New York

Total schooling: Is that what KIPP offers?

The education blogosphere is abuzz this week with responses to Jay Mathews’ most recent Washington Post column, in which he issued a call for a term other than “paternalistic schools” to describe the wave of schools, mostly charters, featured in “Sweating the Small Stuff: Inner-City Schools and the New Paternalism,” a new book out of the Fordham Institute. Mathews considers several terms — including “tough love schools,” “achievement-focus schools,” “high-intensity schools,” and “tough little schools” — but says none of them successfully conveys to parent and policymakers alike all of the schools’ characteristics. Other suggestions have popped up around the internet, from “relentless schools” to “elite charters.”

Over on her blog, Joanne Jacobs is toying with “total schooling,” suggesting that the term comprises both the academic and “values” approach these schools employ. I have to take issue with Jacobs’ nomenclature, because I’ve actually been thinking recently about the term as well, but in a somewhat different way: as an education counterpart to the notion of “total war.” Total war is a modern iteration of warfare in which one side marshals all of its resources, both military and civilian, to defeat the enemy. World War II is widely considered a total war, for example, because civilians contributed to the war effort and were considered legitimate targets for military action.

The theory translates imperfectly to the education world, of course, but in my mind, “total schools” would be those that marshal all of the resources of the community to defeat the “enemy” of low achievement. Schools such as KIPP, Achievement First, and Uncommon are thus not “total schools” at all — in fact, they represent a precisely opposing outlook, in which proponents believe all of the battle efforts should be contained in the school itself. These schools strive to involve students’ families, but they don’t try to commandeer other community resources, instead arguing, as Louisiana State Superintendent Paul Pastorek did recently in a New York Times Magazine cover story about schools in New Orleans, that doing so would distract attention from the winnable war. “It would be convenient to say that it’s a whole lot of other people who need to be part of the equation,” Pastorek said in the article. “But we have the job. And we have to do something.”

A true “total school” would be one that engaged social services, engaged families, and developed community buy-in about the need for high-quality education. Are there schools that do this? The Harlem Children’s Zone Promise Academy might; it’s part of Geoffrey Canada’s total war on blights affecting the neighborhood’s children, although I’m looking forward to reading Paul Tough’s new book about the Harlem Children’s Zone to find out how successful the approach has been. Without a visionary philanthropist, however, I’m not sure how any single school could adopt a total school approach. That would take a “Broader, Bolder” approach — one that has been positioned as irreconcilable with the “no excuses” philosophy that Pastorek, a signatory to the Education Equality Project, advocates. The kinds of charters Mathews is trying to name are favorites of Education Equality Project backers. So to respond to Joanne Jacobs’ suggestion, I argue that if any kind of school could reasonably be called a “total school,” it would be one supported by “Broader, Bolder” proponents.

About Mathews’ question: For what it’s worth, I like the term “no excuses schools” best, even if, as Richard Whitmire notes at Eduwonk, it “has been around a bit.” It’s short and snappy, intelligible to parents and wonks alike, draws from the schools’ own vocabularies, and makes clear the schools’ orientation in this contemporary — and, possibly, false — battle over the role of public education.

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