rules and regs

Success Academy drops lottery preference for English learners

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
Students and faculty at Success Academy Harlem 5 in 2014.

Eva Moskowitz’s school-admissions fight with the federal education department still isn’t settled.

The Success Academy charter school network announced on Monday that it is dropping a plan to guarantee seats in its schools for English language learners, saying it was unable to resolve its ongoing dispute with the federal education department over how to give those students an extra boost during the admissions process. The announcement represents a setback for the network, which had lobbied the department to allow such set-asides while its charter schools receive federal funds.

Moskowitz, the Success Academy CEO, had declared victory last September following a concerted lobbying effort from charter school advocates and then-State Education Commissioner John King. Months earlier, federal officials clarified that charter schools were allowed to hold “weighted lotteries,” which would allow schools to increase certain students’ odds of winning a spot.

But the network’s plans apparently went further than that. Success Academy’s lottery, scheduled for next month, would have given 14 percent of its new seats to English language learners automatically — something department officials told the network last month still runs afoul of civil rights laws that bar federal funds from going to schools or programs that discriminate on the grounds of race, color, or national origin. (From 2010 to 2012, Success Academy set aside 20 percent of its seats for those students.)

That meant the U.S. Department of Education will pull federal start-up funding for new Success Academy schools unless it changes course, the network said on Monday. The decision does not stop Success from giving English language learners additional weight in their lottery, but the network says it’s too late to plan to do so for its April lottery.

“This is incredibly frustrating and heartbreaking,” Moskowitz said in a statement.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education did not respond to requests for comment.

The network’s announcement comes as charter schools face continued criticism for not serving their fair share of high-needs students, including English language learners. The city’s charter sector has lagged behind district schools in their percentages of English learners, who make up one in seven district-school students but only one in 15 charter-school students. Just over 10 percent of Success Academy students are English learners, according to the network.

Charter school operators in New York have argued that “set-asides” — like Success Academy’s 14 percent plan — are necessary if they are to follow a state law that requires them to serve student populations that reflect their local districts. Advocates of increasing diversity in schools say lotteries can be used to create integrated schools, especially in gentrifying neighborhoods.

The federal government’s policies only apply to charter schools that are applying for federal grants, and many city charter schools routinely set aside a portion of their seats for high-risk students.

In 2010 and 2011, Success was awarded $15 million in start-up grants to open or expand 24 schools by 2016. Moskowitz called that funding essential and said the network is changing its policies to ensure its schools will still qualify.

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.