Jailhouse schoolhouse

In this thoughtful U.S. News piece, Andy Rotherham sticks up for one of America’s most marginalized populations of students: the incarcerated. There are more than 100,000 behind-bars juveniles around the country, and they attend school just like other students, but do so in prisons or youth detention centers. The difference is that school comes to them, meaning, obviously, that they have no choice in the decision of which school to attend. That’s why it’s important that their schools be effective. Rotherham looks at the daily struggle to provide a quality education in two such institutions, New York’s Riker’s Island and Virginia’s Youth for Tomorrow. These schools are often burdened with ineffective teachers, low expectations for achievement, and students with needs more intense than their outside-the-bars peers. Yet these schools and their students are not given much attention; and “[t]o the extent [they] are discussed,” explains Rotherham, “the conversation often turns on diminished expectations or futility.” Similar troubles plague other kinds of alternative schools, where students may not be behind bars but are typically removed from the general school population for a specific reason. And though we could argue that these children took away their own choices by breaking the law, “We cannot simultaneously demand ‘zero tolerance’ and fail to build a network of quality alternative placements,” rightly reasons Rotherham.

Prison Students Illustrate the Shortcomings of Public Schools,” by Andrew Rotherham, U.S. News and World Report, December 22, 2009