Bottom line, based on interviews with dozens of students, teachers and staff as well as analyzing agency-generated data, UT-Austin Professor Michael Krezmien depicts a completely dysfunctional education system at TYC, with the few bright spots dragged down by overall organizational failure and an utter lack of focus on educational services.
While the contents of the report could and likely will fill up several posts, I wanted to provide an overview of the main points, particularly since initial news coverage so far hasn't delved too deep into the substance. This harsh conclusory paragraph sums up the main flaws with TYC's approach to education services:
Despite the fact that a substantial percentage of the youth have reading and learning deficiencies, these students are expected to learn through a process of independent reading. Despite the fact that a substantial percentage of the youth have limited reading comprehension skills, they are expected to acquire new information primarily through self‐directed reading. The current model of educational practices at the TYC is basically devoid of what current educational research has consistently identified as “best practices” for instruction. There is little to no direct instruction and little to no classroom discussions. Students are not exposed to new knowledge in multiple ways, nor are they provided with instructional approaches that are interesting or engaging. Students have limited engagement with teachers, and the classes typically lack direct instruction, questioning, and discussion. Students are seldom given opportunities to respond to new information or to questions about newly learned information. Students are seldom provided opportunities to relate newly learned information to the world or to their own prior knowledge. Student engagement was poor across settings and classrooms. Although there were instances of excellent teaching and innovative instructional approaches, the primary instruction practice (“self‐paced” independent desk work) is the least effective instructional approach available.In addition, the education TYC offers to special ed kids and students with disabilities, according to Professor Krezmien, is out of compliance with federal law. He reports that TYC has identified 40.4% of students as having a disability under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004, however these students' "transitional plans were generic and inadequate. Generally, a majority of special education students did not receive special education services in accordance with the IDEA."
The Professor's data shows how TYC has become a dumping ground for the illiterate and the mentally ill just like happens with adult prisons. TYC has four times as many special ed students as a typical public school, three times the number with learning disabilities, and 18 times as many students with emotional disturbances.
TYC uses only two educational outcome measures, says Krezmien: Scores on a standardized test upon entry and exit, and the number of students who get GEDs. He found the standardized test inadequate for assessing students with so many particularized special needs and learning disabilities. Most kids who get GEDs do so within 9 months of arriving at TYC, which Krezmien says indicates they likely entered TYC with sufficient skills to pass the test.
Meanwhile, many students cannot reasonably be expected to ever get a GED and there's a lack of outcome measures to track their progress or that values choices, e.g., to enter vocational programs. Speaking of which, the report heaped praise on TYC's vocational programs, but lamented that only about 10% of students were eligible.
Moving youth during the school day requires adequate JCO staffing or else cuts into instruction time, according to the report. "We observed instances where the movement of youth took as long as 30 minutes, despite an allocation of only 5 minutes to movement. ... We observed numberous instances of decreased access to education as a consequence of youth movement practices."
Krezmien's overall assessment of educational quality was poor, as expressed in these excerpts:
"We found classes that were typically organized based on correctional needs, which resulted in classrooms with students of different ages, different academic abilities, and in different courses. The scheduling practices negatively impact the educational program and limit instructional opportunities. We found the instructional practices to be generally poor. We found inconsistent curricula across facilities, and sometimes within a facility."
"The absence of a unified curriculum aligned with the State standards, and flexible to meet the needs of high and low performing students as well as students with disabilities is inappropriate. ... Students frequently move across facilities that have different curricula that are not integrated. This negatively impacts student learning, student credit accrual, and teacher responsibilities as they attempt to match a student’s transcript to programs with different curricula."
"The primary instructional practice observed at TYC education programs was broadly considered “self‐paced” and individualized instruction. This usually consisted of students working in worksheet packets independently or students working with paper assignment sheets and in text books independently. There was no direct instruction in most classes, and limited opportunities for student‐teacher engagement.
"Many of the observations revealed a lack of instructional activities whatsoever. There were numerous instances of teachers working at the computer while students slept, talked with each other, or worked independently."
"The 'self‐paced' model of TYC facilities is an ineffective approach to education. There is no empirical evidence demonstrating the effectiveness of the practices implemented. The approach is not appropriate to the TYC population of learners."
"[N]one of the education programs in the security setting met the TYC education standards."
"We found the staff at the TYC institutions to be one of the strongest assets of the TYC education programs. However, we found that school cultures varied greatly across the facilities. In most facilities, teacher morale was low."
Overall Krezmien has produced an incredibly damning portrayal of the agency, made more so by his use of TYC's own written standards, outcome measures and federal law as evaluation benchmarks.
Today was the day Richard Nedelkoff originally proposed to the Governor the agency should come out of conservatorship, but that's clearly not going to happen. This publication evidences stunning levels of dysfunctionality at one of the agency's core missions - educating youth in its charge.
Kudos to Ombudsman Will Harrell for pursuing this evaluation and to Professor Krezmien for an outstandingly thorough and detailed assessment (including 75 specific recommendations). They've provided a much needed window for state leaders and the public on a critical and under-emphasized topic.