Friday Churn: Wrong track?

Updated – A new report says U.S. education reforms are out of sync with what’s occurring in higher-performing countries and are unlikely to produce major improvements.

The report, from the National Center on Education and the Economy, sets out an agenda for improving American schools based on efforts undertaken in those countries whose students score the highest on international assessments.

Among the steps: less frequent standardized testing and a greater emphasis on the professionalization of teaching.

“We’ve been unwilling to pay teachers at the level of engineers,” Marc Tucker, NCEE president, told Education Week. “We’ve been solving our problems of teacher shortages by waiving the very low standards that we have. We have been frustrated by low student performance, and now, we’re blaming our teachers for that, which makes it even harder to get good people.”

Read the EdWeek article and see the full report, Standing on the Shoulders of Giants.

Daily Churn logoWhat’s churning:

A community campaign will keep Jefferson County’s outdoor lab program open through 2011-12, district officials announced Thursday.

Closing the program, a popular rite of passage for Jeffco sixth-graders since the early 1960s, was part of a budget reduction package announced by the state’s largest school district in March.

But supporters of the Mt. Evans and Windy Peak Outdoor Lab schools, where students spend a week immersed in environmental education, rallied to raise dollars to keep it going. They set a June 15 deadline to raise $600,000.

Thursday, Jeffco officials said more than $625,000 had been raised – about half from community efforts, including an anonymous donor’s gift of $99,000, and the rest from matching district funds.

“As a result of conservative spending on the part of district departments during the 2010-11 budget year, Jeffco had $1.2 million in surplus funds,” district officials said in a news release. “Members of the Board of Education directed that $450,000 of that money be put toward the Outdoor Lab schools in matching funds.”

Students fees also will increase next year, from $199 per student to $300, to help support the program.

Also Thursday, Colorado Department of Education officials for the first time posted school and district improvement plans online, as required by the Education Accountability Act of 2009. You can access the plans via this SchoolView tool.

“We strongly encourage parents and community members statewide to explore these plans and learn more,” new education Commissioner Robert Hammond states in the news release. “Every school is unique and has its own story to tell.”

EdNews, which has written at length on the new school and district ratings required under the accountability act, checked out several improvement plans using the nifty data tool, focusing on those schools and districts rated “turnaround” – the lowest in the state.

As many required reporting documents are, the plans are blindingly bureaucratic in places: “Learning gaps are not efficiently identified and appropriately addressed to support concurrent instruction in the grade-level expectations” is one of many “root cause” analyses listed by Douglas County’s Hope Online about why students continue to lag significantly behind state averages on annual exams.

Others are more succinct: “Teachers have limited knowledge of state standards and a broad range of instructional strategies,” is a root cause listed for Denver’s Cheltenham Elementary.

Persistent readers can find interesting data. Denver’s Manny Martinez Middle School plan describes the academic deficits of children entering its program – 43% of incoming sixth-graders in fall 2010 were reading below grade level, with a quarter of those three or more grades behind.

Perhaps it’s the sheer work involved in publishing 179 district plans and 1,476 school plans but Thursday’s online posting is several weeks behind the April 15 deadline. Which made it even more surprising to see several of the plans obviously dated. For example, the Cheltenham plan is blank in some areas, advising readers that some information is “Not available until Nov 2010.”

Read the department’s news release for more details.

Educators at chronically low-performing schools will have a chance to compete for $6 million in federal turnaround grant dollars, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced Thursday.

“When a school continues to perform in the bottom five percent of the state and isn’t showing signs of progress or has graduation rates below 60 percent over a number of years, something dramatic needs to be done,” he said. “Turning around our worst-performing schools is difficult for everyone but it is critical that we show the courage to do the right thing by kids.”

The $6 million is Colorado’s share of the total $546 million available to states for the School Improvement Grant program in fiscal year 2010. That’s a lot less than the $3.5 billion available in 2009. Details.

Good reads from elsewhere:

Data drops – Two interesting education data reports were released this week:

  • Public Education Finances 2009, a report from the U.S. Census Bureau, shows “Public school systems spent an average of $10,499 per pupil in fiscal year 2009, a 2.3 percent increase over 2008” and other trends. New York spent the most of any state, averaging $18,126 per pupil while Colorado came in 40th at $8,718 – federal, state and local sources were included.
  • The Condition of Education 2011 also focuses on trends, such as the overall increase in bachelor’s degrees earned between 1975 and 2010 by white, black and Hispanic 25 to 29-year-olds. Yet the gap in bachelor’s degree attainment between blacks and whites during that period increased from 13 to 19 percentage points and the gap between whites and Hispanics increased from 15 to 25 percentage points. It’s from the National Center for Education Statistics.


School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede