Student Privacy

What Memphis parents should know about how schools share student information

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Staff members of Green Dot Public Schools canvass a neighborhood near Kirby Middle School in the summer of 2016 before reopening the Memphis school as a charter.

The sharing of student information is at the center of the latest squabble between Shelby County Schools and state-authorized charter schools — making it more important than ever for Memphis parents to know what’s at stake.

Charter operators want the data so they can notify families about their options and recruit students to their schools. But local district leaders don’t want to share their students’ names, addresses, and phone numbers. One board member called the effort “predatory” tactics to take students away from Shelby County Schools.

This week, state officials stepped in and sided with charter operators. Based on a sweeping charter law that went into effect in July, Education Commissioner Candice McQueen ordered Superintendent Dorsey Hopson to cooperate.

For Beverly Davis, who heads a parent-teacher organization for several schools in Whitehaven, the prospect of charter operators canvassing her neighborhood is exasperating.

“It’s like a bill collector calling and you have no choice but to take their call,” she said. “We should be able to refuse a call from (charter operators). We already know they’re here. They’re on every corner.”

Danny Song sees it differently. The leader of Believe Memphis Academy, a charter school opening in 2018, he says families should be able to learn about all the schools available to them.

“It’s about equal access,” he said. “Prior to this law, we kind of had to guess where our students live.”

Here’s what you should know about student information laws and policies — and why it’s important:

Some student information is accessible by the public.

Known as “student directory information,” this basic data can be published by school districts without a parent’s permission. Anyone can ask for and receive it under the federal student privacy law known as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA. It’s often used for lists like graduation programs, sports rosters or honor rolls. Vendors also can obtain this info to offer products and services such as class rings or yearbooks.

This is the information that Tennessee charter schools have sought to canvass neighborhoods and recruit students — and that Shelby County Schools has refused to provide.

For Shelby County Schools, student directory information is defined as:

  • name
  • address and email
  • phone number
  • date and place of birth
  • major field of study
  • participation in officially recognized activities and sports
  • weight and height of members of athletic teams
  • date of attendance
  • degrees and awards received
  • most recent previous school district or institution attended

A lot of information is not publicly accessible.

That includes grades, transcripts, student course schedules, health records, student discipline files, class lists, and education plans for students with disabilities. Only “need-to-know” people such as teachers, parents and administrators have regular access to this kind of information.

Sometimes, however, local school districts grant access to government agencies, researchers, school accreditors or juvenile justice officials. Such entities must agree to the district’s policies for protecting student privacy.

The current debate is over student directory information.

California-based Green Dot Public Schools, a charter operator with five Memphis schools, asked Shelby County Schools in July for some student directory information, which already is public under federal law.

Shelby County Schools refused Green Dot’s request earlier this month. District leaders said the new state law only applies to its own district-authorized charter schools, not to state-run charter schools like Green Dot’s.

(The local district’s first refusal to provide student data to the state-run Achievement School District in 2015 was also for student directory information.)

Feeling queasy? You can opt out.

Shelby County Schools is required to send a notice to parents at the beginning of each school year about how student information is used. Parents have the option to leave their contact information out of the student directory, or other such lists.

Or, you can write a letter requesting that your student’s directory information remain private. Write to either of the addresses below:

Shelby County Schools
Student Records Department
160 S. Hollywood St.
Memphis, TN 38112

Shelby County Schools
Department of Attendance and Discipline
Shelby County Schools
2800 Grays Creek
Arlington, TN 38002

breaking

Double whammy: Indiana schools could see two A-F grades in 2018

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
Students work on an assignment at Decatur Central High School. (File Photo)

Indiana schools could get two A-F grades in 2018 — one official grade based on state requirements, and a separate calculation based on the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

The proposal comes as changes in graduation rate calculations and dual credit teacher training have complicated the state’s plan to comply with the new law, which went into effect this school year.

There was an opportunity to make adjustments when the plan was introduced in June, but Gov. Eric Holcomb and Indiana education officials endorsed it with few major changes. It’s unclear why separate state and federal grades weren’t considered earlier.

The proposal highlights the pressure Indiana and other states face to quickly adjust to ESSA and changing expectations from Betsy DeVos’ Department of Education. A number of regulations were either thrown out when she came into office or could not be finished in time by the Obama Administration. Indiana, too, saw a dramatic election that brought in a new schools chief, governor and other key education policymakers.

The idea to create dual standards was revealed tonight when Ken Folks, chief of governmental affairs for the Indiana Department of Education, spoke with educators and community members at Noblesville East Middle School.

Adam Baker, state department of education spokesman, said officials need more time to figure out how to meet the federal rules for graduation rate and new regional rules regarding dual credit teaching. Both factor heavily into high school A-F grades, and the changes could result in lower grades for many schools.

