stop and frisk jr?

Liu extends call for discipline changes, starting in middle school

A chart
A chart from Comptroller John Liu’s new report shows that suspension rates rise sharply in the middle school years. Liu proposes adding guidance counselors and changing the city’s discipline code to reduce suspensions.

New York City’s school discipline practices have given rise to an early-onset “stop-and-frisk atmosphere” that must be changed, according to Comptroller John Liu.

In a new report, Liu — who is running for mayor — cites Department of Education suspension and arrest data to argue that the city should add more guidance counselors, eliminate long-term suspensions, and turn over control of school safety from the New York Police Department to principals. He pegs the annual cost of adding 50 percent more middle school guidance counselors at $55 million.

According to data that the department must disclose publicly under a law that the City Council passed in 2010, suspension and arrest rates rise sharply during middle school and that black and Latino students, especially males, are suspended disproportionately often. Liu’s report connects the trends to high school dropout rates and contends that more black and Latino students would graduate if schools adopted discipline practices that emphasized changing student behavior.

In a statement, Liu compared the discipline patterns inside schools to the city’s controversial practice of stopping, questioning, and frisking people who seem likely to commit a crime. Black and Latino New Yorkers are stopped most often, and critics of the practice, who include Liu and several other Democratic mayoral candidates, say it is often applied inappropriately.

“This report demonstrates the sad reality that the stop-and-frisk atmosphere, which presumes that men of color are guilty until proven innocent, begins as early as age 11,” he said.

His comments reiterate ones he made this spring at a rally convened by the Dignity in Schools campaign, which has long pushed for less punitive school discipline policies, to pressure mayoral candidates to commit to changing school discipline practices.

“I think the numbers speak for themselves,” Liu said at the rally, which he was the only candidate to attend. “You see the disparities in the school suspensions and disciplinary actions disproportionately against students of color, and you see things like racial profiling and stop and frisk that are clearly tilted disproportionately way against people of color.”

The report’s recommendations echo those made by the campaign and its supporters over the last several years. Liu also recommends adding more guidance counselors and social workers in city middle schools, dovetailing with a recommendation he made last year to more than double the number of counselors in high schools. That proposal would cost $176 million a year, his office said.

Department of Education officials said the city had already implemented many of the strategies that Liu’s report promotes, to significant effect.

“Suspensions have decreased by 23 percent as a result of the reforms we have introduced, including peer mediation and conflict resolution, to address issues before they escalate,” said a spokeswoman, Marge Feinberg.

Indeed, suspensions and arrests fell sharply last year, following a policy change last year that reduced penalties for minor misbehavior, introduced some alternatives to suspensions, and eliminated suspensions altogether for the city’s youngest students. But the department made more incremental changes to the discipline code for this year, leading advocates to say that the city had passed up an opportunity to improve the school safety climate even more.

Liu’s report is the latest in his office’s “Beyond High School NYC” initiative, which Liu said uses research to propose “strategic investments in public education” to raise the college-graduation rate for New York City public school students. Previous reports in the series called for the city to spend $176 million a year on guidance counselors to help more students get into college; to buy $40 million of computers a year to get all families online; to overhaul the city’s school board, known as the Panel for Educational Policy; and to introduce publicly funded preschool for three-year-olds.

The complete report is below:

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.