Blog: schools

Promise Unfulfilled: Juvenile Justice in America

In partnership with several juvenile justice advocates around the country, Cathryn Crawford, a national expert in juvenile and criminal justice, has edited a new book entitled "Promise Unfulfilled: Juvenile Justice in America" (IDEA 2012).
Through a combination of original and reprinted articles written by academics, lawyers, and advocates, “Promise Unfulfilled” addresses the problems with designing and implementing effective systems to deal with children in conflict with the law, and it describes various challenges children in the juvenile justice system face and offers suggestions for reform.
The authors include James Bell, Founder and Director of the W. Haywood Burns Institute, who wrote on the over-incarceration of youth of color; Jacqueline Bullard, an appellate defender in Illinois, who wrote on best interest versus expressed interest representation of minors in delinquency court; and Neelum Arya (Barry Law, Campaign for Youth Justice) who wrote on state legislative victories from 2005-2010 in the area of removing youth from the adult criminal justice system. I have a chapter that is adapted from my article, Culture Clash: The Challenge of Lawyering Across Difference in Juvenile Court, 62 Rutgers L. Rev. 959 (2010). There are also chapters on the school-to-prison pipeline, addressing the mental health needs of juveniles, and best practices for working with girls in the delinquency system.

The Dramatic Effects of Chronic Absenteeism

You have to be in school to do well in school. This is the primary takeaway from the recently released report, titled "The Importance of Being There: A Report on Absenteeism in the Nation's Public Schools," authored by Robert Balfanz and Vaughan Byrnes. Balfanz and Byrnes estimate that between 5 and 7.5 million students are not attending school regularly. This means up to 7.5 million students miss ten percent or more of the school year or missed over a month of school days during the previous school year.
The data collected in this report shows that one group in particular is more vulnerable to becoming chronically absent. While gender and location did not play substantial roles in the rates of chronic absenteeism, poverty impacted chronic absenteeism more than any other characteristic. Not only are children living in poverty the most likely students to become chronically absent, but those are also the children who benefit most from education, as education is one of the most effective strategies to provide a path out of poverty.

Helping Youth Feel Safe, Cared For Key to Breaking School-to-Prison Pipeline

Editor's note: This story is part of a 10-part investigative series: Lessening the impact of incarceration in Oakland.
Nick Smith was shuttled from high school to high school in recent years, whenever a relative died or was shot.
When his mother died of cancer three years ago he moved from San Ramon Valley High School to San Leandro High so he could live with his older brother. When his brother was shot and killed, he moved to Oakland to live with another brother. By the time he got to Oakland Technical High School his senior year, he discovered he hadn't taken enough core academic courses to graduate. Nobody had counseled him to take the right classes; indeed he did not have any adult in his life he could turn to for advice.
“Teachers can’t interpret a student’s situation," Smith said of what it was like to be in school during all the rocky and sad events of the past few years. "They didn’t know what was going on.”
Adding to the wounds, staff at some of the high schools did not seem to expect much from him or care one way or another what happened to him.

Beating the School-to-Prison Pipeline by Focusing on Truancy, Absenteeism

Editor's note: This story is part of a 10-part investigative series: Lessening the impact of incarceration in Oakland.
Judge Gloria Rhynes leveled with the young Oakland mother whose third grader had missed two months of school.
"Did you know, the California Department of Corrections looks at who is absent in the third grade to figure out how many prison cells they are going to need when those children are adults?" Judge Rhynes, an Alameda County Superior Court judge, asked her as the mother’s case was heard in Truancy Court one morning in early May.
"The correlation is that strong," between missing school in the elementary years and winding up in jail, she said, between not learning third grade skills of reading and multiplication to falling so far behind in middle school that by high school the student drops out, the Judge continued. "I just convicted a 19-year old to 30 years to life. Do you think he had an education? Heck no."
Two out of three kids who drop out of Oakland public schools come into contact with the criminal justice system, according to an Oakland Unified School District report. And the dropout rate is 37 percent among Oakland public high school students. In some of Oakland's poorest neighborhoods, more than half of high school students do not graduate.

