Monday, June 16, 2008

This Week's News: Youth in Transition


Oregon’s small-school experiment slow to see results
The Oregonian – June 8, 2008
Oregon’s highly touted small high schools are graduating their first class of students who spent all four years in intimate academies intended to revolutionize the big American high school. Armed with $25 million from billionaire Bill Gates and other education reformers, backer of small schools heralded the academies as the best way to curb high dropout rates, forge connections to keep teenagers on track and prepare every graduate for college. Four years into that effort, however, Oregon’s small schools have yet to deliver those promises. Instead, their statistics look a lot like result from lumbering, impersonal high schools they are supposed to replace. Lots of students quit, and most of the graduates aren’t ready for the rigors of college. Oregon’s small-schools initiative was launched in 2004 with grants from the Bill and Meyer Memorial Trust. Nationally, the Gates Foundation has donated more than $1 billion to create and support small academies.

Charter Schools’ Big Experiment
The Washington Post – June 9, 2008
The storm that swamped this city three years ago also effectively swept away a public school system with a dismal record and faint prospects of getting better. Before Hurricane Katrina, educator John Alford said, he toured schools and found “kids just watching movies” in classes where “low expectations were the norm.” Now Alford is one of many new principals leading an unparalleled education experiment, with possible lessons for troubled urban schools in the District and elsewhere. New Orleans, in a post-Katrina flash, has become the first major city in which more than half of all school students attend charter schools. For these new schools with taxpayer funding and independent management, old rules and habits are out. No more standard hours, seniority, union contracts, shared curriculum or common textbooks. In are a crowd of newcomers – critics call them opportunists – seeking to life standards and achievement. They compete for space, steal each other’s top teachers and wonder how it is all going to work.

2 New Coalitions Seek Influence on Campaigns
Education Week – June 10, 2008
Should schools be held primarily responsible for improving student achievement, or do they need help from health and social programs to ensure their students’ success? Two sets of prominent educators and policy leaders released statements last week emphasizing different answers to that question. But both groups acted with the same purpose: to inform and highlight the debate over education in the 2008 presidential campaign and to influence the future of the No Child Left Behind Act and other policies of the next president. The Education Equality Project, formally launched last week by New York City Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein and the Rev. Al Sharpton, the civil rights activist, plans to organize events at the Democratic and Republican national conventions to promote its message that “public education today remains mired in the status quo” and “shows little prospect of meaningful improvement” without significant changes in the ways schools are structured, its statement said.

Juvenile Justice

Dakota County re-examines who belongs in juvenile lockup – June 7, 2008
When kids commit petty crimes, maybe “juvenile jail” isn’t always the best fit. Hoping to open up bed space and avoid costly building additions, dozens of corrections agencies are studying options like placing low-risk offenders in shelters or foster care or back at home under the supervision of a probation officer or an electronic monitoring bracelet. They’re re-examining their “risk assessment” tools, trying to ferret out the otherwise harmless children who slipped up by swiping candy from a store or spray-painting a sidewalk from violent offenders who pose a danger to public safety. For those on the front lines of law enforcement, the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative represents a sea change in thinking. Across the country, the Baltimore-based foundation has worked with corrections staff to create four “model” alternative detention programs in Santa Cruz, Calif.; Portland, Ore.; Albuquerque, N.M.; and Chicago, some of which have been in place for 12 years or more, with high success rates. Dakota County hopes to join that list. In May, the county unveiled its own version of the multipronged JDAI.

ACLU sues state juvenile prison system
Houston Chronicle – June 12, 2008
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the Texas Youth Commission on Thursday, accusing it of subjecting its female offenders to unwarranted solitary confinement, routine strip searches and brutal physical force. According to the brief, incarcerated girls are “frequently subjected to punitive solitary confinement in oppressively cold, concrete and cinderblock cells.” The ACLU filed its class-action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of the Western District of Texas on behalf of five girls currently incarcerated at the Ron Jackson State Juvenile facility in Brownwood.

Foster Care

As Teenagers Leave Group Homes, a Challenge Placing Those Who Remain
The New York Times – June 8, 2008
Eight months into New York City’s bold experiment of moving hundreds of troubled teenagers out of group homes and into foster care, the system is stretched so thin that many involved say they are having trouble making thoughtful matches between foster parents and their charges. Some child-welfare experts are worried they may soon be unable to recruit enough qualified foster parents, while others say the city has moved too slowly in putting support systems in place to help these older children flourish in private homes. New York – which has long had a higher proportion of teenagers institutional settings than other large cities, according to John B. Mattingly, commissioner of the Administration for Children’s Services – is among several places nationwide prioritizing a push toward private homes. National studies show that in general, children in private homes have fewer problems as adults than those in group homes.

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