On any given day, you can find Sarah Carpenter organizing parents in the Memphis area. A single mother of four daughters and 13 grandchildren, Carpenter was an advocate long before becoming co-founder and CEO of The Memphis Lift, which she describes as “a parent organization run by parents, for parents.”
Born and raised in North Memphis, Carpenter says her experience as a single parent prepared her to lead The Memphis Lift. “I have always been an advocate for my daughters and for other’s kids,” she says. “I started in 1995 when I was asked to help open a Family Resource Center in a high school and students without involved parents in their lives took to me. Parents would stop me and say, ‘They are passing my son on to High School and he can’t even read.”
Carpenter and her fellow co-founders met during the training component of a public advocate fellowship funded by the Memphis Education Fund, which educated parents about the landscape in Shelby County Schools (SCS). At the time, SCS had the highest number of “priority schools” –those in which student scores on state exams ranked in the bottom five percent – in Tennessee.
Carpenter and her colleagues have since visited more than 10,000 homes to educate others on the state of Memphis’s schools. SCS students can attend four categories of schools: traditional neighborhood schools, charter schools, charter schools in the state-run Achievement Schools District, and schools in the district’s Innovation Zone.
For Carpenter and her organization, ensuring that all parents – regardless of income – have access to all the options SCS has to offer is paramount. In January 2018, the district launched a scorecard to help parents compare schools based on student achievement, growth, attendance, and suspension rates. The Memphis Lift helps parents interpret the scorecard and navigate their options, so they can make the best choices for their children.
Carpenter is intimately acquainted with the many options parents have: all of her daughters attended neighborhood schools, yet all but one of her grandchildren attend charter schools.
Charter schools are public schools operated by independent organizations—mostly nonprofits—typically on five-year “charters,” or performance contracts. They are free from many of the bureaucratic rules that stifle innovation in district schools, but in return they are accountable for their performance: if their students are falling too far behind grade level, their charters are not renewed and they must close.
Carpenter’s granddaughters are not unusual. Charter enrollment in SCS has increased every year for the past four years; currently, 15,200 students—15 percent of the district–are enrolled in 51 charter schools. In spite of the increased enrollment, enrolling in charter schools in SCS is no easy feat, even for the most engaged parent. Enrolling in the highest performing charters, which use lotteries to select their students because so many apply, is even more difficult. First families mustvisit their zoned school or approved school choice location to get a PowerSchool account, then they must register online, then visit charters they are interested in, then apply and hope they win the lottery. For parents with multiple children in multiple schools, the process can be difficult, expensive, and time-consuming.
The topic of charter schools in SCS was highlighted in The Memphis Lift’s Annual Parents Summit, last October. This year’s summit was done in collaboration with the Memphis Education Fund and the Progressive Policy Institute’s Reinventing America’s Schools project.
Charters in Tennessee are authorized either by districts or by the state Board of Education. In cities and states where authorizers close failing charters, their performance is usually far better than that of district schools. Where authorizers fail to close lagging schools, charter performance is far less impressive. Unfortunately, Shelby County Schools has not been rigorous about closing its charters, and their quality varies.
In the most recent SCS scorecard, SCS secondary charter schools perform better than K-8 charter schools when compared to district-managed schools. SCS secondary charter schools outperformed district-managed secondary schools, with 54 percent rated as “good” or “excellent,” compared to only 46 percent of district-managed schools.” District-managed K-8 schools outperformed K-8 charter schools with 41 percent rated as “good” or “excellent,” compared to only 33 percent of K-8 charter schools.
Parents attending the summit supported replacing underperforming charter anddistrict schools with stronger operators, both charters and district school leaders. This can usually be done without disruption to the students, who remain in the school under new leadership.
But for parents at the summit, a quality charter school didn’t mean much without access to it. So The Memphis Lift’s highest priority is a universal enrollment system for all Memphis public schools, through which parents can use a single application to rank their top choice schools. The system then uses a lottery algorithm to match students to schools based on availability and preference. For low-income parents, universal enrollment systems help ensure equal access to quality schools. New Orleans, Denver, Indianapolis, Washington, D.C., Newark, and several other cities have adopted such systems, which include virtually all traditional and charter schools.