TONIGHT: NBC Profiles Maya Angelou Academy, School Inside Juvenile Correctional Facility

Tonight, on Rock Center with Brian Williams, correspondent Chelsea Clinton goes inside the Maya Angelou Academy, the school located within the District of Columbia's long-term youth correctional facility. Here's a preview clip:

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From the clip's description:

It’s Just a Bad Egg, Throw it Away

A carton comes with 12 eggs, so what’s the big deal to just toss the bad one? There are 11 left.
If only everything was that easy.
Yesterday, Advancement Project, along with partners the Gay-Straight Alliance Network, and the Alliance for Educational Justice released a policy paper titled, Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right: Why Zero Tolerance is Not the Solution to Bullying. The Advancement Project works to eliminate the overuse of harsh discipline policies in schools. In compliment of this release, Advancement Project and the Gay-Straight Alliance Network hosted a Twitter town hall.
So, what happened?

SAMHSA Releases New Toolkit on Suicide Prevention in High Schools

Suicide is one of the nation’s greatest public health problems – but it is also completely preventable. If all of us work together in an effort to reach out and help those at risk we can prevent the needless devastation suicide brings to individuals, loved ones and communities across the nation.
In order to provide practical help in this effort the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has developed a new toolkit entitled Preventing Suicide: A Toolkit for High Schools. The toolkit aims at reducing the risk of suicide among high school students by providing research-based guidelines and resources to assist school administrators, principals, mental health professionals, health educators, guidance counselors, nurses, student services coordinators, teachers and others identify teenagers at risk and take appropriate measures to provide help.
The tool kit offers information on screening tools, warning signs and risk factors of suicide, statistics, and parent education materials.

Join the 6/26 Twitter Chat on Bullying

On Tuesday, June 26th, the Advancement Project, Gay-Straight Alliance Network and the Alliance for Educational Justice are hosting a Twitter chat on bullying. In particular, they will explore strategies that schools can take to end bullying. They will also discuss zero-tolerance and school-to-prison pipeline policies.
The three organizations are also releasing a policy report on bullying and zero-tolerance disciplinary measures.
To join the conversation, use the #bullychat hashtag on Twitter and RSVP on Facebook for the opportunity to submit questions ahead of time.

Disruptive Behavior Sends Students to Court Instead of Principal's Office

Actions that once sent students to the principal’s office to be handled by teachers and faculty are now getting Massachusetts students pulled from school entirely and sent to juvenile court in handcuffs, according to a recent report by Citizens for Juvenile Justice. Research shows that police officers are increasingly stepping in to handle behavior such as foul language, hallway misconduct and disrupting public assemblies, which has led to a significant spike in student arrests.
Data from Springfield, Boston and Worcester, three of Massachusetts’s largest school districts, shows children as young as 11 were subject to arrest and were faced with criminal records for minor offenses during the 2007-08, 2008-09 and 2009-10 school years. Although students should be held accountable for their actions, using police and court resources instead of existing school disciplinary practices could pose severe consequences for their future. One alarming statistic noted by the report states that, “students who are arrested at school are three times more likely to drop out than those who are not.”
Criminalizing children for these minor offenses not only limits their educational and career opportunities, but it is also costly for schools and taxpayers. Springfield schools have armed officers permanently stationed at selected schools for the entire duration of the school day, contributing to a hefty payroll percentage that could be spent on staff leadership and disciplinary training.

Who Are the True 'Failures' in America's School System?

