Author Archives: manager

While We Change Criminal Justice, Another Battle to Help Incarcerated Men of Color Continues

In the wake of George Floyd’s horrific death, white Americans increasingly understand what it means to be Black in this county.  Even before this gruesome event was captured on video for us all to see, Trey Gowdy, a former U.S. House of Representatives member and Republican litigator, was quoted as saying: “I have finally begun to realize that the criminal justice system treats me different, because I am white.”

Since the company that I run, New Century Education, specializes in working with the incarcerated, we have known for decades that our adult prison and juvenile justice systems serve populations that are highly disproportionately Black and Brown.  As educators, our focus has always been to help all those who find themselves incarcerated to prepare for a better life post release.

Research shows that for every grade level increase achieved by an inmate in prison, there is a 3% reduction in recidivism.  Our numbers show that most men coming into prison without a GED or High School Diploma function at a 3rd grade level in math and a 5th grade level in reading/English Language Arts.  Research also tells us that for every year of use in incarceration, the average New Century software user achieves about two grade levels of improvement in both math and reading/ELA.  Over three years, that equals a 18% reduction in recidivism.  The Rand Corporation reports that for every dollar spent on educating inmates, the criminal justice system receives $5 back in savings – keeping fewer men locked up.  With every grade level improvement achieved in prison, the men’s likelihood of recidivating declines a little, the communities to which they return are a little bit safer, and the state budgets improve a bit.

Just as fulfilling to me is when a fifty something inmate tells me “I never could do math before, but now I can do this problem!” and they want me to sit with them while they solve the next one in the lesson.  Or better yet, I see the inmate who can finally read well enough to study the CDL manual and prepare to take the test for his Commercial Driver’s License, and the promise of a career post release.

The criminal justice system needs changing.  Meanwhile, the battle that we fight daily is to help our students, mostly of color, avoid returning to prison.

The Best Players are Not on the Court

Recently, I watched a basketball game between Rutgers Newark and The College of New Jersey.  I was with a coach from one of the local inner city high schools and 12 of his promising athletes.  Three of the coach’s former students were on the Newark team.  He also knew several of the other players, having watched them in high school games.  The running commentary was very insightful.

“You know,” he said, “the best players aren’t on the court.  They’re in the stands.”  He then pointed to two of the students we had escorted to the game. “Those two could and should be on the high school team, but their grades are too low.  I see guys who are amazing on the court, but they don’t make the grades, they can’t play, and then they can’t get exposure and a college scholarship onto a college team.   I sometimes see them in the stands a few years later saying ‘look at that guy, I used to beat his *** when we played ball in high school,’ … but they’re not playing on the court, their sitting in the stands.”

The loss of talent and the unfulfilled futures in the inner city is a depressing saga that coaches and teachers see daily.  Those who go on to play for college teams and keep their grades up receive a degree, learn the discipline it takes to compete, and broaden their opportunities for employment and a good life.

New Century has entered into a collaborative effort with local high school coaches, the YMCA, the DEA, and a few dedicated teachers to tutor promising basketball players identified by the coaches, and get them back on the high school team.  Students work on our Language Arts software during their lunchtime at school.  Then, they come to the YMCA during the weekends and evenings for a combination of our math lab and basketball practice.  Together, we can put more of the talent back on the court and on to a better life.

The Challenge to Implementing Higher Standards with At-Risk Students

As a nation, we need to improve our academic standards to be more competitive internationally.  Moreover, testing to assure students are achieving those standards from state to state is not unreasonable, and our tests are frankly easy compared to some administered in foreign countries.  Unfortunately, the way we are implementing the improved Common Core standards, and the new assessments created for the standards, will likely lead to an increase in “the gap” between mean scores of poor and minority students and those of their more affluent, largely white counterparts.

