time machine

Guess the year: Credit recovery scandal at Washington Irving

New Year’s Day will mark a decade since Mayor Bloomberg’s first day on the job. The city’s schools have changed in big ways since then — but some things, it seems, have stayed the same.

While reading up earlier this week on Washington Irving High School before attending a protest against its planned closure, I came across a news report that could have been ripped from today’s headlines: Students risked not graduating because a review found that they had been given credit even though they had failed required courses.

From the New York Times’ report about the scandal:

O’Neill Ellis, 17, learned Tuesday that he would not receive a diploma. He had failed an economics class, but [the principal] allowed him to make up the credits by reading 15 chapters of an economic textbook and writing an 11-page report. When Mr. Ellis heard that [the principal] had been removed, he suspected his diploma would be revoked, he said in an interview last night.

“I understand we might have messed up,” he said. “But I don’t see why they should have taken back our diplomas. It’s not like I did a little two-page project. It took 11 pages, it required thinking.” …

An English teacher, Linda Winkler, described a case involving a student in her class. She said the principal gave a passing grade to a student who had been absent from her class at least 50 times since February.

She said the student, whom she did not identify, did little homework and refused to take the final exam. She said she gave the student a 45, out of 100, which is a failing grade. She later found out, she said, that the principal had assigned the student an independent project that involved writing a book report on the novel “To Sir With Love.” The principal gave the student a 65 in the class. Ms. Winkler said this angered her because she had assigned four book reports to students during the term.

“I think it’s wrong to reward a student in that position,” she said. “In the past few years it has reached the point where the standards are so low that if things are barely legible, they are passable.”

In the comments, leave your guess for what year this story took place. Read the full report for the answer and more details about the episode, which predated recent allegations about improper use of “credit recovery,” including at Washington Irving.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

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.