New York

Stark figures on black male graduation rates

America’s schools systematically fail to educate black males as well as they educate other students, according to a new report by the Schott Foundation for Public Education, Given Half a Chance: The Schott 50 State Report on Public Education and Black Males.

If Black students did poorly in all schools, we would plausibly seek solutions to the problem of their achievement among those students themselves. The same would be the case if, in schools with majority Black enrollments, Black students did poorly and the other students did well. But in reality, Black students in good schools do well. At the same time, White, non-Hispanic students who attend schools where most of the students are Black and their graduation rates are low, also do poorly. The crisis of the education of Black males sits squarely in the middle of the crisis America faces as we work to create a world-class public education system that will support and maintain the values of a fair and equitable democratic society.

According to the report, in New York State, 39 percent of black male students graduated from high school in 2005-06, compared to 75 percent of white male students, and far more black male students performed at the Below Basic level on all sections of the NAEP tests compared to white male students. Also, as the report points out, on the eighth grade NAEP reading assessment, “virtually none reach the Advanced level.” Furthermore, black males in New York State are about 5 times less likely to be placed in Gifted and Talented programs, and nearly 3 times more likely to be classified as mentally retarded.

To compare districts and states, the Schott Foundation calculated a “Schott Education Inequity Index,” taking into account both the size of the gap and the absolute graduation rate of black males.  According to this index, New York State ranks fifth from the bottom of the fifty states in educating black male students.

Overall,

The worst problems are concentrated in a few large metropolitan areas. Specifically, New York City, Chicago, Detroit, and Dade County fail to graduate the great majority of their Black male students with their peers. Districts such as these, in which Black students are concentrated, tend to have racially segregated schools that are demonstrably inferior educational institutions; very few children do well in these schools.

Reading this report, I immediately thought of the July 20th New York Times Magazine article about class-based integration, The Next Kind of Integration – Class, Race, and Desegregating American Schools.  According to that article, decades of research shows that all children in high-poverty schools perform worse academically, although Ronald Ferguson, of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, warns that racial achievement gaps can persist even in higher-class school districts unless educators make a strong commitment to the best instruction for all.

He stresses that to reap the benefits, poor kids have to be evenly distributed among classrooms and not just grouped together in the lowest tracks. “To the degree a district takes the kids who struggle the most academically and spreads them across different classrooms, they’re making teachers’ work more doable,” he says. “And that may be the biggest effect.”

The article goes on to look at examples of class-based integration across the country.  In Wake County, N.C., class-based integration helped raise black students’ test scores significantly, and with greater effects at older grade levels, apparently bucking the trend of falling-off performance in middle school.  So it seems that class-based integration holds some promise for helping alleviate the problems shown so starkly in the Schott report.

But what about New York City, where, according to the Times article, 74 percent of students are poor and 63 percent are black?  In this and other large urban districts, neither class nor race-based integration may be feasible.  We will have to continue to look for solutions that do not depend on socioeconomic diversity.

(An interesting footnote to the New York State section of the Schott report: “New York State enrollment and diploma data has been reported to the National Center for Education Statistics irregularly and is not considered as reliable as data from other states.”  Worth remembering that we’re still waiting for 2007 graduation rates here in New York State).

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 cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

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