Every two years the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights conducts the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), which includes information about school demographics, course enrollment, discipline, and other measures of school quality. For the first time in 2013-14 and again in 2015-16, the CRDC included juvenile justice schools, which serve approximately 50,000 adjudicated youth placed in secure facilities across the country.
Students’ educational experiences in juvenile justice facilities have historically gone unnoticed. Due to the unique and relatively small population they serve, these schools are typically exempt from traditional state and federal data collection. The two most recent surveys from the CRDC offer limited insight, leading our team to analyze only 18 states in 2013-14 and 15 states in 2015-16. Our analysis includes a comparison of student access to critical math and science courses disaggregated by race and ethnicity.
In “Patterns and Trends in Educational Opportunity for Students in Juvenile Justice Schools: Updates and New Insights,” we found that juvenile justice facilities fail to provide adjudicated youth with sufficient access to the courses they need to graduate high school. For example, students in juvenile justice facilities are 25 percent less likely to have access to Algebra I, a foundational class required for graduation. Moreover, these facilities offer only limited access to credit recovery programs, which are critical to helping students recoup course credits that they missed or failed to complete earlier in their academic careers.
A closer look at the data reveals that while all youth in juvenile justice facilities experience inadequate access to important classes, no group of students has less access than Native American youth. Only 63% of Native youth in juvenile justice schools have access to Algebra I compared with 79% of white students. This pattern persists in the sciences. Forty-seven percent of Native students have access to biology compared with 70% of white students. Indeed, among all groups of students in juvenile justice facilities, Native students have the lowest access to math and science courses.
These alarming statistics make clear that juvenile justice systems must do a better job providing incarcerated youth with the educational opportunities they need to get back on track. Improving the quality of data about students’ educational experiences in juvenile justice facilities is a critical first step. States — which typically run these schools — can then use improved data to increase resources to these facilities and ensure students are enrolled in the proper classes. These steps will help juvenile justice facilities perform their rehabilitative functions rather than further punishing youth by severely limiting their educational opportunities.