Sunday, January 06, 2008

This Week's News: Youth in Transition


Baltimore’s “innovation schools" yield higher test scores
USA Today – December 19, 2007
The five-year effort to break Baltimore’s big high schools into smaller, more autonomous schools seems to be paying off with better academic results and attendance, offering new evidence backing a reform that has stalled nationwide in recent years. An analysis released this week by the Washington-based Urban Institute finds that scores on required math and English tests in the city’s six “innovation schools” are higher than those of students in larger comprehensive schools, neighborhood schools and other schools, even after controlling the skill levels before entering high school. On average, innovation high school students score 14 to 30 points higher on a scale from 240 to 650. The schools also offer more supportive environments, and innovation school students go to school 16 to 40 days more a year than other students.

Poor neighborhoods hurt students more than low income, study finds
Chicago Tribune – December 19, 2007
The isolation and limitations imposed by a poor neighborhood do more damage to a child’s verbal and cognitive skills than does a family’s low income, according to a new study. Researchers found that children in Chicago who spend most of their lives in segregated, low-income communities posted lower verbal scores than did children who lived in better communities. This was true whether the children’s families were low- or middle-income. And youngsters who moved into these segregated, troubled communities saw their progress slip, suggesting that the neighborhood social problems – violence, segregation and lack of good schools – are the roots of the problem. The study revealed that living in a disadvantaged community for at least two years lowered verbal test scores by about four IQ points, roughly the equivalent of one year of school. The educational landscape is filled with research that shows low-income students perform poorly on academic measures. The new research is one of the first to tie the performance not to poverty, but to the corrosive nature of at-risk communities.

Study ties dropouts to violent crime rate
The Fresno Bee – January 2, 2008
Boosting high school graduation rates could prevent more than 700 assaults and 15 murders in Fresno County each year, a new study contends. Sponsored by a group called Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, which is made up of 350 California law enforcement officials and thousands more nationwide, the report argues for a connection between dropout rates and crimes. Report authors called the dropout crisis a “silent epidemic” that hasn’t attracted enough attention. High school dropouts across the country are 3 ½ times more likely to be arrested than graduates, and 68% of prison inmates don’t have high school diplomas, the report contended. The report advocated that high schools establish “small learning communities” in which students stay connected to a single teacher and a group of classmates for the duration of the program. Exemplary programs include First Things First and School Transitional Environment Project, which have worked well to combat poor academic performance and student dropouts, the report said.

Juvenile Justice

Mo. tries new approach on teen offenders
Rocky Mountain News – December 29, 2007
This is Missouri, a place where teen offenders are viewed not just as inmates but as works in progress – where troubled kids are rehabilitated in small, homelike settings that stress group therapy and personal development over isolation and punishment. With prisons around the country filled to bursting, and with states desperate for ways to bring down recidivism rates that rise to 70 and 80 percent, some policymakers are taking a fresh look at treatment-oriented approaches like Missouri’s as a way out of America’s juvenile justice crisis. Here, large, prison-style “gladiator schools” have been abandoned in favor of 42 community-based centers spread around the state so that now, even parents of inner-city offenders can easily visit their children and participate in family therapy. Missouri doesn’t set timetables for release; children stay until they demonstrate a fundamental shift in character – a policy that detainees say gives kids an added incentive to take the program seriously. Those who are let out don’t go unwatched: College students or other volunteers who live in the released youths’ community track these youths for three years, helping with job placement, therapy referrals, school issues and drug or alcohol treatment.

Juvenile system tries not to lock ‘em up, toss key
Dayton Daily News – December 30, 2007
Under Juvenile Judges Nick Kuntz and Anthony Capizzi, the philosophy of the Montgomery County juvenile justice system is to identify the underlying issues that cause the behavior problems exhibited by children. The local juvenile court locks up older, more serious youthful offenders when the judges and 14 magistrates think incarceration is appropriate, but many youths are funneled into programs designed to try to turn them around with counseling and other services to the youth and to their families. Much of the work to determine the best path through the system for each individual child is handled by the intervention center, an operation court officials say is one of a kind. The center is the first stop for youths entering the system, and center staffers do rapid assessments of the offenders to outline what combination of punishments and support services are called for. Judge Kuntz said the intervention center allows the court to assess youth offenders quickly and to avoid incarcerating youths who don’t really need to be locked up. Kuntz said the center gains additional efficiency by combining juvenile court, detention and probation operations that had been spread among several buildings.

Foster Care

Aging out of foster care
Minnesota Public Radio – December 12, 2007
Each year 24,000 American teenagers in foster care leave their foster families or group homes and try to make it on their own. It’s called “aging out.” A study released Wednesday shows that foster teens do better if they stay in care until they’re 21. The study says when kids stay in foster care longer, they’re more likely to go to college. They have higher incomes. The young women are less likely to become pregnant. Kids who leave foster care at 18 are more likely to be unemployed or poor. Many will be homeless or become victims of violence. “The most important resource that you have during the transition to adulthood is the family, willing to provide economic support, emotional support, etc,” says Mark Courtney, a professor at the University of Washington. “Many of these young people don’t have that kind of support, or it’s even a threat to them.” “You’re not going to be independent at the age of 18,” Courtney says. “All the sort of major markers of what we associate with the transition to adulthood are happening later in life.” Most young people today depend on their parents well into their 20s. Courtney says the state is acting as a parent for foster kids, and it shouldn’t cut them off when they turn 18.

Foster youths form group to lobby for improvements
Ventura County Star – December 26, 2007
Former and current foster youths in Ventura County have formed an organization to lobby for improvements in the system overseeing children when they are removed from their parents; home because of abuse or neglect. As a newly approved chapter of the California Youth Connection, the group plans to participate in a three-day trip to Sacramento in January. The youths expect to be trained in how to work with legislators and then meet with them and discuss bills they would like to see passed. Raquel Montes, a leader in the local chapter, said one major concern is extending the age at which foster children are expected to live on their own to 21. Currently youths are expected to support themselves at 18, or 19 if they are still in their last year of high school. The state funds programs that provide transitional living housing for a limited number of foster youths, but they serve only a fraction of the teenagers who are emancipated from the system each year.

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