The third priority summit participants chose was improving transportation to schools, because many families simply cannot get their children to quality schools
Carpenter is excited about the future of The Memphis Lift, but she understands how much work still needs to be done. “We have made an impact on waking parents up about how this system is run…but we haven’t moved the needle enough,” she says.
Meanwhile, Carpenter has received multiple requests for advice on how to replicate The Memphis Lift model in other cities. Currently the organization is mentoring parent groups in St. Louis, Nashville, Atlanta, and Newark.
Despite her national notoriety and popularity with those in the education reform community, Carpenter is quick to remind us that, “Before I heard the term ‘ed reform,’ I was already advocating for kids in my community and my own kids, too!”
Her advice to parents with children in underperforming school districts is to first “get educated on the landscape of education…You can’t fight for anything if you don’t know what you’re fighting for.”
Follow Carpenter and The Memphis Lift on their website www.memphislift.orgor on Twitter @memphis_lift.
Shiny apples, carrot bags, pre-packaged peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, full containers of applesauce, sealed cartons of raisons, and unopened milk cartons. That’s what paraprofessional Lorraine Von Hess would see students tossing into the trash every day as she supervised lunch at Davies Middle School in the Hamilton Township of Atlantic County, N.J.
A shocking amount of food meandered from lunch line, to tray, to trash. It was nearly enough to fill several 50-gallon cans, the educator says. In a county struggling with food insecurity, Von Ness refused to stand idly by. She began to investigate ways to fix a system that she says was clearly broken.
“I was appalled by the food waste at school,” Von Hess says. “We have two food pantries in our town overwhelmed with people in need.”
Showing Community Spirit
Seeing an abundance of food in one corner of her life and a severe need for food in another, Von Hess knew what to do.
First, she contacted the cafeteria food services manager who informed her that all food was funded by a state grant which required by law that students receive an item from each food group. Once food hit the tray, it could not return to the kitchen. The obvious destination for unwanted food? The cafeteria’s large gray trash cans.
Von Hess continued to search for information. She found no rule that said the unconsumed food couldn’t be earmarked for a destination beyond the cafeteria.
Pointing to the closure of nearby Atlantic City casinos between 2014 and 2016, Von Hess recalls how the closures rippled into households.
“They’re struggling to keep their homes and feed their families,” Von Hess points out.
Many of the area’s families depend on food pantries to survive. And donations help to fuel the survival of the food pantries. Von Hess, a member of the Hamilton Township Education Association, explained the donation idea to the food centers in her area. They loved it!
Next, she created a detailed proposal, and headed to a meeting of the district school administration bearing a detailed plan with a name created by her son: “No Food Left Behind.”
“Administrators were excited by the idea,” Von Hess says.
The program began at Davies in March 2015 and exceeded expectations. According to Von Hess, students were eager to donate unwanted food items.
Here’s how it works: Students drop unwanted food in boxes. After lunch, paraprofessionals sort the items into categories for delivery to food pantries the same day.
Over the summer of 2015, Von Hess collaborated with principals and paraprofessionals from neighboring schools to help them start their own programs. By that September, several schools were collecting food too.
“The food that we take to the pantries helps a lot,” says Von Hess. Collectively, the schools donate about 40 reusable grocery totes of food to area pantries per week. Von Hess says schools contact her often seeking advice about pioneering their own programs.
“That’s very rewarding,” she says.
“My role as a paraprofessional has helped me to see community problems,” says Von Hess who is proud that her school got the ball rolling with “people who did not hesitate to jump in to help.”
The ACLU of New Jersey is suing a dozen school districts in the state, including three in Camden County, saying they have discriminatory policies that prevent immigrant children from potentially getting an education.
The 12 school districts require parents to provide a New Jersey driver’s license or other state-issued forms of identification that undocumented immigrants likely would not possess, in violation of both the state and federal constitutions, the ACLU says in its suit filed Thursday. Under current laws and policies, schools may only request proof of a child’s age, residence, and immunization record when registering them for classes, the ACLU says.
