Georgia’s First After School and Youth Development Conference

John LashThe first Georgia After School and Youth Development Conference is taking place in Athens, Ga. January 9 – 11. The event was organized by GUIDE, Gwinnet United in Drug Education, Inc., and supported by the state’s Department of Human Services, the Governor’s Office for Children and Families, and the Department of Education. I was fortunate to be able to attend part of the conference on Thursday, and to sit down with a few of the presenters.

The focus of the conference, embodied in the theme “Together towards Tomorrow,” is a set of unified standards for after school and summer programs that will enable the government, providers, and grant makers to make decisions based on the latest evidence about what really works. Collaboratively developed by several government and nonprofit agencies over nearly a year, the standards are comprised of eight Quality Elements:

  • Programming and Activities
  • Linkages with the School Day
  • Health, Nutrition and Physical Fitness
  • Environment and Climate
  • Relationships, Culture and Diversity
  • Staffing and Professional Development
  • Organizational Practices
  • Evaluation and Outcomes

Each of these elements are viewed as important in developing programs that are engaging, mesh with and support school activities, develop skills outside the scope of the school curriculum and that rely on evidence-based practices and measurable outcomes of targeted traits.

Thursday morning Judge Steven Teske (a frequent contributor to JJIE) spoke to the gathering about the innovative approach Clayton County has taken to reduce the number of kids declared delinquent. A big part of his talk focused on the negative outcomes of youth involvement with police and courts. The deeper into the system the kid goes, from handcuffing to incarceration, the odds of dropping out of school and participating in future crimes goes up.

Another speaker I was able to sit down with was Jill Riemer, Executive Director of the Georgia Afterschool Investment Council. GAIC is a nonprofit whose mission is to increase the quality and availability of after school programs around the state. They serve as a resource for programs of all types, and provide networking, training, curriculum development, and other assistance.

GAIC played a role in the creation of the state wide standards and Jill was excited to see the level of energy that was palpable among attendees. There are thousands of programs around the state and it is difficult to track what they do and how effective they are. The common standards are a huge step towards increasing the effectiveness of programs and allowing those with the mission of supporting such programs a way to decide where and how to invest their resources.

Now the concern for kids that motivates so many of those who attended the conference will be augmented by tools that will help them select what really works.

Meridian Struggles with School-to-Prison Allegations

This story was produced in partnership with the Center for Public Integrity

Lionel Townsend will turn 14 in September and a few months after that he will be able to return to school, ending a year of exile.

Lionel admits he got into fights multiple times at Magnolia Middle School. When he was charged with vandalizing a school bus security camera, he was booted from school. He fought again in a community day program. The county Youth Court eventually put him on probation and an order to stay at home with an ankle monitor.

But the federal Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division is alleging the juvenile justice system is so faulty it amounts to a “school-to-prison pipeline” in the Townsends’ home of Meridian.

“If you do wrong, you got to pay,” insisted Lionel’s mother, Ella Townsend, speaking in the living room of the home she shares with her mother, Lionel and four of the boy’s siblings. Lionel listens quietly, a skinny boy, who grins when attention is turned to him, or he’s teased about the sparkly blue earring studded in his ear. “But “that was harsh punishment,” she said, “I feel like they were sort of out of order.”

Townsend says her son’s ankle monitor was so sensitive it went off if he went in the back yard.  The young man is rid of it now, but not before he gouged off the speaker, causing what Townsend said the court assessed as $1,500 in damage.

She worries if Lionel makes another mistake, he will end up in prison with adults, where he will learn the criminal trade.

The Justice Department says it has probable cause to believe the city of Meridian and Lauderdale County routinely and repeatedly incarcerate children for school disciplinary infractions, as outlined in an Aug. 10 open letter, at the end of an eight-month investigation. Their letter is addressed to the city and county, the county's two Youth Court judges, as well as the state Division of Youth Services, but not the Meridian school system.

