State Schools Chief on His New Blueprint for California Schools

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson joins us to talk about his new road map for educating California's kids. The four-year plan is an updated version of his 2011 blueprint, and focuses on teacher shortages and hastens the state's move toward Common Core standards.

L.A. Schools Superintendent to Step Down Early

The state's largest school district, Los Angeles Unified, is once again under pressure to find a new leader. The interim superintendent Ramon Cortines surprised many people last week when he announced that he's making an early exit.

PBS NewsHour

Can higher ed keep inmates from returning to prison after release?

prison to college 2

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JUDY WOODRUFF: Today, the secretary of education and the attorney general of the U.S. proposed a major shift in policy. After a 20-year ban, some federal and state inmates could become eligible for Pell Grant money to take college classes while behind bars.

Our special correspondent for education, John Merrow, reports on an earlier pilot program to create a Prison to College Pipeline.

CRAIG COSTON, Prison to College Participant: Well, I have been in prison since I was 16. I’m 34 now.

WILL TERRY, Prison to College Participant: I have been locked up five years. I have been in this jail three years.

DOMINGO BORGES, Prison to College Participant: I have spent 21 years in prison. I was arrested at the age of 17.

ROWLAND DAVIS, Prison to College Participant: I have been incarcerated 21 years now. I’m 39 years old.

DOMINGO BORGES: I’m in jail for murder.

WILL TERRY: Two of them drug sales and a burglary charge.

ROWLAND DAVIS: For homicide.

CRAIG COSTON: Taking someone’s life.

JOHN MERROW: Many people would say, hey, they did the crime, so let them do the time.

But this woman believes that, if prisoners are going to change their ways, they need an education.

BAZ DREISINGER, Founder, Prison to College Pipeline: We see education as being integral to the reentry process.

JOHN MERROW: And so these men are studying Shakespeare.

ERIN KAPLAN, Teacher, Prison to College Pipeline: Were you able to see some of these themes, motifs, and symbols?

MAN: Yes.


JOHN MERROW: Today, they’re analyzing “Othello” in Erin Kaplan’s introductory English class.

ROWLAND DAVIS: The fact that Othello’s a foreigner and the fact that he’s in a higher office, and has a higher-prestige wife makes him want to do this because he feels that he should have all of this.

MAN: I took it as when he — when the duke made that statement, what he was saying, because they kept describing Othello, especially Iago, and him as a Moor, as being evil, black is devilish, as you know, this thick-lipped person and so on and so forth.

JOHN MERROW: These 12 men are incarcerated at a New York state correctional facility in Otisville.

ERIN KAPLAN: “If it not be for some purpose of import, give it me again. Poor lady, she will run mad when she shall lack it.

JOHN MERROW: This class, and five others like it, are part of a pilot program called the Prison to College Pipeline. To enroll, prisoners must have finished high school, pass a reading and writing assessment, and be eligible for release within five years.

BAZ DREISINGER: We have this idea that, possibly, in the three to five years prior to release, we want to seize on the high expectations, the high hopes, the anticipations of coming home, take advantage of that hope and turn it to education.

JOHN MERROW: Baz Dreisinger founded the program in the fall of 2011 with just 14 students. It’s a collaboration among John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Hostos Community College, and the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. The cost, about $3,500 per student, is covered by private and public sources.

It costs New York State about $60,000 to keep a person in prison for one year.

ROWLAND DAVIS: He’s comfortable in military tactics.

ERIN KAPLAN: He’s confident.

ROWLAND DAVIS: You understand?

ERIN KAPLAN: As a warrior.


JOHN MERROW: Educational opportunities behind bars are very rare. Two-thirds of correctional facilities do not offer college courses. Where programs do exist, many are like Baz’s, very small.

Today, of the 1.6 million men and women in prison, only about 35,000 are taking college courses.

DOMINGO BORGES: And it could also be as far as his mentality, his morals and principles, the fact that he’s a general within the army.

JOHN MERROW: For many, this is their first college class.

DOMINGO BORGES: I never actually had the opportunity to take college. I consider myself a good student, always did.

JOHN MERROW: But it’s not their first time in prison.

WILL TERRY: I went out and came — committed a crime and came back.

JOHN MERROW: Will Terry’s experience is typical; 55 percent of prisoners end up back behind bars within five years of their release.

