The Churn: Teacher accused of CSAP help

Updated 12:30 p.m.Poudre district Superintendent Jerry Wilson is recommending the firing of a veteran middle school math teacher because she allegedly gave students inappropriate help on tests administered earlier this year.

Wilson told the school board last night that he had to invalidate the math scores of 23 students because of the actions of 21-year Webber Middle School teacher Julie Pfeifer.

A large crowd of Pfeifer supporters attended the board meeting and urged she not be fired. The case has to be heard by an administrative law judge before ultimately being decided by the board. Full story from Fort Collins Coloradan, via our partners at

Daily Churn logoGood reads from elsewhere:

Results from the latest National Assessment of Education Progress history tests found that eighth graders scored better in 2010 than students did on the last test in 2006, while fourth and 12th grade scores showed no change.

Among other discouraging results, “only 9 percent of fourth graders could identify a photograph of Abraham Lincoln and state two reasons for his importance,” reports Joy Resmovits on Huffington Post.

The news is likely to bring on the usual rounds of handwringing by politicians, editorial writers and educators. U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chimed in early, saying, “We need to return U.S. history to its rightful place in the classroom so that our children grow up learning what it means to be an American.”

The “rightful place” of history in the classroom has been a concern in Colorado. The State Board of Education, voting unanimously last December on the requirements for a new statewide testing system, agreed that social studies should join science as a test given at least once in elementary school, middle school and high school.

Social studies teachers lobbied hard for that. A witness at one hearing frankly argued that given the importance Colorado places on statewide tests, the only way to ensure social studies would continue to be taught is to make it a tested subject.

There hasn’t been much talk about the issue since the board vote. New tests to replace the CSAPs won’t roll out until 2013-14 at the earliest. And, adding a set of tests will have to swim against the tide of concern about the (unfunded) cost of a new testing system and about the amount of time state students already spend on standardized tests.

NAEP tests are administered periodically in a wide variety of subjects. Although the tests are taken only by representative samples of students across the country, all participating students take the same test. That’s why the organization bills its reports as “the nation’s report card.” Go here for full details on the latest history tests.

In case you’ve forgotten, the song “Wonderful World,” was recorded by Sam Cooke in 1958 and starts out:

Don’t know much about history
Don’t know much biology
Don’t know much about a science book
Don’t know much about the French I took

But I do know that I love you
And I know that if you love me too
What a wonderful world this would be

Summer slide: A new study of both previous research and school district and other data confirms that students can lose as much as a month of academic progress over the summer, but that summer programs can help stem that loss. Rand Corporation

Charters under the microscope: New research by Stanford University on charter schools in Pennsylvania asserts that the state’s charters, on average, make smaller learning gains compared to traditional counterparts. The study did find examples of strong charters but was especially cautionary about the quality of online charters. Allentown Morning Call

The Churn is published periodically during the summer.

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