data preview

Researcher says city's charter schools aren't pushing students out, though other cities' are

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
Richard Kahlenberg discusses charter schools at the Hunter College's Roosevelt House in Manhattan on Tuesday.

A charter school researcher says an upcoming study will clear New York City charter schools from criticism that they systematically “push out” high-needs students.

“I can say there is definitive evidence of some cities in the U.S. of ‘pushout’ and that New York City is not one of them,” said Macke Raymond, director of Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes.

That takeaway was offered by Raymond on Tuesday night as she spoke about a CREDO study that she is overseeing. Raymond said the research, comparing the performance of charter schools in 45 cities, would likely be released in October. (Raymond also warned the audience that she hadn’t verified all of the data with the New York State Education Department.)

Raymond, speaking at a panel discussion about charter schools hosted by the CUNY Institute for Education Policy, didn’t offer other details about the study or mention the cities where charter schools were found to be the worst offenders. But the finding could become another significant data point in an ongoing debate about charter schools, which have long faced criticism for serving lower percentages of students with special needs.

As director of CREDO, Raymond has been researching charter school results for more than five years. Her work includes an influential 2009 study that found a majority of charter school students in 15 states and Washington, D.C. performed as well as or worse than their peers in traditional schools.

That study also found that New York City charter schools were an exception to that trend. An update to that study, in 2013, upheld that finding and found charter schools had surpassed traditional public schools in reading gains and pulled even in math, progress that Raymond attributed in part to charter management organizations.

Raymond let the detail about her latest comparisons slip toward the end of the 90-minute discussion on Tuesday night, which included Century Foundation fellow Richard Kahlenberg, Hunter College Professor Joseph Viteritti, the state’s former charter school chief Sally Bachofer, and John Witte, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

More broadly, panelists agreed that the city’s charter sector would continue to grow in the short term. A new state law virtually ensures that the sector will continue to add schools without past restraints around funding for space, and dozens of new schools are in the pipeline to open in the next several years.

Where there was less certainty was how Mayor Bill de Blasio will confront that growth. Viteritti said that however de Blasio has felt about charter schools in the past, he won’t be able to ignore the specifics for much longer.

In particular, Viteritti said, de Blasio needs to offer a clear plan for tackling controversial issues like how charter schools share space with traditional schools. The department has announced small changes to the way the school building space is allotted, but city officials have promised more sweeping changes to the way decisions are made about dramatic school-space changes.

“If Bill de Blasio has a better policy on co-location, which he seems to have, he needs to say what it is,” Viteritti said.

The panelists agreed that charter schools had come up short in acting as laboratories for new ideas that could be spread to other schools, as former union chief Albert Shanker first imagined charter schools. (De Blasio has spoken frequently of that vision for charter schools, too.)

But they disagreed on whether that was a bad thing. Bachofer, who reviewed hundreds of charter applications as head of the State Education Department’s charter schools office, said she was never impressed when school leaders said they prioritized intraschool partnership.

“I’d rather have a great school than a school that collaborates” but whose students aren’t being well-served, Bachofer said.

Viteritti said public schools haven’t proven to be much better at learning from one another, but he hoped that de Blasio could change that. Kahlenberg said one way they could work together is to do a better job of diversifying the city’s charter school student population, which is mostly made up of low-income black and Hispanic students. The ability to set aside seats for certain student populations in admissions lotteries, Kahlenberg said, offers “great opportunity.”

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