Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Ombudsman: Public schools failed many TYC youth

TYC independent ombudsman Will Harrell yesterday presented a copy of his office's recent report on education services (pdf) at the Youth Commission to an interim hearing of the Texas Senate Education Committtee. (See prior Grits coverage.) In his written testimony, Harrell said TYC's education difficulties originated in the public schools:
The Texas Youth Commission bears a great burden that can be traced back to failures of local school districts. But that is a challenge that the TYC must meet for the sake of public safety.

In broad terms, the OIO has the following major concerns about education in TYC:
  • Inadequate intake, assessment and accountability.
  • Inconsistent general education programs across TYC facilities.
  • Disruption of education by punitive culture and policy which is compounded by race and special educational need.
  • Inadequate special education services.
These issues, which are fully discussed in the attached report, are critical for two important but distinct reasons. First, as we point out in the attached report, educational attainment is one of the most effective means for reducing recidivism among delinquent youth. However, the population of students at the TYC does not represent the population of the typical Texas public school. The TYC is charged with providing education and special education services to a population of students comprised of approximately 40% special education students, and a majority of youth who are substantially behind their peers in all academic areas. The population of students at the TYC is not typical of an ordinary Texas public school, and the TYC requires a substantially different level of support than a typical public school district. Despite the fact that many of the youth committed to the TYC arrive with poor academic histories, the TYC education program can improve the basic academic skills of these youth and significantly improve their chances of successful reentry into their schools and / or communities. Providing these youth with essential skills in reading and mathematics, opportunities to obtain a diploma or GED, and vocational skills is critical for helping these youth to become responsible, civic-minded taxpaying citizens. Not only do these outcomes result in improved outcomes for delinquent youth, they also improve public safety.

Second, the youth at the TYC are coming from Texas public school systems, and most should be returning to these schools after release. However, many of the TYC youth have not been adequately supported by their public schools. Most do not have sufficient reading skills to access the high school curriculum, and many do not even have the requisite skills to read or complete a basic job application. Additionally, many of these youth have been repeatedly suspended or expelled, or have officially or unofficially dropped out of school. Furthermore, most delinquent youth both nationally and in Texas come from impoverished communities with schools that lack the financial and professional support necessary to adequately educate these youth. If the State is going to successfully rehabilitate these youth, the Texas leadership must identify and implement innovative and responsive public education programs to support these vulnerable schools and ultimately reduce the numbers of youth involved in the juvenile justice system.
Last week, Grits identified what I think would be a huge step toward discouraging schools from dumping kids with learning disabilities and behavioral problems into the juvenile justice system - charging schools the full cost of educating kids they send to so-called alternative schools for discipline. But as Harrell says, a lot more than that bureaucratic fix is needed. In addition to more resources for special ed programming, substantial investments to identify and teach kids with dyslexia would reduce crime, as would extra focus on ensuring the academic success for children of incarcerated parents. Spending extra resources to help kids succeed on the front end aimed at these special populations makes a lot more sense than waiting to incarcerate them on the back end, which costs far more and from which society derives far fewer benefits.

SEE ALSO: An interview with Harrell from KHOU and these documents related to TYC education services:

34 comments:

Monk said...

"Parents failed TYC Youth" should be the headline.

Public schools may have not helped these youth but it's not the schools that are the main problem.

Anonymous said...

It's heartening to see a serious approach to this fundamental problem in educating delinquent youth. By "serious" I mean one that actually takes into account the role of public schools...

I'd push Scott's idea of charging schools a bit further and insist on a closer working relationship between "home" schools, so-called alternative schools, and TYC schools.

But the reality is that we can't begin taking the education of at-risk youth seriously after they've already offended.

BB

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Monk, does that mean you oppose funding for special ed programs, identifying and teaching dyslexics, or providing extra services to assist children of incarcerated parents? If not, what's your point?

Many, MANY people have failed most TYC youth by the time they wind up there. The parents' failures do not then justify others ignoring their moral and legal obligations.

Bill, you don't mean "home" schools as in people who keep their kids out of school and teach them at home, do you? My sense is that such folks a) don't want a "closer working relationship," typically, with the schools if it means giving up any control, and b) their kids are not the ones filling up TYC in any event.

Anonymous said...

There are way too many people in this country who REFUSE to be personally responsible for anything they do wrong!
Make your own assertions as to whatever group of people you may think I'm talking about......
Until those who have children TAKE responsibility for those they create, we're in trouble.
*Grumpy*

Anonymous said...

