Taking it Slowly

PROSE schools limited in changes they can make, documents show

PHOTO: Jessica Glazer
City and teachers union officials announced the schools that were selected to join a school-experimentation program.

Schools picked to participate in a new experimentation program could alter the way teachers are evaluated and students are assessed, though when or even if they will be able to carry out those experiments is still unsettled, newly released documents show.

City and teachers union officials announced the names of 62 schools in the new program on Monday, but only provided details about three sets of plans. The union on Thursday released the schools’ full applications and the portions that had been approved, which show that most schools received only part of what they asked for and many have permission only to start planning. (Officials also said on Thursday that another school was part of the program.)

Fewer than half of the 63 total schools in the program have tentative approval to begin carrying out their plans in September, which call for teachers to be rated partly on portfolios of their work and for principals to get feedback on their performance from teachers, according to the documents. And even those schools must wait for a joint city-teachers union panel to iron out the teacher-evaluation changes and submit them to the state before they can get started.

The other schools, which are hoping to adopt new teacher-evaluation rubrics, revamp their grading systems, reconfigure their school years, and make other changes, only received approval for “potential implementation” of their plans. Those schools might be able to carry out their plans “at a future date,” pending even more approvals, according to the panel-approved ballots that those schools voted on.

Different schools had hoped to try innovative enrollment practices, such as setting aside seats for students with incarcerated parents, or unusual promotion policies, such as ceasing to hold back students who fail their classes. But those parts of their applications did not make it onto the final ballots.

A Department of Education spokeswoman said that all 63 schools will make some changes next year, with some potentially carrying out more parts of their plans as the year goes on. She noted that new methods of teaching and evaluating take longer than one summer to put into place.

Tina Collins, an official from the teachers union who is on the city-union panel, agreed that schools had been left with very little time to plan for next year’s changes, since the program only officially launched last month after the new teachers contract was ratified. She pointed out that almost all the schools had made some schedule changes for next year, though many of them did that through a process that is open to any school.

Collins also made clear that some of the schools, which have been accepted into the program for five years, may not enact parts of their plans until later years. Other changes that some hope to make, such as replacing Regents exams with student projects, would require the approval of state policymakers.

“We encouraged schools to be creative,” said Collins, “with the understanding that this was the first step in an ongoing conversation.”

Find your school's PROSE proposal.

The experimentation program, known as Progressive Redesign Opportunity Schools for Excellence, or PROSE, was negotiated into the new teachers contract. It gives schools with a history of teacher-administrator collaboration freedom from certain contract rules and education department regulations so they can try new approaches. Mayor Bill de Blasio said the program would allow schools to “reinvent themselves,” while United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew said it would “move education forward not just in New York, but around the country.”

Most of the schools that are tentatively allowed to start carrying out their plans this year are part of the Performance Standards Consortium, where some students complete projects instead of taking certain Regents exams. Collins said leaders of that group approached the union and pitched their plan as soon as word of the program got out.

Pending final approval from the panel and the state, the schools will be able to tweak the portion of the new evaluation system that rates teachers on their instructional skills. The teachers will be scored by evaluators fewer times, but will create portfolios that showcase their abilities in a particular area of teaching.

Under a separate part of the schools’ plans, the teachers will evaluate how well their administrators supported them, though those evaluations will not affect principals’ job ratings.

The other schools in PROSE are members of a few other groups: New Visions for Public Schools, a school-support organization; the Internationals Network for Public Schools, which serve recent immigrants; and two other coalitions of like-minded schools.

Those schools have been cleared to plan to make various changes, mostly around teacher evaluations and student assessments.

The evaluation changes involve using new rubrics, observations by fellow teachers, or student projects to rate teachers. The assessment shift would allow schools to move to “mastery-based” systems, where students earn credits by completing projects that show they understand a topic, rather than simply by attending class.

But some of the schools’ more innovative proposals were not approved by the panel. For instance, Castle Bridge School in Upper Manhattan was granted permission to plan for some teacher-evaluation changes.

On their application, however, school leaders outlined plans for a teacher apprenticeship, a mentoring opportunity for high school students as an alternative to suspension, and an enrollment policy that would reserve some seats for children with family members in prison. The proposal author also asked for an “office/business manager” for the school, then explained why.

“Rationale—my head’s going to pop off if I don’t get more clerical/administrative support,” the application says.

Reporting contributed by Sarah Darville.

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.