Texas does not use third grade reading levels to project future prison population

On his October 24 Wallbuilders Live program, David Barton made a claim (at about 24:00 into the program) that that Texas prison officials use third grade reading levels as the best indicator of the need for prison beds in the future. Barton told co-host Rick Green that the government officials in Texas came to some church people and asked them to mentor young kids in reading. The objective was to get kids reading on grade level by the third grade. Why is this important? Barton said that the Texas Department of Corrections asks school officials every year how many third grade kids are not reading at grade level. According to Barton’s source:

…based on the numbers we give them, that’s how many beds they get ready for the next 15 years for the future. Because kids that are not reading at grade level in the third grade, they’re the kids that end up in prison. That’s the best indicator they have found is where these kids are in third grade.

As Right Wing Watch reported, this claim has been debunked in other states. However, Texas is not mentioned in the article cited there. To check out how Barton’s home state projects the future prison population, I called the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. An official there directed me to the Texas Legislative Budget Board. On the LBB website, I clicked the Public Safety and Criminal Justice link to find numerous reports, one of which included yearly prison population projections (see projections from 2012-2017).

The title of the report is “Adult and Juvenile Correctional Population Projections Fiscal Years 2012—2017.” In it, the methods for projecting the future are spelled out on pages 12-28. You won’t find anything in these pages about reading levels at the third grade or at anytime. Instead, the reports says:

The adult incarceration population projection for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) is based on a discrete-event simulation modeling approach resulting from the movement of individual offenders into, through, and out of TDCJ. Discrete-event simulation focuses on the modeling of a system as it evolves over time as a dynamic process. The model simulates offender movement based on offense type, sentence length, and time credited to current sentence.

The LBB considers convictions, revocations of the community placements (community placement does not always work), and a host of factors relating to parole practices. The crime rate and the unemployment rate in Texas are considered “if major shifts occur from the latest trends.” I looked at the most recent and the oldest reports and I saw nothing about reading levels.

This claim was made in the context of a program criticizing teachers’ unions and the perceived state of public education in Louisiana. The message is that parents need to have school choice to provide competition to motivate bad schools to be better. To ramp up the urgency, Barton comes along with this unsupported claim about the long term consequences of low reading levels.

Of course reading levels are important. However, one can be for better education and even favor some school choice programs without having to spread fictions. Whether it be current events or historical events, you just have to check everything out.