One has to understand that Common Core will accelerate some standards.  For example, much of what is traditionally taught in 9th grade in many states is moved into 8th grade.  Struggling students suffer because they are missing pre-requisite skills that make it hard to master the grade level content.  Often, the problem is not that the student cannot learn algebra, but that he never learned to divide fractions.  Consequently, he cannot possibly solve the algebraic expression that includes the division of fractions.

If we try to increase the standards without filling in the missing pre-requisite skills, the student will only be that much further behind.  The challenge we see for most inner-city, at-risk students is that their schools often do not have the resources to provide one on one instruction (tutoring) to identify and teach to fill the missing skill gaps.  The teachers will often tell you that when the students leave their class, they know that a large percentage did not understand the concepts covered in the lecture, but the seats are already filling up with students for the next class, and they have no time to work with the struggling students that need help.

At New Century, a not-for-profit, we specialize in Intelligent Tutoring software to identify and fill the skill gaps, and we are working to set up programs after school to help close the gap and reverse the “summer slide” among poor and minority students.   With after-school instruction, the gap can be closed, but it takes diagnostics to identify the gaps and personalized learning paths to fill them, plus teachers to help intervene from time to time.

By addressing the skill gaps, we can successfully start raising the standards for all students.  Without addressing the individual needs of struggling students, we threaten to leave them further behind.

Rand Corp. Reports Efficacy Among Juveniles Using New Century

Students Using New Century Achieve Improved Graduation Rates

In its recent report, How Effective is Correctional Education and Where Do We Go from Here?, the Rand Corporation conducted a Metastudy in which they reviewed the existing  research on what makes a difference in improving education among Juvenile Justice students.

Out of 157 research manuscripts, the Metastudy highlights two interventions that make a difference in student performance.  One intervention made a difference in reading.  The other intervention was an “intensive, personalized, competency based instructional model” at Avon Park that improved graduation rates.  New Century was (and still is) the diagnostic/prescriptive instructional intervention used 30 – 45 minutes per day with students at Avon Park to help teachers personalize instruction for each student.  According to the original study conducted by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, 44.1% of students in Avon Park achieved graduation versus 22.0% of students who were assigned to traditional education programs in other Juvenile Justice facilities under randomized/controlled protocols.

These students were 16 to 18 years of age.  However, over 62% of the students entered the facility with reading skills at or below 6th grade.  Over 37% were assessed with special education needs.

New Century is uniquely designed to help teachers succeed with deeply At-Risk, Special Needs and Adult Basic Ed students.  We are pleased to help G4S, the manager of Avon Park, and its teachers achieve large, measured improvements in student graduation rates.


Educating Inmates is Highly Cost Effective

At the recent Correctional Education Association conference in Arlington, VA, Dr. Lois Davis presented the findings of a meta study being published by the Rand Corporation, “How Effective Is Correctional Education, and Where Do We Go from Here?”  Dr. Davis and a team of fellow researchers comprehensively reviewed studies on educating incarcerated adults and juveniles.  In her presentation, Dr. Davis reported that the education of inmates resulted in reductions in recidivism by approximately 13% on average.

When asked about the cost efficacy of educating inmates, Dr. Davis reported that the analysis supports that for every dollar spent on education, federal and state correctional programs saved five dollars on the cost of incarcerating inmates, due to the reduction in recidivism.

The implications for our state prison systems are very clear.  Instead of cutting funding for education in prison, the states are far better off (400% return on investment) investing in education to improve long term budgets.  Since the Department of Corrections is often one of the single largest expenditures in state budgets, other than K-12 education, the long term savings to the state can be sizeable.  Tax payers should take this to heart.  For this reason, many conservative, budget-minded law makers are promoting improved education and other programs to prepare inmates for successful reentry to society, an initiative they call “smart justice.”

At New Century, we are happy to confirm our role in improving education, reducing recidivism and achieving the goals of Smart Justice.  In one large study reviewed by the Rand researchers, New Century was used 30-45 minutes per week with Juvenile Justice students in Avon Park Florida.  This study was highlighted in the report and by Dr. Davis in her presentation as one of only two quality studies demonstrating efficacy of an intervention with Juveniles.

