13 August 2008

NYT Editorial on Education in Texas

It took me a bit of time to recover my writing faculties after reading an outrageous editorial in the New York Times concerning a report produced for the Texas Youth Commission. Published on August 8th, the editorial “Writing Off Disabled Children” begins with an astounding statement:

“Many of America’s juvenile jails would be empty if the public schools obeyed federal law and provided disabled children with the special instruction that they need.”
Simple! Brilliant! But that suspect statement doesn’t even come close to a true representation of the facts.

The first question that may leap into the reader’s mind is, “What is the Texas Youth Commission?” One might think that it is a child advocacy group, or a state commission whose task it is to oversee extracurricular youth activities throughout the state. But it is neither of these things. The Texas Youth Commission (TYC) is Texas’ juvenile corrections agency, a pertinent point, though one would have barely a hint of it based on the editorial.

The NYT piece goes on to cite a report prepared for the Texas Youth Commission, putting much focus to the report’s conclusion that 39% of young people in the Commission’s care are “eligible for special education services.” The article also makes startling comparisons to the sheer number of emotionally disturbed and special education students in the “Texas system” as opposed to “a typical high school”. Of course, the NYT never mentions that the TYC does not operate typical high schools, only that the TYC’s students are “in custody”. This gross oversight makes the comparison quite shocking (which is its purpose) and wildly misleading.

Indeed, a list of percentages on the TYC website about their student population (euphemistically speaking) confirms how different the commission’s schools are. It lists a number of relevant statistics - 83% have IQs below the mean score of 100, 79% have parents who never married or who divorced or separated, and 72% come from chaotic environments, just to name a few. These are added to the fact that the TYC serves children who are serving time for various offenses, what the NYT piece calls “in custody”. The same TYC website states that “49% [of JYC “students”] were in juvenile court on two or more felony-level offenses before being committed to TYC”. No matter which way you turn it, the TYC does not run its schools with “typical” kids.

There are some additional considerations about the TYC schools that the NYT might have taken into consideration. While per the report TYC kids tend to have less high-level, one-on-one intervention time scheduled into their Individual Education Plans (IEPs) or mandated through the ARD (Admission, Review and Dismissal) process , there is no consideration that perhaps TYC students may be given a high level of individual oversight simply because of their setting. But as the NYT editorial largely ignores the fact that TYC students are incarcerated, there appears to be no need to investigate any other special conditions related to education in the TYC system. As a result, the NYT makes flawed statistical comparisons from a statistics driven report. This, in my opinion, is a simplistic, intellectually lazy way to cast blame without real investigation.

What is closer to the truth is that Texas as a whole is not “writing off disabled children” whatsoever. In most cases, disabled children, including those tagged as emotionally disturbed, get more services by far than the average student. And I don’t begrudge any student the resources they reasonably require for success. (In fact, I provide resources to them on a daily basis.)

For the NYT to claim that incarcerated children, nearly half of whom are incarcerated on more than one felony offense, are failing because of a lack of educational support is stark madness. That the NYT attempts through their editorial to cast all Texas schools as spectacular failures in special education is dishonest and worthy of contempt.

1 comment:

Jack N said...


and the nyt seldom lets facts get in the way of their distorted perception