DOMINGO BORGES: And the doubt came from somebody else.

JOHN MERROW: The program gives prisoners the opportunity to develop new identities as students.

DOMINGO BORGES: I have been out of school for a very long time, so becoming a student again is — it has really been quite a ride, but I enjoy it. I like the challenge. It gives you a self-worth that is unspeakable. It’s very nice.

BAZ DREISINGER: The students want to be edited. They want to be taught. They want to double the length of the readings. They want you to critique their papers 10 times over. Part of it is that you have been in an intellectual void for so long, that you’re hungry for this knowledge, and the other part of it is that the stakes are very high, as they see it.

They know that they’re redefining themselves via education and they take it really seriously.

MAN: It’s in Act I, Scene 3 of 781.

ERIN KAPLAN: What line?

JOHN MERROW: Success inside means opportunity outside. Students who do well are guaranteed admission into one the 18 colleges that make up the CUNY system.

BAZ DREISINGER: I like to describe the Prison to College Pipeline as a college and reentry program and a college-as-reentry program. So the program starts inside and completes outside, and I think one of the reasons why that’s so powerful is that you benefit from getting some college education inside, but you also benefit from having a real campus experience and being in a college when you come out.

WILL TERRY: I know how much a support system is important to be able to be afforded an opportunity to go somewhere and meet with people that we already established relationships with, like Baz. They’re not just saying get the hell out. We actually have people that’s out there rooting for us.

JOHN MERROW: But providing prisoners with college opportunities is not a popular idea.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D), New York: We don’t we teach college in prison?

JOHN MERROW: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo introduced a plan to publicly fund college programs in 10 state prisons. It faced opposition from both parties and was quickly shot down.

Research indicates that prisoners who participate in correctional post-secondary education programs are 51 percent less likely to be reincarcerated. It’s too soon to know if this program will be successful, because only 36 men have participated.

BAZ DREISINGER: It’s hard to talk about numbers and percentages, because the program is so small and we just started.

JOHN MERROW: Seven of these 12 students have been released, and six are already enrolled in college or are applying for admission. Only one is back in prison.

Reporting for the PBS NewsHour, I’m John Merrow in Otisville, New York.

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Kids with disabilities, behavior problems illegally segregated in Georgia


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JUDY WOODRUFF: But, first, schools for students with disabilities and behavioral issues in the state of Georgia are under scrutiny.

In a two-year-long investigation, the U.S. Department of Justice found that Georgia is illegally segregating these students. Some of the programs are even housed in dilapidated buildings once used as all-black schools during the Jim Crow era.

Alan Judd is an investigative reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He has written about the schools and about the Justice Department’s findings.

Alan Judd, we welcome you.

So, who are these students that the state of Georgia is putting in a separate educational program?

ALAN JUDD, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: At any given time, there may be about 5,000 of them. They are students who have — of varying ages who have behavioral issues, who have mental health issues, who maybe are in the autism spectrum, but they are children who have been deemed difficult to control and difficult to educate by their home schools.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And how is the program for them different from the mainstream general education K-12 opportunity that the state of Georgia offers children?

ALAN JUDD: Well, first of all, many are segregated entirely from the mainstream classes, from their regular education peers.

They often do not have science labs. They don’t have art classes, music classes. They may not have access to a gymnasium. The report by the Justice Department found that at least one school actually has segregated restrooms for these students, they have a separate lunch period, they have a separate entrance to the building from other students, where they actually go through a metal detector, where other students don’t.

Another one of the schools keeps them in the basement all day, so they’re not even allowed to even — to be in the sight of other students.

JUDY WOODRUFF: There are some pretty terrible examples that you have written about, both what’s been going on more recently and then a really horrific thing that happened back about 10 or 11 years ago with a 13-year-old in Georgia.


Jonathan King was, as you said, who was assigned to one of these schools in Gainesville, Georgia, which is northeast of Atlanta. He had been kept in a seclusion room, which is basically a holding cell. It’s a concrete block room with no windows, no water, no restroom facilities, nothing. He had been kept in there, I think, 15 times in 29 days for an average of 94 minutes at a time in solitary confinement.

He had twice threatened suicide, yet, on one particular day, he was allowed — he was placed in that room and was allowed to keep a small piece of rope that he had — was using to hold up his pants as a belt, and then he promptly hanged himself.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, what is the Justice Department saying the state of Georgia has to do?