The letter said infractions such as defiance, disrespect, dress code violations or cursing led to a police ride to the county Youth Court. City police in closed-door interviews called themselves a “taxi service” from school to jail, the DOJ writes. “MPD officers may subjectively believe that they are acting appropriately,” reads the letter, but the DOJ argues the police are wrong to automatically arrest children referred by the schools, instead of investigating and determining probable cause themselves. The police, they charge, do not assess “whether the alleged conduct qualifies as an arrestable offense.”

Once in custody, the Youth Court fails to give children speedy hearings, the DOJ says, by holding court only two days per week, thus on weekends and holidays pushing some children over a 48-hour threshold. Furthermore, “children and their guardians consistently report that they are not always appointed an attorney for detention or adjuration hearings,” reads the letter, adding an allegation that the public defender in the court does not provide “meaningful or effective representation.”

In cases of probation, children are inappropriately signing probation contracts that they do not comprehend, says the DOJ, and there “is no evidence that Lauderdale County and DYS [Mississippi Division of Youth Services] ever provide constitutionally required probable cause hearings.”  DYS youth counselors — the DOJ calls them “probation officers” — in practice have “absolute discretion” to determine if there is a probation violation and what the consequence will be, according to allegations.

The federal agency also claims that African-American children are disproportionately suspended or expelled and that Meridian children who have disabilities are expelled or given long suspensions at a rate almost seven times higher than the state as a whole, though it does not quote detailed statistics.

The DOJ said it sought Youth Court records to supplement site visits, and interviews with police, DYS staff and community members. They were denied access locally on privacy grounds. In a written comment, a Mississippi attorney general spokesperson explained, “we have said that the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) will cooperate in any lawful manner with the DOJ investigation.  However, state law, including Mississippi Code Section 43-21-261, prohibits the AOC from providing to DOJ copies of confidential youth court records without a court order.”

But the city of Meridian and Lauderdale County reject the charges, accusing the federal agency of basing their allegations on only “a few” cases and “unsubstantiated” claims, in a letter they wrote to the DOJ, which was released in response to media queries to the police and the Youth Court.

The findings of the DOJ are “one-sided and reflect, in our opinion, the inexperience and unprofessionalism of your investigating representatives as to basic criminal procedure,” write Meridian City Attorney Ronnie Walton and attorney for Lauderdale County, J. Richard Barry.

Youth Court judges Veldore Young and Frank Coleman “categorically deny any systematic violation of any child’s constitutional rights and have faithfully followed the laws of this State and will continue to protect the confidentiality of our children’s youth court records,” reads the attorneys’ Aug. 23 response.

They suggest the DOJ’s head civil rights lawyer is already biased against Meridian, accusing Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas Perez of running to the media instead of talking with judges; and of publicly criticizing Meridian schools.

They say the DOJ letter contains “outright untruths where it is stated that those judges would not cooperate” with the investigation by turning over juvenile court records. The attorneys say the judges do not have the legal right to hand over those papers.

After numerous requests for comment, a spokesperson from the Department of Justice wrote in an email that, “protecting the constitutional rights of youth is a top priority of the Justice Department. The department’s Civil Rights Division is tasked with ensuring and acting to protect the civil rights of children. If we find that a school district or juvenile justice system is depriving youth of their rights, we will not hesitate to act.

New School Year

Last year, Alvin Taylor was hired as Meridian school superintendent after several rapid changes of leadership. Much of the top administration turned over at the same time, he said, and his new team brought in new policies and procedures.

“I can’t speak on what happened before June 1, 2011,” said Taylor, referring to the day his work started.

Taylor’s 2011-2012 school year student handbooks lay out dozens of rule infractions and the punishments. Police only get involved, Taylor said, for three infractions named by Mississippi state law: weapons, drugs or serious violent acts.

A schoolyard fight is not considered a serious violent act, Taylor said, but gang fights or assaulting a teacher for example, is.

