By the numbers

Often cited by officials, ‘Renewal’ school goals are hard to find

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Chancellor Carmen FariƱa is preparing to step down in the coming weeks.

Chancellor Carmen Fariña told lawmakers last week that 94 of New York City’s most troubled schools must meet “clear benchmarks” or face serious consequences — including closure.

But if parents or members of the public want to find out what those goals are, it isn’t easy.

The city has refused to release the one-page lists of goals that each school received in May, which include targets for attendance, test scores, and graduation rates. The education department is instead referring parents to school improvement plans posted online.

However, those plans are hardly parent-friendly: They can stretch to nearly 100 pages, lean heavily on technical jargon, and mix together high-stakes goals created by the city and others crafted by schools themselves.

That leaves parents without a simple way to learn how exactly the city expects each school in the city’s expensive new “Renewal” turnaround program to improve. In response, parent advocates are calling for the city to publish straightforward lists of the goals for the 94 schools.

“We believe that it is really important for those goals to be public,” said Natasha Capers, a public school parent and coordinator at the Coalition for Educational Justice, which includes many parent-led advocacy groups. “It gives accountability not just to schools, but to the system.”

The schools in the nearly $400 million Renewal program, which serve a disproportionate share of needy students and have a history of low academic achievement, are under intense pressure to make quick rebounds. The city has given them until 2017 to post academic gains, and many are also at risk of state takeover if they fail to show rapid improvement.

A sample version of the goal lists that the city gave each Renewal school in May. The city isn't releasing those lists, instead referring parents to lengthy improvement plans on each school's website.
A sample version of the goal lists that the city gave each Renewal school in May. The city isn’t releasing those lists, instead referring parents to lengthy improvement plans on each school’s website.

The city spelled out the academic gains each school must make in lists it sent schools this spring. Those lists have not been made public, and the goals were not included in the latest round of school progress reports designed for parents.

Some of the goals are included in lengthy documents posted on school websites. But the plans themselves are hard to locate, since they’re posted far down on each school’s statistics page. Within the plans, the Renewal goals are mixed in with separate school-created goals.

For instance, the plan for Foundations Academy, a Renewal high school in Brooklyn, says that one of its annual goals is for most teachers to teach two “coherent, common core aligned lessons per semester.” The school’s city-provided graduation goal is embedded in another section, where it says simply that the school anticipates a 38.6 graduation rate next June.

In some cases, the city-issued targets are missing, according to a Chalkbeat review of a dozen plans. Other plans appear to contain errors. For example:

  • The plan for P.S. 50 in Manhattan states that by June 2016, all of its teachers will analyze test results to modify their teaching “as measured by ————-.” Confusingly, the school’s listed academic goal is to increase the share of students who score at the lowest level on state exams by 5 percent.
  • The plan for I.S. 313 in the Bronx gives the school’s attendance goal, then says, “Other benchmarks for 2015-15 include: ____________________.” It continues, “IS 313 has made substantial progress toward meeting these benchmarks and is poised to demonstrate great improvements in students’ academic outcomes this year.” An academic goal is included in a different section.

Schools themselves received simpler lists of goals in May. Those clearly state the schools’ attendance rates and certain academic measures alongside the targets they must meet by 2016 and 2017.

The city would not release those lists to Chalkbeat, and education department spokeswoman Devora Kaye would not say whether they will be made public. Instead, she said the individual goals would be embedded in the online improvement plans, and that parents can also ask schools directly for the goals.

“The DOE Renewal School staff continues to work in close partnership with schools to ensure they are demonstrating evidence of improved student outcomes,” Kaye said in a statement.

David Bloomfield, an education professor at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center, said the city’s failure to make the Renewal goals accessible runs counter to the de Blasio administration’s promise to closely involve parents in those schools. It also will make it harder for the public to judge whether the expensive Renewal program is a success, he said.

“The lack of transparency,” Bloomfield said, “makes the finish line more ambiguous.”

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