who should rule the schools

Klein bats away critics' calls for checks and balances

baruch-mayoral-control2
Chancellor Joel Klein responds to a question from moderator Doug Muzzio. (Left to right: Ana Maria Archilla, Doug Muzzio, Joel Klein and Monica Major) (<em>GothamSchools</em> / Kyla Calvert)

With the state legislature’s deadline for making a final decision on mayoral control less than two months away, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein himself made an appearance at one of the panels debating the issue across the city.

Sandwiched between assorted people who have called for curtailing the mayor’s power over the schools, Klein, who supports preserving the law intact, fielded criticism calmly.

When other panelists raised arguments about whether test scores and graduation rates were increasing at the dramatic rate touted by the Department of Education, the chancellor shot back with more data.

“In 2002 CUNY enrolled 16,000 students, in 2008 CUNY had 24,000 students enrolled,” Klein said. “I don’t care what you say about the graduation numbers — those are 8,000 real kids whose lives have changed because of the opportunities that are a product of mayoral control.”

Klein reiterated previous statements that he is open to having an independent agency review Department of Education data, like graduation rates and test scores. But he kept the door closed to other concessions. When the teachers union chief operating officer, Michael Mulgrew, asked Klein if he would be willing to consider removing MS 399 in the Bronx from the list of schools slated to close, Klein balked. (Mulgrew had replaced union president Randi Weingarten at the last minute; he is considered her likely successor as president when she transitions to running the national American Federation of Teachers union full-time.)

Mulgrew pointed out that the school’s English test results jumped 20% this year, according to results released last week. Klein initially replied by saying that another school that was removed from the closure list after the union threatened a lawsuit also had a relatively good year, with proficiency rate of 50%. But that should be tempered by the fact that the charter school the city wanted to replace it with saw a proficiency rate of 95%.

When Mulgrew pushed, Klein said he was “willing to engage in a discussion.” “But,” he added, “I want to wait to see the data, I want to see the math scores. I don’t make policy decisions in forums like this.”

In addition to Mulgrew, panelists at the debate, which was hosted by Baruch College, included a Hunter College professor, Joseph Viteritti, who led a commission on school governance whose recommendations Klein and Mayor Bloomberg sharply criticized; a member of the Campaign for Better Schools group; and a parent leader.

Klein was the only panelist who argued for maintaining mayoral control without any changes. Even the organization represented by his strongest ally, Rev. David K. Brawley, co-chair of East Brooklyn Congregations, has called on the state to create an independent advocacy group for parents.

Joining the chorus of those asking for more public discussion before decisions are made, a member of the audience, Martin Needelmann, of the Brooklyn Legal Service Corporation, drew a comparison to Mayor Bloomberg’s eventual embrace of affordable housing in Williamsburg, following a heated debate. Why couldn’t the same back-and-forth process benefit the city schools? he asked.

“There is a big issue here with having an independent board,” Klein said. “We would submit to going back to the old system.” He argued that the old system was better at blocking initiatives than at creating new plans.

“I think he avoided the issue,” Needelmann said after the panel. “The issue I raised was an example of how the mayor is not perfect and some of his appointments are terrible. Schools are different from other municipal services, consulting with parents is critical, and there has to be some power to it.”

Mulgrew also urged more public discussion. “Every policy should have some debate,” he said. “For most policy, it should be clear in terms of what is good for children, but shouldn’t we be sure?”

Leonie Haimson, the executive director of Class Size Matters, agreed with Mulgrew. “The panel tonight, this is what school governance should look like,” Haimson said.

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