brown at 60

In speech on school integration, King takes a dig at the city's enrollment rules

In a speech focusing on inequality, State Education Commissioner John King singled out New York City’s school enrollment policies as one of the factors fueling segregation nearly 60 years after the idea of “separate but equal” was ruled unconstitutional.

Speaking at the Rockefeller Institute of Government in Albany, King pointed to a recent report that found New York state’s schools to be the most segregated in the country. One reason, he said, is that district boundaries and school zones within districts have been drawn up in a way that “actually foster segregation by class.”

“There are places where you can look, including New York City, where blocks away students are separated by economic status,” King said. “Schools that serve mostly wealthy students blocks away from schools that serve mostly high-needs students, and we know that that segregation breeds inequality.”

King’s speech comes three days before the 60th anniversary of the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision. The milestone has renewed interest in school integration policies, a central theme of a two-day conference at New York University later this week.

Researchers have pointed to many factors to explain why few city schools reflect the diversity of the school system, which is 40 percent Hispanic, 28 percent black, 16 percent Asian and 15 percent white.

One reason is that most elementary schools admit students based on geographic zones that often reflect neighborhoods that are socioeconomically segregated. Another is that one-third of middle and high school seats are filled through selective admissions processes, and another is the rise of charter schools, which often operate in low-income communities with specific missions to serve students of color. 

At a recent town hall meeting in District 15, Chancellor Carmen Fariña was asked whether she or the de Blasio administration planned to take action to create a more racially or socioeconomically integrated school system. Fariña said there were internal discussions happening about how to diversify the city’s specialized high schools, but offered no specifics about broader policies.

“I think it’s a school-by-school decision right now, but eventually there will be some decisions made citywide,” Fariña said.

District 15, and neighboring District 13, have been the center of a few grassroots efforts to create more integrated schools. This year, the city’s first district elementary school with lottery preferences for low-income students and English language learners opened there, while some parents are working to integrate a Park Slope middle school that has long been shunned by the neighborhood’s wealthier residents.

The district boundaries are also the site of disparities like the ones King mentioned in his remarks. One well-known example is P.S. 321 in Park Slope, where just 9 percent of students qualify for lunch subsidies and 18 percent are black or Hispanic. The school is less than half a mile from District 13’s P.S. 282, where more than 50 percent of students qualify for lunch subsidies and 89 percent are black or Hispanic, though the surrounding neighborhoods are broadly similar.

King, the first African-American and Puerto Rican education commissioner in New York, has raised concerns about New York City’s enrollment policies before. In 2012, King urged the city to change its high school admissions system so that it didn’t concentrate students with the highest needs into the same schools.

But in his speech Wednesday, he made it clear that Brown v. Board’s legacy should be carried out by raising standards for students, through implementation of the Common Core learning standards, and for teachers, through new teacher evaluations.

“None of this will pay off if we don’t teach to high standards and hold ourselves accountable,” King said.

King also sharply criticized calls to slow down implementation of the State Education Department’s policies, particularly the Common Core, which have come from the state teachers union and elected officials. He said that doing so would further increase inequality.

“If they succeed in their destructive goal of crippling the landmark advancement—of 45 states committing to college and career ready expectations for all students—it will be a setback to the cause of greater equality in our schools,” King said. “And that would be a disgrace.”

Want the latest in New York City education news? Follow Chalkbeat on Facebook or @ChalkbeatNY on Twitter.

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

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