survey says

Poll: Bloomberg's school policies take big hit in public opinion

The last two years have been disastrous for public opinion of Mayor Bloomberg’s school policies, according to a new poll.

The poll, conducted last week by Marist, found that just 27 percent of New Yorkers approve of how Mayor Bloomberg is handling the city’s public schools. That’s down from 53 percent in June 2009, the last time the question was asked. Since then, longtime chancellor Joel Klein resigned and was replaced with education newcomer Cathie Black; test scores plummeted after revelations about the quality of state tests; and Bloomberg has waged high-profile battles over school closures, charter schools, and teacher layoffs.

Black’s own poll numbers have been abysmal. Just 17 percent of New Yorkers approve of her performance, according to a Quinnipiac poll earlier this month, and 34 percent said they didn’t know who she was or couldn’t judge her. (In contrast, Klein’s approval rating, always the lowest among public officials, bottomed out at 33 percent in 2007 after he cut school bus routes in the middle of winter.)

Today’s poll also probed New Yorkers’ views on the fight over “last in, first out” layoff rules, which Bloomberg wants to end, and found that half see the mayor’s position as a power grab.

The poll asked respondents for their assessment of Bloomberg’s motivation for seeking to end seniority layoff rules, offering them choices first between concern for the city’s budget and a bid for additional school control and then between budget concerns and a desire to weaken the teachers union. Respondents could also say they were unsure about Bloomberg’s motivation.

Given the first choice, half of the people polled said a bid for control is behind Bloomberg’s anti-“last in, first out” campaign. Thirty-eight percent said they believed Bloomberg is driven by budgetary concerns. This split was even more pronounced in households with public school parents (57 percent to 34 percent) and with union members (59 percent to 32 percent).

The second choice yielded a more even divide, with 44 percent of respondents saying Bloomberg is motivated by budget worries and 43 percent answering that Bloomberg is trying to weaken the teachers union. But respondents from households with public school parents and households with union members were more circumspect, with 50 percent of the first group and 48 percent of the second group citing anti-union sentiment.

The poll also contains bad news for the teachers union, which has been battling the idea that its support for maintaining seniority layoff rules is driven by self-interest. Fifty-six percent of respondents said the union’s stance is meant to “just protect teachers with seniority,” while 35 percent said they thought the union was motivated by a desire to “keep teachers with the most experience in the classroom.” Surprisingly, a higher percentage of respondents whose households include a union member — 62 percent — said they thought the teachers union’s fight is aimed only at protecting senior teachers.

The breakdown of survey responses by political affiliation suggests Bloomberg’s recent school policy moves hold ideological appeal for Republican voters. Thirty-six percent of them said they approve of how he is handling the public schools, and 71 percent of them said, as Bloomberg has, that the union is merely protecting its longest-standing members by defending “last in, first out” layoff rules.

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