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Implementing Research-Based Best Practices in Juvenile Justice Education. (Juvenile Justice News).

In 1998, the Florida Department of Education, which oversees the state's juvenile justice education system, awarded a discretionary grant to Florida State University's School of Criminology and Criminal Justice to generate and implement a research-driven system to guide the state in the development of best practices in juvenile justice education. The discretionary project was named the Juvenile Justice Educational Enhancement Program (JJEEP). The program's four major functions include:

* Conducting research that identifies the most promising educational practices operating in Florida's juvenile justice facilities with follow-up outcomes and longitudinal research that validate these practices as best educational practices;

* Conducting annual quality assurance reviews that ensure appropriate implementation of best educational practices into Florida's juvenile justice facilities;

* Providing technical assistance to continually improve educational programs in Florida's juvenile justice facilities; and

* Providing annual research-based recommendations to the Florida Department of Education and the Florida Legislature concerning juvenile justice education policies and practices that assist in the successful transition of youths back into their communities, homes, schools and work settings.

There are more than 200 different educational programs in Florida's juvenile justice system, making the research function of JJEEP particularly crucial given that the necessary knowledge base to guide effective educational practices in juvenile justice programs, or in public schools, is contradictory and inconclusive, at best. In fact, 100 leading researchers of the National Academy of Education met in October 1998 and concluded that they were a long way from being able to identify any standards and associated best practices to help teachers, policy-makers or researchers. These leading researchers could not even agree on how to distinguish good educational research from bad educational research. One of the conference's participating researchers claimed that the entire process of delineating education standards and associated best practices may be counterproductive because such delineation actually may discourage new and innovative teaching methods and insights. The conference closed by questioning whether th ey could build any consensus on educational research, standards and best practices, given the contradictory, fragmented and inconclusive results of available educational literature, according to the Education Week article, "National Academy Guides the Future of Education Research."

Typically, correctional treatment and educational programs, for both adults and juveniles, as well as educational programs for the general population, have been developed and promulgated nationally on the basis of common sense, political correctness and a "looks good, sounds good, feels good" approach to policy and program development. To generally conclude that new or innovative programs develop and spread rapidly with little or no research documenting their effectiveness is probably a fair characterization of both the corrections and education fields.

Nonetheless, and notwithstanding the lack of documentation of best educational practices in juvenile corrections, the need for such practices in juvenile justice facilities to prepare students for the ever-increasing challenges of a technologically driven society and associated job market has never been more urgent. Yet, research-validated curriculum, teaching strategies and methodologies to meet these ever-increasing demands remain ambiguous. Twenty-five years ago, the fields of juvenile and adult corrections were faced with a similar challenge in their offender rehabilitation efforts to change criminal and delinquent behaviors. Like today's inconclusive educational best practices literature, the correctional rehabilitation literature provided little help with its conflicting conclusions of "nothing works" (Martinson, 1974) to "everything works" (Genreau and Ross, 1979) to "some things work for some people, under some circumstances" (Palmer, 1975). But exactly what worked best, and for whom, was not provide d by these various studies. As a result, the necessary response was to embrace responsible evaluation of various adult and juvenile offender rehabilitation programs to conclusively determine what a particular program could and could not do, and for whom (Blomberg, 1983). This same evaluation research approach is what Florida has embarked upon in an ongoing effort to identify, validate and successfully implement best educational practices in the state's juvenile justice facilities.

To begin implementation of the research, JJEEP identified from the prior literature some of the most promising practices in juvenile justice education, reserving the overused term "best practices" for those relatively few concepts and methods that were found to be effective based on empirical research. Unfortunately, this prior literature is largely comprised of impressionistic and anecdotal accounts that are without empirical support or validation.

Nonetheless, and given these caveats, the promising educational concepts and methods found to have the most support and the greatest consensus among juvenile justice educators and researchers included:

* Assigning youths to small juvenile commitment facilities rather than large facilities;

* Maintaining low student-teacher ratios in educational programs for these youths;

* Using professionally certified teachers and well-trained paraprofessionals to work with these youths;

* Providing accurate initial academic assessments to be used in student placement;

* Developing and using individualized education plans that fit the needs of each student;

* Having an effective and appropriate curriculum that meets the needs of the population being served (including individualized curriculum, vocational education, special education, general education development, cultural diversity and psychosocial education);

* Providing appropriate transition planning and follow-through as youths move from one system to another;

* Adopting a comprehensive instructional and technological delivery system that meets the youths' needs;

* Developing a system of comprehensive aftercare aimed at effective community reintegration; and

* Providing ongoing professional development and training for teachers working with these students.