“New Jersey’s state Constitution calls for free public education, and that applies to every single child – no exceptions,” ACLU-NJ staff attorney Elyla Huertas said in a statement. “In a state where one in five residents is foreign-born, at a time when our president has made the exclusion of immigrants a key part of his policy agenda, it’s more important than ever for every school district in New Jersey to meet its obligations, both to New Jersey’s families and to the Constitution.”
In 1982, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Texas law that had denied undocumented immigrant children an education in the public school system. After a class-action lawsuit was filed on behalf of Mexican school-age children who lived in Texas, the high court ruled that the law had violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. In a landmark ruling, the high court held that “education has a fundamental role in maintaining the fabric of our society” and that it “provides the basic tools by which individuals might lead economically productive lives to the benefit of us all.”
The lawsuits were filed in state Superior Court in the individual counties where the districts are located, one month after thousands demonstrated in Washington to protest the Trump administration’s immigration policies and separation of undocumented children from their parents at the Mexican border. The protest was organized by the American Civil Liberties Union and several other civil rights organizations.
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President’s Education Awards Program (PEAP) student recipients are selected annually by their school principal. This year, PEAP provided individual recognition to nearly 3 million graduates (at the elementary, middle and high school level) across the nation at more than 30,000 public, private and military schools from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Outlying Areas — American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands — and American military bases abroad.
Students received a certificate signed by President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Schools also received letters from the President and the Secretary.
The Department encourages schools to be on the lookout for 2018-19 school year materials from PEAP program partners: the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) and the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP). The materials outline how to order certificates to award students before the end of the school year. Certificates are FREE, and there is no limit.
Please review the participant list at to see if your school is currently involved. If not, contact your local school/principal and urge them to participate for the upcoming school year.
PEAP was founded in 1983. Every year since then, the program has provided principals with the opportunity to recognize students who meet high standards of academic excellence, as well as those who have given their best effort, often overcoming obstacles in their learning. Eligible graduating K-12 students are selected by their principal under two categories.
The President’s Award for Educational Excellence – This award recognizes academic success in the classroom. To be eligible, students must meet a few academic requirements, including a high grade point average or other school-set criteria and a choice of either state test performance or teacher recommendations.
The President’s Award for Educational Achievement – This award recognizes students that show outstanding educational growth, improvement, commitment, or intellectual development in their subjects but do not meet the academic criteria above. Its purpose is to encourage and reward students who give their best effort, often in the face of special obstacles, based on criteria developed at each school.
The awards were presented to students by their fifth-grade homeroom teachers: Mrs. Sullivan, Mrs. Black, Mrs. Staggs, Miss Dillon, and Ms. Thompson.
Ombudsman Alternative Center in Mississippi serves high school-age students in Natchez School District who meet criterion and can take classes at their own pace to earn their high school diploma. Two Natchez students were recognized by PEAP this year, receiving certificates for their academic achievements. Principal Allison Jowers announced the students’ awards in May at the local board meeting, saying both students had earned the honors through their hard work and dedication to education. Jaila Queen, a freshman, earned the academic excellence award, while Briana White, a senior, earned the educational achievement award.
Two Natchez students Jaila Queen (left) and Briana White (right) received awards signed by President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos for their academic success this year.
The program also receives great feedback throughout the year. From Long Pond Schoolin New Jersey, which celebrated their students’ achievement on May 24: “This is the 34thyear that Long Pond has participated in this program, and it’s really exciting to be part of it.” Principal Bryan Fleming closed the event with the reading of the anonymous poem “Just One,” which speaks of the many ways a small effort can spark greatness. The poem ends with the lines, “One life can make a difference, that one life could be you.”
Frances Hopkins is director of the President’s Education Awards Program at the U.S. Department of Education.
There was a time when I couldn’t even say the word out loud. It was too painful, too devastating to utter. I wanted to believe that if I didn’t say the word, it didn’t exist. But it does exist; it’s real, and it’s beautiful, and it’s challenging all at the same time. And whether I say the word or not, my son Chris has autism.
