From the Executive Director, Elmer L. Cerano
What is Really Happening in our Educational Systems?
“Teaching students to read would be a lot wiser investment in our national security and economic health than building more prison beds.”
A recent study of the Texas Educational System (referenced by Mark McWilliams in an article on page 7 of this newsletter) indicates some alarming facts about the rates of suspension and expulsion from school for students with identifiable disabilities. The report also indicates how repeated suspensions have correctly predicted later involvement of youth, many of whom have disabilities, in the juvenile justice system.
Sometimes referred to as the School- to-Prison Pipeline, for years, observers have recognized a connection between how we educate children and the ways in which we respond to behaviors that may be indicative of the presence of a disability.
Years ago, I came across a study done by another state’s correctional system (not Michigan), that made me even more suspicious about how we identify problems and solutions.
The State wanted to project their prison bed needs 20 years into the future. They used several variables but the one I found most alarming was their concentration on the reading abilities of children in the third grade. From that study, the Department of Corrections accurately predicted the State’s future prison population and the number of beds they would need to build in order to accommodate the expected 20-year growth in prison populations.
Not only was it frightening that the projections were accurate, it was also frightening that it was the Department of Corrections and not the Department of Education that did the study.
I am sure that some of the study’s outcomes may have created a self-fulfilling prophecy where the school’s expectation of failure was clearly communicated to students who may have needed additional supports in becoming proficient in reading. However, what I believe was missed in the study was the devastating disconnect between the perceived problems and the identified solution.
Problem: How do we prepare for future prison beds?
Solution: Count the number of third graders who can’t read.
Problem: Third Graders can’t read.
Solution: Build more prison beds.
Get the point?
The Texas report is unique in that it did not take a random sampling of students. They studied nearly one million Texas 7th graders and found that 75 percent of students with disabilities and 90 percent of students with emotional impairment were suspended or expelled from school, many of whom ended up in the Texas juvenile justice system.
What a waste of valuable human potential.
I know that some people in Michigan will be critical of the Texas report – after all, “Michigan is not Texas,” but come on, give me a break! Neither Texas nor Michigan has a lock on 7th graders who are in or heading for a lifetime of problems. I would venture to guess that a similar study in Michigan would produce results that parallel the Texas study. I would love to be proven wrong on this.
Most certainly, teaching students to read would be a lot wiser investment in our national security and economic health than building more prison beds. However, teaching children to read is not the responsibility of the Department of Corrections. Their job is to manage the fallout from an educational system that continues to fail students with disabilities.
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