an app for that

City wants tech developers to join battle for better math scores

Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Dennis Walcott today announced a competition to get software developers building math apps for middle schoolers.

The latest development in Mayor Bloomberg’s effort to turn New York City into a technology hotspot involves getting software developers to tackle one of the city’s most intractable problems: middle school math scores.

In a new initiative, the Gap App Challenge, developers will compete to come up with innovative apps that improve middle school students’ math skills, Bloomberg and Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced today.

The initiative combines two of the Department of Education’s top priorities. For the last year, Walcott has focused on improving the city’s lagging middle schools. And Bloomberg said today that math has gotten short shrift for too long.

“Students who fall behind in middle school math are likely to remain behind through high school and less likely to graduate ready for college,” he said.

Principals, teachers, and department officials will join developers to judge app submissions. Winning proposals will net their developers financial and tech support, but any app entered into the competition could wind up in students’ hands next fall.

For example, an app could help students tackle the tricky task of translating a word problem into an equation they know how to solve, said Duane Gray, a partner at IDEO, a consulting firm that is helping the city with the Gap App Challenge. Under new learning standards known as the Common Core, students will face that task more than ever before.

The competition follows several efforts to bring cutting-edge technology into city schools. Last summer, students built apps in a new program called Generation Technology. In September, the city opened its first software engineering-focused high school, and the department has plans to expand a computer science curriculum to 20 new schools this fall.

Gray said the competition adds something new. “It’s not just an opportunity to drop solutions into the classroom but actually to bring early prototypes in that can be improved by direct collaboration with teachers and students in the classroom,” Gray said.

Officials did not specify today how many schools will have access to the apps or how developers will collaborate with educators. Winning developers will be named in June.

Bloomberg and Walcott made the announcement at East Bronx Academy for the Future, one of 250 city schools already working with new technologies as part of the Department of Education’s Innovation Zone. Principal Sarah Scrogin said the opportunity to work with developers will allow teachers to use technology even more effectively in her school.

“We need the private sector to partner with the public sector in this work of finding solutions to the learning needs of our children,” she said.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

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.