Hick, Bennet join NCLB reform push

Gov. John Hickenlooper and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet Tuesday enlisted in the Obama administration’s campaign to reform the No Child Left Behind law, telling Colorado reporters that change in the law can’t wait.

NCLB logoAlong with U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the two participated in a conference call with Colorado reporters with as part of the administration’s campaign for a major overhaul of the law, signed in 2002 by President George W. Bush.

The administration released its detailed plans for what’s also called the Elementary and Secondary Education Act on Sunday – Links to documents. And Duncan and President Obama touted their plans during an event at a Maryland middle school on Monday – Video of Obama speech and link to text.

Opening Tuesday’s conference call, Duncan cited Colorado education reforms and praised Hickenlooper and Bennet for “their extraordinary courage” on education issues.

Bennet served as then-Mayor Hickenlooper’s chief of staff before becoming Denver schools superintendent and later being appointed to the Senate by Gov. Bill Ritter. Hickenlooper and Bennet were elected to their seats in November.

The governor said to Duncan, “I cannot express how much we appreciate your sense of urgency … in a very real way we’re losing a generation of kids.”

Bennet picked up on the same theme, saying, “I look forward to working (with the administration) to make sure we can move this along.”

Duncan said there’s “a lot we have to fix” in NCLB, called it “very punitive in nature” with “no real rewards for success.”

Gov. John Hickenlooper
Gov. John Hickenlooper (file photo)

Hickenlooper cited his proposed Education Leadership Council and implementation of the educator effectiveness law, which passed before he became governor, as key Colorado initiatives.

He didn’t mention the $332 million cut he’s proposed in K-12 spending, but reporters brought that up during a question-and-answer session.

“These budget cuts aren’t anybody’s first choice or anybody’s second or third choice,” the governor said. He said that in recent meetings with teachers “there was a clear willingness to stepping up and doing what they need to do” to improve the state’s schools. “This is a hard time. This requires everybody to pull together and find ways to do more with less.”

Hickenlooper added, “I do think we are close to a tipping point” that will see significant school improvement in the next few years.

Key elements of the administration’s proposed NCLB overhaul include:

  • Improved tests
  • School measurements that focus on student growth, not the pass-fail grading system of NCLB, under which 82 percent of U.S. schools are expected to fail
  • Encouraging states to adopt college and career readiness standards
  • Investment in state and local efforts to improve curriculum and allowing subjects in addition to reading and math to be included in accountability systems
  • More flexibility in school improvement strategies
  • Incentives for putting effective teachers in the schools that need them most
  • Elimination of unnecessary federal mandates
  • Competitive grant programs for teacher improvement, extending time spent in school, new tests and other programs
  • Investment in “ambitious efforts” to improve the lowest-performing schools
  • Support for reforms specifically tailored to rural schools

See Department of Education fact sheet about the proposals and a video of the president explaining his goals.

Many of the proposals match Colorado reforms passed in the last three years, including:

  • The 2008 Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids, which led to new state content standards and definitions of school readiness and college and workforce readiness and which calls for new state tests and alignment of high school preparation and college entrance requirements.
  • The new state accountability system, launched last August, which bases ratings of schools and districts to the Colorado Growth Model.
  • Last year’s educator effectiveness law, Senate Bill 10-191, the rules for which are still being drafted but which will ultimately tie 50 percent of teacher and principal evaluations to student growth and change the procedures for how teachers gain – and lose – tenure.

No major K-12 reform bills have been proposed in the 2011 legislature, which is heavily focused on the proposed education budget cuts forced by declining state and local revenues.

The centerpiece of education policy during the first two years of the Obama administration was the Race to the Top competition, which awarded grants to a handful of states for various reform initiatives. Colorado applied twice but finished out of the running both times.

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.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede