Hess: Don’t trust ‘I’m for the kids’

People seeking a dose of iconoclastic thinking and blunt talk about education reform might want to seek out Rick Hess.

A resident scholar and director of education policy studies at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute think tank, Hess has made a career of questioning the most cherished assumptions of everyone associated with public education. It is impossible to pigeonhole him on education issues. To paraphrase Hess, he makes a good living offending those on all sides of the debate.

While his philosophical sympathies might rest more with so-called education reformers than with people aligned against the current wave of reforms, Hess directs his fire at reformers as frequently as their opponents.

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Education researcher and writer Rick Hess gores several oxes during a ‘Hot Lunch’ talk.

Hess visited Denver last week and was the inaugural speaker for the 2011-12 Hot Lunch series, sponsored by the Donnell-Kay and Piton foundations (both funders of Education News Colorado). After his 30-minute talk, Hess answered questions for another half hour. Here are a few samples of his thoughts:

On education platitudes: I don’t trust anyone who tells me they’re for the kids. As soon as (even) people I really respect go for that line, I start reaching for my wallet. If you’ve got good arguments and good ideas, I don’t care who you claim to be arguing for.

On charter schools for low-income kids as “randomized field trials”: We’re incredibly picky about who gets to get into randomized drug trials. You don’t go around saying ‘who are the sickest people? Let’s go ahead and give them the drug and see how it works out.’ But that’s more or less our innovation strategy in education.

On urban legends: There is lots of stuff I keep getting told by superintendents and deputy supes and school board members that ‘we’re not allowed to do’ that you actually are allowed to do. We are ruled by urban legend … a huge and very practical part of solving this problem is for those of us engaged in the districts … to start to change the expectations. To say not ‘are we allowed to do this’ but ‘this is what we need to do, how do we make this happen?’

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

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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.