education department and Florida State’s criminology college started the JJEEP in 1998. The program has devised a data-management and accountability system for the state’s nearly 200 juvenile-justice schools, and helped establish a research-based approach to improving teaching and learning.
The educational oversight of juvenile offenders varies widely from state to state. In some states, youth or correctional agencies are responsible for the education of incarcerated youths, while in others the education department manages such facilities.
The national project is working to identify each state’s administrative structure for juvenile-justice education and to provide information on the requirements of the No Child Left Behind law. Ultimately, the project hopes to start a national association of juvenile-justice educational administrators and publish the first peer-reviewed journal for delinquency and education.
“Whenever you can zero in on what the best practices in the field are, then it’s a starting point,” said Dorothy Wodraska, a correctional education specialist and the director of federal education grant programs for the Arizona Supreme Court. “It will be very valuable to have baseline data and to know what’s working.”
In Arizona, the state supreme court oversees 14 juvenile-detention schools by working closely with local superintendents and juvenile judges. A key challenge, Ms. Wodraska said, is to help students with a range of academic and social problems return to the public schools, where “zero tolerance” disciplinary policies and high-stakes exams have made some schools hesitant to welcome adjudicated students.
“The regular school system is not serving them the way they need to be served,” she said. “There is a push-out problem and a keep-out problem. The schools are overwhelmed already, and once these students get labeled a ‘systems kid,’ they have a hard time.”