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New report analyzes curriculum used in L.A. county’s juvenile justice system

The education curriculum used over the last 12 years across the juvenile justice system in Los Angeles County was analyzed in a new report from the UCLA Center for the Transformation of Schools. Developing data monitoring systems, building cohesive cross-agency relationships, establishing data sharing agreements, and providing ongoing professional development for teachers are some of the recommendations made by the study’s authors, Angela James and Joseph Bishop.

The curriculum is referred to as the Road to Success Academies model, or RTSA, and was piloted in 2010 at Camp Scott, the county’s all-girls juvenile camp. Deemed successful there, the model was expanded in 2013 to all juvenile halls and camps across the county.

The RTSA model is considered an evidence-based educational curriculum that incorporates social-emotional learning, positive behavior supports and culturally relevant teaching methods.

The study found that students tended to enjoy the topics discussed in their classes, which typically include using an overarching theme, such as “empowerment” or “identity,” as an anchor for introducing students to the materials they needed to complete courses for school credit.

“This has been one of the best schools I’ve attended,” said one of the students interviewed for the study. “The topics are interesting.”

Consistent implementation of the curriculum, however, remains an ongoing challenge, according to the study.

During interviews with staff, a few hurdles came to light, with some teachers seemingly “downplaying” the need for implementing social-emotional learning, though this is a central aspect of the curriculum.

“For example, a teacher described expanding the social and emotional focus to Camp B as a ‘big mistake,’ because the students at Camp B were ‘not going to sit around and hold hands and sing kumbaya,’ thus minimizing the need of boys for social and emotional learning,” the study authors said, emphasizing that the success of the curriculum hinges on “educator training and buy-in.”

Other implementation challenges noted in the study include constant staff turnover, a lack of coordination with additional education services that students might need (such as English language learners or students with disabilities), and a lack of coordination between the various county agencies that play a role in the juvenile justice system — ultimately leading to disruptions in the RTSA curriculum.

The study’s research methods included gathering qualitative data at two juvenile halls — called Camp A and Camp B in the study — via ethnographic observations, interviews and focus groups with students, staff, and administrators — all of which added up to over 350 hours of fieldwork between April and November 2019. The study authors also analyzed de-identified student-level data that was provided by the Los Angeles County Office of Education, which oversees the juvenile justice system’s educational programming.

“The county and state must carefully consider that carceral settings are not the optimal setting for care-centered educational delivery, however, insomuch as children are in such settings, we are obligated to provide the very best evidence-based educational services, and to ensure that they are faithfully delivered as intended,” wrote James and Bishop.

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