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Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

Topic: juvenile detention

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April 23, 2014 at 5:00 AM

‘Just Learning’? In most juvenile prisons, students languish

Screen shot from "Just Learning." Data source: Consolidated State Performance Report, US Department of Education.

Screen shot from “Just Learning.” Data source: Consolidated State Performance Report, US Department of Education.

In every arena of education, Americans have become relentless in their search for evidence of results. That goes for preschools, colleges, anti-dropout programs — you name it. Except for one long-lingering category: juvenile detention.

The purpose of locking kids up has always been rehabilitation over punishment. Yet no central office in Washington — or nationally — tracks educational outcomes for this group of students, which needs help perhaps more than that any other to get on track. (Only 37 percent of youth in juvenile prisons are there for violent crimes; the rest have drug, property or public-order offenses.)

Last week, the Southern Education Foundation, a nonprofit based in Georgia, released findings from “Just Learning,” its national look at academic outcomes for the 70,000 young people incarcerated on any given day in the United States. The results were damning.

Fewer than half of youths earned a single course credit while locked up. Only 9 percent got a GED certificate or high school diploma. As a group, western states showed slightly better results — with 53 percent of incarcerated kids earning a course credit, though only 7 percent completed school.

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