Friday, October 19, 2007

Report: Kids bounced from regular classrooms more likely to commit crimes

Texas Appleseed has produced a new study showing that some school districts use their discretion to kick kids out of regular classrooms into "alternative" programs at extremely high rates - 167 of the more than 1,000 Texas school districts referred kids at more than twice the statewide rate. Reports the Austin Statesman:

The report documents disparities among districts in how students are treated and recommends more standardized rules and increased state oversight.

"Where you go to school, and not your behavior, dictates whether you'll be referred" to an alternative education program, Lewis said.

Researchers for the group said that a history of disciplinary referrals is the single most important factor in determining whether a student will drop out of school. The alternative programs are often the last step for troubled youths before they enter the criminal justice system.

The report found that alternative education students are five times as likely to drop out as their peers in mainstream schools.

Appleseed Executive Director Rebecca Lightsey said that numerous studies have established a link between school dropouts and incarceration. Eighty percent of all Texas prison inmates are school dropouts, and one in three Texas Youth Commission inmates is a dropout, according to the Appleseed report.

When a student is suspended or removed from a classroom for violating school conduct policies, officials can refer that student to an alternative classroom. But in many cases, such placements are not required, and districts have the choice of imposing other sanctions, such as in-school or at-home suspensions.

So, kids sent to alternative schools are more likely to drop out, and those who drop out are more likely to wind up in TYC or in prison. Is anyone really surprised? Here's the full report (pdf, 136 pages).


Anonymous said...

Surprised? Not in the least. I would have figured far more than one third of TYC commits were dropouts.

Anonymous said...

Grits, this post reminds me of a conversation I had a few years ago with the director of the Travis County JDC - who impressed me BTW as a very serious and thoughtful person.

If I recall correctly, he said that most of their referrals came from the schools for behavioral problems, and he implied (sarcastically) that the schools tended to view the juvenile justice system as a "babysitter" or a failsafe for difficult kids... but that this habit of dumping troubled but not necessarily criminal youth into JDC got many of them started on the path to a delinquent / criminal career.

There has also been a lot of ethnographic research showing how many elementary schools begin tracking kids from a very early age as the ones designated for punishments and sanctions that help shape them into delinquents rather than correct their behavior.

To be sure, parents have a lot to do with this and one wouldn't want to let them off the hook. I've been witness to some pretty appalling parental behavior over the years, as I'm sure many other Grits readers have. But many of the kids whose parents are struggling to do the right thing end up getting caught up in these disciplinary practices. And in any case, it is hard to justify penalizing kids for their parents' sins.

On a historical note, the trend toward school referrals to juvie for misbehavior IN school seems relatively recent. Prior to the 1970s, the leading cause of school referrals was truancy, and most referrals generally came from either parents (esp for girls) or police (esp for boys).

Bill Bush

Anonymous said...

Imagine that, elementary schools tracking students headed for early delinquency and not providing early interventions. That's like our hurricane preparedness here in Houston. Evacuate during the storm.

Anonymous said...

Schools are quick to label kids and slow to find ways to educate them.

The harm done by this approach can mean a lifetime of misery for the child unfortunate enough to have an incompetent teacher.

Anonymous said...


Criminals more likely to get kicked out of school.

/chicken and the egg

Anonymous said...

Here's the real kicker...educators at TYC have been begging the lege and the new regime to realize the importance that education plays in the lives of the youth at TYC. It is their one and only "stay out of TDCJ" card. The lege did not even realize that students in TYC can earn credits,get GEDs, or that TYC is TEA accredited. However, with ALL the goings on over the last year and the "big" scandal, hardly a minute has been paid to the education factor. I heard today that Mart II is going to have close to 350 students in a tiny schoolhouse, which will mean 20+ in a classroom. They are down 5-6 teachers and 150+ JCOs. Now, these are youth with serious learning and behavior issues--that need serious intervention and individualized instruction and that's going to happen in classes that size right? And, this is their last chance! However, the new regime is making great decisions, don't you think?

Anonymous said...

5:48, that's a huge problem indeed. Historically, education has never really received the kind of support needed ever since it was first introduced into juvie facilities in the early 20th century.

Juvenile institutions were first accredited as ISDs in the 1910s, but usually lacked an adequate number of teachers, and lacked sufficiently low teacher-student ratios. Often you had inexperienced or poor performing teachers thrust into large classrooms with unruly kids, and so turnover was quite high.

Plus the curriculum rarely exceeded elementary level material, with most of the boys being placed in first and second grade level classes. Now maybe that really reflected their ability, but it's hard to say b/c the assessment mechanisms they used back then were deeply flawed and administered in a blatantly biased fashion.

In plan after plan, education was given much lip service but rarely enough support in terms of funding and planning, into the 1960s. Teachers were often forced to take on a more custodial than educational role because of high ratios and tough situations.

Having said that, I have little sense of how the schooling situation evolved in TYC facilities by the 1990s. It's one area of recent TYC history I just haven't learned much about.

But the absence of any substantial discussion of education was one of my criticisms of the Kimbrough report. Either he found the education program to be nearly ideal, or, more likely, he focused narrowly on security issues because of the scandal that prompted his role in the first place.

IMO, not taking education seriously when one talks about overhauling TYC reflects the overall adult correctional mindset that seems to be ascendant but has no place in juvenile justice.

Bill Bush

Anonymous said...

TYC has kids go to school by dorm and not by grade level. A teacher can end up with 20 kids all on different grade levels from pre-kinder to college. It does not function like a regular school system. The lege needs to take note.

Anonymous said...

7:50, what's the criterion TYC uses to classify kids into different dorms?

Age? Offense category? Do they take educational levels into account at all? If so, where does that rank in the hierarchy of factors?


Anonymous said...

Not all TYC facilities send students to class by dorms. Each facility runs education a little different depending on resources,administrators, etc. The classes are mixed by levels,though. It is a very tough set-up and the teacher turnover rate is extremely high. Over 50% of the youth are already labeled Special Ed, and some facilities run higher levels than that.It is a real tragedy that no one making decisions can see the importance this plays on these kids' lives.

Anonymous said...

Kenneth Dodge of the Center for Child and Family Policy at Duke University has written books about this....

A long time ago we figured out that taking a bunch of kids with problematic behavior and putting them all together isn't a good idea.


Surprisingly Texas isn't the only state to have ignored this....