Alabama’s SPAN Selects New Century Education

New Century Education Foundation was selected by the Special Program for Achievement Network (SPAN), the State of Alabama’s juvenile detention alternative program.  New Century’s diagnostic/prescriptive solution will help teach juveniles basic skills and prepare them for the GED.

According to Charles Foley, State Coordinator for SPAN: “We used the New Century system in our Huntsville location and saw it outperform the other ten SPAN locations in GED completion.  It was an easy decision to expand use of the software to our other sites.”

Jim Griffin, President of New Century says: “We are proud to augment our relationship with SPAN under the strong leadership of Mr. Foley, and to help him and his staff make a difference with more students.”

“ New Century is uniquely designed to diagnose and remediate reading, writing, language arts and math skills of juvenile justice populations functioning even at low elementary grade levels.  Our approach to personalized learning helps them succeed in rapid fashion.”

New Century Education Foundation’s mission is to help deeply At-Risk, Special Needs and Adult students.  Its software products are both scientifically based and supported by research conducted by independent third parties among juvenile justice and other traditionally deeply At-Risk populations.

New Century software was used in SPAN’s Huntsville, Alabama location and resulted in Huntsville students achieving more GED completions than the other ten SPAN sites combined.

Anyone Can Learn

During a recent trip to London Correctional in Ohio, an inmate named Roger asked me to look at the computer monitor in front of him.  With great pride he wanted to share his success on his most recent math lesson.  Roger is 61 years of age, and other than a few grades in elementary school, education had not been part of his life.  Diagnosed with math skills equivalent to the beginning of 3rd grade, he had spent the last two months filling some skill gaps as low as first grade, then moving up half a grade level to the second semester of 3rd grade.  Here he was, proudly passing his lessons and math tests.  In his words:

“ I’m enjoying what I’ve been introduced to, and I actually feel like a kid going through school again.  I’m so appreciative for the opportunity to be part of this program.”

Roger is on a mission now because he is coming up for parole, and he would like to improve his education before potential release.

Vunty, an inmate of Southeast Asian descent, entered prison with Limited English Proficiency and early grade school level math skills.  Education had not been part of his upbringing either.  However, 23 months after taking the New Century Diagnostic Test at Tomoka Correctional in Florida, and using the New Century software, he passed the GED. He then continued working on upper level math, reading and writing skills in order to take industry certification classes.  Vunty is now tutoring other inmates in Adult Basic Education and Photoshop.

Personalized instruction adapts lesson content to the specific needs of the individual.  In a room full of adult learners, competencies can vary dramatically from student to student. New Century provides personalized learning uniquely designed for the disparities found in Adult Learners.   As with many other incarcerated students who begin their New Century learning path with limited education, we are proud to help Roger and Vunty demonstrate that Anyone Can Learn.

Avoiding the College Trap

Recently, the U.S. Department of Education reported that student loan defaults are surging to record levels, with one in seven loans in default.  What is not discussed much in the articles is the huge percentage of defaulting students who do not even complete their degree.  Only 56% of students complete 4-year colleges within 6 years and only 29% of students attending 2-year colleges complete their degree in 3 years.  Saddled with debt, about half of college students drop out and many cannot qualify for the higher paying jobs often needed to pay that debt.  Poorer students typically borrow up to 90% to pay today’s very high tuitions, and they bear heavier debt loads than their middle class peers.  Worse, Federal guaranteed loans, (now 76% of all student loans) are not extinguishable in bankruptcy.  As a result, the collective damage to the young people of our nation who fall in this trap is enormous.

A few years ago, the Pathways to Prosperity Project at Harvard’s School of Education began recommending that not all high school graduates be pushed toward college.  The problem of course is that there are very limited alternatives in most high schools.