I’ve been on this autism journey for 30 years now, more than half my life. Back in 1990, when Chris was first diagnosed, there was no autism awareness month, because there wasn’t autism awareness. Family, friends, and neighbors looked at me quizzically when I shared his diagnosis. What does that mean? How did he get it? How do you cure it? But I did not have the answers. Even the multitude of doctors we saw could not provide the answers. Since that time, there has been an exponential increase in the number of children diagnosed, and almost everyone has been touched by autism in some way. So today, when a family shares the diagnosis, others are usually aware of what it means.
As I reflect on the past 30 years I recall so many memories. I remember, as if it was yesterday, sitting in the doctor’s office; the diagnosis confirmed my fears following months of research into what might be causing the unusual behaviors of our little boy.
I remember…calling anyone and everyone I thought might help my family; the feelings of isolation at the playground, Sunday school, birthday parties, and all the other places where we just never seemed to fit in; the stress before every outing, wondering if there would be a meltdown or some other embarrassing event; wondering if my marriage would survive the stress; and the feelings of inadequacy for not parenting my children the way I thought I should have.
I remember the fear, guilt, and sheer terror of not knowing where my child was that day when he wandered off. But I also remember the intense relief and gratitude I felt when he was found.
I remember the vast uncertainty I felt when Chris was diagnosed, wondering what his life would be like as he grew to adulthood. And now that we have reached that point, I want to share some of the bright lights we encountered along the way, especially for those of you who may be new to the journey.
When he was four, I remember watching Chris climb aboard the school bus to begin the 45-minute ride to his “special” school. My gut told me that he needed to be with his community friends, and I spent years trying to persuade my school district to serve him in our local school. I learned about Chris’ right to be included with his neighborhood peers when I attended a workshop hosted by the New Jersey Statewide Parent Advocacy Network (SPAN), our state’s federally funded Parent Training and Information Center. SPAN became one of the bright lights on our path. The information our family received from SPAN allowed us to develop an IEP (individualized education program) that brought Chris back to our home district for high school. I remember watching anxiously as he disappeared into the building on his first day of high school, also his first day of school in a general education setting. Despite my concerns, I remember how kind and supportive Chris’ peers were to him; serving as beacons lighting our journey. I remember Chris learning math, reading, and how to play an instrument—things I was told he wouldn’t be able to do—and working with teachers who never gave up on him. And I will never forget, four years later, watching him climb into a limo with friends to attend the senior prom. My heart was so full of happiness and pride I thought it would burst.
This journey has taught me a great deal; autism has been my teacher for some of life’s most important lessons:
Autism helps you to be grateful for the small things, the things you might have overlooked had they not been such a struggle to achieve: hugs, first words, friends, independence, general happiness and physical health. I’ve learned to take nothing for granted.
I continue to be in awe of, and inspired by, all the people we’ve met on this journey, most of whom have gone out of their way to help us any way they could: doctors, teachers, therapists, neighbors, friends, strangers, other families on the same path, and my colleagues at SPAN. Today, Chris has a circle of support that makes it possible for him to live a full, rich life. My husband and I appreciate the love and support of family; siblings have been caretakers and cheerleaders, and extended family members step up and help, no questions asked. Autism has taught me that I can’t do it all alone, no matter how hard I try. We need the support of others and must learn to accept it graciously.
Fear is an everyday struggle on this journey. I fear what will happen today and in the near future, and dread what might happen to my child when I’m not able to care for him. I feel trepidation in trying something new, and doubt with every life decision. But sometimes I must take a leap of faith. In this, I have always been rewarded, either with success or increased knowledge, both very valuable. I have learned to trust in myself and follow my gut.
Of yourself and others. Don’t hold onto past mistakes and don’t carry the burden of anger and resentment toward others. Learn to let go, learn from your experiences, and move on.
Laugh at yourself and your circumstances. Laughing releases endorphins and helps you feel good. We can learn a lot by seeing the world through a different lens and by not taking things—or ourselves—too seriously.
In closing, what I want to share with you more than anything is how immensely proud I am of Chris and all he has accomplished. He is a 30-year-old man living with autism, working and volunteering in the community, and often struggling to find his voice and get by in a world that can be overwhelming for him. Yet he manages to do it with dignity and grace, with unwavering support from the circle of love and light that surrounds him—his parents, siblings, and extended family; his peers, support staff, and therapists; our neighbors and friends. I shall always be thankful for Chris and the guiding lights that autism brought into our lives.