Recognizing that these concepts represent promising practices that have yet to undergo rigorous research and evaluation, JJEEP has implemented an ongoing research strategy that addresses each of these concepts in an effort to validate these promising practices as best practices that can be disseminated throughout Florida or the nation. Conversely, modifications in these practices may be required if research evidence suggests that they may not be as effective in responding to the community reintegration needs of juvenile justice youths, as previously believed.

More specifically, JJEEP's research efforts and processes can be described as follows: First, annual literature reviews are completed to identify and/or update known promising and best educational practices; second, annual assessments of each education program's quality assurance score in relation to the number of promising or best educational practices in operation in the program are completed; third, annual pre- and post-academic outcome assessments for each of the more than 200 educational programs (i.e., pre- and post-academic assessment test scores, credits earned, diplomas or certificates awarded) in relation to their quality assurance scores and the number of promising or best practices are conducted; and finally, a longitudinal study that employs both official (i.e., arrest, recommitment, employment, school returns) and self-report data is ongoing to determine ultimately if a student's receipt of promising or best educational services that result in specific academic outcome gains do indeed correlate with the student's successful community reintegration.

To date, JJEEP's preliminary research findings document that the juvenile justice educational programs receiving the highest quality assurance scores have the highest proportion of promising or best practices, with the middle-scoring programs having fewer promising or best practices, and the low-scoring programs having the Least of such practices. With regard to academic outcomes, there also is a positive correlation between high quality assurance performing programs and various pre and post-academic outcome gains. At this time, the preliminary longitudinal results only report on return to school following release, and these results indicate that programs with higher quality assurance scores have more of their students returning to school after they are released and returned to their home communities.

Current ongoing research involves pre- and post-academic outcome assessments and longitudinal tracking that includes various self-report and official data on rearrest, recommitment, return to school and employment for approximately 16,000 youths per year who receive educational services in the state's more than 200 detention and commitment programs. The goal is to move from promising practices to empirically validated best practices. Moreover, these empirically validated best practices will be employed as quality assurance standards in subsequent review cycles in such areas as literacy, science and mathematics. These standards will include a nonprescriptive menu of specific curricula and instructional designs and methods from which teachers employing their professional judgments can select regarding the needs of their classes and individual students.

After three years of operation, JJEEP has experienced growing support from both public and private juvenile justice education program providers, teachers, related state agencies and the Legislature. For example, in 1999, the Florida Legislature enacted House Bill 349, which legally mandated ongoing best practices research, quality assurance and technical assistance for the state's juvenile justice educational programs. Clearly, with this unique legislative support, the importance of juvenile justice education was elevated in Florida.

Another noteworthy activity initiated by JJEEP was the 1999 establishment of the Annual Florida Juvenile Justice Teacher of the Year Award. Each of the state's five geographic regions presents a Teacher of the Year Award and one teacher is chosen as the overall regional winner. Each of the five award winners is recognized at several statewide meetings, including a special recognition by the Florida Cabinet. This award has generated statewide interest and, most important, has meant a great deal to the state's committed and hardworking teachers.

In May, JJEEP officials were invited to give a presentation describing the implementation of research-based best practices in juvenile justice education before a national audience that included the head of each state's juvenile justice system and their education directors. The presentation was given at the 16th Annual Juvenile Corrections and Detention Forum that was jointly sponsored by the Department of Justice's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and the American Correctional Association. Many of the participants' reactions to research-based best educational practices and associated quality assurance were positive. Several states are now beginning efforts to implement a similar system.

Thomas G. Blomberg is principal investigator and Gordon P. Waldo is co-principal investigator for the Juvenile Justice Educational Enhancement Program. Both are professors in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Florida State University.


Blomberg, T.G. 1983. Diversion's disparate results and unresolved questions: An integrative evaluation perspective. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 20:24-38.

Gendreau, P. and R.R. Ross. 1979. Effectiveness of correctional treatment: Bibliotherapy for cynics. Crime and Delinquency, 25:463-489.

Martinson, R. 1974. What works? Question and answers about prison reform. The Public Interest, 35:22-54.

Palmer, T. 1975. Martinson revisited. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 12:133-152.

Viadero, D. 1998. National academy guides the future of education research. Education Week, XVIII:10.
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Article Details
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Author:Blomberg, Thomas G.; Waldo, Gordon P.
Publication:Corrections Today
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2001
Previous Article:Geographic Information Systems: Helping Corrections Inside and Outside Prison Walls. (Technology Update).
Next Article:Inside/Out: Continuing to Cage Your Rage. (Bookshelf).

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