Vocational Training Is Answer For Educating Prison Inmates

Yes, Governor Cuomo, prison inmates need education! But free college tuition for prisoners? Southern Tier TEA Party Patriots doesn’t think so! Here’s why. Dropouts from high school fill our prisons. They lack the basic skills needed to be successful in college-level courses. Most dropouts are unable to read well, unable to comprehend even unsophisticated works of literature, unable to write cohesive sentences and paragraphs, unable to spell words correctly, even unable to speak standard English in an English-speaking country, and they do not have the necessary computation skills and math level of algebra, the minimum math requirement for job entry into many areas of employment.

Many inmates missed out on mastering the basic skills needed for all advanced learning. Why? The public schools these dropouts attended -and there are many -used inadequate curricula for teaching basic skills. Additionally, these schools had no policy that enforced mastery learning of basic foundational skills for every child in elementary school K-6, which would ensure success in future learning. Common Core, you say, will rectify this problem in the future? Not a chance, Governor. Your TV promotion of this illegal travesty called Common Core is baseless.

Marc H. Morial, former New Orleans mayor and president of the National Urban League, said, “The dropout rate is driving the nation’s increasing prison population, and it’s a drag on America’s economic competitiveness….[E]very American pays a cost when a young person leaves school without a diploma.” Incarcerated individuals would benefit far more from a GED diploma, Governor, than from a college degree, which many could not attain.

In 2009, one out of every 10 (1:10) males who dropped out of high school was incarcerated compared to one out of every 35 (1:35) high school graduates incarcerated. The situation is worse for black African-Americans where one out of 4 (1:4) dropouts is incarcerated, compared to one out of 14 (1:14) incarcerated white, Asian, or Hispanic male dropouts. The cost has not abated, but increased.

Just ask syndicated columnist Walter E. Williams, who writes extensively about the black African-American tragedy: “It is a disgrace – and ought to be a source of shame – to know that the average white seventh- or eighth-grader can run circles around the average black 12th-grader in most academic subjects” (Mar. 7, 2014). Earlier, he wrote this: “Sloppy-minded academics, [multiculturalists,] and assorted hustlers have taught that poor English, gangsta rap, men wearing pigtails and thug behavior should not be criticized but become a part of the celebration of diversity” (May 10, 2013). What does this tell you about our public schools, Governor? Progressivism in our public schools has led to “left-behind-ism” – dropouts in our society and prisons -for far too many individuals.

Consider this: there are large numbers of “college graduates” (that term is in quotes because of the dumbed down curricula presented at many colleges today) who, even so, are unable to obtain employment. These individuals end up in low-paying jobs which don’t require a college education or degree. In fact, it is well-known that many current college-level programs are simply a replacement for what should have been taught in a rigorous high school curriculum. A college degree is no guarantee of employment today, Governor. College is not the answer for incarcerated individuals.

Here’s a suggestion, Governor: Since the incarceration rate is incredibly high for high school dropouts, why not consider vocational training for released inmates? It’s a more realistic option for individuals who were unsuccessful in school, learned to hate it, and dropped out. Why not provide inmates with a rigorous GED high school education while in prison? Being able to read well-much of vocational training requires reading of very technical manuals-plus math knowledge to the level of algebra is necessary. Interested and motivated inmates who obtain a GED diploma during incarceration would be eligible to enter vocational training upon release from prison. Other traits such as industry, punctuality, and self-discipline, however, also must be present.

BOCES vocational training centers are located all across New York State. State assistance could be provided for vocational training at these centers that would offer a far better opportunity for future successful employment. Wouldn’t this be more realistic than trying to make uneducated, very low-performing high school dropouts into college graduates? With a GED diploma and BOCES vocational training, released prisoners will receive the public education to which they originally were entitled. Moreover, the cost to taxpayers will be far less than for a college degree.

Proposed high school remedial program for incarcerated dropouts: Direct Instruction has powerful, research-validated correctives curricula for remediating basic skills in reading, writing, spelling, and mathematics for older learners. This is what is needed by inmates who dropped out of high school and who will need vocational training in the future. These programs have been available for many years. They have proven their worth by being highly successful in teaching basic skills. No doubt other programs exist, but they must have a proven, successful track record if they are to be used.

Deann Nelson is a Jamestown resident writing on behalf of the Southern Tier TEA Party Patriots.