obama esse

Yeah Boo

Yeah boo is a phrase frequently used in our family. It captures the nature of life—the ups and downs, the births and deaths.

I also think it effectively captures our efforts related to the Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaces No Child Left Behind. And when I say “our work,” I mean the work of the foundations and organizations advancing the well-being of older youth to ensure they are connected and thriving by age 25.

First, the Yeah!

The National Center for Youth Law, the American Bar Association, the Education Law Center, the Juvenile Law Center, and many other organizations did a great job inserting policies to strengthen educational access for children in foster care. Here is an excerpt from their press release:

Although states and districts will be grappling with implementation of ESSA’s many new provisions, the protections for youth in foster care hold great promise. The newly enacted ESSA is expected to reduce disruptions in education for youth in foster care, and provide them with greater school stability, continuity, and success through a number of provisions, including:

  • Allowing youth in foster care to remain in the same school even when their foster home placements are changed
  • Requiring schools to immediately enroll children in foster care after a school move
  • Requiring points of contact in every state education agency as well as many school districts
  • Requiring plans for school transportation for youth in care
  • Tracking achievement data for youth in care 

This is a strong use of the most powerful piece of education policy in our country. Bravo to all the organizations and advocates that made this happen. (Of course, at the state and local level, we will have to work hard to make sure districts and counties actually implement this.)

Now the Boo!

Why didn’t we, at a minimum, get the very same policies or modified versions of the policies to be more expansive to encompass those young people in the juvenile justice system? Simply having expedited enrollments could make a huge difference for young people leaving detention. How about ensuring they can remain in the same school or selecting a school that better meets their needs? How about ensuring that credits are accepted as students move between schooling in detention centers and back into school?

Now, I have no idea what might have been discussed. Perhaps the juvenile justice advocates and foster care advocates met and determined there wasn’t enough overlap. Perhaps they met and decided it was better to get some inroads with foster youth and leave further advocacy to the state and local level. Perhaps funders were supporting one or the other.

I’m personally most disappointed that over-age and undercredited students were totally left out of the ESSE policy. It’s a huge number of students both in and out of school. There is a lot of work going on in high schools to reduce those numbers—in most cases, we are seeing the graduation rates creeping up and up and up. However, we need inclusive, flexible policies (and funding) for those young people in foster care for whom we were not able to ensure educational continuity, for those young people detained in juvenile justice, for those young people who have to work or take care of their siblings, for those young people pushed out of school by unjust exclusionary discipline policies, and for those in special education who simply need more time to earn all the credits required for a diploma.

We can keep advocating at the state and local level. Certainly, those states that are moving to competency education are ripe for a discussion about what it means to meet the needs of students who have not yet developed the skills or earned the credits for a diploma.

However, the foundation community should put on their to-do list a gathering of advocates across the systems two years before ESSE is up for re-authorization. I am confident that the National Center for Youth Law, the American Bar Association, the Education Law Center, and the Juvenile Law Center could be great conveners for such a conversation.