Third Grade Scores Don't 'Predict' Future Prison Populations... Another Media Hoax

With Ron Huberman's crazed "data driven management" and $5 "performance management" department about to render Chicago's dwindling press corps even more brain dead in the face of more "Emperor's New Clothes" style experts and expertise, one report at a Florida newspaper just peeled the scam off a long-running hoax out of Florida that went national a few years back and has been a source of sound bites from ruling class mouths ranging from Hillary Clinton to Colin Powell.

Remember how you "knew" that you could "predict" the future prison population on which kids "failed" their third grade "standards" test?

Well, it never happened, except in cyberspace and the minds of the hoaxious mythologizers (our coinage from several years ago) in charge of the propaganda mills of corporate "school reform."

Since this story is one of the many that will never reach Chicago, we'll share it here via

It's an amazing day when Daytona Florida does better reporting that all of Chicago, but...

DO THIRD-GRADE FCATs FORETELL PRISON NEEDS? Daytona Beach (FL) News-Journal -- October 1, 2009 By Julie Murphy

Third-graders are rarely thought to be the stuff of legend. But sometimes they are -- like when the unsuccessful ones are used to project prison needs a decade down the road. This is how it's done, right? Wrong. "I've never looked at any educational data," said Kathy McCharen, a Tallahassee-based researcher for the Criminal Justice Estimating Conference -- part of the Florida office of Economic and Demographic Research. "It's an urban legend. The e-mails go back for two or three years, I think." And she should know. McCharen has periodically been involved in estimating future prison populations since 1984. "Some education bulletin out of California said Florida uses the third-grade FCAT" (the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test), she said. "Someone in (Washington) D.C. called me about it, but (we) never could get back to the source in California. All I know is we don't use it." The Daytona Beach News-Journal first heard the legend at a Daytona Beach crime trends information meeting when Police Chief Mike Chitwood was bemoaning what he feels is a failure of the juvenile justice system. "It's a sad thing that in this state they figure out how many prison beds they are going to need 10 years out, based on the number of third-grade students who fail the FCAT," he said. This legend is perpetuated across the country and has some variation, but the third grade is always at the center of it. And the chief probably had it on "good authority" that what he said was true. State Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, took part in the 2004 PBS special "Beyond Brown: Pursuing the Promise." Speaking to the issue, he said, "The vice chair of the department board of education, having drinks with the president of Wackenhut -- and you all know who Wackenhut is right? They run the prison systems in Florida and around the country. He said, 'Mr. President, how do you all decide how many prison beds you're going to need in the future?' And you know what Mr. President said? He said they look at the number of third-graders who have to repeat third grade." U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, when she was a U.S. senator, made a speech at the Take Back America 2007 Conference about her proposal for a universal prekindergarten. "If we provide that, the evidence is overwhelming: Children will stay in school longer, they will do better, and they'll stay out of trouble," she said. "Because you know what? There are states in our country who actually plan how many prison beds they will need by looking at third-grade reading scores. They look at the failure rates and they extrapolate how many prison spots they're going to need in 10 to 15 years." Liz Peterson, director of research and planning for the Greater Twin Cities United Way, posted a piece about the topic on her company's blog site about urban legends. "One 'fact' that we get asked to source on a regular basis is that third-grade reading scores are used in the state of (Virginia, California, Indiana -- fill in the blank) to project how many prison beds will be needed in the future . . ." she wrote on July 29. "A quick Google search of 'third grade reading' and 'prison beds' came up with 36,400 matches . . . We have searched the web and scoured research articles. Plenty of references to the alleged fact, but not a single one of the purported sources panned out." If third-grade FCAT scores aren't used to determine future prison needs, what is? "We look at past trends and current (parole and release) practices," McCharen said. The executive summary of the April 30 estimating conference predicts the Florida prison population will increase from just over 100,000 to more than 121,000 by the end of the 2013-14 fiscal year. Once a forecast has been made by the Criminal Justice Estimating Conference, it's up to state appropriations committees to find the money, she said. The myth lives /"If Dr. King were here this morning, he would tell us that the dream had not yet become reality. We are not yet free at last . . . Not as long as some states use third-grade reading levels to predict the jail cells they will need 15 years from now."/ /-- Colin Powell (Minneapolis Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast, Jan. 19, 2009, Minnesota Public Radio) / / / 

Final edited version of this article posted at October 3, 2009, 7:00 a.m. CDT. If you choose to reproduce this article in whole or in part, or any of the graphical material included with it, please give full credit to SubstanceNews as follows: Copyright © 2009 Substance, Inc., Please provide Substance with a copy of any reproductions of this material and we will let you know our terms — or you can take out a subscription to Substance (see red button to the right) and make a donation. We are asking all of our readers to either subscribe to the print edition of Substance (a bargain at $16 per year) or make a donation. Both options are available on the right side of our Home Page. For further information, feel free to call us at our office at 773-725-7502



October 2, 2009 at 7:43 AM

By: truth seeker

why not teach children how to protest their own datification?

It\'s interesting to me that the community organizers(what few there are who aren\'t being pimped out to a canned program, as opposed to facilitating genuine empowerment) never work to educate children about thinking about simply not participating in the testing mess. This would mean perhaps planned absences on standardized test days, as well as deliberate college planning to select colleges and universities which do not use the SAT/ACT. If you produce no data, your children can\'t be datified, and there are no statistics to be measured.\r\rUnfortunately in Chicago, real community organizing and development has practically no funders. By real, I am referring to organizing which is designed as a process to facilitate the empowerment and education of ordinary people to reflect upon, analyze, and control their own destiny. Unfortunately, organizing has degenerated to a sham front for marketing a policy/program like soap, redefining empowerment as facilitating the choice to participate in a canned initiative which the target population has had no hand in considering, developing, and implementing.\r\rThe funding to support authentic community organizing for individual and community empowerment typically amounts to substantially less than $30000 per grant, and rarely lasts more than one year. Community organizing as a subject is not generally included in anything in high school, much less college/university. Are we surprised that people have a hard time figuring out what to do and how to do it?

October 6, 2009 at 1:46 PM

By: Theseus

Educational Mythologies

So this one should go in the edumyth book with "time clock teachers," "artificial pension-boosters," "teachers collecting a paycheck," and "freshmen elevator passes."

Good find, George!

October 7, 2009 at 8:02 AM

By: s e anderson

Just How New Jail Beds are Predicted?

First, the article is poorly written. It does not definitively prove the 3rd grade scores as future prison bed count as myth. No evidence of conspiratorial material was revealed in this newspiece. Just an assertion without concrete data to counter the myth.

Second, just where do prison builders get their data for expansion of prisons? That would be a very good point to begin to refute the alleged myth.

Third, if the trend of educational deterioration within urban and non urban schools has continued over the past 30 years, what has been the track record of 3rd graders who have done poorly in school? Especially Black and Latino males... and since, the past 15 years, Black & Latino females?

Fourth, one can conclude that the growth in prison population is attributed to the genetic propensity of young Blacks and Latinos to crime and limited intellectual capacity that results in poor third and fourth grade test scores. Hence, the need to continue to expand the prison industrial complex as their respective population grows at a more rapid rate than the white population.

It is not about a conspiracy. It is about the mechanisms of institutionalized racism working itself out in one of the most profitable corners of US capitalism: the prison-industrial complex.

December 4, 2013 at 3:51 PM

By: manaaja farmer

3rd grader scores

umh?My english told the class that by 3rd graders test scores you can tell how many cell beds yall would need.On the text it says that yall dont go by the test scores and i work hard for my learning.

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