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Approaches to Curriculum in Juvenile Correctional Schools. Joseph Gagnon, Ph.D. George Mason University Candace Cutting, M.Ed. University of Maryland. State of Juvenile Correctional Education. Inadequate education practices exist in many juvenile correctional facilities

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approaches to curriculum in juvenile correctional schools

Approaches to Curriculum in Juvenile Correctional Schools

Joseph Gagnon, Ph.D.

George Mason University

Candace Cutting, M.Ed.

University of Maryland

state of juvenile correctional education
State of Juvenile Correctional Education
  • Inadequate education practices exist in many juvenile correctional facilities
  • Education reforms (NCLB and IDEA) apply to juvenile corrections
  • Class action lawsuits and

US Department of Justice

investigations in 24 states

over the last 25 years

nclb idea
  • Youth in juvenile corrections are included in statewide testing and accountability measures
  • Issues with provisions of NCLB and education programs in juvenile corrections
    • i.e., Teacher quality, curriculum, length of stay (Leone & Cutting, 2004)
  • IDEA (1997) applies to juvenile corrections – students should have access to general education curriculum
purpose of the study
Purpose of the Study

The current study provides a snapshot of the student, principal, and school characteristics, as well as curricular policies and practices within an urban youth detention and a youth commitment facility.



  • One detention and one commitment facility were chosen in major metropolitan areas
  • The assumption was that larger facilities would have more developed school programs than small facilities with few resources and educators
  • Interviews
    • Each principal was given questions ahead of time and participated in an structured interview
    • Questions were the same for both principals
    • Interviews were recorded and transcribed verbatim
  • Interviews focused on four key themes
    • Student characteristics
    • Principal characteristics
    • Educational program characteristics
    • Curricular policies and practices
  • Document review
    • Documents were requested and reviewed that related to each question in the interview protocol
    • Only written and official school, district, and state documents were accepted
populations served
Populations Served


  • Students come from within the county and city

n = 147


  • Students come from all over the state

n = 80

As noted concerning other exclusionary settings, schools that serve students from multiple districts should increase their collaboration with districts and the state to ensure that curriculum and accountability measures are consistent with student public, home schools (Gagnon & McLaughlin, 2004)

student characteristics demographics
Student Characteristics-Demographics

What the research says…

  • Nearly 109,000 students served in juvenile corrections daily
  • Almost two-thirds of youth in custody are of minority status
  • African-American youths represent the largest group of incarcerated juveniles

(Sickmund, 2004)

student characteristics demographics10
Student Characteristics-Demographics

What we found…

  • Detention
    • 88% minority status
    • 83% African-American
    • 11% Caucasian
  • Commitment
    • 70% African-American
    • 30% Caucasian

(based on facility day counts)

student characteristics length of stay
Student Characteristics-Length of Stay

What the research says…

  • Lengths of stay for youths in detention facilities average 37 days
  • One-third of committed youth have lengths of stay longer than 6 months

(Snyder & Sickmund, 1999)

student characteristics length of stay12
Student Characteristics-Length of Stay

What we found…

  • Detention:
    • Average length of stay according to principal and computer-generated day count – 23.52 days
  • Commitment:
    • Average length of stay is 6 months, including 6 weeks in transition unit
    • “If someone has more time than that, we send them to a more appropriate setting”
student characteristics special education 504
Student Characteristics-Special Education/504

What the research says…

  • 9% of students in public schools have identified disabilities (U.S. Department of Education, 2001)
  • Students with disabilities represent about 32% of youth in corrections (Quinn, Rutherford, & Leone, 2001)
student characteristics special education 50414
Student Characteristics-Special Education/504

