Prep Talk

Pioneers in teacher prep chart changes in training landscape

If the people on a panel Tuesday about teacher preparation didn’t convey the urgency they felt about improving teacher training, then a flash poll of the audience surely did.

More than two-thirds of the audience, made up primarily of young teachers, said they didn’t think their masters degrees had made them better at their jobs, according to electronic votes that were tallied in real time.

With that context, a five-member panel of advocates for alternative certification and training dove into a 90-minute discussion about how traditional theory-driven teacher training had failed the profession, particularly in high-needs urban schools. Research has shown that having a masters degree does not make teachers more effective, and local, state, and federal efforts are underway to re-imagine how teachers are trained.

Panelists largely agreed that many traditional education schools lack accountability, aren’t willing to share performance data for their graduates, and have a detached relationship with the public schools where their graduates eventually work.

“For too long schools of [education] have sat back and spun out academic theories of what should work in the ideal school with the ideal conditions,” said a panelist, Bob Hughes, president of the nonprofit New Visions for Public Schools, which trains and certifies teachers and operates 99 schools in New York City. “And they’ve been divorced from the reality of what happens in schools .”

Joining Hughes on the panel were representatives of alternative training programs that are being pioneered in New York City: Maritza Macdonald, head of the soon-to-be-launched urban residency program for science teachers at the American Museum of Natural History; Mayme Hostetter, dean of Relay Graduate School of Education, the brand-new certification program created by three charter networks; and Kat Hayes, of The New Teacher Project, which handles recruitment and training for the New York City Teaching Fellows.

The panel was held at the American Museum of Natural History and hosted by Educators 4 Excellence, an organization of young teachers that advocates for reform in the teaching profession, including an evaluation system that takes test scores into account and an end to seniority-based layoffs. NY1 education reporter Lindsay Christ moderated.

Also on the panel was David Steiner, dean of Hunter College’s school of education and the former New York State education commissioner. As commissioner, Steiner expanded the role of alternative training programs to allow them to certify teachers, a policy that two of his co-panelists — Hostetter and Macdonald — are now making the most of with their certification programs.

Steiner said the culture of teacher preparation programs supported “a huge divide between content and method” that was not producing highly-effective classroom educators. He equated the programs to a hospital that provides only a bare minimum of care.

“They’ll help make sure the patient doesn’t die, but it wont actually make the patient much better,” Steiner said.

The panel didn’t just harp on what was wrong with current teacher preparation programs — members also suggested ways to improve them.

Steiner, who complained about gridlock in Albany after resigning as commissioner, said “one of the easiest things to do” in New York would be to make licensing exams harder to pass, something that has been done successfully in Massachusetts. Currently, less than 1 percent of test-takers fail New York’s exam.

Hostetter’s Relay program is known for its performance requirements to be eligible for graduation. Teachers in that program can’t graduate unless they have helped their students grow at least one year in one year’s time, according to specific assessment standards.

To an extent, the panelists were actually preaching to the choir. The majority – about two-thirds – of the audience had taken alternate routes to certification, meaning they had enrolled in many of the same programs supported by the panelists.

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

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