all before 9 a.m.

Tisch fans rumors of mayoral bid, calls test errors "inexcusable"

Teachers from New Rochelle wore custom shirts designed to mock a state test question to Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch's breakfast talk today.

Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch fanned interest in a possible mayoral bid by refusing to deny her interest in the position at a breakfast hosted by Crain’s New York today.

Crain’s NY editor Erik Engquist’s first question for Tisch was about the persistent rumors, first aired last fall, that she might be considering running to succeed New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “Everything I have to say on that subject I think I’ve already said,” Tisch told Engquist.

What Tisch has said in the past hasn’t been entirely consistent. When GothamSchools broke the news about the mayoral murmurings in October, Tisch told us, “I am absolutely, positively not going to run.” But appearing on Inside City Hall the next month, she was less definitive.

“I have an obligation that I am fulfilling right now and I am very happy in my work,” she said. “And I know there is a really crowded field out there of very eager people and I am sure they will emerge and one of them will serve the city very well.”

Host Errol Louis pointed out that Tisch hadn’t actually said she wasn’t considering running. “I’ll take that as a ‘I’m thinking about it,'” he said. She answered, “That’s what you said.”

A mayoral bid appears unlikely — but is by no means impossible — with the campaign in official kickoff mode and six Democrats angling for the nomination. But allowing the rumors to persist could work to Tisch’s advantage as she works to advance the Regents’ agenda even as Gov. Andrew Cuomo works to advance his own similar but not identical agenda.

For example, the Board of Regents added passing the DREAM Act, legislation that would give children brought to the country illegally by their parents access to financial aid for state universities, to its legislative agenda this year. Tisch today urged audience members to press lawmakers to pass the bill — but so far Cuomo has stayed mum on the topic.

Tisch was more forthcoming today when offering advice for the city’s next mayor, saying, “I would say to anyone who runs for mayor that the education system is something that they’d better know inside out — first of all because it is the heart of economic development for this city, second of all because a huge part of the city budget goes towards it, and third of all because the public is paying attention to education and its outcomes as never before in our history. Study up, guys.”

Tisch was also forthcoming when discussing problems with this year’s state tests, which she called “inexcusable.” The criticism started over a seemingly nonsensical and ultimately spiked story on the seventh-grade reading exam — referenced on the t-shirts of some teachers who attended today’s breakfast — and have picked up steam in the weeks since the tests ended. The latest mistakes to be revealed are more than 20 translation errors on foreign language versions of the exams that made some questions unanswerable.

“The psychometricians have assured us that the reliability and validity of the exams … is not contaminated by these errors,” she said. “What does drive my anxiety is [test-maker Pearson’s] ability to deliver on the contract. The mistakes that have been revealed are really disturbing. I don’t think children should sit in an exam and be confused about the exam. I think testing needs to be as straightforward as possible.”

Tisch said she has warned Pearson officials to consider how this year’s exam snafus have eroded the general public’s confidence in the tests at a critical time.

“I would suggest to Pearson that they take this very seriously, because next year we are moving to the Common Core standards and those tests are going to be harder still,” she said. “What happens here as a result of these mistakes is that it makes the public at large question the efficacy of the state testing system.”

Changes to the tests that are on the way should restore some of that confidence, Tisch said, and she suggested that Pearson speed up the test scoring to counter objections to the state’s testing program.

“The purpose of these tests is not to play gotcha with school districts. The purpose of these tests is to inform instruction,” she said. “If we can’t get the results back to districts in a time frame in which they can actually use these measures to inform instruction, then you’re just testing for the sake of testing, or for some federal accountability system.”

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