From third grade to jail? Nope

Third-grade failure rates are used to predict the need for prisons, claim Virginia gubernatorial candidates, other politicians and newspaper columnists. Not true, reports the Washington Post.

Empty desks line the dimly lit elementary classroom. A map of the United States hangs on the wall. As quiet music plays, the camera pulls back and prison bars close over the sobering scene.

“Imagine if your entire future was determined by what you did in the third grade,” says Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe in a television advertisement promoting his plan to expand preschool. “Did you know we use the failure rates of third-graders to help predict how many prison spots Virginia will need in 15 years?”

McAuliffe and one of his rivals for the Democratic nomination, Brian Moran, use the rhetoric to argue for expanding preschool. It’s proven popular with other politicians, including Hillary Rodham Clinton. New York Times and Washington Post columnist have repeated the claim.

“It’s catchy,” said Peter E. Leone, director of the National Center on Education, Disability and Juvenile Justice at the University of Maryland, often cited as the source of the link. “And it’s totally bogus.”

But it’s truthier than the truth, politicians say.

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  1. I’ve been writing about this urban myth since 2007. Internets, Help Me Find A Citation! Does Any State Include Education Data in Estimating Future Needs for Prison Capacity? Be sure to read the comments.