Category Archives: NewCenturyEducator

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.

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.

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.

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.