Are jails built based on elementary test scores?
In my Sunday story about Edison, I quoted Dr. Alonso responding to a Furman L. Templeton teacher at a budget forum. The teacher said the system shouldn't judge her school on its test scores. "In the United States of America, we build jails on the basis of the third- and fourth-grade scores," Alonso replied.
Do we? Alonso says he got the information in a New York Review of Books article in the 1990s on the proliferation of jails and the growth in jail populations. He never had reason to doubt it.
But as it turns out, the Education Writers Association had a discussion on its listserv just last week about how educators make this statement all the time, but no one knows whether it's actually true. (I am a member of EWA but got booted off the listserv a few months ago when I let my dues lapse. Bad Sara. I've since paid up but had not re-subscribed to the listserv until yesterday -- when I found out what I missed last week.)
No one disputes that low test scores in elementary school are cause for alarm and can predict all sorts of problems down the road. But as a result of the listserv discussion, EWA public editor Linda Perlstein and other members of the organization decided to "truth-squad" the jail claim. They checked with the U.S. Department of Education's press office; the National Center for Education Statistics; the National Institute for Literacy; researchers Lesley Morrow, Russ Whitehurst and Catherine Snow; and various state officials. Pearlstein told me yesterday that nobody could offer any specific examples where a jail was built based on elementary test scores, just that lots of people have said this is the case.