pipeline problems

To teach teachers how to code, UFT launches training course

An organization founded to tackle one shortage area in computer science education is teaming up with the teachers union to address another.

Girls Who Code, whose founder Reshma Saujani is running for citywide office this year, launched last year to address stark gender inequities that exist in computer science, one of the many job markets in the field of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) where women are underrepresented. The organization’s eight-week curriculum began last summer with 20 girls and will expand to 160 this summer, with new programs in Detroit and San Francisco as well.

The organization will also be lending its curriculum out to help train a small group of 20 teachers, the United Federation of Teachers announced this week. The union is trying to keep pace with the evolving demands in career and technical education and union chief Michael Mulgrew said one challenge is retaining young math and science teachers, who leave “because we don’t give them something engaging to do.”

“We’re going to make the difference by doing it where it really counts, which is training the teachers so they can bring it inside of the classroom because that’s where the students are,” Mulgrew said this week at an event announcing the pilot, called “Teachers Who Code”.

The pilot, a one-week training course hosted by the technology company AppNexus, is the latest effort underway to prepare students for job openings in the STEM field. In New York State alone, nearly 500,000 STEM-related jobs are projected to be created by 2018, the bulk of which are in computer science,  according to a report published last year.

Separately, the city is also training 40 teachers in 20 schools that next fall will launch career and technical education programs with software engineering tracks. The programs include classes in coding, fashion design, and mobile applications, and are designed to award graduating students with state-accredited diplomas that certify they can work in the expanding technology job market.

One goal of the program, officials said, was to double the number of underrepresented students who take Advanced Placement computer science exams. Just 30 percent of the 452 students who took last year’s exam were girls, who normally make up nearly 60 percent of all A.P. test-takers.

Mulgrew appeared at the event with Saujani, who also happens to be running for public advocate, a closely-contested race that the union has yet to endorse in. But union officials went out of their way to note that the appearance with Saujani was not a sign of which way they’re leaning.

“This is not an endorsement,” Mulgrew said jokingly — and unprompted.

Still, Mulgrew had glowing things to say about the work Saujani has done with Girls Who Code, which relies heavily on partnerships with large companies like Facebook, Google, Twitter, Goldman Sachs and IBM.

“A lot of people come into this building with ideas and it’s really about getting the press release,” Mulgrew said, referring to the steady stream of elected officials who seek the union’s support for their education proposals.

Saujani, who first approached the UFT two years ago about training teachers, was different, Mulgrew said.

“I’m so happy that we get to stand here today and say you kept your word,” Mulgrew said. “It’s been everything you said you’d do and we’re so happy that we are partnered with you and your team on this.”

Saujani said she had a shared interest in helping out the union. Early on, she said, she realized that Girls Who Code would not be successful “unless we have more teachers” to do the job.

“You can’t solve the pipeline problem without the teachers union,” Saujani added.


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 cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

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