Not over yet

A firm reprimand — but no penalty yet — for two Tennessee districts that defy deadline to share student data

Candice McQueen

So what will be the consequences for the two Tennessee school districts that missed a state-imposed deadline to share contact information for their students with charter schools? For now, disappointment from the state’s top education official.

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen had promised to issue consequences if the two districts, Shelby County Schools and Metro Nashville Public Schools, did not meet the Monday deadline.

But when the end of the day passed — as expected — without any data-sharing, McQueen declined to penalize the districts. Instead, she issued a stern statement.

“We are disappointed that these districts are choosing to withhold information from parents about the options that are available to their students while routinely saying they desire more parental engagement,” she said. “Allowing parents to be informed of their educational options is the epitome of family engagement and should be embraced by every school official.”

McQueen seemed to indicate that firmer consequences could lie ahead. “We must consider all options available in situations where a district actively chooses to ignore the law,” she said in the statement. McQueen told lawmakers in a conference call last month that she was not discussing withholding state funds as a penalty at the time, according to Rep. John Clemmons, who was on the call.

The anticlimactic decision comes after weeks of back-and-forth between the state and its two largest school districts over student contact information — the latest front in the districts’ ongoing enrollment war with charter schools.

Charter schools are pressing the districts to share information about their students, arguing that they need to be able to contact local families to inform them about their school options. District leaders argue that a federal rule about student privacy lets local districts decide who gets that information. (The districts have chosen to distribute student contact information to other entities, including yearbook companies.)

The state’s attorney general sided with charter schools, saying that marketing to families is an acceptable use of student contact information and districts were required to hand it over to charter schools that requested it. Both school boards cite a committee discussion in February when state lawmakers sought to make sure the information could not be used as a “recruiting tool” as evidence that the intent of the law runs counter to the state’s application of it.

What Memphis parents should know about how schools share student information

Now, the conflict has potential to head to court. Shelby County Schools already committed last month to writing a letter outlining its arguments to support the Nashville district if it decides to file a lawsuit against the state.

As the deadline drew near, the two school boards teamed up to flesh out their positions and preview what that legal battle might look like. Over the weekend, board chairs Anna Shepherd in Nashville and Chris Caldwell in Memphis penned a letter to USA Today’s Tennessee papers arguing the districts should not be required to hand over student information to a state-run district facing deep financial, operational and academic woes.

They also pointed to a recent $2.2 million settlement between a parents and a Nashville charter network over spam text messages promoting enrollment at its schools as evidence the transaction could lead to invasion of privacy.

Clarification (Sept. 25, 2017): This story has been updated to clarify the source of McQueen’s early comments on penalties she was discussing at the time. 

data points

Five graphs that show the challenges facing New York City’s ‘disconnected’ young adults

PHOTO: Getty Images

The share of young adults in New York City who are jobless and out of school has fallen over the past five years, according to a new report, owing partly to a rebounding economy and higher college enrollment.

But roughly 17 percent of young adults ages 18 to 24, or more than 136,000 people across the city, are still considered “disconnected” — both out of school and out of work.

That’s according to a new report jointly released by the Community Service Society and JobsFirstNYC, which have closely tracked young people who neither work nor go to school. The report is a follow-up to a similar study the two organizations conducted in 2010 as the country was still reeling from the recession.

The latest report offers a more encouraging picture. But it also reveals some worrying trends: More young adults have jobs, but they’re mostly part time. A larger number of students are enrolling in college, but they also often leave before earning a degree. Moreover, the young adults who are still out of school and jobless are likely even harder to serve.

“The out of school/out of work population is much smaller but there are also higher barriers to success,” said Lazar Treschan, a youth policy expert at the Community Service Society and one of the report’s authors.

Here are six pieces of data from the report that show who is out of school and out of work — and some of the biggest challenges they face.

1. The proportion of young adults who are out of school and out of work has been trending downward since the recession. Seventeen percent of the city’s young adults were jobless and out of school in 2015, down from 22 percent in 2010.

2. The share of disconnected young people has been falling for every racial group, but black and Latino students are still more than twice as likely to be out of school and jobless than their white and Asian peers.

3. A big reason fewer young adults are out of work is the economy is improving. But most of the job growth has been in part-time employment, jobs that are lower-paying and come with fewer benefits. “Despite overall job growth, there has been no net increase whatsoever in full-time jobs for 18- to 24-year-olds,” the report notes.

4. The percentage of the city’s students who are over 18 and still in high school has been falling — and the biggest drops are among students from low-income families, according to the report.

