Delivering Effective Education To Youth Within The Massachusetts DYS

In March 2002 the Department of Youth Services, in conjunction with the Department of Education, submitted a report, entitled Delivering Effective Education to Youth within the Massachusetts Department of Youth Services to the Massachusetts Legislature.

This report was prepared in response to a legislative requirement that the Commissioner of Youth Services, in conjunction with the Department of Education, shall submit a report on the status of educational services at the department of youth services; provided further, that the report shall review teacher retention, salary comparisons with the department and to statewide averages and related impact on the quality of educational services provided to youths in the custody of the department; provided further, that the report shall include recommendations for the improvement of educational resources and costs associated with the improvements.

This report is a follow up to a document, submitted in February 2001, entitled Establishing Partnerships for Success: A Report on Education Services in the Massachusetts Department of Youth Services. Viewed together, these reports provide an overview of the current status of educational resources at the Department of Youth Services as well as recommendations for the improvement of the delivery of educational services to the students in the care and custody of DYS.

The most recent report lays out a set of recommendations in response to the issues identified by a joint DYS/DOE working group. The joint DYS/DOE working group has developed a strategic plan for the implementation of education reform within DYS. The work group recommendations incorporate nationally recognized best practices that have been proposed by the Coalition of Juvenile Justice in its research of New Lessons in Education and Delinquency Prevention.

The strategic plan includes the following detailed recommendations for the Legislature and the Administration to consider.

Strategic Plan For Implementation Of Education Reform At DYS

Recommendation 1:
The Department of Youth Services, with technical assistance and support from the Department of Education, should initiate the implementation of a multiple phase education reform effort.

The Department of Education (DOE) and the Department of Youth Services (DYS) should collaborate in the implementation of a multiple phase/multiple year education system reform plan. The DOE can provide ongoing technical assistance to DYS in a number of areas including curriculum development, student assessment and achievement, educational accountability and special education. The DOE can also provide ongoing assistance in the development of educational systems, local district partnerships, policies and procedures that are essential elements in a comprehensive reform initiative. In addition, DOE and DYS can explore the mechanisms that will maximize resources. This may include exploring grant guideline, eligibility requirements and options such as a special LEA status. Lastly, DYS can work with DOE in the oversight and compliance of state and federal education mandates.

Recommendation 2:
Develop system-building capacity within DYS to support a comprehensive education reform plan across the agency.

The Department of Youth Services, in conjunction with the Department of Education, will establish a comprehensive and integrated service delivery system that ensures accountability and coordination of educational services for DYS youth. A Request for Information (RFI) that seeks input from a broad spectrum of experts with regard to the most effective and efficient means of providing education to youth in the care and custody of DYS will be issued. The goal of the RFI is to identify the best practices to ensure that the following objectives are met:

  • Achieve full integration and coordination of educational services across all DYS sites that will help students transition from different placements within DYS and back into his/her community;
  • Select and implement a comprehensive curriculum that addresses the range of abilities of DYS youth and is aligned with the learning standards of the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks;
  • Ensure that all DYS educators are evaluated via a comprehensive supervisory and accountability process;
  • Develop a staffing plan that addresses compensation, professional development and ongoing accreditation;
  • Ensure that there are sufficient and appropriate materials and supplies available for each staff member and youth at every program;
  • Maintain records in a manner that supports compliance with DOE mandates and regulations; and
  • Document the educational achievement and progress to facilitate the transition to back to the local public school.

Following the RFI process, a Request for Response (RFR) should be developed and issued. The RFR will seek to incorporate the information gathered during the RFI process in order to select an entity or entities that will best deliver comprehensive education services within DYS.

Recommendation 3:
DYS should research and select a system-wide curriculum to be implemented across the DYS continuum.

Throughout the course of FY 2003, DYS, in conjunction with DOE, should determine the appropriate curriculum to be implemented across the DYS programs. The curriculum should be designed specifically to help at-risk and out-of-school youth attain high academic standards. One of the models that should be explored is a competency-based curricular model, which raises educational standards, incorporates new instructional methods, expands formal learning beyond the classroom, and specifically focuses on developing core academic competencies through the acquisition of basic skills. A competency-based model incorporates work-based learning, portfolio development and work readiness (Appendix B-1). In addition, DYS will review/research a variety of instructional strategies that may be used with the new curriculum. Given the number of students who are at different academic levels and have multiple learning needs, a variety of instructional strategies need to be examined. Some examples of these are Project Based Learning (PBL), Differentiated Instruction/ Learning and Expeditionary Learning (Appendix B-2). These strategies accommodate the different interest and needs of each student. In addition, a system-wide literacy curriculum across the continuum should be selected.

