Research Debriefed: Virginia Snodgrass Rangel - University of Houston
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Research Debriefed: Virginia Snodgrass Rangel A series highlighting articles published by University of Houston College of Education faculty

Posted July 21, 2020


“A Researcher–Practitioner Agenda for Studying and Supporting Youth Reentering School After Involvement in the Juvenile Justice System”

Author: Virginia Snodgrass Rangel, assistant professor
Department: Educational Leadership & Policy Studies
Co-authors: Sascha Hein, Charles Rotramel, Bea Marquez
Journal: Educational Researcher
Publication date: March 6, 2020
Topic: educational policy

Overview: A review of the research on what happens when formerly incarcerated students go back to school and what researchers should do next


What was the main question you were trying to answer?
There’s a lot of research on what happens when formerly incarcerated students go back to their community but not their schools. We were trying to determine what we know and don’t know about the school reentry process for kids returning from incarceration.

Assistant Professor Virginia Snodgrass Rangel researches school reform, policy implementation, policy practice and teacher leadership.

Can you describe the research process?

We read school-to-prison pipeline literature, psychology literature and studied criminal justice frameworks. Then we outlined existing research, which is thin. Based on our research, we looked for the gaps and other areas researchers can tackle. We wanted to create a conceptual framework for how future research can be conducted and how people across different disciplines and practices can collaborate.

For those who are unfamiliar, what is the school-to-prison pipeline?

It is the idea that schools are instrumental in not only pushing kids out of schools but pushing them into prisons by criminalizing behavior. Most of the kids who are entering the juvenile system are African American males. Historical works have argued that the school-to-prison pipeline is an extension of Jim Crow laws and was intensified by the implementation of zero tolerance policies. Together, they have marginalized African American kids within and from our schools.

How is the framework you proposed unique?

It evaluates our practice as teachers, school leaders and policymakers. To better engage students, we ask: How do educators think about formerly incarcerated kids? How do teachers discipline them? Is instruction presented in a relevant way? What do schools and districts do to improve discipline?

Our framework also incorporates the notion of institutional complexity and embeddedness. Kids work in a classroom, which is embedded in a school, a district, a state and so on. Every single level from the classroom up to the federal government has rules and norms. Students who become involved in the justice system interact with multiple agencies, such as juvenile justice, schools and social services. Oftentimes, these different agencies don’t have compatible policies, which creates conflicts, and the kid is ultimately the one who suffers.

What were your most significant findings?

The lack of research coming out of what we considered traditional education research or research on teaching, instruction and leadership. It’s just not there. We realized we needed to write about and bring attention to this gap.

What are the social implications of this work?

We hope our framework inspires researchers to cross agency lines and partner with their practitioner counterparts, like social workers, to help define research questions. They could use the findings to develop effective practices and interventions.  

Why is this subject important to you?

From a research perspective, there’s a lot of opportunity here because we don’t know a lot. Even though I didn’t have a background in this topic prior to coming to UH, I wanted to conduct meaningful research that could have an impact on kids. This topic is really a way to move the needle on something that matters.

What will you research next?

With my colleague Sascha Hein, we want to study local students, some of whom have had up to 19 different interactions with the juvenile justice system, to learn about what happens when they are released on probation and return to local schools. We want to know who is going back to HISD schools from the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department. What schools are they going back to, what classes are they taking, how often are they re-disciplined and do they return to the juvenile justice system? We’ve pulled these questions out from our framework. There’s a lot of work to be done, and I hope other people take on these issues and collaborate.

— By Lillian Hoang