network analysis

Report: School support networks had little impact on student achievement

PHOTO: Creative Commons, courtesy wallyg

The city’s school-support networks have had little overall impact on student achievement, failing to overcome the powerful link between students’ backgrounds and their academic performance, according to a new report. The report comes as Chancellor Carmen Fariña is set to overhaul the school-support system.

Under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s decentralized school system, schools received instructional and operational support from whichever networks they chose to join. The network a school is part of can predict to a small degree how well it will do academically, according to the independent report by researchers at Brown University’s Annenberg Institute for School Reform.

But when schools’ varying demographic data — students’ race and ethnicity, poverty level, or special needs — are held constant, the networks have “little, if any” effect on schools’ academic performance, the researchers found. Meanwhile, the makeup of a school’s student body remains a strong predictor of its academic success, the report adds.

“Demography still seems to determine destiny in the current, network-organized school system,” according to the study, which will be published next month and was first reported by the New York Daily News.

Annenberg sent a draft to reporters ahead of a speech by Chancellor Carmen Fariña Thursday, where she will announce details of a new school governance system. She is widely expected to dismantle most of the 57 support networks, in which case the report could help justify the shakeup.

The researchers looked at publicly available test scores and graduation rates from 2010 to 2012 for each networks’ schools. Using statistical analysis and modeling, they found that up to nearly 30 percent of the variation in academic outcomes among schools could be explained by which network a school belongs to. However, far more of the variation — up to 90 percent for middle score reading scores, for example — was associated with the student population that a given school serves.

The researchers also conducted another analysis where they measured how well a hypothetical school in each network would perform academically if its student population matched the citywide averages. When they controlled for demographics in that way, they found that networks had very little impact on elementary and middle school academics. (However, the same did not hold true for high school graduation rates.)

Instead, most networks in that analysis hovered close to the citywide average. The researchers said they could not find any “beat-the-odds” networks whose schools had academic results that significantly exceeded the average for all networks.

“We could not see, in the analysis we did, that the networks as a whole have any positive or negative effects on schools, especially when you compare that to the effects of demographics,” said co-author Norm Fruchter, who also is a member of the city’s educational oversight board, the Panel for Educational Policy.

The report offers a limited view of networks, which the authors acknowledge. It focuses narrowly on the average results of the networks’ schools in those three years, rather than trying to measure how students’ performance changed over time. It does not look at how individual schools fared under the network system, nor does it examine the practices of any particular network.

“It’s looking from 32,000 feet,” Fruchter said. “It’s not saying that there are no successful networks or networks that were successful with individual schools.”

The report, which Annenberg funded and conducted independently of the city, also looked at the student populations of the schools in each network.

It found wide variation, with some networks supporting more schools with high-needs students than others. However, it also noted that the networks each serve a greater mix of racial and ethnic student groups than the districts that preceded them. The report attributes this to the fact that, unlike districts, the networks are non-geographic and span multiple boroughs.

The report makes a few recommendations, including that struggling schools be given more intensive support than they have received under the network system. A 2013 study commissioned by the Bloomberg administration made a similar suggestion.

That report by the Parthenon Group did not analyze the overall impact of networks on students’ academic performance. However, it did say that surveys and interviews showed that many principals preferred the network system.

“When the DOE asks schools to rate their satisfaction with the service they receive from various central offices, the network teams are consistently rated far higher than other central supports,” the report said.

Update: Here is the full report.

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

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