As I discussed in a previous thread TYC’s culture teaches kids how to work the system. Some work it, some play it, some even think they beat it. There was a great article posted at http://ironguardiansus.com about how Texas public schools are a pipe line to youth prisons, ie TYC. My son was moving from a private Christian high school in Plano/Richardson area to Hillcrest High school in Dallas his sophomore year. The private school was simply not up the academics that I would expect and we thought he would be better off in a public high school. He was. My first meeting with the principle we were told he would only be competing against 1/3 of his class, because 1/3 would drop out, and the other 1/3 just don’t care. I was somewhat disturbed about how she felt regarding her students.
Even though my son came from a private school with very low academics the principle placed him in pre ap class and he met the challenge. It’s been my experience in working with kids that they will live up to the challenge, with one caveat, they have to respect whose raising the bar. Thank Gd he wasn’t coming from TYC or the principal would automatically placed him in alternative school or encouraged enrolment elsewhere.

IMO it would take a teacher with mucho chutzpah to TEACH TYC kids and that’s gona cost extra, especially since most of the kids are kept so doped up they can’t even sit up to learn. And the districts should PAY for the problem since they are responsible for the problem, but its takes a really good legal guy, Johnny Cochran type, to get people like a DISD to be responsible for the decade of miserable failure.

Nothing new under the sun here with the med call thing. As a matter of fact when it comes to TYC a leisure perusal of committee reports to the Texas legislator over the last 100 years all read the same. Same old Juvenile House of Correction, nothing new under the sun. I did notice that as the years go by the reports said the same thing only more wordy. After the 1980 there was no money making industry to report on so, go figure, hide the facts in paragraphs of BS.
Make the school districts pay to educate the kids they send. Parents should teach their kids to "swim".
Sheldon tyc#47333

Anonymous said...

Sorry Scott, I didn't mean home schoolers... I meant the school that, in many instances, originally referred a kid to an alternative placement or even to juvenile court.

BB

Anonymous said...

"There are way too many people in this country who REFUSE to be personally responsible for anything they do wrong!"

Damn straight!

Anonymous said...

You never read about the parents failing there kids.There's always somebody else to blame.When are the so called kids going to be responsible for there action's.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

1:40 writes, "When are the so called kids going to be responsible for there action's"

You realize at TYC we're talking about kids who are incarcerated in youth prisons, right? How much more responsible do you intend to hold them?

Anonymous said...

And don't say that TYC youth have it easy with too many privileges and too many rights.

If you do you only demonstrate your ignorance.

Parents should be held accountable but so also should the agencies that we spend hundreds of millions on every year. It is not just TYC that has a problem. Child protective services, mental health services, probation services, and public schools all had access to TYC youth before they ever came close to being sent to TYC.

Research clearly shows that alternative school environments, which pool behaviorally challenged/delinquent youth with other delinquent youth, are clearly counterproductive both in terms of improving education and decreasing delinquency.

Anonymous said...

and Sheldon, your experience in TYC was several years ago, i have yet to see a student who can't sit up enough to learn due to being over medicated.

Anonymous said...

Monk, you are absolutely right. The sole responsibility lies directly with the parents.

I am not saying that all teachers are qualified; however, they are not responsible for this problem.

Our department spends hundreds of thousands of dollars placing kids outside their homes. When those kids return, there is a noticeable change. Many times it is almost like an entirely different kid. However, give them 1 or 2 months back home, they return to their old ways.

The problems are in the home, not in our schools.

Anonymous said...

The public schools aren't perfect, esp. in the rural areas without adequate staff to implement programming. I taught 4th grade special ed and most of my students came from extremely unstable homes and I use term "home" loosely after visiting some of the hellholes they lived in. I've had kids enroll well into the school year. By the time we received their sped paperwork, held the ARD and developed an IEP or arranged for new testing they were already gone! This is very common and no one should be surprised that these poor kids never learn to read or write very well. Most of them are just worried about where or if their next meal is coming from...It breaks your heart and for the time we do have them in class we try our very best to teach them basic skills and provide some stability in their chaotic lives. It also breaks my heart to constantly read how "the public schools have failed" when I know how hard I and all my fellow teachers try to do the right thing for every child. Anyway, it's a sad truth that some people treat their pets better than their children.

Anonymous said...

I beg to differ on the opinions expressed here regarding alternative schools in public ISDs...used correctly, they offer a second option to students who want to continue their education, but are not suited for or are not able to attend regular high school for whatever reason. Many of these students had children while in high school or had to take a job in order to help out the family. I work in a suburban school district in West Texas where we have a WONDERFULLY SUCCESSFUL Alternative High School. We graduate as many as 30 students each year. Many of these kids also worry about where their next meal will come from and some of them wonder where they will sleep each night, but they come to school and we are dedicated to doing everything in our power to help them be successful.

