New Education Report Finds Youth Are Out of Sight and Out of Mind in California’s Juvenile Court Schools
New Education Report From Youth Law Center Finds Youth Are Out of Sight and Out of Mind in California’s Juvenile Court Schools.
Out of Sight, Out of Mind: How California’s Education Data & Accountability Systems Fail Youth in Juvenile Court Schools, shares recommendations to create accountability for educational outcomes of youth attending California juvenile court schools.
SAN FRANCISCO – Children and youth in California and throughout the United States are often mistreated by the systems that are supposed to protect and rehabilitate them. These children and youth are too often forgotten, neglected, criminalized, and dismissed. Since 1978, the Youth Law Center in San Francisco has been using the law as a tool to fight for the rights of children and youth in the foster care and juvenile justice systems across the country.
In Out of Sight, Out of Mind, a new report released today, the Youth Law Center examines how California’s education data and accountability systems are failing youth in juvenile court schools. This report is a follow-up to Youth Law Center’s 2016 Educational Injustice report that found some court schools and probation departments in California failed to adequately provide the most basic level of education to the youth in their care. While both reports address the primary issues contributing to poor academic outcomes, the new report focuses on ongoing issues with the state’s data and accountability metrics for juvenile court schools that make it difficult for policymakers and stakeholders, including the juvenile court schools and probation departments themselves, to adequately track successes and areas in need of improvement.
The report analyzes available data from the 2018-2019 and 2021-2022 school years – collected primarily through DataQuest, Ed Data, and public records act requests – about juvenile court schools, which generally operate to serve students detained in juvenile halls or other detention facilities, in the hopes of providing a snapshot on how court schools are serving, or not serving, their students. Due to ongoing issues with the state’s data and accountability metrics for these schools, the picture is blurry.
In the report, the Youth Law Center offers a set of 26 comprehensive recommendations focused on demographics of youth in juvenile court schools, access to school issues, academic achievement, and pathways to higher education.
“Hopefully, this report will spark not only conversation, but also action to ensure that all youth in the juvenile justice system receive the education they need to learn, grow, and thrive,” said Jennifer Rodriguez, Executive Director of the Youth Law Center.
A full copy of the report is available here: https://www.ylc.org/resource/out-of-sight-out-of-mind/
A Summary of Key Findings
(Unless otherwise noted, this summary includes information from the 2021-2022 school year. The full report also includes data on the 2018-2019 school year in each section, in part to provide a point of comparison.)
Demographics of Youth in Juvenile Court Schools
Youth of color, primarily Black and Latino students, continue to be the most impacted by the issues addressed in this report. During the 2021-2022 school year, Black students comprised 5.20% of the total California public school enrollment but were the most overrepresented group in the juvenile court schools with 19.79% of enrollment. In that same year, Latino students comprised 55.80% of total California public school enrollment and once again they were the most prevalent group in juvenile court schools at 54.72% of juvenile court school enrollment.
Students with disabilities are overrepresented in California’s juvenile court schools. During the 2021-2022 school year, students with disabilities comprised 29.80% of total cumulative enrollment in juvenile court schools, while students with disabilities were only 13.98% of the total California public school population.
Youth in foster care are also overrepresented in California’s juvenile court schools. During the 2021-2022 school year, foster youth made up over 21.44% of students enrolled in court schools, while representing less than one percent of all students enrolled in California schools.
Access to School Issues
Chronic Absenteeism During both school years there were a number of court schools where the chronic absenteeism rate exceeded 30%, while during these same school years, around 20% of analyzed court schools reported 0% chronic absenteeism rates. Chronic absenteeism in court schools should be considered differently than in traditional public schools. Unlike in community-based public schools, students in court schools are almost all incarcerated and under constant supervision. Thus, any chronic absenteeism in a court school indicates that students who literally have nowhere else to go are somehow still not attending school.
Suspension rates continue to be significantly higher in court schools as compared to statewide rates, although the prevalence of suspension has decreased in recent years. While progress has been made in this area, court schools must continue to develop and utilize alternatives to suspensions.
Effectively measuring academic achievement for juvenile court school students remains a challenge. Many metrics are not fully reported due to data redaction policies that hide data for metrics where the number of students reported is fewer than ten.
On graduation rates: Available data does not meaningfully capture graduation rates for juvenile court school students; for example, there are four different graduation rate metrics currently available for court schools, each of which can show very different results in the same school, as is discussed in more detail in the full report. Utilizing the 4-year Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate:
- During the 2018-2019 school year, juvenile court schools’ reported graduation rates ranged from 3.6% to 75%, while the statewide graduation rate for all public schools was 84.5%.