ALAN JUDD: They’re not giving specific instructions, but they’re expecting a significant reply, I believe, from state officials.

But, mainly, it will be to find ways to desegregate the system. And that may mean closing it down altogether. It may mean mainstreaming more children than they’re doing now. It could mean possibly finding private facilities that would take some of these children and educate them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Alan Judd, how different is the way Georgia handles these children from most other states?

ALAN JUDD: Well, the trend for the last couple decades or more has been to mainstream children in special education, what we have always called special ed.

Georgia seems to be the only state with its network of what they call psycho-educational schools that are specifically designed for children with behavioral problems, primarily. So, it looks like we’re the only state that still does this.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, as I understand it, the state has not yet responded. They say they’re studying what the Justice Department charges.

ALAN JUDD: That’s right. The governor’s office and the state Department of Education have just said they will look at it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it’s a disturbing piece of reporting, a disturbing report from the Justice Department.

Alan Judd, we thank you.

ALAN JUDD: Thank you.

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Obama to extend college aid grants to some prison inmates

U.S. President Obama talks to the media next to Secretary of Education Duncan during a meeting with the Council of the
         Great City Schools Leadership at the White House in Washington

President Barack Obama talks to the media next to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, left, during a meeting with the Council of the Great City Schools Leadership at the White House in Washington on March 16, 2015. Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

WASHINGTON — Some federal and state prisoners could begin receiving student aid to take college courses — while still behind bars — as early as the 2016-2017 school year.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the pilot Pell grant program during a visit Friday to the Maryland Correctional Institution in Jessup, Maryland.

“America is a nation of second chances,” Duncan said. “Giving people who have made mistakes in their lives a chance to get back on track and become contributing members of society is fundamental to who we are — it can also be a cost-saver for taxpayers.”

The administration’s new Second Chance Pell Pilot program would allow, on a temporary basis, federal grants to be used to cover college costs for prisoners for the first time since Congress excluded them from student aid in 1994. It would last three to five years and be open to prisoners who are eligible for release, particularly within the next five years.

Republicans were quick to criticize the program, saying it rewards people who break the law at the expense of hard-working Americans and that the administration doesn’t have authority to act without an OK from Congress.

GOP Rep. Chris Collins of New York introduced legislation to block Pell money from being used in the experimental program, saying it would “put the cost of a free college education for criminals on the backs of the taxpayers.”

A Republican committee chairman, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said the idea may be worthwhile for some prisoners, “but the administration absolutely does not have the authority to do this without approval from Congress, because the Higher Education Act prohibits prisoners from receiving Pell Grants.” Alexander, chairman of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and an education secretary under President George H.W. Bush, said the administration should focus on existing job training and re-entry programs.

Undersecretary of Education Ted Mitchell says the ban is over 20 years old, and “we think that a lot has changed” since then. He said the pilot program would help provide data to see if the ban should still stay in place.

Mitchell stressed that program would “not compromise or displace any Pell grant eligibility for any other populations.”

Supporters point to a 2013 Rand study that found incarcerated people who took part in prison education programs were 43 percent less likely to return to prison within three years than prisoners who didn’t participate in any correctional education. For every dollar invested in correctional education programs, Rand estimates that four to five dollars are saved on three year re-incarceration costs.

Congress passed legislation in 1994 banning government student aid to prisoners in federal or state institutions. But the Education Department says it can set up the temporary pilot program because of the experimental sites section of the Higher Education Act of 1965. It gives federal officials flexibility to test the effectiveness of temporary changes to the way federal student aid is distributed.

The department was not able to provide any estimates on how many prisoners might participate in the pilot Pell program. Mitchell said the costs would be “modest” but he did not provide an estimate on how much the program might cost.

The federal Pell program provided grants ranging from $582 to $5,645 to over 8.6 million students in 2013-2014, according to the department.

The maximum award for the current 2015-2016 school year is $5,775.

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Disconnected by war, family reunites through student history project


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Editor’s Note: The full name of the National History Day program that Josh Slayton was selected for is called Normandy: Sacrifice for Freedom Albert H. Small Student & Teacher Institute.

GWEN IFILL: Earlier this week, we showed you a national history program that teaches high school students about World War II and D-Day by having them follow the life of a U.S. service member from their own community to the American Cemetery in Normandy, France.

