Supporting Students in Secure Care Through Title I, Part D
When we think of educating students, we tend to picture schools where the students arrive in the morning and go home at the end of the day. Yet, as many as 271,000 students go to school in secure-care or other residential facilities.
Educating these students requires specialized training and careful collaboration across agencies. For this reason, each state receives funding from the U.S. Department of Education through the Title I, Part D Neglected or Delinquent Programs—and determining the best use of these funds is a top priority for all Title I, Part D coordinators.
As Murray Meszaros, education specialist and the state administrator of the Part D program for the Utah State Board of Education, sees it, “I am responsible for taxpayers’ dollars, and … I want to make sure we provide the best possible services, processes, and programs to serve the needs of students in state care.”
Evaluating Utah’s Education System for At-Risk, Delinquent Students
In spring 2013, Meszaros sought out external help to improve education through Utah’s Title I, Part D program. At Meszaros’ request, Jennifer Loeffler-Cobia conducted a full-scale evaluation of collaboration between Utah’s education and juvenile justice departments. At the time, Loeffler-Cobia was a private consultant and criminal justice expert. She's now a senior researcher at AIR. She developed and administered a survey, traveled to all six state juvenile secure-care facilities to conduct focus groups with facility staff and administrators, and produced a report on Utah’s successes and challenges relating to research-based collaboration practices, including recommendations for taking their collaboration to the next level.
For instance, Loeffler-Cobia recommended a joint training for education and juvenile justice staff. As Loeffler-Cobia explained, “You have teachers that work inside these facilities with this population, which is completely different than a traditional high school or middle school setting. They understand how to teach math, English, reading, and science, but not necessarily with high-risk students … These students have different emotional and behavioral challenges that they’re working on in treatment at the same time as their education.”
Putting Evidence-Based Practices to Work
The training Loeffler-Cobia developed provided an overview of evidence-based practices on classroom behavior, reducing recidivism, transitioning out of secure care, and more. She was on hand to deliver technical assistance as each facility developed a collaboration plan and put it into practice.
Utah’s education and juvenile justice departments wanted to continue learning, particularly about “evidence-based practices for transition—getting these kids back into the community safely, where they can be productive members of society and grow up to be safe, healthy adults,” Loeffler-Cobia recalled.
To support this, Loeffler-Cobia and fellow AIR senior researcher Nicholas Read conducted an advanced study of Utah’s transition practices. The pair developed and administered another staff survey and again traveled the state to conduct focus groups at each facility, this time including the students, too.
After compiling and delivering their report, Loeffler-Cobia and Read supported Utah in putting the report’s recommendations into practice and developed an in-person training session on how to support students as they transition out of secure care. Read later led the development of a series of six online training modules, each about 10 minutes long. The modules provide each facility’s education transition specialists and juvenile justice staff with a common set of goals, applicable procedures, and aligned policies to support students as they enter, move between, and exit secure-care facilities.
“Often times, the researcher produces a report, hands it to the person who’s providing the funds and who needs the services, and says, ‘Good luck, have a good ride, enjoy your trip,’” Meszaros said, noting that his experience working with AIR was the opposite. “I didn’t want that. I wanted tools that people could use into the future, regardless of who was in any given position within the structure we were designing. And I got just that.”