Like most teachers I've gotten some praise from my high school students over my 26 years of teaching -- a lesson "wasn't bad," or a particular class was "sorta interesting." I've even been told that I was a "pretty good teacher." High praise coming from teenagers.
But the truth is I wasn't a "good teacher." I was a "failure," at least according to America's "education reformers" -- that "odd coalition of corporate-friendly Democrats, right-wing Republicans, Tea Party governors, Wall Street executives, and major foundations" as Diane Ravitch aptly defines them -- because the kids I taught consistently lagged behind their peers in every measure, performing well below grade level, failing state standardized tests.
Given the present state of teacher evaluations, with a significant portion allotted to student performance on mandated tests, I'd be in big trouble if I hadn't left teaching recently. I certainly wouldn't get any bonus pay. If it were up to the Obama Administration I might not even have a job, since I would be one of those teachers who, as the president noted in his 2012 State of the Union address, "just aren't helping kids." And if I still taught in New York I'd be facing the prospect of having my name and ratings published in newspapers and on the internet if the legislature gets its way in what the New York State Union of Teachers called the "name/shame/blame game."
But I know that I wasn't a "failure," and more importantly, that the hundreds of kids I've taught weren't either. My students were mostly young people of color, living in neighborhoods and families destroyed by poverty and substance abuse, racism and violence, physical and sexual abuse. Overall, life -- shaped by their mistakes and by conditions they couldn't control -- left them little time for, or interest in education. Frequently that lack of time and interest led to trouble which led to repeated suspensions, expulsions and in some cases, incarceration. But sometimes trouble translated into being placed in a small community alternative high school or the jailhouse classroom in the county penitentiary, both places I taught in.

Topics: No bio box, schools

Covering the Juvenile Justice System: Kids Behind Bars, the Role of the Media and More

Our friends at the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange (JJIE) spent this week at the Kids Behind Bars: Where's the Justice in America's Juvenile Justice System? conference in New York, discussing the juvenile justice system and the role of the media in reporting facts (good) and sensationalizing stories (bad). 
Their takeaways are relevant for journalists and bloggers but also for readers of this blog, many of whom work with(in) the juvenile system. During day 1 of the John Jay Symposium, speakers discussed:

  • the now discounted superpredator theory from the 1990s and the role of the press in perpetuating it
  • research findings showing that the human brain does not reach full maturity until the mid-20s
  • the importance of mentoring
  • disproportionate minority contact
  • school discipline policies
  • juvenile justice reform efforts

School Discipline: When Should Law Enforcement Step In?

This week, several schools and districts are grappling with the issue of when—if ever—it is appropriate for police officers to get involved with school discipline issues.
The Albuquerque school district, for example, is currently the defendant in a class action lawsuit over referring students to law enforcement for allegedly minor offenses. When a student was talking to her friend and refused to return to her seat, her teacher called the police.
In contrast, a Georgia six-year-old throwing a violent tantrum—which included destruction of property and assault, according to published reports—was arrested and taken away in a police cruiser. She was also put in handcuffs while in the cruiser, according to standard department policy, but to the outrage of many.

JMATE 2012: Recovery Schools

Across the country, substance abusing teens are dropping out of high school at alarming rates. But a recovery high school in downtown Boston is targeting youth in recovery with great success. At a JMATE 2012 panel on recovery schools, a staff member from Ostiguy Recovery School spoke about the differences between a recovery school and a regular school. At Ostiguy Recovery School:

  • Students receive recovery support and counseling in addition to math and science
  • Students lead their own sobriety groups which empowers them to take control of their lives
  • Students WANT to be there (this is not a mandated rehab program)
  • Students outreach at area schools to let troubled students know there is another option 

Suspensions, Expulsions Mask the True Issue

Recently, the U.S. Department of Education released a study documenting disproportionality in rates of suspensions and expulsions in public schools across the United States.
The report, which covered 72,000 schools across the United States, states that African-Americans only make up 18 percent of youth at the studied schools, but 35 percent of students suspended once and 39 percent of those expelled.
These findings mirror one aspect of a Texas study released last year, which found that African-American students in Texas were 31 percent more likely to be disciplined in school, at least once, than otherwise identical Caucasian or Hispanic students.
Jason Riley of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board looked at these findings and deduced that this highlights the need for increased school choice. Just as importantly, it highlights another education reform priority – the overcriminalization of students of all races.
As zero tolerance policies have increased in both scope and consequences (now covering fish oil dietary supplements, asthma inhalers, oregano, and butter knives), more and more minor misbehavior spurs referrals to the justice system or triggers suspensions, when it previously would have been handled through parental involvement or traditional disciplinary methods, such as a visit to the principal’s office, after-school detention, or requiring the student to perform school or community service.

