numbers games

Summer school enrollment falls sharply after city reduces role of state tests

In his first six months in office, Mayor Bill de Blasio has had a nearly singular focus on providing needy students with expanded education services. But thousands fewer struggling students will be attending summer school this year after city officials changed the way students qualify for the program.

Principals sent about 24,000 third- through eighth-grade general education students to summer school this year, down from 32,205 students last year. The 25 percent drop puts summer school enrollment at its lowest level in four years, even though nearly three of four students scored below proficient in both reading and math on state tests last year.

The steep decline comes less than three months after officials announced they were changing grade promotion standards put in place by the Bloomberg administration during a decade-long push to ban “social promotion.” The new policy, buttressed by a state law passed earlier this year, bans the use of state test scores as a major factor in promotion decisions—including summer school recommendations. It also gives principals more discretion when choosing which students have to attend summer school.

(Sources: New York City Department of Education.)
(Sources: New York City Department of Education.)

Though the process changed, officials insisted in April that the outcome — summer school enrollment — wouldn’t. But this year just 7.4 percent of all general education students were sent to summer school, compared to 10 percent last year.

The summer school drop is a rare case of students losing services because of policies pushed by the de Blasio administration. The city will spend an extra $445 million this year for new or expanded after-school and prekindergarten programs that will affect more than 40,000 students.

City officials downplayed the numbers and didn’t explain why enrollment was lower than expected for the program, which began Tuesday and lasts until the end of July.

Chancellor Carmen Fariña called last year’s numbers an “anomaly” this week, though the 2013 numbers are consistent with the previous two years. (In 2011 and 2012, like last year, the city sent about 10 percent of students to summer school based on preliminary test score data. For those two years, though, a smaller percentage actually scored low enough under the old policy to technically warrant the extra help—a fact that only emerged when official test scores were released in August.)

Aaron Pallas, a professor of education at Teachers College who is a proponent of the new policy, said this year’s drop could be a result of principals being given poor guidance by the department or not following directions, but that it was impossible to know without additional information.

“It does seem to warrant further investigation,” Pallas said.

Educators have mixed feelings about summer school’s ability to tackle the city’s achievement gap. The program has consisted of little more than English and math tutoring designed to help students pass an end-of-summer test so they could advance to the next grade, many said.

“If summer school as it is presently designed were effective, we wouldn’t have so many kids entering high school who can barely read,” NYU Professor Pedro Noguera said.

John Galvin, an assistant principal at a school in Brooklyn, said the program’s singular focus made for a “dreary summer” for both students and teachers.

“This created an environment that led to disenchanted kids and made it tougher on teachers to do their jobs,” Galvin said.

But summer school now has the potential to become more engaging, Galvin said, since students no longer need to pass a test to be promoted in August. That test was eliminated under the new policy and replaced with a principal’s review of a portfolio of student work.

Advocates say that NYC Summer Quest, a full-day program that combines tutoring with field trips and other camp-style activities, is a better intervention for low-income students. Summer Quest added 1,000 seats this year and will serve a total of 2,800 students.

Still, education officials have insisted that summer school is better than nothing, especially for poor students who make up the majority of summer school attendees and who are more likely to lose ground to their middle-class peers over the summer months. The program, which cost the city $22 million last year, has structure and small class sizes, two factors that researchers believed contributed to a 2009 study’s findings that summer school had “small, positive effects” on student learning.

“If we had our way, even more students would benefit from extended learning and additional time in summer school,” former Chancellor Dennis Walcott said in 2011, when a higher-than-expected number of students were recommended for summer school.

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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