accountability accountability

Bills will hold DOE's feet to fire on discharge, graduation rates

The City Council is requiring the education department to provide more transparent reporting to support claims for two of its signature achievements: higher graduation rates and fewer failing schools.

In the midst of finalizing next year’s city budget, the council managed to pass two bills that target the Department of Education’s bookkeeping. One of them requires the department to disclose more detailed information about students who leave the system without graduation. The second mandates the release of information about students who do not graduate when their high schools close.

Under the first bill, the DOE will be forced to provide more detailed data about student discharge rates, which critics say is overused by schools in order to inflate graduation rates. In 2009, Leonie Haimson, of Class Size Matters, released a report that found discharge rates steadily climbed since 2000. That prompted a state audit that concluded the dropout rate was in fact higher than claims made by the DOE.

Out of 88,612 students from the 2004-2008 cohort, 19 percent – or 17,025 – were discharged and 10 percent – or 9,323 – dropped out, according to the audit.

“This bill will for the first time allow us to know what happened to the thousands of students every year who are discharged from high schools,” Haimson said. “It will make it possible to see if they’re honestly reporting discharge rates.

The DOE vehemently disputes many conclusions from the Haimson report and state audit as being misleading. Since 2002, when Mayor Bloomberg entered office, discharge rates declined 2 percent. Haimson, said spokesman Matthew Mittenthal, “was extremely selective in assembling data to make a case against us.”

Under the second bill, the DOE will be required to report on students at phase out schools who don’t accumulate enough credits to graduate when the school shutters. Specifically, it will provide more information about what happens to the fate of students after the school closes. Critics have said that students displaced by these closures drop out at a disproportionately higher rate as a result.

“I have sharply disagreed with the Department of Education’s belief that phasing out schools is an effective educational policy,” said Councilman Al Vann, a sponsor of the bill. “The passage of this legislation will finally provide the Council and stakeholders with important data on how the phasing out of schools truly affects our public school students.”

At a hearing on the proposed laws in January, an official indicated that the DOE would not comply with the law if passed, citing possible violations of student privacy.

Today, however, Mittenthal confirmed that they would “absolutely comply” with the new law. The law calls for the DOE report last year’s data by Feb. 1, 2012.

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

More in What's Your Education Story?

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.