race to the race to the top

Looking beyond the charter cap

The lion’s share of the recent attention devoted to the state’s Race to the Top plan has focused on whether or not Albany should lift the cap on charter schools.

But some dispute that the charter cap deserves so much of the spotlight. The city and state teachers union, who oppose lifting the cap, argue that a state’s friendliness toward charter schools is worth relatively few points in the overall grant application. Others argue that there are other, more important elements of the plan that help make the state more competitive for the grants.

A prominent member of the second camp is Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch. Tish does support raising the charter cap and told me last week she thought it vital that the state do so before the January 19 deadline, but she also argued that it’s not the most important thing.

“The charter piece is what I believe to be a very minor piece of this,” Tisch said.

So what else should we be talking about?

Tisch said the heart of New York’s application is the upgraded data system, new ways of training and certifying teachers and revised curriculum standards and tests.

But there are also other interesting parts of the plan that have received barely any attention.

Today, for example, I noticed that the state’s summary of the Race to the Top plan references a plan to cut down on the costs of the removal hearings for tenured teachers. The state education department pays for these hearings, and at the past couple of Regents meetings in Albany, state education department officials have noted that they don’t have enough money for them. (At the Regents meeting this week, officials noted they’re running low on funds.)

And so as part of their Race to the Top plan, the Regents are putting this on their legislative agenda:

Section 3020-a of Education Law requires the State Education Department to pay the expense of the tenured teacher hearings.  These costs include the costs of hearing officers, stenographers, and panel members participating in the hearing process.  These hearings often tend to be expensive and lengthy.

To streamline the 3020-a process, the Regents recommend:

  • Developing financial incentives to expeditiously resolve cases and reduce the State’s financial burden;
  • Addressing the issue of mutual disclosure to ensure that the process is efficient and fair; and
  • Eliminating the need for a full 3020-a process to excess a teacher who is not appropriately certified.

These recommendations would require legislative change, though the Regents don’t plan to push for amendments to state education law until the spring, according to their meeting notes. It’s worth noting that, while the Regents’ recommendations may not overlap, Mayor Michael Bloomberg is pushing his own set of recommendations for changing the process of hiring and firing teachers.

Notice anything of interest that deserves more attention? Here’s the state’s full summary of its Race to the Top proposals. Comment below or email us at tips@gothamschools.org.

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

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.