When school staff determine one of those three infractions has happened, said Taylor, a call to police must first be approved by himself or the assistant superintendent of student services.

He said less than 1 percent of youth get arrested in a given year in his roughly 6,200-student system. There are also around 60 or so expulsions every year, he said. Taylor said that expulsion rate is lower than average, according to his research.

As for the DOJ allegations that children who have disabilities — including learning disabilities — are disproportionally ousted from school, Taylor said, “all those accusations stem from 2009. And I can’t speak on what they did back then. I can tell you that’s not the situation now.”

In 2009, Meridian High School enrolled 1,625 students, according to the latest figures available in a federal Department of Education database. The same database says that among 205 Meridian High School students who have disabilities, there were 145 instances of children getting more than one out-of-school suspension.  The student population overall was 86.8 percent African-American, and black students represented 96 percent of all out-of-school suspensions and 100 percent of the 10 reported expulsions.

Long-Smoldering Fire

The DOJ received the very first complaints about Meridian in 2005 from NAACP activist Randle Jennings. He was surprised when the city cut funding to a baseball program for at-risk youth he ran and considered very successful. He started looking at schools and asked why more than 90 percent of the teachers were white, given that there were five historically black colleges or universities within one hundred miles, and more than 90 percent of Meridian's students were black?

“We realized something was going on,” said Jennings, now the county NAACP education chair.  “We smelled smoke,” but did not have an explanation for it. He sent the data about teacher and student demographics to the DOJ, and admits he did not know what they might find.

Five years later, in May 2010, the federal Department of Justice sent a letter to Lauderdale County’s and Meridians’ official attorneys. They were asking for records about school discipline and police involvement in schools. In the following months, the DOJ also participated in at least two public meetings where they asked area residents to come lodge their complaints about school discipline and the law.

Jennings is sure a pipeline runs through Meridian. “We have a concern for our children, especially the next generation because we have seen two generations be destroyed … [we] systematically need a plan so our children aren’t shoved in that pipeline.”

Lauderdale County juvenile inmates used to land in a detention center on the edge of town. However, it’s closed now and since the beginning of 2012, minors have been bused to a center some 70 miles away in Rankin County. Lauderdale’s center had been the subject of a federal lawsuit brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center over conditions of incarceration.

Get Rid of the Problem

The Love City Fellowship, a church in Meridian, hosted a public meeting on school discipline and the law in August 2010. The church, the DOJ and the Southern Poverty Law Center invited parents to come to the afternoon meeting to talk about suspensions and arrests from city schools. Some church members are still collecting stories from friends and neighbors and urging parents to talk to the DOJ.

“Some of the rules that are in place do not put the child in mind first,” said Senior Pastor Lamorris Richardson. “Instead of having to deal with the problem and find a solution, it’s more ’get rid of the problem.’”

The city school system is separately in a dispute with the DOJ that is very closely related to the newly-announced allegations against the city and county. The school system is a party in a 1960s-era federal desegregation order. The DOJ reopened that case in 2010 in an effort to investigate the discipline complaints and other complaints that the district was allegedly unfairly terminating African-American educators.

In that case, besides asking for data, the DOJ asked for access to visit schools and interview staff in 2010. The school district initially rejected those DOJ requests, and the DOJ responded by asking the federal court to order access and document release. According to court filings, the school argued the demand to visit and interview staff and law enforcement officers is too broad and amounts to “fishing” for information, as does a DOJ request to inspect databases and documents on site at schools. That battle over visits, interviews and inspections is ongoing in court and forms the background to the DOJ’s August letter and threat to sue the city and county.

Pastor Richardson said his city needs a school board picked by the community. Now it is named by the mayor and confirmed by city council. Though, according to Elizabeth McDonald, spokeswoman for the school district, the board members each represent different areas of the city.

The board is currently made up of three whites and two blacks.

