details emerge

Fariña set to reveal new school rating system in policy speech

PHOTO: Patrick Wall

The city is revamping the way it rates schools, putting less emphasis on test scores and getting rid of the A-to-F school letter grades, according to a news report that appeared shortly before Chancellor Carmen Fariña is set to give a major policy address Wednesday morning.

Instead of issuing schools annual progress reports with an overall letter grade, as the city has done since 2006, the education department will now create separate reports for school leaders and for families, according to the report, which appeared Tuesday evening in the New York Times. Those school reports will eschew letter grades for categories like “not meeting target” or “exceeding target.” And they will factor in other measures of a school’s quality, such as the rigor of its courses and the results of parent and student surveys, to balance out student test scores, the Times article said.

Fariña has promised those changes for months, and they reflect Mayor Bill de Blasio’s campaign against the previous administration’s use of test scores as the primary way to judge schools and – when their scores were consistently low – to consider closing them. De Blasio and Fariña have both slammed the Bloomberg administration’s A-to-F school ratings as overly blunt and unreliable. Fariña even told a group of educators earlier this year that she hadn’t checked their schools’ letter grades “because I don’t care.”

Fariña has previously proposed merging the information included on the data-based progress reports with the findings of official reviewers who interview school faculty members and observe lessons. The new ratings system will reportedly give more weight to the findings from those visits, called “quality reviews.”

Meanwhile, the city is tweaking the quality review process so that more schools will receive visits this year, according to a person briefed on the plans. Some of the lowest-performing schools have been told to expect three formal reviews this year.

What is still unclear is how the city will use the new school ratings.

In the past, schools that received three consecutive failing grades on their progress reports could face closure. De Blasio has said closure will now be used only as a last resort, but he has not specified how the city will intervene at schools that are earn consistently low ratings. With the school year underway, educators and advocates have been calling for the city to detail its plan to improve troubled schools.

Behind the scenes, the city recently launched an intensive-support program for about two-dozen schools that were identified as struggling. The plan involves principal coaching, teacher training, and even a special superintendent to oversee the high schools. Two of those high schools will not be sent any new students during the year, since late enrollees can destabilize schools.

But that program only includes a fraction of the city’s low-performing schools. More than 370 schools saw 90 percent of their students struggle on last year’s state tests, according to a recent report by a pro-charter group that is demanding “bolder leadership” to improve those schools.

That group, Families for Excellent Schools, has paid for television commercials this week and is planning a major rally on Thursday to draw attention to those struggling schools. The group is aligned with major charter school networks, such as Success Academy, and one solution it offers for the problem of low-performing schools is to create more charter schools – an approach de Blasio has criticized.

Fariña is expected to give more details about the new school-rating system and her plans for struggling schools during her speech Wednesday at P.S. 503/P.S. 506 in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.

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

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.