Vox populi

Comments of the week: On technology, retention, and dentistry

GothamSchools commenters didn’t take much of a vacation this year. This week, they were already back in action, releasing some steam and sparking a few debates worth highlighting in our regular weekly roundup.

(As a reminder, each Friday we highlight a sampling of our favorite comments from the week. Review our commenting policy to find out more about what we like.)

Our story describing the report out this week from Governor Cuomo’s education reform commission sparked a discussion of education technology. Digging into the report, readers picked up on one of the recommendations we’d given less attention — the suggestion to create “innovation zones” to spark novel uses of technology in the classroom.

A technology teacher named Steve Kinney who said he works at a school involved in city’s iLearn pilot applauded the recommendation. “I can only imagine,” he wrote, that the “innovation zone” idea “is based on the similarly named program in New York City,” which he applauded for improving on itself each year.

The program has allowed us to offer courses to our juniors and seniors that we would not have been able to offer otherwise (most notably: AP courses). It allows us to be more flexible with our scheduling and use the time students spend with their teachers having rich discussions about the content they were introduced to outside of the classroom. Additionally, as part of the program, we now have access to a wide number of instructional media like NBC Learn and Discovery—not to mention the equipment we’ve received as part of the program, which has been a tremendous blessing.

Basically, it’s saved us money and allowed us to do a better job serving our students and I’d like to see something similar at the state level and based on what’s happening in New York City.

“I noticed that…” replied skeptically, pointing Steve to a dispatch by Diane Ravitch about the Rocketship program’s blended-learning model, which Ravitch described as a way to cut costs by replacing teachers with computers. The commenter wrote:

I strongly feel that everyone should look, with the an overt sense of leeriness, into the fervent push for too much technology in schools at the cost of human decapitalization.

Pogue chimed in, saying, “I think children in front of computers is a poor and lonely way to learn.”Kinney replied by explaining how the blended learning model works at his school:

I don’t think I ever said anything about sitting students in front of a computer and passing that off as learning. In fact, I said the opposite. Students have been doing work at alone at home (outside the classroom) for years—it’s called homework and—in my experience—it’s a pretty lonely ordeal.

At my school, we roll with a blended model. The online learning piece allows students to collaborate when they’re not sitting in the same room together. It’s the opposite of lonely. In addition, students have had the chance to review the material and familiarize themselves with it. When they come in to class, the teacher can skip the boring chalk and talk and dig in to interesting projects that let students apply what they’ve learned to the real world.

Another reader, “celt,” revived a discussion from before the holiday about the role of alternative certification programs in rising teacher retention challenges.

Commenter “mg,” who identified himself as a member of an alternative certification program, had argued in a comment that funding for the program should be redirected to supporting veteran teachers.

Celt replied by describing how most of the alternative-certification cohort celt attended, from CUNY’s Teaching Opportunity Program, had actually stayed in the classroom for the past decade. But celt endorsed mg’s broader point that certification programs should make long-term retention a goal:

I agree with mg; the only point of any alternate track program is to put quality teachers in the classroom. I reject the idea that since jobs are hard to find, it’s OK to teach for a few years and then abandon the students who’ve begun to rely on you. Other careers, OK, but you shouldn’t even think about teaching if the students are not your first priority. DO SOMETHING ELSE!

Another story this week, about a trip by United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew and several mayoral hopefuls to look at a program in Cleveland, raised a discussion about community schools.
Mary Conway-Spiegel commented that bringing nonacademic services to schools would return the city to its roots:

As a former public school student I saw a dentist at my local community elementary school in Manhattan when I was 7 years old.  Many of us who went through the system and now have children in Traditional Public Schools remember the days of being able to walk to and from school, then a center of the community and we wish the same for our children today – in fact we’ve begged for it.  Our begging has been for naught.

It’s common sense: return to the Community School model and the Community becomes a stakeholder, becomes part of the circle of accountability.

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