“This city has not moved in how many decades? … Five decades?” asked pastor Betty Alford, also of Love City Fellowship, comparing treatment of African-Americans now to the 1960s.

Richardson added, “No community, in 2012, should be still dealing with practices that applies [only] to a certain group, a certain community where kids rights are not being protected in school. We should be way past this kind of bias.”

But Meridian children like Lionel are out of Superintendent Taylor’s hands. Once a child is expelled, the child is not a “student” and the school board is not obligated to instruct him.

That being said, the schools, in partnership with the city and local groups, will this year start a pilot program for expelled students that provides character and academic education, as well as technical options. It will have 18 slots and is set to start in September. That will be the only full-time educational opportunity for students expelled from school.

As for Lionel, Ella is teaching him at home until he goes back to school, though she said it is not enough. “I can do stuff from what I know, but I’m not a trained teacher,” she said. “He needs to eat his material, he needs to study and learn.”

Click here for other examples of the school to prison pipeline around the country.

Sites, Sounds from the Chicago Teachers’ Strike

By Audrey Cheng and Jennifer Starrs

Emotions and rhertoric have been running high as CTU teachers and paraprofessionals formed picket lines, beginning early Monday and continuing Wednesday with no quick end in sight for the first schools strike since 1987. Teachers are pushing for a contract, better working conditions and more social workers in schools, amomg other issues – while administration officials are pressing for big curricular and testing changes, including a greater emphasis on programs like charter schools.


Audrey Cheng and Jennifer Starrs are reporters for The Chicago Bureau

Widespread Worry in Chicago About Safety of Children as Strike Continues

Following another Chicago summer during which many youth were slain in gang or drug disputes, there was concern on both sides of the Chicago teachers’ strike this week about the safety of the children whose school doors have been shut during negotiations over a new contract.

There was little patience and much anger leading up to, and following, the breakdown of talks late Sunday, which picked up again with the new week but so far have failed to stem the first strike here since 1987. That’s a quarter century of relative labor peace in a city where walkouts and the delay of the school year were regular.

While remembering those union battles might stretch the memory of many Chicagoans, there's little need to stretch the imagination about what might happen if minors are left unwatched or unsupervised as parents return to work. Consider: Through the first week of September, homicides in Chicago were up nearly 30 percent over last year to 366, and overall shooting incidents were up 10 percent.

While the crime tally is still much lower than during the high violence of the 1980s and 1990s, the summer toll pushed Mayor Rahm Emanuel into a tricky political corner. For example, Emanuel was criticized for taking time out to speak during the Democratic National Convention, despite the seeming chaos at home in Chicago.

Also backed into the corner -- with some passersby screaming such insults, as “filthy scumbags” at the thousands of strikers who jammed downtown streets -- were Chicago school administrators, union leaders and teachers, as well as police Superintendent Garry McCarthy.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has weighed in, as well as others from the national stage, and Chicago once again landed in the spotlight.

The strike officially began Monday morning, soon after negotiators for the Chicago Public Schools board walked away from talks. And so, 29,000 Chicago Teachers’ Union members took an absence from their jobs and staged what threatens to be a lengthy protest. Late Tuesday, talks again ended with no deal -- and union president Karen Lewis said the teachers and city had only solved a handful of the dozens of issues on the table. For its part, City Hall was saying the two sides were getting closer to a resolution.

With the strike, CPS enacted its contingency plan, which requires at least 144 CPS schools to open their doors to students from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. each day the strike continues. CPS will not provide transportation to these schools, which could remain open until at least 2:30 p.m. come Thursday -- and parents need to sign up their children beforehand or call 311.

Many are worried that as the school day shortens during the strike, or is eliminated entirely at some schools, crime or neglect will increase against and among youth.

Chicago Teachers Union political director Stacy Davis Gates said she was worried that City Hall's leadership on crime was lacking -- and that teachers are being asked to absorb the responsibility.

