Author Archives: webeditor

Why the Common Core Suddenly Stresses Writing

In the past few decades American education focused very heavily on reading comprehension as the path to learning, while writing received relatively less attention. The negative results of this trend have been chronicled for a long time.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) writing exam, last given in 2002, showed that 69% of 8th graders and 77% of 12th graders were not proficient in writing at grade level (Perskey, Danne & Jinn, 2003). Approximately one third of students entering college require remedial classes in English Composition, and the percentage rises to approximately 50% among certain minorities. Poor writing also contributes to unflattering comparisons between U.S. graduates in literacy and their peers in most industrialized nations. (OECD, 2000).

College professors have been complaining for decades about the poor writing skills among their entering Freshman class.  However, it is only recently that we understand that the lack of writing skills among American students is not simply hampering their ability to communicate, but also is hampering their ability to learn. Research confirms that whether it is literature, history or science, writing requires higher order thinking skills to reflect, analyze and organize information from text in order to communicate it.  More than reading, it is writing that leads to a deeper understanding of content (Boscol &, Mason, 2001; Keys, 2000; Shanahan, 2004). As the National Commission on Writing summarizes, “If students are to make knowledge their own, they must struggle with the details, wrestle with the facts, and rework raw information and dimly understood concepts into language they can communicate to someone else. In short, if students are to learn, they must write.”

Writing skills have even been shown to improve basic reading skills (Graham & Herbert, 2010; Biancarosa & Snow,2004). For these reasons the new Common Core State Standards in education have shifted to a heavy emphasis on writing embedded with the reading curriculum, beginning even in first and second grade. The Common Core also stresses writing to improve learning in non-fiction subjects, including STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). Like decades past, reading is a path to learning, but unlike the past, we now know that combining reading with writing is the clear path to superior learning.

With the proliferation of electronic communications accelerating the speed of business, employees at all levels of the organization are being asked to review and respond more rapidly than ever before. The ability to analyze, organize and communicate information is increasingly the key to better employment and upward mobility. The professors in college have now been joined by the majority of employers in America in confirming that writing skills have become critical in the workplace (Graham & Perin, 2007). Writing as a key to learning and writing as a key to communication has increasingly become a dividing line not just between higher and lower paying positions, but between working and being unemployed.

At New Century, we provide highly effective interventions that make it easy for teachers to teach writing to deeply at-risk students. Moreover, we are pleased to have been ahead of this new trend in standards for several years by embedding writing with reading, including primarily non-fiction topics in reading and writing, with STEM content, and teaching the three forms of essays required by the Common Core. For more information, visit us at


End Notes

Biancarosa, G., & Snow, C.E. (2004). Reading next: A vision for action and research in middle and high school literacy: A report from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Washington, DC: Allicance for Excellent Education.

Boscolo, P. & Mason, L. (2001). Writing to learn, writing to transfer. In G. Rijhaarsdam, P. Tynjala, L. Mason, & K. Lonka (Eds.), Studies in writing: Vol. 7. Writing as a learning tool: Integrating the theory and practice (pp. 83-104). Dordrecht, the Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Graham, S. & Herbert, M. (2010) Writing to Read, Evidence of how writing can improve reading: A report from Carnegie Corporation of New York. Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Graham, S. & Perin, D. (2007) Writing Next: Effective Strategies to Improve Writing of Adolescents in Middle and High Schools: A report from Carnegie Corporation of New York. Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Keys, C.W. (2000). Investigating the thinking processes of eighth grade writers during the composition of a scientific laboratory report. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 37, 676-690.

National Commission on Writing. (2003), April). The neglected R: The need for a writing revolution. Retrieved July 31, 2006, from http://www.writing

OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development). (2000). Literacy in the information age: Final report of the international adult literacy survey. Paris, France; Retrieved July 31, 2006, from

Persky, H.R., Daane, M.C., & Jin, Y. (2003). The nation’s report card: Writing 2002. (NCES 2003-529). U.S. Department of Education. Institute of Education Sciences. National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC; Government Printing Office.

Shanahan, T. (2004). Overcoming the dominance of communication: Writing to think and to learn. In T.L.Jetton & J.A. Dole (Eds.). Adolescent literacy research and practice (pp. 59-73). New York: Guilford.

