Vox populi

Comments of the week: probing city's teacher certification idea

When Department of Education officials announced their interest in creating a teacher certification program earlier this week, the city’s teachers union and many of our commenters responded with concern and alarm.

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said he “strongly opposes” any effort to give the city authority over teacher certification, a process currently reserved almost exclusively for education colleges. City officials said it could help alleviate the shortage of teachers in some subject areas, but Mulgrew contended that the department’s policies are to blame for the system’s shortages.

He called the department’s professional development record “abysmal” and argued that it is encouraging teachers to flee the profession. Many of our commenters agreed.

“Lisa” was among the commenters to question how well the city could train the uncertified teachers who would enroll in its program (and eventually work in the schools):

Wow, “fast tracking” a fresh out of college special education teacher who will not even need a masters degree by placing him or her alongside a veteran teacher in a “thriving” school and then dumping them into a hard to staff school. I bet there are a ton of parents of special ed kids who can’t wait to have that kind of teacher.

But “East Sider” expressed support for the city’s fledgling plan, likening it to an “internship” model that could be useful for filling shortage areas such as special education and the sciences:

The Urban Teacher Residency (UTR) programs are highly successful in retaining teachers, and expensive – currently funded with federaral dollars. There are a number of sites in NYC. It sounds like Suransky is talking about a UTR-type program run from within the DOE. Currently UTR sites have relationships with universities. Its basically an internship model – worthwhile trying a pilot especially in shortage license areas.

“Juggleandhope” wrote that the city’s attempts to ease contractual restrictions on the process of removing teachers from the system should cast doubt on their bid for their own certification program:

Given the obsessive focus from the DOE to make veteran teachers more replaceable (attempts to eliminate tenure, teacher evaluations reliant on test scores, opposition to Last-In-First-Out, firing 50% of teachers at “turn-around” schools) it does seem worrisome to give that same DOE the power to credential however many replacements it chooses.

“Milo” speculated that the city will face more teaching shortages in coming years who may be put off by certain policies—and an city-run certification program might not be able to make up the difference:

Teacher working conditions are at an all time low and will continue to deteriorate. Examples: oversized classes, micromanaged schools, unexperienced administration, lack of teaching supplies, tenure weakened/eliminated, seniority rights eliminated, unions busted, constant test prep, flawed evaluation programs, pensions reduced. Is it any wonder why a would a person with a college degree would want to enter an already extremely stressful profession that has been reduced to a temporary job?

“A.S.Neill” agreed with “Milo’s” concerns, noting that not all teachers are satisfied with the city’s ability to provide professional development to its teachers:

This semester several teachers at my school have already just walked off the job even given the state of the economy. exceptionally competent or ambitious teachers angle to move up to administrators, transfer out of the troubled schools to “better” schools or another city or state, or just to better occupations entirely… the tipping point is usually the administration which is exceptionally ham handed in providing support backed up by the ideology of teacher blame for all the ills of education.


defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.