New York

Fariña: SHSAT should count for some, not all, of specialized HS admission decisions

Chancellor Carmen Fariña during a talk at Harvard University.

Chancellor Carmen Fariña told a group of Harvard students Thursday that she thinks the city’s Specialized High School Admissions Test should continue to play a central, but not exclusive, role in admissions decisions to those schools.

“I do not believe in eliminating the test, at all,” Fariña said at the event, a forum hosted by Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. “I believe in assessments. I believe the specialized high schools have a place to play in the city.”

“I believe the percentage may not be 100 percent,” she continued. “That’s something the mayor and I have discussed. What percentage is valid? I certainly think between 60 and 70 percent for the test makes sense.”

Her comments are in line with Fariña and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s past statements in support of an admissions system that would look at criteria beyond the test, but offer new detail about what Fariña would like to see instead.

This year, just 5 percent of offers to eight of the city’s specialized high schools went to black students and 7 percent went to Hispanic students, numbers that the mayor and civil-rights advocates have said are far too low. Fariña and de Blasio endorsed a legislative effort at the state level last year that would require specialized high schools to use more than a single test as their admissions criteria, something they said could help increase diversity. (Three of the schools — Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, and Brooklyn Tech — have admissions rules set by state law.)

Fariña has not put forth a proposal of her own, and department spokesman Harry Hartfield said her comments didn’t reflect a settled position from the department, which is continuing to evaluate options for increasing diversity at the schools.

A recent report from the Research Alliance for New York City Schools found that replacing the Specialized High School Admissions Test altogether with other criteria like state test scores, school grades, and attendance wouldn’t significantly increase the share of black and Hispanic students offered seats. That analysis didn’t look at what what would happen to the share of black and Hispanic students if the SHSAT was used in conjunction with other measures.

At the event, Fariña repeated that the city is focused on increasing access to test-prep programs, especially DREAM, a two-year tutoring program aimed at preparing low-income students.

“I don’t want students moving into those schools who will not succeed,” Fariña said.

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.