“We are trying to support schools and trying to do what’s best to make this transition a lot smoother,” Baker said.

Read: Educators to state officials: ‘Indiana needs just one diploma’

Here’s how it might look:

About a year from now, after students take the spring 2018 ISTEP test, schools will get a letter grade from the state that won’t encompass any of the changes proposed in Indiana’s ESSA plan.

The state grade would determine where a school falls on the timeline for state intervention — public schools, for example, can only have four consecutive years of F grades before takeover or other serious improvement plans are on the table.

But nothing about the ESSA rules will change or pause. Unlike in 2016, federal officials have no plans to give states a reprieve from accountability sanctions. Every school will still receive a percentage calculation based on federal guidelines using the same 100-point scale that state letter grades are based on, where 90 percent is an A, 80 is percent a B, and so on.

The federal calculation would count under rules for identifying struggling schools and those that govern Title I funding. For example, any high school where the four-year federal graduation rate is lower than 67 percent would be considered under “comprehensive support” from the state.

Conversations with the governor’s office and the state board around the specifics of the state/federal split are still happening, Baker said, and the dual system would only be for 2018.

Grades based on 2017 ISTEP tests that are set to come out next month, which schools have already seen, are not part of this change.

This idea was floated a month ago at a state board of education work session that was held to build consensus around the state’s ESSA plan. Board members asked state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick and her staff why there couldn’t just be two grades next year.

At the time, Lee Ann Kwiatkowski, McCormick’s chief of staff, told board members that in the past, Indiana did operate two accountability systems, one for state and one for federal.

“The reason Indiana moved from two accountability systems to one was because it was confusing and caused chaos,” she said. “We would have schools that could look very different in the two systems.”

But as the ESSA plan’s due date rapidly approached and diploma and dual credit situations remained in limbo, Baker said the department changed its mind. Keeping the state’s grading system consistent, even if it meant a separate federal piece, ended up making more sense than a series of state grades with big fluctuations.

“The extra time wasn’t like, ‘OK, let’s give ourselves a fifth quarter,” Baker said. “It was more or less like, this is coming down the pipeline — what can we do (for schools)? Our hope is that things will change.”

See all of Chalkbeat Indiana’s ESSA coverage here.

the race is on

Stand for Children chooses not to endorse in northeast Denver school board race

DENVER, CO - March 16: A Denver Public Schools emblem and sign on the Evie Garrett Dennis Campus that houses five separate schools with 1,600 students in Pre-K through 12th grade in Northeast Denver, Colorado on March 16, 2016. (Photo by Katie Wood/The Denver Post)

Stand for Children Colorado on Tuesday announced its candidate endorsements for this fall’s Denver school board races — and one notable non-endorsement.

The pro-education reform group chose not to endorse a candidate in the three-person race in District 4, which encompasses a diverse mix of northeast Denver neighborhoods. The group said both incumbent Rachele Espiritu and challenger Jennifer Bacon had surpassed the group’s “threshold for endorsement,” and that “Denver’s kids would be well served by either candidate.”  

Recent Manual High School graduate Tay Anderson is also vying for the seat.

With four of seven seats in play, this fall’s election could swing the balance of a school board that unanimously backs the school district’s education reform efforts.

Stand is a significant player in Denver school board elections. It donates money to candidates and helps marshal resources on the ground, including door-to-door canvassing.

Kate Dando Doran, a spokeswoman for Stand for Children Colorado, said in an email the group will not contribute financially to candidates in District 4. She said that families Stand works with in southwest Denver are supporting former teacher Angela Cobián’s campaign in that part of the city, and that Stand would focus its energy and resources there, too.  

Cobián has the support of incumbent Rosemary Rodriguez, who is not running again. Stand endorsed Cobián in her race against parent Xóchitl “Sochi” Gaytán, who has teachers union backing.

Stand for Children’s other endorsements do not come as a surprise: incumbent Barbara O’Brien in the citywide at-large race that includes former Denver teacher Julie Bañuelos and parent Robert Speth; and incumbent Mike Johnson for District 3 in central-east Denver, who is facing English language development teacher Carrie A. Olson.

To be considered for Stand’s endorsement, candidates agree to answer a candidate questionnaire and to be interviewed by a committee of parents. Doran said O’Brien, Cobián, Johnson, Bacon and Espiritu went through the group’s process.

That Stand could not settle on an endorsement in District 4 adds to the drama in the three-person race. Opponents of the district’s reforms haven’t united on a pick, either. The Denver teachers union endorsed Bacon, a community organizer and former teacher. The advocacy group Our Denver, Our Schools and a progressive caucus of the teachers union are backing Anderson.