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UDL and Improving Education for Incarcerated Youth

Incarcerated youth have the right to a high-quality education. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) can serve as a powerful mechanism to actualize this right.

On any given day, more than 81,000 youth are confined to residential facilities in the juvenile justice system. These youth are disproportionately students of color (particularly African American males), students from low-income backgrounds, and students with disabilities. The education provided to these youth while they are incarcerated is critical to their subsequent reintegration into school and the community. Moreover, these youth have the right to a quality education, grounded in Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and the federal civil rights laws.

Unfortunately, the education that is typically provided to incarcerated youth is far from the quality to which they are entitled. Curriculum is often not aligned with grade-level standards, instruction tends to focus on the drilling of low-level skills rather than the teaching of higher-order comprehension, and required special education services are not available. Radical change is needed to transform the learning environments of juvenile justice classrooms.

To read more, visit Harvard Education Publishing Group's Voices in Education blog.