Bullying, Substance Abuse and Where to Go From Here

Sticks and stones may break bones, but mean words and taunts are proving to be harmful as well. Every day, kids across the country are bullied at school. Not only does this behavior make it difficult for them to learn, but in some cases, students skip school from fear of being bullied. 
Last year, the White House elevated this issue by holding a bullying prevention summit to provide resources for schools. And recently, pop sensation Lady Gaga launched the Born This Way Foundation to empower teens to be nicer and more accepting of each other. "The victim and the bully are both going through mental turmoil," noted Gaga at the launch event. "Don't just save the victim, save the bully."
Gaga may be onto something. A new study published in Addictive Behaviors, found that bullies are more likely to use alcohol, drugs and cigarettes than non-bullies. And four out of five youth arrests either involve substance use, are committed while under the influence, or the kid later admits to having a substance abuse problem.
So where do we go from here?

Black Students Face More Discipline in Schools

New data from the Department of Education finds that black males face much harsher discipline in public schools than other students. These findings validate what many activists have been saying for awhile: that there is increasingly a school-to-prison pipeline for students of color.
From the New York Times

Although black students made up only 18 percent of those enrolled in the schools sampled, they accounted for 35 percent of those suspended once, 46 percent of those suspended more than once and 39 percent of all expulsions, according to the Civil Rights Data Collection’s 2009-10 statistics from 72,000 schools in 7,000 districts, serving about 85 percent of the nation’s students. The data covered students from kindergarten age through high school.
One in five black boys and more than one in 10 black girls received an out-of-school suspension. Over all, black students were three and a half times as likely to be suspended or expelled than their white peers.
And in districts that reported expulsions under zero-tolerance policies, Hispanic and black students represent 45 percent of the student body, but 56 percent of those expelled under such policies.
“Education is the civil rights of our generation,” said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, in a telephone briefing with reporters on Monday. “The undeniable truth is that the everyday education experience for too many students of color violates the principle of equity at the heart of the American promise.”

National School Counseling Week

It's National School Counseling Week so let's take a moment to thank our school counselors for their efforts in helping students achieve school success and plan for a career. 
From the California Department of Education:

This special week honors school counselors for the important role they play in helping students examine their talents, strengths, abilities, and interests. Counselors work in professional partnerships with teachers and support personnel to provide an educational system where students can realize their true potential. As all educators focus their efforts on improving academic achievement for all students, it is important that we recognize school counselors for their continuing efforts in reducing barriers to learning and in providing the support necessary for all students to achieve at the highest level.

Topics: No bio box, schools

The Need for Developmental Competence for Adults working with Youth

A New Mexico federal court judge recently received a complaint citing the following facts: a 13-year-old boy repeatedly belched in class. While this was amusing to his pals, the teacher found it disruptive.
Unable to get the 13-year-old to stop, the teacher called the school resource officer. The officer refused to arrest the boy for belching, but the teacher insisted. The officer arrested the boy.
The media indicted the officer. The boy, fearing the loss of his status as a nationally ranked baseball player, fell apart. The mother removed her son from the school.
This lose-lose scenario is not unusual. At Strategies for Youth (SFY), an advocacy and training organization dedicated to improving police/youth interactions, we hear of such cases two or three times a week.
For the adults involved, the result is frustration and defensiveness; for the youth involved, the result is trauma and distrust and the dangerous lesson that “might makes right.”
Some incidents are resolved in court; many receive big headlines but little follow-up in the media. There are often calls for investigation, questions about racial bias, and further entrenchment of adversarial attitudes that lead to expensive and usually unhelpful extensions of anguish for most of, if not all, the parties involved.
We can do better.