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Student journalists report more proof of P.E. crediting problems

Searching for an explanation behind their school’s mid-year physical education scheduling shakeup, two Staten Island student journalists arrived at a conclusion familiar to Department of Education insiders: It’s hard to know just how many P.E. courses students must take, and for how long.

Travis Dove and Juliana Zaloom, students at CSI High School for International Studies, launched their investigation in their journalism class after CSI seniors were thrust into extra P.E. classes last semester. Today, they share their report in the GothamSchools Community section.

Dove and Zaloom write:

The physical education scheduling conflicts could be due to mistakes by school administration and faculty. …

But the city Department of Education can also be blamed for its unclear handling of physical education. As it does not monitor schools’ physical education programs, some have not even been aware that there are requirements at all.

CSI High is not the only school to have reshuffled its physical education offerings in the middle of this year. An internal Department of Education audit released in February found that some principals had been unaware of crediting rules, particularly around P.E.

We reported that month that students at Manhattan’s Pace High School were thrust into extra P.E. classes after they found out their school had not required them to take the correct number of gym courses. The oversight might well have had implications on Pace’s city accountability statistics, we reported at the time:

Pace did especially well when it came to how many credits in academic courses students picked up each year, beating not only the citywide average but also a smaller group of schools with similar demographics. Schedules with fewer physical education classes allow for more time in academic courses that carry more credits, making Pace students more likely to meet the credit accumulation standard.

CSI High School posted similar credit accumulation statistics on its most recent Department of Education progress report. Like Pace, CSI High School is high-performing and also does not screen students for admission.

And like Pace, CSI High opened in the first term of the Bloomberg administration, when the Department of Education was ramping up new school creation with funding from the Gates Foundation. New principals were often young and had not served in administrative positions before, meaning that they had little exposure to the ad hoc and word-of-mouth communications that had long informed school leaders about graduation requirements.

The Department of Education’s February audit report concluded that many principals misunderstood physical education requirements. It reads:

Several principals believed they had the authority to waive the PE requirement for individual students, e.g., in cases of documented injury or medical conditions. Other principals believed that any student (rather than just those graduating early) who met all other requirements could graduate, hence, a student should not have to stay in school merely to complete PE credits. One principal believed that because the school did not have a gymnasium, the school could not provide PE. Many principals were also confused about the number of credits that should be attached to their PE courses.

The department has moved to clarify requirements in all subjects by uniting disparate state and city requirements in a single, 40-page guide for the first time, an advance that principals applauded when it was announced.

“[The] promise to tighten DOE procedures will be appreciated by school leaders throughout the system,” said Ernest Logan, head of the city’s principals union at the time.

The department is not penalizing schools or their leaders for mistakes made in the past as part of the crackdown on crediting issues. That’s good for CSI High School’s leaders: Its founding principal, Aimee Horowitz, is now a high school superintendent.

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.