Reducing Inmate Illiteracy, and Our Taxes

The link between low educational achievement and incarceration is clear. About 75% of inmates in state prisons did not obtain a high school diploma (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2003). Students who drop out of high school are by some studies up to eight times more likely than high school graduates to end up in jail or prison (Bridgeland, Dilulio & Morison, 2006).

Moreover, recidivism is high, averaging over 60% when measured three years after inmates are released. As a result, our prison system is swollen with repeat offenders who comprise approximately 45% of state prison inmates (Pew Charitable Trusts, 2011). However, research overwhelmingly confirms that the more education inmates receive, the lower their recidivism rates. Studies show that obtaining a GED in prison reduces recidivism by 5 to 20 percentage points versus comparison groups (Nuttall, Hollmen, Staley, 2003) (Porporino, Robinson, 1992) (Siegel, 1997). Effects are more pronounced among younger offenders (Nuttall, Hollmen, Staley, 2003). If the inmate engages in post secondary education (industry certification or some college courses), recidivism drops by another 20 percentage points (Chappell, 2004).

Study after study make clear that education can yield large reductions in recidivism, and consequently, in the taxpayer expense of corrections. According to the state’s Legislative Accounting Office, it costs $47,000 per year to incarcerate an inmate in California. Cash strapped states need to focus on this.

Of course, not all inmates want to participate in education and industry certification, but our experience working with inmates is that if the program is managed correctly with the appropriate environment, most will. The expense need not be high either. At New Century Education Foundation, we are collaborating with another not-for-profit, Horizon Communities in Prison, to deliver Adult Basic Education programs that use a combination of re-furbished hardware, our specialized software and inmate tutors to deliver sustainable programs that completes an inmate’s basic literacy and education, gets them through the GED, and then through industry certification. The cost of Horizon’s program, including education, is less than $200 per inmate per year, much of it donated to Horizon. Moreover, Horizon demonstrates higher rates of GED completion and at lower program cost compared to alternative GED programs, when offered in the same prison. Under a five-year study, the measured recidivism rates for graduates of the Horizon program was 17% (Key, Denny, 2009).


Bridgeland, J., DiLulio, J., & Morison, K., (2006). The silent epidemic: Perspectives of high school dropouts. Washington, DC: Civic Enterprises.

Bureau of Justice Statistics, (2003). Education and Correctional Populations, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. Retrieved from http:/ on January 20, 2013.

Bureau of Justice Statistics, (2006). Reentry Tends in the U.S., Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. Retrieved from on January 20, 2013.

Chappell, C., (2004). Post-secondary correctional education and recidivism: A meta-analysis of research conducted 1990-1999, The Journal of Correctional Education, 55 (2), p 148 – 169.

Key, J., Denny, D., (2009). Efficacy of the Horizon Communities in Prison

Faith-Based Program. Unpublished Manuscript, University of Oklahoma

Nuttall, J., Hollmen, L., Staley, M., (2003). The Effect of Earning a GED on Recidivism Rates, Journal of Correctional Education, v.54 n3, p 90-94.

Pew Charitable Trusts, (2011). State of recidivism: The revolving door of Americas Prisons, Washington, DC.

Porporino, F., Robinson, D., (1992). The correctional benefits of education: A follow-up of Canadian federal offenders participating in ABE. Journal of Correctional Education, 43 (2), p 92-98.

Seigel, G.R., (1997). A research study to determine the effect of literacy and general educational development programs on adult offenders on probation. Tucson. AZ: Adult Probation Department of the Superior Court in Pima County.

Lowell Inmates Getting Tools to Succeed After Their Release


(Reprinted from the Gainesville Sun, June 19th, 2013)

LOWELL RECEPTION CENTER — The room of cinderblock walls painted a pale yellow with a bank of computers on one wall and books on the other could be a school anywhere.  But the students were in light blue prison scrubs, and the room was carved out of a dorm that holds more than 80 inmates incarcerated for homicide, sex crimes, grand theft, assaulting the elderly and more.

One day — whether next year or in a dozen years — each of the inmates in a unique educational program at the Lowell Reception Center will leave the state prison for women in northern Marion County.  The program, led by Gainesville veteran and Zen Buddhist KC Walpole, aims to give them at least a fighting a chance of making it on the outside.