So before you blame the public schools for contributing to the problems of TYC, please remember that not all school districts view the at risk student in the same way. Some of us have dedicated our careers to helping these kids find their way. Unfortunately, there are just some that we can't reach who may eventually find their way to TYC. But I can sleep at night knowing that my district is doing everything possible to see that none of them are ours.

dirty harry said...

The fact that 40 percent or more of TYCs population is special ed tells the tale. State and federal law says that these youth should have been appropriately served while in public school. Many of them aren't even identified as special ed untill they reach TYC. Staying out of jail requires being able to function in mainstream society. It's all about education. So, tell me who dropped the ball.

Anonymous said...

That's right OMBUDSMAN aka:IDIOT!!!
Keep blaming the school teachers for failing to educate LAZY kids whose parents(?) don't act like parents!
You sir and your pompous lege buddies couldn't find your A@@es if your heads went up them all the time! Just keep blaming and NEVER actually attempt to listen to those who do the jobs every day for sound ADVICE. How did we get here, because those in AUSTIN rarely admit they DON'T know it all.......

Anonymous said...

"Public Schools" failing the kids does not necessarily mean the teachers failed the kids, it means that the public school system in this state, as a whole, tends to fail special needs kids. The evidence that this is true is overwhelming.

Anonymous said...

the school system has failed, just as TYC has failed, b/c the burden is too heavy with the limited resources we are allotted. People, politicians and bloggers always give lip service to how important education is yet fail miserably when it's time to spend the money on such an important issue. It's not just education, it's the same for mental health, protective services for kids & elderly, health care, the homeless, and so on. The more things change, the more they stay the same...

Anonymous said...

You can lead a kid to an education, but you can't make him learn.

End of story.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"You can lead a kid to an education, but you can't make him learn."

Or as some at TYC do, you can give a kid a word-find puzzle, tell them to read on their own if they want to learn anything, then come home on the weekends to issue smug, anonymous blog comments blaming youth for the absence of even minimal attempts at instruction.

Anonymous said...

The Legislature has generally underfunded and overmandated education within the Independent School Districts (ISD's) of Texas. The IDS's, after meeting the funding formulas of the state, (usually tied in part to the population in each ISD), must then seek the remainder of their finding from federal sources, grants, and local taxation. The bulk of revenue from taxation comes throught the Advalorem property taxes. Then they must decide if major capital expenditures such as new construction can be financed through bond elections and the expenditure of any reserves that they have acrued from unspent previous budget years. Of course, not all counties have the same wealth (ergo Robin Hood). ISD's must also practice austerity internally. They must manage employee benefits, salaries, utilities, insurance, maintenance etc.,efficiently to minimize unecessary expenses of limited funding. I am not familiar with the funding mechanism for TYC. Is it money that is allocated to TYC as part of the overall budget allocation for the agency? Do the ISD districts where the youth was enrolled prior to incarceration have to financially support any of the costs for kids that came from their district? Does Texas Education Agency (TEA) have any regulatory authority over the TYC education system? These would be interesting things to know. In TDCJ, you have the Windham School District. Does TYC's education system also qualify as an Independent School District? Maybe Howard Hickman would be able to answer some of these questions.

Anonymous said...

8/23,

In answer to your questions, TYC receives education funding from the Permanent School Fund based on ADA and federal education funding such as Special Ed, just like any Texas school District. TYC is legally not subject to TEA rules except for Special Ed. Technically TYC education system has the same authority over its schools as TEA(actually more) except for Special Education, which is only there because the federal government only recognizes one state education agency per state in Special Ed. The education funding is calculated into the numbers in the Appropriation Act.

Howard A. Hickman

Anonymous said...

Grits, You did it again. Please find out about the Reading program at TYC before you continue to make statements about the way students are taught to read! Let me repeat a previous blog...

About this same time... TYC went ahead of Texas Public education and developed their own NCLB Research Based Reading program. Yep, this is true. I am addressing your statement about a non-reader teaching himself to read by reading...This reading program was developed and was a policy mandated program that was to be implemented in ALL facilities, and the curriculum was very structured, sytstemic and very individualized--which meant that classes were to be small. This was a DEVELOPMENTAL reading program for the students who TRULY read below a 6th grade level. However, with the turnover and attrition rate of educators, this program too became muddied. Principals wanted to use the remedial reading credits as "free" electives rather than have small individualized classes for the low readers.In their minds, it was a waste of an FTEs because the classes were to be small. What a shame, huh? Very few facilities adhered to the original mandate, and there was no accountability from central office to the program. Today there are probably only about 3-4 facilities who really follow policy on this low level reading program. But, the ones that are do a damn good job with it. It has made a huge difference in the lives of many kids.