Tonight, the NewsHour’s April Brown has the story of how one of those students’ research projects united families from two continents. It’s part of our American Graduate series, a public media initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

APRIL BROWN: Just a few months ago, Judy Shumaker of Meadville, Pennsylvania, had no idea she had French family members longing to connect.

JUDY SHUMAKER: I’m so happy.

APRIL BROWN: Decades after losing touch, relations on both sides of the Atlantic met at the American Cemetery in Normandy to honor a World War II soldier killed in action just after the D-Day Invasion of June 6, 1944.

ANNOUNCER: Six o’clock, D-Day, landing time for the first beachhead boats.

APRIL BROWN: Though he was born a Frenchman, Pierre Robinson died a sergeant in the U.S. Army. He was the adopted son of Shumaker’s grandfather, John Robinson.

JUDY SHUMAKER: He was very quiet and very mannerly.

I heard that grandpa loved him very much. He said that. I heard that he was killed and grandpa was very sad and never really got over that. I often wondered over the years if any members of the family on his side were still alive.

APRIL BROWN: There were. And they were interested in their American family.

GILLES GROSDOIT-ARTUR: I’m Pierre’s second cousin. So, Pierre’s mother, Blanche, was my grandmother’s sister.

APRIL BROWN: Gilles Grosdoit-Artur had been trying to reach out to Pierre’s American family for years.

GILLES GROSDOIT-ARTUR: I had always heard about Pierre from my grandparents. I had always heard about my grand-uncle and my grand-aunt, lived in Meadville.

APRIL BROWN: But the families never connected until a Meadville-area high-school student, Josh Slayton, began looking into the soldier’s life and death.

JOSH SLAYTON: Through all these months of research, you really do feel like you know this person.

APRIL BROWN: In March, before heading to France, The Meadville Tribune profiled Josh and his efforts to find out more about Pierre.

And that led to meeting Judy Shumaker.

JUDY SHUMAKER: I went, yes, finally. Finally, somebody recognizes an ordinary man with an extraordinary story.

Pierre was born in France in 1914. His birth father would die just two years later, killed in action during World War I. His mother, Blanche, remarried in 1920, and her new husband was Judy Shumaker’s grandfather, John Robinson, an American soldier still stationed in France after the war.

Robinson adopted Pierre and moved to Pennsylvania, where Pierre would spend the rest of his childhood. In 1941, Pierre enlisted in the U.S. Army and, by 1944, Sergeant Robinson became one of thousands of soldiers taking part in Operation Overlord, the code name for the Allied invasion of France.

JOSH SLAYTON: This morning, we went to Omaha Beach, and that was really amazing, because that is the beach that he actually came in on, on June 6, 1944, D-Day.

It was just really amazing to feel like we were there with Pierre.

ANNOUNCER: Through the cloud gaps, the airborne spearheads saw something of the invasion armada.

JOSH SLAYTON: You have seen all of the pictures, all of the ships and landings crafts all out in the channel. And just to see how much things have changed, but still you can just imagine how massive this invasion was.

APRIL BROWN: Pierre had made it back to France, but would never again meet his French family. At his grave site, with the French and American families together after so many years, Josh delivered a eulogy to Pierre.

JOSH SLAYTON: Pierre survived the initial landing, but on the afternoon of June 7, 1944, the 3rd Battalion was facing strong opposition just below Vierville-sur-Mer. While out on patrol, Pierre was killed by a rifleman. In the reflective words of Pierre’s adopted father, John Robinson, “I couldn’t have had a better son if I had one of my own.”

APRIL BROWN: Pierre’s mother, Blanche, requested her son be buried in a permanent American cemetery in France, the one nearest to where he gave his life.

JUDY SHUMAKER: War can take away things that can never be given back. It can break families.

APRIL BROWN: The American and French families began to lose touch after Blanche’s death three years later. Now they are finally reunited.

GILLES GROSDOIT-ARTUR: There is a sense that there’s more to it than American students. It’s kind of too beautiful to be true.

APRIL BROWN: These cousins are now in regular contact with each other, as well as Josh and John. And they all plan to keep in touch, making sure Pierre’s story lives on.

For the PBS NewsHour, I’m April Brown in Normandy, France.

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