Wednesday Churn: Dropouts drop a bit

Updated 1:45 p.m.Colorado is making some progress in reducing school dropout rates but the problem remains serious, according to a study released today.

Citing the impact of initiatives undertaken in the last three years, including a 2009 dropout prevention and student re-engagement law, the report said the state’s dropout rate for students in grades 7 to 12 declined in the last three years from 4.4 percent to 3.6 percent. That equals about 3,000 fewer students dropping out. About 15,000 Colorado students dropped out in 2008-09.

The report, by the Colorado Children’s Campaign and the Donnell-Kay Foundation, also reported that Colorado “has more dropouts than 37 other states, including some with a significantly higher number of high school students.”

The study suggests a number of best practices for schools and policy changes, including raising the mandatory school attendance age to 18 and changing the way the state tabulates school enrollments to provide districts with more incentive to keep kids in school. Read the full report here.

The state report comes on the heels of a new national study by the America’s Promise Alliance and two other groups. That report found the national graduation rate increased from about 72 percent in 2002 to 75 percent in 2008 but that “American continues to face a dropout epidemic.” More information on that report here.

The Colorado Legacy Foundation has received $1.9 million in grants from four foundations to help fund educator effectiveness efforts at the Colorado Department of Education and in school districts.

Part of the funding will be used to pay staff and support the work of the State Council on Educator Effectiveness, which is developing definitions of teacher and principal effectiveness and recommendations for implementing other parts of the new educator effectiveness law. The council began work last March but got off to a slow start because of lack of staff resources and other reasons.

The grants include $1.75 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, $51,000 from the JPMorgan Chase Foundation, $70,000 from the Denver-based Daniels Fund and $30,000 from the Donnell-Kay Foundation, which also is locally based (more details in news release).

Daily Churn logoWhat’s churning:

Gov. Bill Ritter and his successor, Gov.-elect John Hickenlooper, are making the education rounds today – at both ends of the K-12 spectrum.

Ritter will join Aurora Public Schools Superintendent John Barry at 9:30 a.m. to introduce the Community Workforce Planning Team, a partnership between the district and more than 30 community groups aimed at creating P-20 academic and career pathways.

The effort is an attempt to eliminate the oft-talked-about Colorado Paradox – the fact that the state has one of the highest percentage of adults with college degrees yet ranks near the bottom of high school graduates going on to college.

Improving P-20 routes – or preschool-to-college – has been a key plank of Ritter’s education efforts as governor. Aurora’s P-20 partnership is a cornerstone of the district’s VISTA 2015 strategic plan. This morning’s event is at 15771 East 1st Ave.

A little later in the day, Hickenlooper will be keynote speaker at the second annual Colorado Business Luncheon on Early Childhood Investments.

Denver’s mayor will be unveiling an early childhood development toolkit for employers, billed as “an online resource that provides the business sector with the resources and knowledge needed to be part of the solution to enhance Colorado’s early childhood environment.”

The luncheon is sponsored by Executives Partnering to Invest in Children or EPIC, a coalition of businesses, nonprofits and foundations advocating investment in early childhood from birth to age 8. It’s at the Grand Hyatt Denver ballroom from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

As mayor, Hickenlooper helped win passage of a sales tax increase funding the Denver Preschool Program for the city’s 4-year-olds.

What’s on tap:

The Metro State trustees meet from 7:30 a.m. to noon in the Tivoli Student Center at the Auraria campus, room 320. The first part of the meeting will be an executive session of the presidential evaluation committee. Here’s the agenda.

Adams 12 Five Star school board members meet in work session at 5 p.m. and start their regular board meeting at 6:30 p.m. Location is the Aspen Room at district headquarters, 1500 E. 128th Ave. in Thornton. The agenda is here.

Good reads from elsewhere:

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 [email protected]

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