“If we're really worried about this violence, why are our schools without nurses and social workers that could actually help to absorb the trauma that these kids experience as a result of this high murder rate?” Davis Gates said.

She continued: “We're asking them to come back into a classroom and bubble in A, B, C and D into a test and to get a test score from it. But we're not providing them with people who can help them analyze and synthesize the experiences they're coming into the building with. We don't have mental health care clinics in our communities. They've been shut down. We know a great majority of our students come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, where health care is not always the best. And we're not providing those vital resources to them.”

Davis Gates also said she is warning people “not all of our children are criminals.” That is a sentiment echoed by children and parents across the city -- but one with which observers and officials in the police houses and schools are concerned people will get too comfortable or complacent.

Indeed, seeing this concern, many businesses, foundations and other organizations were trying to bridge the gap with ad hoc and improvised programs to keep youth, especially in more troubled pockets of the city, occupied and cared for. This continued -- and was stepped up – Tuesday, even as CPS said plans were in the works to extend the hours of the shortened day in schools that were opened.

CPS social worker Doreen Heredia said she is striking because there are not enough social workers per school.

“We’re assigned based on special-needs,” Heredia said. “But there’s so much more that needs to be taken care of — children in crisis, families in crisis, homelessness, poverty, job loss. I deal with a lot of undocumented parents, so yeah I could use some more social workers in this community.”

In order to go on strike, CTU had to get 75 percent of its members to vote for a strike authorization. The teachers overwhelmingly voted for a strike, with 98 percent consent. The CTU's Davis Gates said union members were “disappointed it has come to this.”

“It's offensive and very disconcerting that here we are, but our members are willing to make a stand,” Davis Gates said. “This is more than the wages and the benefits and about the type of education that we believe, as the experts, our students are deserving of here in Chicago.”

Teachers started forming picket lines in front of the CPS headquarters and in front of their respective schools Monday morning. Davis Gates said until a compromise or settlement is reached, CTU members will continue to strike.

CPS parent Elle Kerlegan said if parents understood the role teachers play in their child’s life, then they would be supportive of the teachers on strike.

“I think next to parents, teachers do a big job in inspiring your kid to go further their education and achieving bounds that they wouldn’t otherwise achieve because of their circumstances,” Kerlegan said. “You don’t know where these kids come from, the type of family life they have.”

There was also real worry among some about drag on students' learning during the stretch of the strike.

"Every day that they're not in school is a day that they're not learning," said Pamela Barber, a 4th grade teacher with seven years experience. "And so, my concern is that the things that we had set up for them, like in our lesson plans and stuff, they won't be lost, but we'll have to play catch up when we do go back to school. And then there are kids who come to school with deficits anyway, so whatever plans we had for them, you have to work triple hard to even get them caught up to where they're supposed to be - if you can get them caught up. So they're missing out."

The issue of safety also resonates with Barber, who went to CPS and has a son who attends public school:

"Why would you have them come to school from 8:30 to 12:30?" she said. "That's not a whole school day, so what are you going to do with them after 12:30? So are you really concerned about their safety if you're not at least keeping them in school as long as they would if they were in school regularly."

With additional reporting by Lorraine Ma and Natalie Krebs. 

Audrey Chang is a reporter for The Chicago Bureau

A Look Inside Atlanta Public Schools [INFOGRAPHIC]

INFOGRAPHIC: a look inside Atlanta Public Schools. --CLICK TO VIEW--When the U.S. Department of Education released the latest installment of the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), statistics covering the 2009-10 academic school year, last week it made headlines around the country.

The CRDC represents a wealth of information from just about every corner of our country’s educational landscape. The report also shined some light on a number of gaps in educational opportunity and discipline on a national scale. Every state, school, district and county with a public school system is in there with detailed numbers attached.

The Office of Civil Rights, a division of the Department of Education, has been collecting CRDC information since 1968 to help identify gaps, disparities and trends in educational achievement and opportunities. The work was suspended briefly in 2006 under then President George W. Bush, but was reinstated and expanded by President Obama last year — collecting data for the first time on things such as law enforcement referrals for students.

