Of the 70,000 students in the juvenile justice system, only 25% leave on track to re-enter school. According to federal reports, only 15% of the juvenile justice population showed any type of improvement in reading, and less than half of students in the system for more than 90 days earned one or more course credits. It is apparent that education in the juvenile justice system needs help. Consequently, the Department of Education and Department of Justice recently issued guiding principles intended at helping to improve education in the juvenile justice setting. If we want the justice system to make a difference in these troubled teens’ lives we have to equip them with the necessary tools to succeed in the real world after their incarceration is over.
Of course, there are many barriers to providing quality education in the juvenile justice system. Many juveniles enter the system far below grade-level and far behind in their studies. In turn, the juvenile justice classroom is a mixture of levels and abilities. Also, students miss class a lot for court hearings and meetings with probation officers. In addition, some facilities are not accredited by the state so students do not even receive credit for the work they do. The lack of high-quality teachers is another barrier for juvenile justice systems.
Online learning can help eliminate many of these barriers. Whether it is used as a blended approach or totally online, both options can prove beneficial. Online learning allows students to work at their own pace and level. This meets the needs of each individual student. Faster learners can move ahead without waiting for the other students, while slower students don’t fall behind. They can review the material as many times as needed to understand the content. When students are absent they wouldn’t get behind, they can simply pick right back up where they left off. Through blended learning opportunities students can receive a mixture of direct instruction and independent learning. This option allows interaction and connections with teachers as well as personalized online lessons. There are many online learning options that are accredited, allowing students to earn a high school diploma. Many online programs offer credit recovery options as well. Because so many students enter the juvenile justice system behind in school, credit recovery options allow them to “catch-up” on missing credits. The lack of high-quality teachers is also not an issue with online learning because you would not need as many. Online learning could prove very beneficial in helping to improve education in the juvenile justice system.