- During the 2021-2022 school year, the reported graduation rates for court schools ranged from 0% to 66.7%, while the statewide graduation rate was 87%.
On assessments and student performance: During the 2021-2022 school year, 30.33% of statewide public school students failed to meet the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) English Language Arts (ELA) standard and 44.96% failed to meet the CAASPP mathematics standard. In comparison, during the same school year even in the best performing juvenile court school 61.54% of students failed to meet the CAASPP ELA standard and 86.49% failed to meet the CAASPP mathematics standard.
Pathways to Higher Education
College-going rate data was only available for 21 of California’s total number of court schools.
Data on access to financial aid for students attending court schools who wish to continue into postsecondary education largely does not exist.
A Summary of Key Recommendations
(The full report includes 26 recommendations separately listed at the end of each section.)
Demographics of Youth
Juvenile Court Schools should be required to track distinct populations in their school who are attending for only a short period of time (fewer than 31 instructional days) and students who are attending for much longer periods of time (greater than 31 instructional days and students in a Secure Youth Treatment Facility) in order to fully understand the different demographics, needs, and outcomes of these students.
County Offices of Education and probation departments should ensure that programs and policies in juvenile court schools reflect the fact that many of their students attend for only a short amount of time. Investments in transition services and relationship building with districts of origin to minimize disruption to student learning are imperative.
Juvenile justice system stakeholders including, but not limited to courts, probation, and COEs must work together to ensure that the rights of students with disabilities are respected in and out of the classroom, and that the system is not subjecting youth with disabilities to harsher penalties due to their disability status. A first step towards understanding the disproportional representation of youth with disabilities in the juvenile justice system is to collect data and analyze outcomes with attention to disability status.
Additional recommendations for policy makers:
- Require collaboration between court schools and probation to improve language access assessment and services for youth who are English Language Learners.
- Proactively review or draft policies related to foster youth services that ensure that current and former foster youth in juvenile court schools are connected to educational and other resources that can support their graduation from high school and transition to postsecondary education or work.
- Implement policies and practices to ensure that youth experiencing homelessness are appropriately identified when entering or exiting a court school so that they can be linked to supportive services.
Access to School Issues
Given the challenges with chronic absenteeism identified in the report, it is critical that the amount of missed instructional time and the reason for the absence must be tracked for all juvenile court school students. Both detention facility staff and juvenile court school staff must be held accountable to ensure that detained youth attend school and arrive on time. Further, we recommend that policymakers:
- Eliminate expulsions and suspensions in juvenile court schools.
- Continue to develop and utilize alternatives to suspensions in court schools.
- Work with stakeholders, including youth, to design a better tracking and accountability process for times when probation either removes students from school or prevents students from attending school. This could include but not be limited to better facility inspections, audits, or data/reporting systems.
- Permanently eliminate willful defiance suspensions.
Policymakers should clarify how the state’s different graduation metrics appear on the California School Dashboard, as well as how they apply to juvenile court schools, in order to aid community members, advocates, and policymakers in understanding what is captured or left out in different metrics. Further action is needed to:
- Develop measures to track statewide outcomes, including graduation rates, for all youth who spend any time attending a juvenile court school, as well as for youth in the juvenile justice system more broadly.
- Expand upon efforts to support and assist youth transitioning into the community after release from detention, including assistance with enrolling in school and accessing available post-secondary education opportunities.
Pathways to Higher Education
Students attending court schools need, want, and deserve opportunities to pursue postsecondary education. This is a topic in which some meaningful policy changes have been made since the publication of the earlier report in 2016, Educational Injustice. Most notably, California has recently allocated $15 million in the state’s budget in ongoing funding to establish and expand community college programs focused on providing both in-custody and on-campus postsecondary education programming for youth impacted by the juvenile justice system. But more work is needed to:
- Develop accountability metrics that allow data about college going rates for court schools to be made publicly available.
- Continue to expand and improve upon dedicated postsecondary support programs for youth impacted by the juvenile justice system.
- Ensure that all court (and alternative) schools are included and engaged with statewide efforts to increase postsecondary education and financial aid application completion.
- Develop high-quality training on financial aid and postsecondary access for juvenile justice and court/alternative school stakeholders.
- Identify and address barriers that are resulting in low Cal Grant financial aid application numbers for court school students.
NOTE: On Wednesday, November 29, 2023, at 11:30 am PT/2:30 pm ET, the Youth Law Center will host a webinar with the authors of Out of Sight, Out of Mind and advocates working for change. For more information and to register for the webinar, click here.