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Friday, December 07, 2007


John Wills Lloyd

Liz, I'm not sure whether your system displays trackbacks, so I'm dropping a URL here. I analyzed some data on this topic and put the results into a post on Teach Effectively:


I originally heard this from my local school superintendent. His version was about second grade success.

Robert Jones

Above is a URL for a source that from all indications is an original quote on this subject. But, it is the source of the quote only. No supporting data for the quote is given in the article. The quote is actually near the bottom of the first page of the article. I believe this quote has been refrenced and requoted to fit circumstances of later versions of the original.

Robert Jones

Sorry my mistake. Here is the URL to go with my previous comment. Oops!


Thanks, Robert!

How Schools Can Work Better for the Kids Who Need the Most
Annenberg Challenge
Challenge Journal

When generations of adults pass on those advantages to their children -- reading to them, listening to them, expecting the best of them -- a "social capital" builds up that fosters and perpetuates success, many analysts now agree. Creating that legacy takes time, but leaving it undone bears grim implications. "Based on this year's fourth-grade reading scores," observes Paul Schwartz, a principal in residence at the U. S. Department of Education, "California is already planning the number of new prison cells it will need in the next century."

Still looks like a urban legend to me. After the holidays I'll write an actual letter to the CA dept. of corrections.

Louise Christiansen

If you have finished your research, I would love to know what you finally heard from the "horse's mouth" on this subject. I would like to use the information in the ENG 101 class I teach, but I hate to perpetuate a myth no matter how good it is for putting the fear of God in them. lol. thx

Faith Umstattd

Regarding the comment about California looking at 3rd-4th grade reading levels to determine how many jail cells to build, it's apparently FALSE. I called the California Department of Corrections and spoke with Terry Thornton in the Communications Department (916-445-4950) and she says it's an urban legend. She says there are about 100 factors that determine how many jail cells they will build and child reading levels is not on the list. She welcomes anyone to call her to confirm.

h brown

I just called NC to try and track down the same thing. They said this is also not the case. No reading scores used. Anyone know differently? I'm working on a presentation and would love to use this. Thanks H Brown


These reporters from the Washington Post chased down the urban legend. Now you know the rest of the story.

In Politics, Fact, Fancy Can Blur in Keystroke Bogus Claim Linking Jail, School Raised Election After Election

By Maria Glod and Rosalind S. Helderman, Washington Post Staff Writers, Thursday, June 4, 2009


"Imagine if your entire future was determined by what you did in the third grade," says Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe in a television advertisement promoting his plan to expand preschool. "Did you know we use the failure rates of third-graders to help predict how many prison spots Virginia will need in 15 years?"

You didn't know? Could be because it's not true -- at least not in Virginia.

The startling claim has been cited by McAuliffe and one of his rivals, Brian Moran, as they seek the Democratic nomination for governor. It is an appealing bit of political rhetoric, providing a cinematic illustration of the benefits of expanding preschool: Society will reap long-term savings by spending money early on education.

In the world of politics, dubious claims can harden into conventional wisdom in a keystroke. Political campaigns now have access to an unlimited catalogue of reports, speeches and essays that swirl on the Internet. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Colin L. Powell and even the organizers of the Alexandria literacy festival have pointed to the link as a frightening example of how children can go astray. The Washington Post and the New York Times have published opinion columns that reference the connection.

"It's catchy," said Peter E. Leone, director of the National Center on Education, Disability and Juvenile Justice at the University of Maryland, often cited as the source of the link. "And it's totally bogus."


But the effort to link third-grade reading scores and prison population has been particularly persistent -- hopscotching from one campaign season to another.

In Virginia, at least, it is definitely untrue. Barry R. Green, director of Virginia's Juvenile Justice Department, said that when officials draw up six-year plans for how much prison space the state will need, they rely on factors that include arrest and conviction trends, but not test scores or any other education data. A policy group convened at the end of the process discusses general social issues, Green added.


Since the ad began airing in Richmond, Norfolk and Roanoke, McAuliffe's campaign has said third-grade scores aren't part of the official formula Virginia uses to plot prison construction. But the campaign says the ad was designed as a tangible and understandable way to bring home the idea that quality preschool is a smart investment.

"We feel comfortable using third-grade reading scores as a way of communicating, in shorthand, the importance of education in predictions of long-term social behavior, including predictions about crime rates, which are then used to determine the number of prison beds that we are constructing," said McAuliffe communications director Delacey Skinner.

Moran made a statement similar to McAuliffe's in a radio interview last month: "If you don't have them by third grade, it's hard to get them back. We use our third-grade reading exams to determine potential for prison later on."

Leone has not ruled out the possibility that a state uses elementary test scores this way, but he has not found one.

"It's like an urban legend," Leone said, adding that he has been fielding calls for years from reporters and politicians researching similar assertions. Last year, he said, a member of D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee's staff called to check it out.

Prison officials in California called the claim "absolutely untrue," saying they must perennially debunk assertions that the state uses elementary reading in prison forecasts. A New York-based education group co-founded by the Rev. Al Sharpton and New York City Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein pulled the information from its Web page in April after an online journalism site labeled it "fiction."

Still, the contention persists, growing more credible with each repetition. Grover "Russ" Whitehurst, former head of the U.S. Education Department's research arm, is sometimes cited as a source of the claim. He said he heard it and repeated it about six years ago in comments that can be found on the Internet. Later, he tried to trace it to its source and came up blank.

"I don't know if it is true or not and regret contributing to the dissemination of what may be an urban legend," Whitehurst said this week.

In campaign literature distributed with the ad, McAuliffe pegged the line to comments made by Norfolk Judge Jerrauld Jones at a teen violence summit he attended last year with another politician. Through his secretary, Jones, former director of the state Juvenile Justice Department, declined to comment.

The campaign also noted a state Department of Criminal Justice Services report that lists failure on third-grade reading tests as a factor that increases the risk of committing a crime.

Where else might McAuliffe have gotten the idea? Robley Jones, lobbyist for the Virginia Education Association, said possibly from him. Jones said he can remember saying something very similar at a recent roundtable discussion on education attended by McAuliffe.

"If it's an urban legend, I'm probably one of those guilty of keeping it alive, because I thought it was true," Jones said.

Jones said he plans to stop saying that the state uses the scores to plan prison construction -- but he said he believes there is a correlation. "I think it may be almost a meaningless distinction, whether or not Virginia is actually using the figure," he said. "The fact of the matter is that the figure could be used accurately."

Diana Owen, an associate professor of political science at Georgetown University, said that despite the input of experts, future candidates will now have one more source to use to make the same claim. "A factoid like that will have another life in another campaign," she said. "Now that that ad's out there, people will cite the ad. I'm sure of it."

So now you know -- totally an urban legend.

Jeffey Blair

Well, to me the bigger question is COULD the prison system accurately forecast their future prison needs from current reading scores? If that is true, whether they actually do or not is less important. (Maybe they should)

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