This week’s blog was written by Teri Lyon. Teri is a Senior Technical Support Specialist at PAR. She has been with PAR for more than 20 years. She enjoys punk music and painting.
I like to watch CBS Sunday Morning every weekend. Recently, I watched a segment on the prevalence of dyslexia in the prison population, which immediately caught my attention. Working at PAR and knowing Dr. Steven Feifer, I know how important it is to diagnose dyslexia and other learning disabilities early so a student can achieve his or her full potential. What I did not realize are the numbers behind this issue.
The segment told of a study that shows almost 50% of the prison population in Texas has dyslexia. In addition, approximately 80% of inmates are functionally illiterate. The segment went on to talk about how prisons are addressing this issue with more funding and prison reform. Although these things certainly help people in prison lead better lives, this does not prevent these individuals from ending up there in the first place.
Although this is not a case where you can throw money at a problem, we do know that schools in more affluent communities have higher test scores and graduation rates. While the parents and students may have more resources and may not have concerns like how to study while hungry, you can’t ignore how much better they do. Recently, the thinking on spending in education has changed. Studies show significant long-term gains for students when educational spending increased. The issue is that districts need to determine the best way to use their money.
Currently, the U.S. spends more on prisons than we do on education. California alone spends $53,147 more per year on a prisoner than it does a student. Overall, there are 15 states that spend more than $27,000 a year more per prisoner than they do per student.
Even with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), there are kids who fall between the cracks of education and into the justice system. It’s clear that this issue is multifaceted and complicated. From starting mandatory schooling at an earlier age, to better training for teachers, there are many ways this issue can be addressed. One thing is clear, though, we have to start somewhere.
I think it’s important to take a step back and realize how PAR instruments can help with greater societal issues. Because this is such an important topic, I immediately sent letters to both my congressman and senator letting them know my thoughts. Hopefully, this will get a very important subject the attention that it deserves.
In a technical report issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) last month, chronic sleep loss among middle and high school students was cited as a “serious threat to academic success.” There are many contributing factors to a generation of sleepyheads—among them increased caffeine consumption and the use of electronic devices, whose low-intensity light can disrupt circadian rhythms and suppress melatonin production. The AAP study outlines that one key contributor could be best manipulated to help alleviate this problem: later school start times.
Beside extending sleep duration, this delay would have significant positive effects on self-reported sleepiness and academic achievement, says the Academy. But according to a U.S. Department of Education 2011-12 survey, of the 18,000 high schools in America, less than 15% start at 8:30 a.m. or later, and more than 40% start before 8 a.m.
Dr. Bob Weintraub, headmaster of Brookline High School in Massachusetts from 1992 to 2011 and now professor of educational leadership at Boston University, says that during his tenure the high school moved start times for most students to 8:30 a.m. But he also points out that these shifts raise concerns like how to have maximum participation in after-school activities like athletics, drama, and music when later start times means later end times (which means in the dark during winter months in the Northeast).
Despite these challenges, the AAP argues that communities nationwide have been creative in coming up with solutions to this challenge, including providing free periods and study halls at the end of the day, exempting student athletes from PE, and installing lights for athletic fields.
In sum, the Academy “strongly supports the efforts of school districts to optimize sleep in students and urges high schools and middle schools to aim for start times that allow students the opportunity to achieve optimal levels of sleep and to improve physical and mental health, safety, academic performance, and quality of life.”
Every day, police officers across the U.S. respond to calls involving people with mental illnesses. These individuals are often incarcerated, and nationwide jails hold 10 times as many people with serious mental illnesses as state hospitals, according to a report from Kaiser Health News.
“There are, shamefully, lots of people with public mental illness who are known to public systems, out there on the streets, very much at the risk of being victimized or engaging in conduct that could get them in trouble with the police,” says Robert Bernstein, president and executive director of the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, in an article in the online newsletter The Science of Us. When mentally ill persons are approached as possible perpetrators, the mental health system is failing, Bernstein says.
Michael Woody knows this scenario firsthand: on a call for the Akron, Ohio, police department several years ago, he encountered a 27-year-old mentally ill individual who threatened his life and ultimately committed suicide. This prompted him to question the small amount—just five hours—of mandatory mental health training officers were then required to take, and he pushed for more. Since then, he has become an advocate for training to help police officers de-escalate crisis situations involving the mentally ill. Today he serves as president of CIT International, a nonprofit whose primary purpose is to support mental health training for police forces across the country.
According to a recent FBI report, the expense to implement and maintain crisis intervention training (CIT) outweighs the cost of not establishing a program. Injuries to law enforcement personnel and individuals with mental illness as well as repeat calls for these issues are considerably reduced when CIT programs are in place which encourage officers to direct persons with mental illness to mental health-care facilities for treatment prior to issuing any criminal charges. This process reduces lawsuits, medical bills, and jail costs and improves the quality of life for the community, according to the FBI report.
Through the work of people like Woody and CIT International, police departments are beginning to take note and to require CIT. In San Antonio, Texas, police officers now take 40 hours of crisis intervention training, and the city has a six-person unit specially equipped to respond to 9-1-1 calls involving mental health disturbances.
The officers’ training helps them better determine whether people need to go to jail or a hospital or would be best served by being taken to the city’s Restoration Center. The centralized complex, across from the city’s homeless shelter, was built using cross-departmental resources to divert people with serious mental health illness from jail and into treatment instead. Among other things, it provides a space for police to bring arrestees to sober up, which saves them a costly trip to the emergency room. Together the CIT training and Restoration Center have saved the City of San Antonio and its police force an estimated $50 million over the past five years and at least $600,000 a year in overtime pay, according to the Kaiser Health News report.