National / International News

How to improve education for juvenile offenders

Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-02-25 08:00

On any given day, 60,000 kids are in secure juvenile justice facilities around the country. Thousands more pass through the system each year. Many of these kids are already failing in school — or are far behind when they come into the system — and many end up in even worse shape academically when they leave.  

Late last year, the Department of Education and Department of Justice issued guidance urging states to make education a top priority for kids who are locked up. David Domenici directs the non-profit Center for Educational Excellence in Alternative Settings. He spoke to Marketplace's senior education and technology reporter, Adriene Hill. 

Adriene Hill: Why is the federal government making education in juvenile facilities a priority now?

David DominiciA lot of people in the country are starting to question our criminal justice system, why are so many people locked up … and without giving them some chance to be successful when they return, isn't that sort of morally wrong, and isn't just economically stupid? The juvenile justice system is a part of that awakening.

AH: What kinds of changes are we talking about?

DD: Most important, the federal government wants kids who are locked up to have the same sort of educational opportunities that their non-incarcerated peers do.

President Obama has made it really clear through his My Brother’s Keeper initiative and otherwise he and the federal government care about kids of color, and poor kids of all races, and we can’t forget about them and throw them away. An overwhelming disproportionate number of kids of color are locked up.

AH: Why are so many facilities doing a poor job when it comes to education?

DD: In about half the facilities, the agency itself runs its own education program, and in some cases that works well. But in many cases they are large human services bureaucracies, they don’t have systems in place the educational reform movement has shown are critical to making schools work, so there are no standards for what high-performing schools look like.

Many teachers under those systems aren't held accountable to the same teacher evaluation standards that the states have put out, same with the principals. The system is an amorphous blob inside of a youth service agency or corrections agency.

The other half are run by local school districts … and in some places, like Utah, that works great because the school districts really care, and the state office of education is really on them, so it’s a great team. But in other cases it doesn't work, because you’re running this big school district … it’s just nearly impossible for you to prioritize what goes on in those little schools. So who ends up there mostly? Your worst teachers.

AH: What would it cost to improve education in secure facilities?

DD: Money is really important, but it’s not necessarily the key issue. The way we hold ourselves accountable so we can deliver these kids the education they need, that doesn't necessarily require more money, it requires a radical change in philosophy. You have to approach this saying, ‘I believe this 16-year-old deserves a great education, the same education my teenager gets or the neighbor’s teenager gets.’ That’s about everybody walking into the building, putting everything aside, and saying, ‘My No. 1 job is to help this kid get a really terrific education.’ That dollar investment produces many-fold times its cost when that kid goes out and gets his high school diploma.

AH: How do you balance educational improvements with safety and security?

DD: It is a totally artificial construct to say, ‘We can either give kids the high-quality, high-engagement individualized education, or keep places safe and secure.’ It’s a totally false dynamic.

The safest, most secure facilities in the country are the ones that have thoughtful, pro-social disciplinary practices that are built around positive youth development and not built around punitive discipline practices, that almost inevitably lead you to break the law around special education law.

What is not a technology solution is to take young people who are already behind and stick them at a computer and tell them to use a very non-robust online curriculum for six hours a day, where they … don’t learn anything. Technology can be an incredible lever that supports the transformation of education in youth facilities. It isn't the answer alone.

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More than a quarter of students who started at a community college in 2008 earned a degree from a different school within six years, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.

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Marketplace - American Public Media - Wed, 2015-02-25 07:31

The largest industrial park in the world probably doesn’t look the way you might expect.

Occupying an abandoned mine 100 feet below Kansas City, Missouri, SubTropolis is host to an assortment of businesses, and still boasts room for more. It’s currently home to 52 tenants who take up almost as much floor space as in the Pentagon.

Nate Bunnyfield/Flickr

Carved from 270-million-year-old limestone deposits, businesses flocked to the cavernous work space when it opened in 1964. They were attracted to its consistent temperature (68 degrees), low rent (about $2.25 per square foot) and for its almost vault-like security.

“The walls are carved out of limestone deposits and they’re not polished to a sheen by any means, so it’s certainly a rough-hewn working environment. On the other hand, if you are renting warehouse space, you know, you’re not looking for the finest of finishes,” Bloomber Business reporter Patrick Clark says.

Clark profiled the space in a recent Bloomberg article. Tenants include the U.S. Postal Service, companies storing film, and cheese distributors.

Meanwhile, two of the more peculiar events held in SubTropolis are the 10K and 5K races that have taken place for the past 33 years.

Clark says, “I think 4,500 people were down there. Come on, wouldn’t you go for a run down there? I think it’s about the only thing that would get me to run a 10K road race.”

Though SubTropolis currently hosts 6 million square feet of businesses, Clark says there's still about 8 million square feet left to develop — that’s nearly 10 times the floor area of Kansas City’s tallest building.

Americasroof/Wikipedia

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