Mulgrew joins charter leaders’ calls for city to release school enrollment data

Transparency, it turns out, has united the city’s charter school sector and the teachers union.

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew joined calls from New York City Charter School Center James Merriman on Friday for the city to provide student discharge data for district and charter schools. The request came in response to comments made by Chancellor Carmen Fariña’s a day earlier that implied some charter schools were recruiting and pushing students to leave the schools inappropriately.

“The UFT completely agrees with Mr. Merriman, and I would love for a completely transparent audit of all of these enrollments, including public schools and charter schools,” Mulgrew said in an interview on Friday.

Fariña’s comments came after she was asked to clarify remarks she made at a conference, where she said charter schools needed “better transparency.”

Charter schools need to serve larger populations of English language learners and students with disabilities, Fariña said, and she knew of some schools where there was a “whole movement out of charters the month before the test.” She also suggested that charter schools were circumventing state law by recruiting and enrolling students based on their test scores.

A spokeswoman for Fariña backed away from those claims on Friday. The chancellor’s comments, she said, “did not refer to the majority of charter schools where staff are working hard to support and educate all students.”

Mulgrew threw some cold water on Fariña’s concern that students were being pushed out of charter schools just before state tests. Though complaints of attrition at that time of year used to be common, that is no longer the case, he said. In fact, it’s this time of year when the union most often hears from members whose schools get students who have left charter schools.

“It’s gotten louder and louder,” Mulgrew said.

(One Chalkbeat commenter offered an explanation for the October timing: School funding is largely determined by enrollment after Oct. 31. Merriman pointed out that charter school funding is adjusted during the year as enrollment changes. District school funding is adjusted for enrollment just once, in the spring.)

The back-and-forth prompted many teachers to share their personal experiences with student churn at their own schools.

Paula Richardson, a special education teacher at a district elementary school in Brownsville, said her school was “like a revolving door.” Some students come to the school after brief stints at a charter school, while others come after moving into one of the neighborhood’s homeless shelters. Two students recently left the school just a few days apart because they moved out of their shelter, she said.

“We are mandated to take in every kid,” said Richardson. “Whatever challenges come with them.”

Mulgrew wasn’t the only education official to call for more information about charter school enrollment. Kathleen Cashin, a former regional superintendent who now serves on the state’s Board of Regents, said she has been asking the State Education Department for more than a year to release data showing district and charter school attrition trends.

“I think it’s very important to know and we still don’t have it yet,” Cashin said. “Let’s not just make up numbers and spin things to make one or another side look good.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio defended Fariña’s remarks on Friday, though he only referred to her statements about special-education students and English language learners. Charter schools vary widely in how they serve those high-needs students, he noted.

“I don’t think anyone should see that as a negative, that she’s acknowledging a reality that is something we’re going to have to work on, just like we have to work on a lot of issues in traditional public schools,” de Blasio said.

“There’s charter schools that have work to do. We should talk about that openly,” de Blasio added.

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