rally reprisal

For a third year in a row, pro-charter groups plan large political rally

Parents and students at a charter school march across the Brooklyn Bridge last year.

The political force that marched across Brooklyn Bridge last fall, and later helped topple Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to stunt New York City charter school growth, is mounting a new battle.

Calling itself the “Coalition for Education Equality,” a group led by the pro-charter Families for Excellent Schools announced they will stage a large education rally on Oct. 2 at Foley Square in Lower Manhattan. It’s the fourth such event held by charter school organizers since 2012 and the latest effort by the sector to flex its political muscle.

Organizers of next week’s rally insisted that the message isn’t as much about promoting charter school growth as it is about bringing attention to dozens of schools where few students are meeting reading and math proficiency.

“Our members urgently demand access to excellent schools, district or charter, for all New York City kids,” FES CEO Jeremiah Kittredge said in a statement.

But the rally, estimated to exceed 5,000, is still likely to consist primarily of parents, students and teachers from charter schools that tend to belong to charter management organizations, some of which are awaiting approval to open more schools next year. Two charter networks expected to play a central role at the rallies, Achievement First and Success Academy, helped kickstart a social media campaign that is accompanying next week’s event; both networks are planning to add new schools in the 2015-2016 school year.

FES, which formed in 2011, has emerged as the charter school sector’s major parent-organizing entity. Backed by a well-heeled board and funded with grants from the Walton Foundation, the group last year organized a rally in Albany and mounted a multimillion dollar advertising campaign attacking de Blasio after he blocked three Success schools from opening or expanding. Less than four weeks after the rally took place, lawmakers passed legislation that guaranteed access to facilities for Success and new charters in New York City.

This year’s event and related campaign doesn’t appear to offer any policy prescriptions for how to improve schools. But FES is among the advocates that in recent weeks have criticized the de Blasio administration for its delay in implementing a plan for the city’s struggling schools.

Chalkbeat reported this week that principals of low-performing schools are still unclear on details of the city’s plan, nearly three weeks into the school year. Kittredge said parents at the rally would seize on the issue, noting a report that highlighted hundreds of schools where nine out of ten students were not proficient on state reading and math tests. “Parents are looking for bolder leadership to address the city’s failing schools crisis,” he said.

But it could also be the first step in an effort to raise or eliminate a state limit on charter schools. As few as 17 city charter schools will be permitted to open under a state cap by the end of the year, and next year’s state budget negotiations is likely to include a tense debate over the issue.

Next week’s rally will be the fourth installment in what has been a series of demonstrations by the city’s well-coordinated charter school sector. But many charter schools have sat out of the rallies, revealing deep tensions in the sector between larger networks seeking to expand and smaller, independent schools. Those divisions widened last year after a group of independent charter schools publicly sided with de Blasio by declining to participate in an Albany rally organized by FES and Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz during state budget negotiations.

It’s unclear if the charter sector is any more united this year. A spokesman representing the smaller charter schools declined to comment on the rally, but emphasized their close ties to City Hall in a statement.

“Make no mistake, every child deserves a high-quality, well-rounded education—every serious stakeholder in our City agrees on that,” said the spokesperson, Rafiq Kalad Id-Din, who runs Teaching Firms of America Professional Preparatory Charter in Bedford-Stuyvesant. “Our members are on the ground working hard to deliver this promise and the mayor continues to seek our input on how to expand great options for kids. Let’s focus on making sure that all public schools—district and charter—have the public support they need to excel.”

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