“For the first time we have an incredible new source of data that tells us where opportunity gaps are in ways we’ve never seen before as a country,” Russlynn Ali, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the Department of Education, said in a telephone briefing with reporters last week following the release of the first installment of the new CRDC data. “In recent years we have more data than ever before on identifying the achievement gap and where it exists.”

The New York Times and other media outlets have done some great and extensive reporting on national trends in discipline and opportunity gaps that surfaced from the data. Among the findings:

  • Black students were more than three and a half times as likely to be suspended or expelled than their white peers.
  • More than 70 percent of students in school-related arrests were black or Hispanic.
  • Black and Hispanic students account for 44 percent of the students covered in the survey, but only account for 26 percent of students enrolled in gifted or talented programs.
  • On average, teachers at high-minority schools were paid $2,251 less annually than their colleagues in other schools.

But one of the biggest benefits of this collection is the ability to drill down to any level, for any district, for any school, anywhere in the nation. Since the JJIE is located in metro Atlanta, we decided to take a look at the Atlanta Public School (APS) system.

Examining the data for the City of Atlanta, a number of the national trends seem to hold true. The percentage of black students suspended or expelled was high compared to the number in the school system, and black enrollment in gifted or talented programs was disproportionately low.

At first glance a handfull of findings from the self-reported data stick out. For example, the average teacher salary of $94,000 seems strikingly high. A look at six counties surrounding the APS district shows a wide range in average salaries:

  • Atlanta - $94,058.90
  • Cobb – $48,372.50
  • DeKalb – $82,488.50
  • Fulton (non-APS) – $38,759.80
  • Gwinnett – $45, 680.30
  • Clayton – $81,138.60
  • Douglas – $125,846.00

But looking at the salary averages across districts can be misleading if you fail to dig into the reporting behind it, Department of Education spokesperson David Thomas said.

"Many comparisons are possible with the CRDC school-level expenditure data, particularly within-district comparisons," Thomas said in an e-mail. "However, data users must analyze the data between states and districts with caution due to variations in the district-selected inclusions and exclusions."

These inclusions and exclusions account  for the wide range of reported average salaries in the Atlanta area.  Here's a breakdown Thomas provided to help clarify:

Breakdown of average teacher reporting inclusions and exclusions for 2009 CRDC data, metro Atlanta.

The new database has only been live for about a week and a number of features – including the ability to easily track trends over the years of available data – are still in the works. If you want to see how your own school or district measures up, visit

Here’s a round up of Atlanta Public School statistics from the CRDC 2009:


INFOGRAPHIC: a look inside Atlanta Public Schools. CRDC data, 2009.


This infographic was originally published on

Education Data Shows Disproportionate Minority Discipline, Opportunity Gaps For Public School Students

Department of EducationNewly collected data from the Department of Education shows that minority students are disproportionately subject to harsher disciplinary actions in public schools than their peers and offers insight into opportunity gaps for public school students around the country.

More than 70 percent of students involved in school arrests or law enforcement referrals were black or Hispanic, according to the report. Black students were three and half times more likely to be suspended or expelled than white peers, the New York Times reported.

The Civil Rights Data Collection’s 2009-10 gathered statistics from 72,000 schools, serving about 85 percent of the nation’s students from kindergarten through high school.

While the disciplinary data is probably the most dramatic, the statistics illustrated a range of racial and ethnic disparities. Finding included:


  • Black students made up only 18 percent of those enrolled in the schools sampled, however, they accounted for 35 percent of those suspended once, 46 percent of those suspended more than once and 39 percent of all expulsions, according to the Civil Rights Data Collection’s 2009-10 statistics.
  • Over 70 percent of the students involved in school-related arrests or referred to law enforcement were Hispanic or black.
  • Black students were three and a half times as likely to be suspended or expelled than their white peers.
  • In districts that reported expulsions under zero-tolerance policies, Hispanic and black students represent 45 percent of the student body, but 56 percent of those expelled under such policies.

