safety net

State eases graduation requirements for new immigrants

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Brooklyn International High School students perform a song using an instrument they made from a clock.

Students who arrive in the U.S. during high school and are still learning English could now find it slightly easier to earn a diploma, thanks to a new change to state graduation requirements.

In a nod to the struggles that some English language learners have faced in meeting the state’s more demanding diploma standards in recent years, the Board of Regents voted Monday to make those students eligible for a diploma if they score a 55 on the English Regents exam, down from a 62.

The move has plenty of strings attached, including an appeal process. Students will only be eligible if they arrived in the U.S. as a high schooler during or after the 2010-11 school year, score a 65 or higher on at least three other Regents exams, have a 95 percent attendance rate, and have gotten approval from a teacher or school official.

But the change is one way policymakers are moving to reverse the downward trend for English language learners’ graduation rates, which have fallen continuously since the state adopted more stringent requirements for graduation in 2012. The new requirements phased out a less rigorous diploma that allowed students to graduate with scores of 55 or higher on the exams.

Between 2010 and 2014, four-year graduation rates for the city’s English language learners fell from 41.5 percent to 32.5 percent, even as overall graduation rates rose. English language learners are also more than twice as likely as other students to drop out, according to state figures.

More than 45,000 New York City high school students were classified as English language learners two years ago, according to the city education department, but the number of students who arrived during high school was not immediately available. That number has likely grown in the last year as unaccompanied minors have fled violence and extreme poverty in central and South America.

Claire Sylvan, executive director of Internationals Network for Public Schools, which exclusively serves students who move to the U.S. with limited or no English language skills, praised the change, but had asked officials to make some additional changes. She wanted to broaden the change to include students who arrived in the U.S. as eighth graders and to allow for some flexibility around attendance requirements for students who miss school because they are attending immigration court.

“It was a good decision by the Regents that recognizes the particular challenge that ELLs face,” Sylvan said.

The state is also requiring districts to improve bilingual services and to mandate more training for student teachers, among other changes it’s making to bolster education for English language learners.

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.