Name those reformers

With "disrupters," George Miller brings search into final stretch

Congressman George Miller

As the Education Secretary fight nears an end, everyone is trying to figure out how to describe the two sides of the battle for Barack Obama’s affection. But I don’t think any of the recent descriptions — from the Associated Press (“reform advocates”) to Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter (“bomb throwers”) to The New Republic (“Reform School”) — live up to the standards of my New York Sun editor, Ira Stoll, who declared that the word “reform” is hopelessly imprecise and banned it from my writing.

All the more reason to turn our name-those-reformers contest into its final bend. The newest entry is from George Miller, the chairman of the House’s education committee. Jonathan Alter reports:

Rep. George Miller, the leading voice on education in Congress, told me recently that “the debate is between incrementalists and disrupters, and I’m with the disrupters.” So is Bill Gates. The father of disruptive software is ready for another revolution.

The disrupters may not be a real word (or at least a word entered in my computer’s dictionary), but it is a neat proposal. It’s the same distinction Randi Weingarten makes between herself and Joel Klein. As she told the Times, her vision is “sustainable and incremental change.” Klein wants “radical reform.”

But I still have some concerns. First, the distinction doesn’t articulate what kind of methods will be used to achieve change. What kind of a disruption do they want? In the past few months we have narrowed in on some key components: the importance of data and test scores, the drive to locate and get rid of bad teachers, the belief that individual schools can change students’ lives all on their own. “Disrupters” doesn’t describe those things.

The distinction also does nothing to describe the kinds of people who fit into each camp. And there is a sociological profile, as one contest entry — boardroom progressives — made clear.

So, we have a little more work to do. One adjective will probably not be enough. But we’re getting close!

Footnote: A funny honorable mention (but way too biased to merit serious consideration) is from Leo Casey, the local teachers union vice president. Writing recently on his blog, Edwize, Casey called this group the “education deformer crowd.” I think that the etymology traces back to January of this year, when Deborah Meier suggested the idea parenthetically, on her blog with Diane Ravitch at Ed Week:

But what to do about “reformers” (maybe we should rename them “deformers”?) who use their extraordinary power to rush through one after another measure that undermine such optimism about democracy??

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.