Johns Hopkins Magazine -- June 1999
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JUNE 1999

P U B L I C    P O L I C Y    &    I N T E R N A T I O N A L

... Better guidance for juvenile delinquents... faculty matters... TV's take on Kosovo... at the core of education... a race to document Freedmen's Town... airing the affairs of the nation

Illustration by Stephanie Shieldhouse
Keeping better track of youthful offenders

Juvenile offenders across the country increasingly are being treated like adults. They face longer prison terms for violent crimes and are being released into a nearly anonymous parole-style system.

The Intensive Aftercare Program (IAP), a juvenile oversight program codesigned by Hopkins researcher David Altschuler, is meant to give chronic offenders more guidance within and after they leave prison. IAP features intensive contact with the offenders' families, aggressive job and school placement, drug treatment, mentoring on issues such as anger control, incentives for good behavior, and tight surveillance that can include random visits or electronic ankle monitors.

IAP focuses on cutting back on caseload size to allow more personal attention for each offender. Normally, juvenile parole-style officers might handle up to 80 or 90 cases. Close follow-up or counseling is sporadic and varies from state to state.

"It's outrageous," says Altschuler, the project director. "With that many cases you can't do anything. You are lucky if you can keep track of your paperwork."

Altschuler's initiative caps caseloads at about 20 offenders. It is part of a five-year-plus, $3.6 million program that is following as many as 293 teens from four states through prison terms and post-release. The teens, all male, are considered high-risk--they are chronic offenders convicted of serious crimes, such as sexual assault, robbery, or drug dealing.

Under the model, an IAP "client manager" works with teams of counselors, trackers, educators, and others who follow each teen's progress. One of the keys to success: ongoing communication and agreement among members of the oversight group who may work for different government agencies.

"They need to be reinforcing one another and not providing mixed messages and [letting] certain things fall through the cracks," Altschuler says. "Let's say someone has substance abuse problems, and one of the workers lets it slide and another takes it more seriously; that potentially allows kids to play one worker off another, and that is bad."

The project, headed by Altschuler and his research partner, Troy Armstrong, an anthropology professor at California State University at Sacramento, is funded by the Department of Justice's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Each of the participating states--Colorado, Nevada, Virginia, and New Jersey--was given $100,000 a year to run the program for five years. Virginia and Colorado will continue the program using their own money.

The need for additional personnel makes the model program more expensive than many existing systems to operate in the short run. But Altschuler predicts big savings in the long run--by cutting down on prison costs for repeat offenders.

Society has a big stake in finding ways to prevent violent teens from repeating their crimes, says Altschuler. "These are high-volume offenders, so if you can impact even a small number you can have an impact on crime."

An analysis of the outcomes--repeat offenses, drug use, and other issues--is ongoing, and findings are expected in a few years. --Joanne P. Cavanaugh

Faculty matters

Almost one-quarter of the public health school faculty in the United States hold a position at Johns Hopkins. According to fall 1997 tabulations by the Association of Schools of Public Health, Hopkins had 781 full- and part-time faculty members out of 3,007 public health faculty nationwide. About half the Public Health faculty at Hopkins are part time.

Not really the straight scoop

Television news coverage of the war in Yugoslavia has had one particularly interested observer: English professor Sasha Torres. Torres studies television as a scholar. She has written about how TV handles issues of race and gender, and since 1992 she's been studying the process by which people's identification with the United States is shaped and influenced by the media they consume.

When NATO began bombing targets in Serbia and Kosovo this spring, Torres paid close attention to how television shaped a national consensus about American military action in the Balkans. She noted considerable disagreement among commentators over whether the U.S. should have involved itself at all, and the proper form of that involvement.

Torres: "I want to get people past the idea that television can transmit an event without changing it."
Photo by Doug Hansen
"But beyond that," she says, "is a sense that we [as a people] need a unified collectivity to confront this. The sense that there's a wrong being perpetrated here [by the Serbs], and that we as Americans have a particular responsibility to resolve that. I'm interested in how we come to be responsible. There's some sense that we have to do it because we have the resources. But there's more: a sense that Americans are the torchbearers for democracy and freedom and human rights. There's a sense of specialness."

The simplistic nature of the coverage has concerned Torres: "This is an enormously complicated situation with many players and a long history. Television's job is to make things simpler, and it usually does that through simple narratives--good guys versus bad guys, for example. But these narrative forms aren't adequate to tell this story." She'd like to see more historical depth, in particular a better discussion of the history of relations between Serbs and Kosovars, and how the former see themselves as victims of the latter.

She notes that coverage of Serbs conveys the idea that "Slobodan Milosevic is the only Serb in the world." Where, in American news coverage, is the rest of the Serb government? Where are ordinary Serbs? How is their government persuading them to go along with the war and with genocide in Kosovo?

Though she supports the intervention and sees value in television shaping a national consensus, Torres wants to focus attention on how TV conveys information. She believes there are three imperatives for the networks covering the war--imperatives that are often in conflict with one another: "Say what's true. Say what's profitable--what people will stay tuned to see, through the commercials. And say what will serve the national interest.

"I want to get people past the idea that television can transmit an event without changing it. There's no such thing as unmediated footage. We need to remember that when television tells us that it's just giving us the straight scoop." --DK

Illustration by Shaul Tsemach
Solid to the core?

Since 1990, more than 800 American elementary schools have adopted a program devised by E.D. Hirsch called the Core Knowledge Sequence. Hirsch believes that schools need to teach a central common body of knowledge--historical facts, literary references, etc. --first spelled out in his 1987 book Cultural Literacy. Students who don't grasp this common knowledge, who lack cultural literacy, says Hirsch, cannot prosper.