As part of this ongoing reform effort, DOE and DYS will explore the use of technology as a curricular tool. In particular, the use of Virtual Education Space (VES) will be explored. With technical assistance from DOE, DYS will develop a system-wide technology plan that complies with the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks. The Departments should implement an initial technology component on a pilot basis, to review its impact and applicability in the DYS learning context. Examples of computer-assisted programs include VES, Plato Learning Systems and Destinations. The computer-assisted instruction may be implemented across a continuum of residential programs. Such a tool will provide critical educational services and support to both detained and committed youth in residential settings.

Recommendation 4:
DYS will develop a system-wide staffing plan that will support the education reform initiative.

The staffing plan should address recruitment and retention, professional development, ongoing supervision, evaluation and deployment of all education staff. In addition, it should address the inequities that exist in compensation levels of teachers working within the DYS system. A recent DYS survey determined that the average DYS teacher is less than adequately compensated. A system-wide compensation schedule that is comparable to public school teachers within the Commonwealth should be developed to address this issue. In addition, DYS should implement the following initiatives in order to achieve its goal of recruiting and retaining a qualified teaching force:

  • Develop a common annual academic calendar that includes teaching and professional development schedules across all DYS programs;
  • Institute a system-wide evaluation and supervisory process for all education staff;
  • Design a system-wide program for professional development that includes training around topics such as literacy, numeracy, special education, competency education, computer assisted instruction, student assessment and education within correctional institutions; and
  • Implement, based on the requirements developed by DOE, a re-certification process for all DYS teachers.

Recommendation 5:
DYS should implement a comprehensive assessment system that includes special education, literacy and numeracy to screen and guide academic planning, placement and services for all youth.

In order to address the needs of DYS youth, DYS should develop a comprehensive assessment process that will provide a profile of the academic strengths, proficiency levels in reading and mathematics, vocational/ occupational interests and learning needs of DYS youth. The assessment should establish an academic baseline for each student to be used as the basis for developing individualized instructional plans. The academic assessment should also include special needs screening instruments that will assist in determining if a youth has a learning disability that is affecting his/her academic development. In addition to the special needs screening process, a comprehensive special needs evaluation system should be developed. The educational services needed would be determined by the academic assessment and by any special needs assessment.

Guidance should be sought from the DOE's Program Compliance Assistance (PQA) unit with regard to program implementation and compliance of special education regulations. DYS, in conjunction with DOE, should develop a plan to increase the number of special education teachers and specialists in order to meet the requirements of the Individualized Education Programs of DYS youth with disabilities. A core number of teachers should ultimately be encouraged to maintain dual certification in regular and special education.

DYS should develop a data tracking system that ensures all special education files and records are in compliance with state and federal mandates. In addition, DYS should:

  • Develop a process with local school districts that expedites obtaining student records;
  • Develop a screening and assessment process for students with disabilities that provide ongoing recommendations regarding the academic program and ancillary services;
  • Train teachers to identify and screen students with learning disabilities; and
  • Develop appropriate mechanisms to ensure the placement of students with current IEPs into appropriate educational and vocational settings upon returning to their home communities.

Recommendation 6:
DYS will develop an effective community placement and transition process.

The Department of Youth Services, with assistance from the Department of Education, should develop reciprocal relationships with local school districts to enhance smooth transitions of youth to and from the community. Enhancing existing partnerships and initiating new collaborative relationships with LEAs, community colleges, vocational schools and other entities will augment available resources. DYS should work jointly with DOE on the following:

  • Explore partnerships for the development of alternative education and vocational education programs within local communities;
  • Develop a model that identifies the prospective education placement within the local community before the student transition occurs;
  • Secure wrap-around services for youth residing in the community and ensure that services are coordinated with the local school program as part of a comprehensive support service structure;
  • Develop appropriate mechanisms to ensure the placement of students with current IEPs into appropriate educational and vocational settings upon returning to their home communities;
  • Provide ongoing academic support/case transition at DYS Day Reporting Centers;
  • Provide community-based academic support through computer technology at DYS Day Reporting Centers; and
  • Collaborate with local districts to establish alternative education programs to help youth transition from DYS back into their home school district.

Conclusion

The working group has reviewed the findings and recommendations of the first report. The goals outlined in the initial report, together with the newly designed plan, form the basis for an education reform plan to be phased in within the next several years. This plan will be the driving force to establish superior educational standards and high quality programs that will educate, motivate and equip a captivated population of youth. It will allow the Department of Youth Services to implement an improved educational system that provides essential skills and opportunities for academic success for the Commonwealth's most troubled and needy students. Such a system should be well positioned to prepare DYS youth for re-entry into their communities with the knowledge that they have acquired the academic tools that will increase their capacity to become law-abiding and productive members of society.


This information is provided by the Department of Youth Services.