Now, let's talk about numbers. The state lege says they want a ratio of 1:12. Well, why does that does not happen in education? You have many classrooms with one teacher and 16-20 students. Go figure that one???? When they count education staff, they include the ones that never are in a classroom with the students such as the diags, counselors, etc., so it throws off the count.I guarantee that much more learning would take place in classes with a ratio of 1: 10 or 1:12. Teachers in the core classes would definitely have a better chance of meeting the individual needs of the students with smaller classes. These are very tough students, especially now as we are removing the misdemeanor offenders and only keeping the very hard core kids. There are 2 facilities--Mart II and Gainesville that are still running populations between 260 and 300. Teacher staffing is a huge issue as are the numbers in classrooms.
Could teachers and teaching in TYC improve--you bet. We can always improve what we are doing. These are the toughest youth in the state, and they need the strongest teachers to meet their many and varied needs. However, in several instances the systems ARE in place already, there is just no accountability.
Interesting info don't you think? Funny that the report said nothing about any of this...Maybe it should be checked out--maybe just maybe someone should have talked to some teachers!

Anonymous said...

Grits,

In regard to an earlier comment on this post:

Have ever attempted to teach juvenile delinquents? Believe it or not, there are kids in the TYC classrooms that DO NOT want to learn anything and DO NOT care what the consequences are. You cannot assume that the teachers are not trying to do their jobs .

Not all of us are handing kids word puzzles all day, nor are we on here to issue smug, anonymous comments about kids being at fault for not learning! The point I was making is that you can't reach all of them no matter how hard you try. That does not mean we don't try.

Your statement about TYC teachers handing kids word puzzles instead of teaching them was judgmental, derogatory, and condescending and demeaning to the educators at TYC. Some of us work very hard to teach those kids, and for you to assume we don't is an insult.

My comment was not intended to be smug and I was not being rude, so why you would fire back with such a nasty comment is beyond me.

Maybe you should consider not sounding as negative as some of the people on your blog. It doesn’t become you.

Just a suggestion from an avid reader of your website.

Anonymous said...

What we are dealing with is a lack of curiosity about the things we consider important. Educationally, we put these kids on life support and try to make sure something gets in - mostly against their will. Who was president first - Lincoln or Kennedy - they don't care.

Anonymous said...

I am not a teacher, and have also been a strong critic of some of the teachers in TYC. However, I have only to look at the public schools to see a higher percentage of lazy and incompetent teachers. For the most part, the teachers, (with the exception of those who transfer in to TYC from the public schools to pad their retirements) in TYC do the best they can under trying conditions. I have seen some kids make fantastic changes because of a few teachers taking special interest in them. Like everything else in TYC, they are having to do it on the cheap. Why don't you take a closer look at your friend, Senator Whitmire, in that regard?

As for the Ombudsman - he, and (especially) his assistants have been a terrific disappointment. When he first came on, I thought he would be a breath of fresh air. He is not.

As for your snotty comment - sounded to me a lot like the kettle calling the pot. Get over yourself!

Anonymous said...

I worked in an alternative school. There are some kids who will not do their work, will not respect the teacher, do not want to be there, do not care if they learn anything....what can you do?

Anonymous said...

Thank you 1:24. It's nice to know I am not the only teacher who has experienced having students who don't want to learn! I wish there was an answer!

Anonymous said...

9:13 When I was a kid and acted up in class or didn't do my work...I got sent to a principal who whipped my rear end! Then he called my parents so they could whip my rear end! I got the message and did my work and didn't act up in class anymore!

Anonymous said...

Yeah, that would really work in TYC!

Anonymous said...

11:38 - If you don't have anything better to contribute on that, please go over to MSNBC and blog on the Alaska "Troopergate." Your comment is about as useful as most of the ones over there.

Anonymous said...

Ya. We need to support using tasers on 10 year olds! That'll teach 'em to behave!

Anonymous said...

All I'm saying is it starts in regular school. Teacher's are not allowed to discipline the class for fear of ruffling somebody's feathers. You can't whip kids anymore, you can't fail them anymore, you are handcuffed. Principals and teachers have no authority anymore. The kids run the schools and then we wonder why they end up at TYC. They get no discipline at home and no discipline at school, either.

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