missed connections

Report: Memphis youth most frequently not in school or working

PHOTO: Alan Petersime


A higher proportion of young adults are out of school or not working in Memphis than in any other city in the nation, according to a new report from a research group that studies economic opportunity.

Across the United States, 13.8 percent of people ages 16 to 24 are considered “disconnected” because they are neither working or in school, according to the report. In the Memphis metropolitan area, that number is 21.6 percent — the highest in the country.

The rate is important because young people who spend time out of work or school tend to struggle as adults with employment, incarceration, health and even happiness, according to the report, which was produced by the Social Science Research Council’s Measure of America project.

The report concludes that some cities are doing far better and far worse than the average at keeping its young people on a path toward school completion and employment — and it argues that residential segregation heightens disconnection rates among young people of color.

In Memphis, one of the nation’s most racially segregated metro areas, the disconnection rate is higher yet for black young adults. Nearly 29 percent of black young adults are not in work or school, while white Memphians are disconnected at a rate only slightly higher than the national average, the report says.

The authors recommend that cities spend more on schooling, develop strategies to support young adults who have left school, and unite community organizations to work toward common measurable goals, such as cutting the racial disconnection gap in half.

In Memphis, an effort is underway to do just that. Seeding Success, the local wing of a national StriveTogether initiative, is mobilizing community groups toward “collective impact.” Last year, the group marshaled local organizations to agree to clear goals — that by 2025, 80 percent of students will be college and career ready, 90 percent will graduate, and 100 percent of college- and career-ready students will start college or a job after graduating. Seeding Success recently won a share of a $15 million grant from StriveTogether’s Cradle to Career Accelerator Fund to speed progress toward that goal.

“Currently, we’re spending our time, money, and effort fighting the symptoms of youth disconnection instead of addressing its root causes,” the report says. “Knitting disconnected, opportunity-scarce communities into the fabric of our wider society and creating meaningful pathways within them is the answer to youth disconnection.”

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.