What we found…

  • Neither facility reported serving students with 504 plans


  • 24% with disabilities; 53% SLD; 31% EBD


  • 40% with disabilities; 44% SLD; 16% EBD
principal characteristics
Principal Characteristics
  • Years administrator in current school
    • Detention: 1 year
    • Commitment: 1 year, 9 months
    • I’ve learned so much on this job, it’s unreal. I thought I knew a lot, but I’ve learned so much.
  • Research:
    • Continual change of administrators can have a profound impact on identifying, implementing, and sustaining school policies (Doud & Keller, 1998)
    • Changes in leadership may result in a focus on initiation, rather than sustained implementation of educational reform (Hess, 1999; Teske & Schneider,1999)
principal characteristics16
Principal Characteristics
  • Total years as administrator
    • Detention: 4 years
    • Commitment: 15 years
  • Research
    • Public school principals average 9 years experience (Gates, Santianez, Ross, & Chung, 2003)
principal characteristics17
Principal Characteristics
  • Highest degree earned
    • Detention: M.A. (Ed. specialist)
    • Commitment: 2 M.A.’s (special education, ed. admin.)
  • Research
    • Public school principals: 57% have a master’s degree (Doud & Keller, 1998)
principal characteristics18
Principal Characteristics
  • Educational Certification
    • Detention: P.E., social studies
    • Commitment: Administration, special education supervisor
  • Research
    • When assessing the quality of principals, certification and education are common measures (Gates, Ringel, Santianez, & Chung, 2003)
    • However, these factors do not provide information on leadership and interpersonal skills, both of which are important characteristics for principals (Roza, Hill, Celio, Harvey, & Wishon, 2003)
principal characteristics19
Principal Characteristics
  • Gender
    • Detention: Male
    • Commitment: Female
  • Research
    • 44% of public school principals are female (Gates, Ringel, Santianez, & Chung, 2003)
education program accreditation
Education Program- Accreditation

Examples of Accrediting Agencies

    • American Corrections Association
    • Correctional Education Association
    • Educational Accreditation Associations (Middle States, Southern Association of Colleges and Universities)
  • Associations set standards for policies and practices; schools/programs that meet or exceed standards are eligible for accreditation
  • Additionally, State Depts. of Education may grant accreditation (or accountability) based on AYP and school performance
education program accreditation21
Education Program-Accreditation

What we found…


  • State Department of Education (as a charter school) – no written documentation provided


  • ACA, Middle States Association Accreditation
instructional time
Instructional time alone is only a modest predictor of achievement (Karweit, 1983; Suarez, Torlane, McGrath, & Clark, 1991; Walberg, 1988)

However, to gain access to the general education curriculum, as mandated by NCLB (2001) and IDEA (1997) students must have a full school day

What we found…


School year – 200 days

School day – 5.5 hours


School year – 215 days

School day – 6 hours

Instructional Time
curricular policies
Curricular Policies
  • Prescribed Curriculum
    • Detention: Yes, school-developed based on state content standards
    • Commitment: Yes, from state
  • Research
    • No national research exists on curriculum in juvenile corrections. However, data collection has just been completed on a national survey of curriculum, assessment, and accountability in commitment facilities (Gagnon, Maccini, & Malmgren, in progress)
curricular policies24
Curricular Policies
  • We do know:
    • IDEA (1997) require that students with disabilities are provided access to the general education curriculum
    • Access is accomplished by linking IEP goals to the general education curriculum and content standards (Nolet & McLaughlin, 2000)
curricular policies25
Curricular Policies
  • Juvenile correctional schools must provide access to the general education curriculum via instructional adaptations. No longer is it acceptable to have a student work solely “at his/her level” (both schools use some ability grouping)

For example, use calculators to solve budget problems (work on computation skills within mini-lessons and for homework)

curricular policies26
Curricular Policies
  • Obtain information on curriculum of local schools
    • Detention: None. More focused on state Department of Ed. and an outside firm that has responsibility for curriculum
    • Commitment: Principal attends professional development meetings
  • Research
    • Professional development is:
      • Key to keeping principals at their jobs (Hertling, 2001)
      • Key to keeping principals informed
curricular policies27
Curricular Policies
  • Research
    • Professional development is:
      • A common request from principals to assist them with implementing educational reform

