After Graduation

City touts slight uptick in college readiness as new school reports go online

PHOTO: Jessica Glazer

Slightly more students left high school last year ready for college or jobs, though fewer than one-third of graduates met the academic skill requirements of the city’s public university system, according to city data released Monday.

The modest gains follow a small uptick in the state test scores of the city’s elementary and middle-school students, which were announced this summer. Those scores and the data about students’ preparedness for college or work are are included in the de Blasio administration’s new school-quality reports, which were posted online Monday.

Each school now gets two reports — one for families and one for educators— that include survey and school-observation findings alongside test scores and graduation rates. Most notably, the reports no longer rank schools or give them A-to-F letter grades, which the previous administration used to decide which schools to close.

Several parents praised the new reports Monday, saying they were glad to trade the bluntness of the letter grades for more nuanced school appraisals, even if it meant more work for them.

“Some parents would see the letter A and not read anything else,” said Dorna Phillip, whose son is sophomore at It Takes a Village Academy in East Flatbush. “This gives them a little more homework.”

The city included the information about students’ college readiness in an announcement Monday about the new school reports.

Among this year’s public high school graduates, 32 percent had high enough test scores to avoid remedial math and English classes at the City University of New York, the city said. Last year, 31 percent of graduates tested out of those review classes, up from 29 percent in 2012.

In addition, 51 percent of the class of 2013 enrolled in college, a work-training program, or public service after graduation, compared to 50 percent the year before.

And in the class of 2014, 46 percent of students passed at least one course or test — such as an Advanced Placement exam or a technical assessment tied to particular industry — meant to approximate college or professional-level work. The year before, 44 percent of students had taken those advanced courses.

The Bloomberg administration added those measures to its school ratings in 2012 after it became clear that even as more students graduated from high school, they were ill-equipped for college. (The vast majority of city high school graduates who enroll at CUNY must take remedial classes.)

Students who get a “taste of college” during high school through advanced classes or early-college programs tend to fare better after graduation, said Kim Nauer, the education project director at the New School’s Center for New York City Affairs. Taking just one such course lowers the odds that a student will need to take review classes in college, according to a 2013 report about college readiness that Nauer co-authored.

Despite the benefits of college-preparatory courses, most high schools offer a limited selection, Nauer noted. Only 28 out of 342 schools reviewed for the report offered advanced algebra, chemistry or physics classes.

“That is still a big giant question mark for the current chancellor,” Nauer said. “What’s the quality of the college-preparatory curriculum in each high school?”

The bar for students to prove they are ready to take CUNY classes is higher than the one they must meet to earn a high school diploma. While high school students must earn at least 65 points on the required exit exams to graduate, they must score 75 in English and 80 in math on those same Regents exams to skip CUNY’s remedial classes. (They can also use their scores on the SAT, ACT, or CUNY’s own entrance tests.)

Even high-performing schools can struggle to help students hit that target. At It Takes a Village Academy, for instance, 91 percent of students graduate in four years, compared to the city average of 66 percent in 2013. Still, just 16 percent of the small high school’s graduates meet the CUNY proficiency standards.

Principal Marina Vinitskaya pointed out that nearly a quarter of her students are still learning English and many arrive with minimal reading skills. She said even if they are not considered college ready by the time they graduate, it is still a major accomplishment for them to earn diplomas.

“The same students, when they go to other high schools,” she said, “they don’t graduate at all.”

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 cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

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