“I would match our program with any prison educational program in America,” said Walpole, who began working in prisons in 1995 as part of his training to be a dharma teacher. “Getting out and getting a life is not enough. There has to be that piece of cosmic glue that goes beyond getting a job. That’s where education comes in.”

The goal is for these inmates to leave prison with a 12th-grade education and, in the process, a GED. The Lowell complex of prisons near Reddick makes up the largest concentration of incarcerated women in Florida. The Lowell Reception Center, which opened about a year ago and has about 760 inmates, has multiple missions, including reception, in-patient mental health, and faith- and character-based programs.

Walpole first got linked with Lowell around 2002 when 12 inmates asked him to teach Zen there. In 2006, he started teaching mind-body stress reduction — a mix of meditation, yoga and communication.  Assistant Warden for Programs Djuna Poole has responsibility to make sure the prison has adequate educational opportunities. That led to the creation of the New Century program with Walpole.

“I have to reach out for the community. These programs are done by volunteers,” Poole said. “The true story is told when the inmate walks out the gate. Is she going to make it or not?”

This year, the prison and Walpole launched the New Century computer-based education program in three dorms in which dayrooms were converted to learning centers.  The computers are state surplus, but they are good enough to run education software that allows the inmates to work at their own pace toward a 12th-grade level.  Inmates who have a grasp of the work serve as tutors for inmates who need help.

“I enjoy it. I enjoy helping others because I know there was a time when I didn’t understand things and people came and helped me,” said Catherine Williams, who had some college classes before a conviction six years ago for trafficking cocaine.

“If any of the ladies have questions or are having a hard time, we help them so they have a better understanding,” Williams continued. “If they are really frustrated, we take them to the table and do one on one.”

Some inmates provide tech service on the computers when bugs invade.  Among them is Chrissandra Brewster, who has been in Lowell for a year and is scheduled for release in 2024 on a conviction of attempted sexual battery on a child under the age of 12.  Brewster said she often would watch her uncle do technical work on computers and learned from that experience.

“I’m the head tech and take care of the computers. I help program them, and if there’s any maintenance to be done, I do that,” Brewster said. “My uncle is always working with computers, and it’s just kind of in the blood. He does a lot of programming. There’s really not much I don’t know how to do.”

Inmates are required to spend a certain amount of time in the program, including mandatory night classes on dealing with re-entry, financial literacy and small business to prepare for their eventual release.  Stetson University is set to send Stetson students and a professor to help with instruction and to study the program, Walpole said. Inmates may write small-business plans that could be eligible for mini-grants to start a business when they are released, he added.

And education is just one aspect of the program.  Each dorm has several pod families to help inmates deal with frustrations, squabbles and other aspects of life that arise in a prison.  Heading each family is a “grandmother,” generally a calmer inmate with high integrity. “Grandmas” take a special class to learn how to handle the dorms.

Donna Elliott, who has been incarcerated since 2003 on a grand theft conviction, is one of them.  “My role as grandmother is to love and nurture. Everything goes through me. Anything that goes on in here I have to oversee. I try to see that everyone is happy and adjusts well,” said Elliott, who has three grandchildren outside Lowell. “This has stretched me. It’s allowed me to see women on a different level. When you get 84 or 86 women together, and the personalities, you have to deal with the anger and the hurt. There are a lot of breakdowns in here, and you just have to love them through it. And when you have to discipline them, it’s tough.”

The goal of both components is to provide the education and the social skills the women will need to succeed after their release.  Walpole said the cost to the Department of Corrections is miniscule — $1.16 per inmate a day in the first year and 37 cents a day per inmate thereafter.  “How can you beat that?” he said. “You do this across the state, and you are going to make a difference.”

It already has made a difference to Carolyn Clark. The 61-year-old is nine years into a sentence for robbery with a deadly weapon — a hammer — and aggravated battery on a person age 65 or older.  A longtime crack cocaine user, Clark is scheduled for release in November 2014. She had never worked on a computer before and often lifts her arms and shakes them in joy when she masters an assignment.

Clark would like a certain kind of job when she’s out — it’s a topic she knows intimately and might now have skills to match.”During my activities of getting high, I contracted HIV. I’ve been a survivor for 15 years. I’m very, very healthy,” Clark said. “I want to be an HIV facilitator. Our past doesn’t have to be our future.”

New Century Success with Juveniles

New Century Education and Juvenile Justice Detention Alternatives

New Century Education Foundation (Montclair, NJ) is a not-for-profit publisher of educational software that is research based and uniquely designed to diagnose and remediate students and adults with deep skill gaps in their education. In Alabama, New Century works with the Special Program for Achievement Network (SPAN) in Huntsville. SPAN provides academic, social, behavioral and transitional services, in collaboration with local community organizations, to adjudicated youth. The Network guides these juvenile offenders toward being productive, law abiding citizens. The alternative for these youth would be incarceration.

Program Model

Adjudicated youth are given the opportunity by the Judge to attend SPAN as an alternative to detention. The average participant arrives at SPAN at 15 years of age and functions over four grade level equivalents below his enrollment level. SPAN delivers a combination of education, individual counseling, group counseling and family counseling, along with behavior modification programs in conjunction with community organizations. Buses pick up students at their home and return them in the afternoon. Frequently, students are given objectives by the Judge, including obtaining their GED within a specified period of time. Juveniles meeting these objectives are released, and often enter the military, the local workforce, or post secondary education.

The Huntsville program is one of 11 SPAN locations across the state, but is the only one that uses New Century software to remediate missing prerequisite academic skills and to prepare students for the GED. Each of the 11 SPAN programs is designed to handle 15-20 juveniles at a time. Statewide statistics report that in fiscal year 2011-2012, the Huntsville program recorded 26 students that passed the GED Examination, compared to 20 reported by the other 10 programs combined during the same period. Further, according to SPAN administrators, the New Century system at Huntsville diagnosed and served students functioning at lower academic levels than the alternative software intervention utilized in the other 10 programs. New Century also remediated students in half the time compared to the alternative software. The Huntsville Program therefore was able to serve more students and achieve GED goals faster.


The State Director of SPAN is Charles Foley (256) 852-1224, 104 Spacegate Drive, Huntsville, Alabama 35806

New Century Success with At-Risk

The results are in, and two Camelot Excel Academies in Philadelphia have increased math and reading test scores.

From the data collected from the 2011–2012 academic school year, the average student at Excel Academy North raised his or her math grade level by 4.1 years. Generally, 77 percent of students rose by two grade levels. Reading scores also jumped with the average student gaining 3.6 grade levels and 71 percent of students improving by at least two grade levels.

At Excel Academy South, the average student increased their math score by 2.5 grade levels, and their reading score increased 2.4 grade levels.

Camelot vice president for education, Milton Alexander, has worked with alternative education in Philadelphia since 1999. Alexander has been with the Camelot schools since May 2005 as a teacher, instructional leader, assistant principal and executive director. He said that the structure of Camelot schools helps to close the academic gap.

“We are on the one hand blown away by these results, but we also see the evolution in these kids every day,” Alexander said. “They come to us with tremendous untapped potential and we provide a climate that allows them to find it.”

Camelot’s academies concentrate on the needs of high school students who are termed “near dropout students.” Despite their entering grade level, students learn from the School District of Philadelphia curriculum and are able to complete four years of high school credit in two and a half years.

Alexander said there are several goals for the Excel Academies in the 2012–2013 school year.

“To graduate 95 percent of our students — to see at least 90 percent of those grads move on to post-secondary endeavors [are our goals],” Alexander said. “To see all students enrolled at least 120 days gaining at least two grade levels in reading and math, and at least 85 percent of our kids involved in student government and enrichment activities, [too].”

According to Alexander, the method of peer accountability in the student government helps to encourage students’ success. Unlike most student governments, Camelot Excel Academies have a four-level rating system. Level one is a neutral zone. In level two, students must demonstrate a commitment in school attendance and civic engagement in order to proceed to the level three. While students are in level three, they take a pledge to be active members in the school. Finally, in level four, students receive privileges to wear a different color uniform shirt and to meet with leadership weekly to discuss school improvements. Movement in student government is based on grades and conduct, too.

At the 2011 commencement, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback, Michael Vick, was the guest speaker. Alexander said that this was the most memorable experience at Camelot.

“Many of our students related to Mike and he told a humbling story of redemption. The kids helped select him and that recognized their leadership in making the decision.”

There are other academies in Camden, New Jersey, and Lancaster, Pennsylvania.