(Educational Research Service, National Association of Elementary school principals, & National Association of Secondary School Principals, 2000)

curricular policies28
Curricular Policies
  • Selection of texts and curriculum materials
    • Detention: Principal decision with help from teachers
    • Commitment: Principal decision with help from teachers
  • Research
    • If principals AND teachers are to make decisions concerning texts and curriculum materials, they both must have adequate professional development on standards, curriculum, and state assessments (Gagnon & McLaughlin, 2004)
curricular policies29
Curricular Policies
  • Policy for communicating with public/home schools concerning educational needs of students with disabilities
    • Detention: Limited to obtaining records at admission
    • Commitment: Limited to obtaining records at admission
curricular policies30
Curricular Policies
  • Research
    • Few exclusionary school programs have any formalized procedures for exchanging information or follow-up upon student exit (Gagnon & Leone, 2004)
    • For any exclusionary school setting, an entrance and exit program should be developed and include, close cooperation of school officials, utilize available community resources, and facilitate the development of support groups (Katsiyannis, 1993).
    • This is critical for effective management, exchange of records and development of follow-up activities.
curricular policies31
Curricular Policies
  • Monitoring teacher instruction and use of curriculum
    • Detention: Principal observes and evaluates teachers
    • Commitment: Principal observes and evaluates teachers, reviews lesson plans
  • Research
    • Systematic procedures for teacher evaluation are critical, given that as few as 17% of teachers in juvenile corrections are certified to teach the population they work with (Quinn, Rutherford, & Leone, 2001)
curricular policies32
Curricular Policies
  • School waivers from the state department of education
    • Detention: None
    • Commitment: None
  • Researchers assert:
    • Waiver should not be provided that allow juvenile correctional schools to omit certain curriculum content areas, reduce hours in a school days, and reduce number of school days (Gagnon & Mayer, 2004)
curricular policies33
Curricular Policies
  • Educational Services for isolated youth with special needs
    • Detention: Work collected from teacher or used from a “substitute teacher packet”
    • Commitment: Principal says no students have been isolated. Policy states that a student may have to attend class on the living unit if severe behavior problems occur.
curricular policies34
Curricular Policies
  • IDEA (1997) Policy
    • Excluded students with special needs must continue to have access to the general education curriculum and allowed to make progress on IEP goals and objectives
curricular policies35
Curricular Policies
  • Courses Offered
    • Detention: Core courses, electives
    • Commitment: Core courses, electives
  • Research
    • Students must be provided courses consistent with state requirements and those necessary for students to earn a high school diploma
    • A formalized method of awarding course credit for specific increments of time and work completed and procedures for communicating credit to public/home schools are critical
  • Principal characteristics
    • Principal education was consistent with public school principals
    • Appropriate certification and more specific measures of principal performance should be monitored by the state Department of Education
    • District/state education officials should be aware of principal turnover rates and provide necessary training and supports to minimize turnover.
  • Curricular policies
    • The state Department of Education should oversee juvenile correctional educational programs and hold them accountable for providing appropriate educational services
  • Curricular policies
    • Schools must monitor that each student is taking the courses necessary to earn a high school diploma (unless other formal goals exist)
    • Teachers and principals need professional development
      • Concerning research-based instructional adaptations that support student success in rigorous content courses
  • Concerning standards, curriculum, and state assessments, if principals and teachers are to choose texts and curriculum materials
  • Curricular policies
    • Communication with local districts on student educational needs should exist at student entrance and exit from the juvenile correctional facility

Education as a priority in juvenile corrections:

  • Understanding of individual backgrounds and needs of students
  • On-going and formalized communication should be maintained between administrators, teachers of juvenile facilities and public schools, state officials
  • Formalized procedures for monitoring the quality of juvenile corrections education programs by local education agencies and state DOEs
  • Instructional time should be commensurate to public schools
future directions
Future Directions
  • Snapshot of two facilities –Broader investigation is needed
  • Special education policies and

practices should be included

  • Link to state policies and statutes