School Disciplinary Strategies Discussed at Meeting of Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention

Attorney General Eric Holder; Thomas Abt, Chief of Staff, Office of Justice Programs; and Jeff Slowikowski, Acting Administrator
Shown at the May 23, 2011, meeting of the Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention are (from l. to r.) Attorney General Eric Holder; Thomas Abt, Chief of Staff, Office of Justice Programs; and Jeff Slowikowski, Acting Administrator, OJJDP.
The May 23, 2011, meeting of the Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, chaired by Attorney General Eric Holder, highlighted state trends in school disciplinary practices, evidence-based alternatives to zero-tolerance policies, and successful strategies for preventing school dropout.

Michael Thompson, Director of the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center, summarized the results of a forthcoming study tracking the disciplinary history through 12th grade of nearly 1 million youth in Texas who entered seventh grade between 2000 and 2003. The study matched records of school disciplinary action with juvenile justice system records to assess later interaction with the juvenile justice system. CSG will officially release the results of the study in July.

Christopher Boccanfuso of Child Trends, a nonprofit research center, emphasized that there is no scientific evidence that zero-tolerance policies work. He said suspension and expulsion—two punishments associated with zero tolerance—put students at risk for less connectivity to school, greater participation in risky or illegal behavior, poor academic achievement and dropout, and entry into the "school to prison pipeline." Instead, nonpunitive policies that use character education and social-skill building have been rigorously evaluated and have been shown to improve student behavior and increase school safety. To read a March 2011 report that Dr. Boccanfuso co-authored on this topic, visit the Child Trends Web site.

Michael Thompson, Director of the Council of State Governments' Justice Center; Drs. Kristin Moore and Christopher Boccanfuso of Child Trends; and Farhad Asghar, Associate Dean of Continuing Education at Bank Street College.
Participating in a panel discussion on trends in school disciplinary practices and preventing school dropout were (from l. to r.) Michael Thompson, Director of the Council of State Governments Justice Center; Drs. Kristin Moore and Christopher Boccanfuso of Child Trends; and Farhad Asghar, Associate Dean of Continuing Education at Bank Street College of Education.
Farhad Asghar, Associate Dean of Continuing Education at Bank Street College of Education in New York City, described the college's highly successful dropout-prevention program, Liberty LEADS, which targets underserved youth in the 5th through 12th grades. Dean Asghar said that 43 percent of the youth struggle with issues such as depression, the incarceration of their parents, domestic violence, and exposure to drug abuse; 20 percent of the youth come from homes where either a parent or a sibling has not finished high school; and 18 percent are receiving special education services. Liberty LEADS provides youth with academic enrichment, leadership development, college-prep classes, cultural enrichment, counseling, and mentoring. Statistics point to the program's success: 100 percent of the students from Liberty LEADS who apply to college are accepted, 94 percent graduate from high school on time, and 98 percent are promoted to the next grade level each year. "If schools employed the strategies of Liberty LEADS, we would see a significant reduction in dropout rates," Dean Asghar said.

Other Highlights of the Council Meeting

OJJDP's Acting Administrator Jeff Slowikowski, who serves as vice-chair of the Coordinating Council, provided an update on the progress of the council's issue teams toward finalizing recommendations on enhancing federal policy and practice in four priority areas: education and at-risk youth, tribal youth and juvenile justice, juvenile reentry and transition to adulthood, and racial and/or ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice and related systems. Those recommendations will be officially presented in a consolidated report to the Coordinating Council at its next meeting on July 21, 2011. Recommendations that are approved by the council will be incorporated into a separate report submitted by the council to Congress. Each team has produced draft recommendations specific to their topic area, as well as a number of cross-cutting proposals that are more broadly relevant.

Thomas Abt, Chief of Staff for the Office of Justice Programs, provided an overview of the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention, a network of agencies and localities who share information, offer technical assistance, and coordinate action and resources to address youth violence. Federal agencies involved in the project include the U.S. Departments of Justice, Education, Health and Human Services, and Housing and Urban Development; and the Office on National Drug Control Policy. Current member cities are Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Memphis, San Jose, and Salinas, CA. Teams of experts presented comprehensive plans to prevent youth violence in their cities at the Summit on Preventing Youth Violence on April 4–5, 2011, in Washington, DC.