Vox populi

Comments of the week: the gift of gab for the holidays

Yes, we took a brief — and temporary — break from our “Comments of the Week” feature, which our most ardent readers happily reminded us of. But we’re back with a few select comments from the past couple of weeks.

Last week, Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky’s Community Section post about the city’s vision to accelerate the leadership track for talented teachers drew a steady stream of criticism from readers. Smart and ambitious young teachers often appear to be ideal candidates to lead a school — at first, said A.S.Neill. But he said that the strategy does not hold up over time, since good leaders possess more than intellect and a good work ethic.

The problem is that the intangibles to those who look closely are not good. They are ambitious and bright, which later easily turns into arrogance. Although on the surface, they seem to get along with everyone and are polite, in fact, they lack interest in or skill with people (except close friends on the same fast track they are), and for that matter, do not appear to be interested all that much in students personally, except as an object to improve on a test in their upward career path. They are easily overconfident but make basic mistakes often with people. One could go on here, but the basic idea is that they are a disaster waiting to happen.

A good discussion on charter school autonomy in evaluating teachers followed last week’s story on the charter sector’s decision to ignore a request to submit teacher ratings to the state education department.

Leonie Haimson was scathing, charging hypocrisy that charter schools were shrugging off an accountability measure that their closest allies have advocated for.

Isn’t it ironic that DFER, Students First, SFER & all the astroturf orgs set up to support privatization and charter expansion are pushing so hard for a damaging evaluation scheme that the charter schools themselves reject?

Tim, for one, said he sided with charter schools, but thought it might be an appropriate request in the future:

There’s nothing in the state law that calls for charter school teachers to be evaluated on the same basis as district school teachers, or for any such evaluations to be publicly reported. If charter authorizers want to start working this requirement into future authorizations/renewals, then that would be a different story.

This week, we published a national story from our friend Sarah Garland at The Hechinger Report. The report detailed the changes — big and small — that other states had made to their own evaluation models since implementation. To Former Turnaround Teacher, the changes were symbolic:

This is a very telling quote about the purpose of these evaluation systems, “And one of the reasons D.C. changed its rating system this year is because the vast majority of teachers continued to be rated as either “effective” or “highly effective.””

So under the new system teachers were still being rated well…Isn’t it possible then that the teachers are doing their job and thus not the problem?  Nope that can never be the answer, so therefore we must change the system again so we can fire them more easily.


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.