Vocational education programs (“Voc-ed”) in high schools were once strong developers of skilled labor for American industry.  However, Voc-ed programs have declined dramatically since the 1970s to the point that many high schools have no such programs.  The decline of Voc-ed has been accelerated by state and local education policies that recommend that virtually all students should go to college.  With no alternatives for non-college bound students and with many college student dropping out unprepared for a vocation, our employers simply cannot find the skilled workers to replace large numbers of baby boomers now retiring in key industries.  Builders and manufacturers need employees trained in digital technical skills, like CADCAM and Solidworks to create blueprints and 3-D printing.  The petro-chemical industry in Texas is facing such a severe shortage of speciality welders that companies are funding training programs for high school aged students.  Programs like these should be offered in high school to train both traditional skills and new digital skills to those for whom college is not an attractive option.  German schools are often cited for excellence in preparing students with technical skills for quality industrial jobs.

Research by High Schools that Work strongly suggests that training for real work situations will make classroom math more relevant and will help reduce the number of drop outs.  Receiving this sort of education in high school also avoids the need for our children to borrow money to take Voc-ed course work at the local junior college or specialty school.

Right now, less than half of our 9th graders will go on to complete college.  Why not design an educational system that serves the majority of our students?  Why not offer an alternative to prepare students for good paying, skilled industrial and digital jobs?  Would this not be better than forcing them toward college, where many are trapped with borrowed money they often cannot repay?

At New Century, we help prepare students for college and others for industry certifications (some of which require reading skills at the college level).  But in our observation of high schools across the US, we simply do not see enough quality programs serving the latter group.

Poverty is Not an Excuse


M. Night Shyamalan, the film writer and director, recently published his own research on why American students under-perform their peers on international tests.  Those of us who read educational research are not surprised when he concludes that low performance in education is rooted in poverty.  If you eliminate the poorest students, and focused on the American schools with less than 10% students of poverty, American students performed as well (in fact better) than the averages for foreign students in any nation.  He also points out that Finland, which has among the highest performing students in the world, has a poverty rate of less than 4%.

Unfortunately, it does not appear that America will solve the poverty problem anytime soon.  Over 20% of American students live below the poverty line, and that number has been increasing.  But the reality is that poverty is not an excuse for poor education.

There are public schools serving poor students and doing a great job.  Meadow Woods Middle School in Orlando, Florida is everything you would expect to find in a failing school, except that it is not failing.  It is big, with about 1,200 students in grades 6 through 8.  It is poor, with 85% of its students qualifying for free or reduced lunch.  Over 70% of its students are Hispanic, many with Limited English Proficiency.  Because of special facilities, the school has an unusually high Special Education population.  Yet, the school consistently makes passing grades based on its performance on the state’s proficiency tests, and it has for over a decade.  More importantly, from the day they arrive as 6th graders until they leave as 8th graders, students continue to improve.  The lowest performing students (the bottom 25% that are the really hard challenges) make gains on standardized tests that out-perform their peers statewide, thereby closing the gap.

The keys to success include leadership.  Just a few minutes with him on the phone and you can tell that the Principal, Dr. Isom “Chuck” Rivers, is passionate about bringing educational theory to classroom practice.  He will tell you that the additional keys are: Training and placing the right teachers in the classroom, and; Diagnosing and remediating the skill gaps that come with students who enter his classrooms.  This last point requires integrating technology and teaching, and his models are highly successful.

Meadow Woods has been using New Century software to remediate skill gaps for over a decade.

Teaching Inmates Basic Skills

New Century Helps Horizon Add Education to its Programming

New Century Education Foundation is partnering with Horizon Prison Ministries to provide adult basic education and GED preparation to inmates in Ohio Prisons, including London CI and Chillicothe, CI.  Jim Griffin, President of New Century states “We are proud to work with Horizon, a proven provider of programs in prison that generates low rates of measured recidivism.  With the New Century education software, we anticipate helping Horizon reduce recidivism further.”

For more information on Horizon programs in prison click

We wish to thank our partners C4K, JD Computing, and First Aid CPU for their help with the hardware.