5. College readiness rates have increased, and more young adults are going to college. But many of them are going to college without earning degrees, potentially leaving them in debt. The number of young adults “who have started college but left before completing any type of degree has grown from under 50,000 in 2005 to nearly 70,000 today,” according to the report.

6. The young adults who continue to be out of school and jobless are harder to serve. Kevin Stump, a vice president at JobsFirstNYC who contributed to the study, noted that the young adults who have not found jobs or enrolled in school during the economic recovery “are harder to find and face even more difficult barriers.”

Though the report doesn’t present hard data to back up that assertion, its authors interviewed service providers who “cite a higher concentration of young people with low levels of literacy, mental health concerns, histories of trauma, criminal justice involvement, and severe housing instability in their programs today than five years ago,” according to the report.

You can read the full report and its recommendations here.

First Person

I’ve been mistaken for the other black male leader at my charter network. Let’s talk about it.

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

I was recently invited to a reunion for folks who had worked at the New York City Department of Education under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. It was a privilege for me to have been part of that work, and it was a privilege for me to be in that room reflecting on our legacy.

The counterweight is that only four people in the room were black males. Two were waiters, and I was one of the remaining two. There were definitely more than two black men who were part of the work that took place in New York City during that era, but it was still striking how few were present.

The event pushed me to reflect again on the jarring impact of the power dynamics that determine who gets to make decisions in so-called education reform. The privileged end up being relatively few, and even fewer look like the kids we serve.

I’m now the chief operating officer at YES Prep, a charter school network in Houston. When I arrived at YES four years ago, I had been warned that it was a good old boys club. Specifically, that it was a good old white boys club. It was something I assessed in taking the role: Would my voice be heard? Would I truly have a seat at the table? Would I have any influence?

As a man born into this world with a black father and white mother, I struggled at an early age with questions about identity and have been asking those questions ever since.

As I became an adult, I came to understand that being from the suburbs, going to good schools, and being a lighter-skinned black person affords me greater access to many settings in America. At the same time, I experience my life as a black man.

Jeremy Beard, head of schools at YES, started the same day I did. It was the first time YES had black men at the leadership table of the organization. The running joke was that people kept mistaking Jeremy and me for each other. We all laughed about it, but it revealed some deeper issues that had pervaded YES for some time.

“Remember when you led that tour in the Rio Grande Valley to see schools?” a board member asked me about three months into my tenure.“That wasn’t me,” I replied. I knew he meant Jeremy, who had worked at IDEA in the Valley. At that time, I had never been to the Valley and didn’t even know where it was on the map.

“Yes, it was,” he insisted.

“I’ve never been to the Valley. It wasn’t me. I think you mean Jeremy.”

“No, it was you, don’t you remember?” he continued, pleading with me to recall something that never happened.

“It wasn’t me.”

He stopped, thought about it, confused, and uttered, “Huh.”

It is difficult for me to assign intent here, and this dynamic is not consistent with all board members. That particular person may have truly been confused about my identity. And sure, two black men may have a similar skin tone, and we may both work at YES. But my life experience suggests something else was at play. It reminds me that while I have the privilege of sitting at the table with our board, they, as board members, have the privilege of not having to know who I am, or that Jeremy and I are different black dudes.

It would be easy to just chalk this all up to racial politics in America and accept it as status quo, but I believe we can change the conversation on privilege and race by having more conversations on privilege and race. We can change the dynamics of the game by continuing to build awareness of diversity, equity, and inclusion. We can also advocate to change who has seats at the table and whose voices will be heard.

I remain hopeful thanks to the changes I have witnessed during my time at YES. The board has been intentional in their efforts to address their own privilege, and is actively working to become more diverse and inclusive.

Personally, I have worked to ensure there are more people of color with seats at the table by mentoring future leaders of color at YES Prep and other black men in this work. Jeremy and I also created Brothers on Books, a book club for black men at YES to find mentorship and fellowship. Through this book club, we can create a safe space to have candid discussions based on literature we read and explore what it means to be black men at YES.

When I think about privilege, I am torn between the privilege that has been afforded to me and the jarring power dynamics that determine who gets to have conversations and make decisions in so-called education reform. White people are afforded more voices and seats at the table, making decisions that primarily impact children of color.

It is not lost on me that it is my own privilege that affords me access to a seat at the table. My hope is that by using my role, my voice and my privilege, I can open up dialogue, hearts, minds, opinions, and perceptions. I hope that readers are similarly encouraged to assess their own privileges and determine how they can create positive change.

Recy Benjamin Dunn is YES Prep’s chief operating officer, overseeing operations, district partnerships, and growth strategy for the charter school network. A version of this piece was first published on YES Prep’s blog.