Roll call!

Tennessee’s largest school district has good news and bad news on enrollment

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede

Three months into the school year, enrollment at Shelby County Schools is higher than projected but still on the decline.

The number of students attending Tennessee’s largest school system reached 105,299 last week, down from 109,000 last school year, but still up from the district’s projected enrollment of about 104,000, according to district spokeswoman Kristin Tallent.

The numbers include more than 13,300 students at 45 district-authorized charter schools, which enrolled a record-setting 12 percent of the student population.

Enrollment determines the amount of per-pupil funding the district receives from local, state and federal governments. It also impacts hiring. Shelby County Schools now has 50 teaching positions left to fill, down from 100 at the beginning of the school year, Tallent said.

Much of the district’s enrollment decline is due to the state’s takeover this summer of four more schools: Kirby Middle, Raleigh-Egypt Middle, Caldwell-Guthrie Elementary and Hillcrest High. All four were on the state’s priority list of low-performing schools and reopened this school year under the management of charter school operators through Tennessee’s Achievement School District, or ASD.

Shelby County Schools has sought to stem the drain more aggressively in the last year by reconfiguring grades, rezoning schools and recruiting students away from ASD schools.

enrollment wars

McQueen tells Hopson to share Memphis student information with charter operator

PHOTO: TN.gov
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen and Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson flank Gov. Bill Haslam at a 2016 event in Memphis. This week, McQueen sided against Hopson's administration in its battle with a charter operator over the sharing of student information.

Tennessee’s education chief has sided with a charter operator in the ongoing tug-of-war between Shelby County Schools and the state’s Achievement School District over student contact information.

Commissioner Candice McQueen directed Superintendent Dorsey Hopson on Monday to immediately share the information requested by Green Dot Public Schools. She said the district’s refusal violates a new state law by withholding information that charter operators need to recruit students and market their programs.

“This is the only way to enable and support parents in making truly informed decisions about their children’s education,” McQueen said in a letter to Hopson.

Sharing student information would help to level the playing field in Memphis, where Shelby County Schools has aggressively sought to stem the exodus of students to state-run charter schools, most of which were once locally run before the state intervened due to chronic low performance.

Green Dot’s five state-authorized Memphis schools have contributed to that drain, and Hopson’s administration has pulled back on accommodating charter operators’ requests for information. The district contends that such sharing would violate federal student privacy laws, but McQueen said that’s not the case.

The commissioner’s stance sets up a possible legal battle between Shelby County Schools and the state.

“We are in receipt of the letter and will be reviewing the basis for the Commissioner’s response to determine next steps,” said spokeswoman Natalia Powers.

The state’s directive also could have implications for other districts like Nashville’s, which have received similar requests from charter operators.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Green Dot executive director Megan Quaile

Earlier this year, state lawmakers sought to address the tug-of-war in a sweeping overhaul of the state’s charter school law. One provision requires local districts to hand over student data to approved charters within 30 days of a request.

Megan Quaile, executive director of Green Dot Tennessee, said she was pleased with the commissioner’s position and hopes that Shelby County Schools will comply.

“Our interest is making sure our communities are well informed,” Quaile said. “(The student directory information) is a vehicle by which that can happen.”

You can read McQueen’s full letter to Hopson below:

desegregation dilemma

Silicon Valley’s school integration paradox: More black and Hispanic students get to college — and get arrested

PHOTO: Thomas Hawk / Creative Commons

New research on schools in the heart of Silicon Valley comes to a familiar conclusion: Poor black and Hispanic students get a leg up academically by attending a less segregated school.

But the results come with a significant downside. Those students who left their hometowns to attend wealthier schools in places like Palo Alto were also more likely to be arrested.

The study, which was conducted by Columbia professor Peter Bergman and has not been formally peer-reviewed, speaks to both the promise of integration and the complicating factors — including discrimination — that can dampen its effectiveness.

“Policies that aim to integrate schools … could reap long-run benefits in college enrollment,” writes Bergman, who himself attended public school in Palo Alto. “These policies should simultaneously consider programs to mitigate the potential risks for participating students as well.”

Bergman examined an initiative created after a 1985 lawsuit settlement required several northern California school districts to allow a small number of students from Ravenswood, a largely low-income district, to transfer to more affluent schools in places like Palo Alto and Menlo Park. (Technically, the program can be used in both directions, but only two students have ever transferred into the less-affluent districts.)

Since the program included a random lottery, Bergman was able to compare the outcomes of students who won a spot versus those who applied but did not.

The results were fairly dramatic. Using data from 1998–2008, the study finds that students who got the chance to attend the more affluent schools were 10 percentage points more likely to go to college.

These results were driven by enrollment in two-year colleges, and the effects were largest for boys.

This is consistent with older research on integration programs, which have been shown to boost test scores, graduation rates, college attendance, and adult income for students of color.

Bergman was also able to link students who transferred school districts with their adult arrest records. Here, the results were more discouraging: The program increased the likelihood a student would be arrested by about 5 percentage points, with an even greater impact on boys and black students.

The rise in arrests was due to driving- and drug-related offenses outside the students’ hometowns, and there was no increase in violent crime. This suggests that the arrests may have less to do with any changes in criminal behavior and more to do with students doing more driving — and having more run-ins with police — in wealthier areas, where they had made connections or were attending school.

“Lurking in the background is definitely this idea of racial profiling,” Bergman told Chalkbeat. “[If] you’re driving a beat up Civic in Palo Alto and you’re minority, you really stand out — it’s all Teslas around here.”

Another potential factor: cops in affluent areas have more time and resources to prioritize traffic stops and drug enforcement.

“The Palo Alto police [are] probably facing a lot less baseline crime, so they have a lot of time on their hands,” Bergman said.

Still, the study can’t identify the cause, or explain the consequences for students, such as time in jail.

The research also doesn’t wade into other key questions about this type of integration program, including how it affects students who remain in the poorer, racially segregated schools.

It’s unclear why students who participated saw those academic gains. Research on older programs has found that the academic benefits of integration seem related to increases in school spending, potentially driven by the presence of families with greater political sway. Indeed, in this case, the more affluent California districts generally had greater resources and lower student–teacher ratios.