“For the first time we have an incredible new source of data that tells us where opportunity gaps are in ways we’ve never seen before as a country,” Russlynn Ali, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the Department of Education, said in a telephone briefing with reporters on Monday. “In recent years we have more data than ever before on identifying the achievement gap and where it exists.”

The department has gathered information on civil rights and education since 1968, yet the Bush administration suspended the project in 2006. Since then, the data collection has been reinstated and expanded to include referrals to law enforcement, The New York Times reported.

The Civil Rights Data Collection is being released in two parts. This afternoon Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, along with Aliwill will announce the results at Howard University. Afterward, data will be publicly available at

Check back for expanded coverage and updates.


Helping At Risk Kids Strive for A Diploma

The Department of Education is offering the Predominantly Black Institutions Competitive Grant Program. This grant will carry out programs in science, math, technology, engineering, health education, globalization and teacher preparation with the aim of  improving the educational outcome of African-American males. The priorities for this grant are to help high school kids who are at risk to complete college or strive for higher education. This grant will also help to collect, analyze and use high-quality and timely data to follow up on kids who go through the program.

New Laws Across the Country Target Bullying In School

Forty-five states now have laws against bullying and harassment in schools, including Georgia. The Department of Education sent out a memo last month reiterating that all incidents of bullying and harassment be addressed immediately and effectively.

In the memo Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education, also addressed key components of bullying laws in several states. Here are some interesting highlights:

  • Oklahoma has linked bullying to antisocial behavior such as vandalism, shoplifting, fighting and drug and alcohol abuse.
  • Indiana law addresses incidents taking place on school property, off school property and even cases involving equipment provided by the school.
  • Maryland and Oregon include ‘intimidation’ in the definition of bullying.

DOE highlighted Georgia law, which provides a procedure not only for students, but also for families, staff and others who report incidents of bullying. The Feds recommend a zero tolerance policy against bullying.

Duncan also addressed the Dear Colleague letter sent out last October from the Department’s Office for Civil Rights. As reported last fall, the letter explains how “discrimination and harassment based on race, color, national origin, sex, disability and religion” should be handled as a civil rights violation.

As reported last month, every school in Georgia must implement new bullying policies by August 1, 2011 that cover the following:

  • Prohibit student-to-student bullying in the code of conduct.
  • Send third time bullying offenders to an alternative school.
  • Establish a plan to notify parents or guardians of kids who bully or are the victim of bullying.

National Dropout Numbers: Three Million or 11 Million? It Depends on Whom You Ask

High school dropouts have been a national concern for decades and there have been lots of studies on why teens drop out and how to keep them in school.

Now, researchers are debating how many teens have actually dropped out and the numbers vary wildly, from 3 million to a whopping 11 million teens.

As reported last month, the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics released a report in December documenting that about 3 million 16 to 24-year-olds were not in high school and did not have a high school diploma. The Center did not include dropouts with a GED or dropouts who were institutionalized.

Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies used the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey and estimates a much higher number: 6.2 million. This number includes young people with GED’s and those who didn’t graduate because they went to prison.

Whether to include GED holders has been an ideological debate among researchers for many years, Youth Today points out. also reported about the problem of dropout factories, a term coined by Johns Hopkins University which describes high schools where fewer than 60 percent of freshman actually graduate.

MDC Inc., a nonprofit in North Carolina, estimates an even higher number: 11 million dropouts nationwide. MDC’s report, called Disconnected Youth in the Research Triangle Region: An Ominous Problem Hidden in Plain Sight, focused on the South, combined Census data with community interviews and extrapolated their results.

So, how many kids have dropped out of school across the nation? There are so many different definitions and so many ways to count them that nobody knows for sure.