#MTBoS30- Day 15

My insight on the juvenile-justice system…

Andrew Gael (@bkdidact) got me thinking yesterday with this tweet:


He threw out a few more tweets from Atlantic Education, so I went to the web.  David Domenici was speaking at Education Summit 2016 about learning behind bars.  While I hope the feed from his talk will be posted sometime soon, the 3rd hit on my search was an article from Education Week entitled: Juvenile-Justice System Not Meeting Educational Needs.  Reading through this article was difficult, I started my job working at a juvenile center only 2 years ago and I have worked hard to bring a “regular education” classroom environment to my building.  I know there are problems within the system as a whole, I just was hit once again with the negative scrutiny teachers have had- only this time from a direction I did not expect.

I need to describe my situation (what I can) in regards to some of the comments suggested by the article, and I will also read the full research report the article was based off- Just Learning: The Imperative to Transform Juvenile Justice Systems Into Effective Educational Systems.  I plan on blogging a reaction to that later.

[The report] found a lack of timely, accurate assessments of the needs of students entering the system, little coordination between learning and teaching during a student’s stay, and inconsistency in curricula.  Many of the teaching methods were also inappropriate, outdated, our inadequate, and little or no educational technology was used.

As teachers we need to have a thick skin, but this was a total slap in the face.  I take my profession very seriously, I hold myself to high standards, and I respect the school and program we have here.  It is crushing to have generalized statements like this published world-wide, it is forming perceptions that- while may be true for many centers- it doesn’t define my building, my teaching, my students.  It’s hard not to take things like this personal.

Accurate assessments- when I read a general statement such as this I cringe.  What type of assessment are we talking about her?  Academic?  Special Services?  What do you mean by accurate?

For our building we test every student who come into our door within 1 to 2 days.  They take the STAR Math and Reading test.  While I may not agree that this is the best type of assessment, it does provide a baseline for student knowledge.  I do not agree with the STAR Math “placement”, but I do look at student domain scores on strands.  This is our academic assessment.  For our special service assessments, we receive individual IEP’s from the student’s home district.  If they don’t have those, many of our students are placed here for a 35 day evaluation.  We have 2 at least social, academic and behavioral reports to fill out on those students during that time.  We perform IEP re-evaluations and testing.  Our center is on top of assessments.

Little coordination between learning and teaching- Wow, I assess in some form every day, and that assessment drives my planning for the next.  My lessons are planned for student engagement, and plans for multiple opportunities learn through individual, small group and whole group activities.  While students come in anywhere within my planned units, I take extra time to scaffold and support those students.

Inconsistency in curricula- This is the only phrase I find true in this quote.  With having so many students from anywhere within the state of Minnesota, it is impossible for me to have resources from every student’s home school.  We use curriculum that our district does.  This is not a new concept- every district has it’s own.  I am just not sure why they have to present it in this manner- it makes it appear like there isn’t an instructional plan in place.

Teaching methods- Since I am back in school for my Master’s in Special Education- Students with Learning Disabilities, I feel that I am still in contact with what current best instructional practices are.  I am also connected with my National and State Mathematics Councils, as well as active through social media.

Educational Technology- It is true that my student’s have extremely limited internet access (because of legal purposes), but I do use technology whenever I can.  I also teach a robotics class where we are fortunate to have the LEGO Education Mindstorms EV3 Packs.  We get tech.

We need to help find ways to create structures and dramatically change how schools and principals and teachers [in juvenile-justice systems] are held accountable.”

This is a statement I can’t agree with more.  I still have not received a straight answer on how our school is held accountable for AYP, but it is not fair to our district overall.  We have students who are here for truancy- they haven’t been to school for a couple of years.  They are sent here for evaluations and to determine what placement they will have.  While here, I work hard to meet the student where their educational needs are.  During that time, we have our state assessments.  While one may think that our school shouldn’t be held accountable for students we have for a day, a week or even a month- we are.  We need to wake up to the fact that our students are transient now, if they fail or are expelled or get into too much trouble with grades or behaviors- they switch districts.  Changing schools creates learning gaps that become compounded with each jump.  I have known students who have attended 7 or more different schools within one year.  How do you determine which school is accountable for that student’s state assessment score?  I have students for a half a day, a week, a month.  I can show how my student has grown while they are here, but how am I able to ensure my student is meeting state standards?  With a volatile population like this, how is it fair to our district overall to always be flagged as not meeting our goals?  There needs to be some long and tough conversations on this.

We can transform their perspective on school.  But the reality is, education has been forgotten.”

Totally false.  Education is NEVER forgotten within my classroom.  I work hard every day to help these students grow and strengthen their mathematical skills.  The perspective of students when they walk through my door the first day is that they will do word searches or watch movies- which is FAR from the case.  Many students have told me- “This is like regular school!”  It is, I don’t treat my job different in that regard because I work at a juvenile center.  If anything, I change their perspective on what expectations are held, I raise that bar.  Education is far from forgotten.

Fewer than half of “long term” students (enrolled for at least 90 days) earned one or more course credits while attending juvenile-justice schools.  Only 25 percent of those students were on track to re-enter public schools.

Once again, this is a lot of smoke and mirrors.  Three months would be a quarter for school.  As such, students would receive .25 credits for any class they took here.  For my unit, we record a hourly total for students while they attend classes.  This statement is misleading.  There is no way a student would attain a full credit for a class within that time frame in a regular education setting.  The other barrier is that while we report how long students have been with us to their home district, how that is interpreted into their graduation standards is up to them, not us.  Many school districts feel that our courses are not rigorous and refuse to assign credits to their work.  Other districts have no idea on how we assign grades and work so they throw out the records we send.  That is not our failing entirely- there needs to be better communication between school to solidify this (although this same thing happens when college students transfer, is there outrage to this?).

Only 25% are on track, like I have stated before- our students are here for truancy or have been “school shopping” for most of their educational careers, they are behind before they enter our program, there is no way we would be able to “catch them up” within a normal school day.  Students would have to extend the hours they attend academic classes.

This is turning out to be longer than I anticipated, I’ll address issues from page 2 of the article tomorrow…

2 thoughts on “#MTBoS30- Day 15

  1. Wow. Thanks for taking the time to reply to the article. I can’t really imagine teaching in the situation you are in; that sounds like the ultimate challenge (but with the potential for some really rewarding moments along the way). It also seems like differentiated instruction taken to the nth degree. I’m in awe of what you do. Keep up the great work and positive energy!

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