By the numbers

Charter sector says 50,000 children were turned away this year

Shubert Jacobs, principal of the Bronx Charter School for Better Learning, spoke at a press conference today on the steps of City Hall to announce the number of students who applied to — and were turned away by — city charter schools this year.

Students who were turned away from city charter schools this year could fill some of the city’s grandest landmarks, according to the New York City Charter School Center’s final tally of charter school applications.

According to the center, more than 69,000 students applied for 18,600 seats at the city’s soon-to-be 183 charter schools for next year. After filling their seats in lotteries last month, the schools had to turn away more than 50,000 students, the center said today, noting that this year’s wait lists contain more students than Yankees Stadium or the Great Lawn in Central Park could hold.

The center held a press conference today on the steps of City Hall to tout the numbers, which reflected a slight increase in the number of families applying to charter schools since last year as 24 new schools prepare to open this fall.

Citywide, the number of students applying to charter schools is rising less quickly than the number of seats in charter schools, so the odds of admission actually rose this year. But that wasn’t true at every school.

“Our demand is always high, but this year it’s higher than ever before,” said Shubert Jacobs, principal of Bronx Charter School for Better Learning, which he said had received 1,500 applications for 50 seats. The mother of two children at the school, Nadine Graham, appeared at the press conference and said her family was “truly fortunate” to have won spots in the school’s lottery.

Charter school wait lists are both politically significant and hard to pin down. The charter sector points to the size of wait lists as evidence that the public wants more charter schools. But charter school advocates in other districts have come under fire for counting students who apply to multiple schools twice on districtwide wait lists.

The city’s numbers count individual students, not applications (there were 181,600 of them, according to the center, mostly submitted online). But even so, because applicants are automatically added to wait lists if they are not selected in schools’ lotteries, it is unclear how many students on wait lists are unhappy with the schools they end up attending.

The tally announcement came days after several Democratic candidates for mayor said at the teachers union’s spring conference that they would not support raising the limit on the number of charter schools that can operate. The limit was last lifted in 2010 after a bruising legislative battle and now stands at 214 for New York City, which this fall will have 183 charter schools in operation.

Department of Education Senior Deputy Chancellor Marc Sternberg said the latest application numbers showed that the candidates are out of touch with families in the city want.

“While some want to turn back the clock to when New York had only a handful of public charter schools, these record application numbers show parents overwhelmingly demand them,” Sternberg said. “We believe in giving them those choices.”

James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center, which recently launched an ad campaign aimed at building support for charter schools, said the press conference highlighted three independent charter schools in part because mayoral candidates have aimed their fiercest criticism at networks that manage multiple charter schools.

In addition to criticizing charter schools, leading Democratic candidates have also taken aim recently at high-stakes testing and policies that curb teachers’ creativity in the classroom.

In his comments, Jacobs touted his school’s low student attrition rate, the fact that it allows teachers to write their own lessons, and its emphasis on measures of student learning other than state test scores.

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