Does Hirsch's program work? Four researchers from Hopkins's Center for Social Organization of Schools (CSOS) recently completed a three-year study of 12 schools from across the nation, and delivered their answer: "Yes, but..."

Yes, the schools in the study improved their curricula, achieving greater coherence from grade to grade, as well as clearer goals, less repetitiveness, and richer content.

Yes, students in the program read more, liked the curriculum, and showed significantly higher scores on Core Knowledge tests versus a control group.

Yes, teachers felt more professional and enjoyed their jobs more. Said one, who had taught for 22 years, "I have never felt more like a teacher than I have felt since we've been doing Core Knowledge."

Yes, parents were happy with the changes in schools. According to a teacher surveyed in the study, "The parents are thrilled, thrilled, thrilled."

But, students at the schools showed only moderate improvement, at best, in standardized test scores.

But, some schools that were under pressure to comply with state standards failed to find the best ways to apply the program for better test scores. Also, schools with severe disciplinary problems could not properly implement the program.

The study, conducted by CSOS researchers Samuel Coburn Stringfield, Amanda Datnow, Geoffrey Borman, and Laura Rachuba, found that the schools most likely to succeed with Core Knowledge were those that fully embraced it. "The places that didn't fully implement it didn't get an effect," says Stringfield, principal research scientist at CSOS. "If you don't go at it hard, you probably shouldn't go at it at all."

Under the program, teachers are provided with the content they must cover; it is up to them to come up with appropriate teaching materials. Cooperation among and between teachers and administrators, therefore, is crucial. "Core Knowledge assumes relatively healthy relationships among adults in the building," says Stringfield. "They form teams, the teams divvy up the tasks, and they work hard at it over several years. If you have a faculty that doesn't like each other and isn't willing to work together, this is a hard reform."

Regarding standardized test scores, CSOS associate research scientist Amanda Datnow notes, "Those tests are testing reading and math skills. Core Knowledge is content, not a curriculum that focuses on basic skills. It wasn't any surprise to me that scores did not go up significantly in those skill areas."

Because Core Knowledge focuses on what to read and write, rather than how to read and write, schools with ineffective basic reading programs were not able to implement the program successfully, the researchers say.

A few things surprised Stringfield: "The almost universal level of teacher enthusiasm was something we had not anticipated. The level of active engagement was a very pleasant surprise. We saw teachers working in teams to produce more coherent curricula."

When Cultural Literacy was published in 1987, one rap against teaching Core Knowledge was that it was elitist and Eurocentric; another was that it would stifle creativity in favor of rote learning-- "that kids would sit in long rows learning long lists of meaningless stuff," says Stringfield. The researchers found the opposite, he says. "We saw a great deal of cooperative learning, and kids learning via the Internet."

Adds Datnow, "I would ask teachers, 'Do you think this is a multicultural program?' They would say, 'Absolutely. This is far better than anything we'd been doing before.' Schools felt this was movement in the direction of being more inclusive." --DK

Airing the affairs of the nations

If you pick up the phone, they will come.

Several Hopkins undergraduates found that out this spring when they organized the school's second annual Symposium on Foreign Affairs. The symposium attracted big names in foreign policy--headlined by former Israeli prime minister Shimon Peres--and big crowds.

For a year preceding the February-March event, co-directors Jay Suresh '00 and Hari Chandra '00 made unannounced visits, worked the phones, and sent invitational e-mails and faxes.

The students planned eight events on campus, in venues at Shriver Hall and the Milton S. Eisenhower Library, that featured nine speakers, including Peres; Cesar Gaviria, the secretarygeneral of the Organization of American States (OAS) and former president of Colombia; and Korean ambassador Lee Hong-koo. --JPC

Ceaser has taken 1,500 photographs so far in Houston's Freedmen's Town
Photos by Jeff Ceaser
Documenting Freedmen's Town

On a trip to Mexico City two years ago, Jeff Ceaser (MA '92) met a woman who spoke of an interesting section of Houston, Texas. Her name was Catherine Roberts, and she was describing Freedmen's Town, a historic area adjacent to downtown Houston that had been founded by freed slaves after the Civil War.

Says Ceaser, "She told me she had recently bought one of the homes that was going to be torn down, the former home of Rutherford Yates, who was one of the first prominent black American printmakers. She was trying to preserve the house as a museum, and was running into great friction within the city government. She said, 'We need to bring attention to this project.'"

Ceaser visited Freedmen's Town and now has embarked on a project to document it in photos and on audio tape. The community, now a poor African American and Latino enclave, occupies prime real estate that Houston is eager to redevelop. Ceaser believes the community will soon disappear.

"It's the last remaining urban freed-slave community," he says. He guesses that about 1,000 people live in the 40 blocks of Freedmen's Town that have not yet been taken over and redeveloped.

Some of the older dwellings have been stripped of architectural details, he says: "There are old structures in Freedmen's Town that have decorative columns and woodwork now in demand for upscale houses. You have people putting a rope around a column and tying it to the back of a pickup truck, and ripping it right out of there. There are stories of people being at home and having their deck and roof collapse. [The people stealing the column] figure, 'No one could be living there.' They're unfamiliar with the area."

Ceaser, who lives in California, estimates he has taken 1,500 photographs so far. Next February he hopes to exhibit some of his work at Houston's annual Fotofest. He'd like to create a book from the photos and interviews he has taped. He's funding the project himself, and now races against time and development interests: "My sense is the area will be destroyed before I get to document everything. But I'm committed to going every six months until the area is no more." --DK