Carolyn Hayer is the Director of Parent and Professional Development at the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network (SPAN) in New Jersey, an OSERS-funded Parent Training and Information Center.
AMSTERDAM NEWS — Newark Public Schools is back under the control of the city, ending nearly 25 years of state control. The formal transfer was made at a news conference at Science Park High School last week. New interim Superintendent A. Robert Gregory, Mayor Ras J. Baraka, members of the Newark Board of Education and students were in attendance.
The state took control of the school in 1995 after years of low high school graduation rates and low standardized test scores. Christopher Cerf was the state-appointed superintendent of NPS. He resigned when the city regained control.
“I know firsthand the important role Newark schools play in the lives of the thousands of young people who attend them,” Gregory said. “On their behalf, we must move forward with a continued sense of urgency. I look forward to working closely with the school board, our educators and the Newark community to ensure that we are doing everything we can to continue to improve outcomes for Newark students.”
In December, the commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Education approved the transition plan that allows for the Advisory Board to become the official Newark Board of Education Feb. 1. The plan provides the board the full authority and responsibilities afforded to local school boards and includes a detailed timeline and set of milestones to guide the district’s transition over a period of two years.
The search for a new superintendent will be headed by a seven-person committee made up of school board members and Newark stakeholders.
“This day has been in the making for some time and is long overdue,” said Marques Aquil Lewis, chairman of the Newark Board of Education. “The Board has worked very hard to make sure that the district is returned to local control. Now, all decisions rest with us and we are ready, willing and have the capacity to take Newark Public Schools to the next level.”
NPS serves approximately 36,000 students and is the largest and one of the oldest school systems in New Jersey. Nearly 90 percent of students are Black and Latino.
By Stephen Herzenberg for THIRD AND STATE: A progressive take on public policy in Pennsylvania
A new “big-data” base on U.S. school districts provides new evidence that Pennsylvania has many high-performing schools but many lower-income rural and urban districts that perform less well. A likely culprit: Pennsylvania’s inadequate state funding for schools. Low state school funding leaves moderate- and lower-income districts poorly funded and with less in total funding than affluent districts, even though the lower-income districts serve students with higher rates of poverty, non-English speaking families, and other challenges that hold back achievement. Most school districts in neighboring New Jersey perform well regardless of their income and wealth, thanks in part to more generous and equitable state funding for schools of moderate means.
The new data base, the Stanford Education Data Archive will be a gold mine for education researchers and policymakers. While waiting for definitive studies, we take a first look here at what the data base offers based on a New York Times story and interactive on-line tool posted earlier this month.
The story highlighted that the Chicago Public Schools delivered one of the highest improvements in student test scores from 3rd grade to 8th grade between 2009 and 2015. Its interactive tool allows users to enter a school district, and to extract information on how that school and 19 comparison districts in the same state performed over this period. The comparison districts change each time you use the tool, even if the school district you enter stays the same. The basic picture of how the school district entered performs relative to other districts does not change, suggesting that the researchers have been careful to make the other districts a “representative” comparison group.
We used the tool to examine the performance of Pennsylvania school districts. We then used the tool to generate information on New Jersey school districts. The table profiles Philadelphia and 19 other Pennsylvania school districts.
The Every Student Succeed Acts requires that states define “ineffective” and “inexperienced” teachers in their federally required plans, and describe ways they’ll ensure that low-income and nonwhite students aren’t being taught by these teachers at higher rates than their peers.
NCTQ, a Washington-based research and advocacy group, today released new analyses of 34 states’ plans, following its analyses of 16 states and the District of Columbia, which was released in June. In that earlier round, the group found a few bright spots, including New Mexico and Tennessee.
NCTQ looked at these metrics in its analyses:
How do states define inexperienced and ineffective teachers? NCTQ recommends that states define an inexperienced teacher as someone with two or fewer years of experience. An ineffective teacher should be defined by using “objective measures of student learning and growth” (like student test scores).
What data are states using? NCTQ advises states to report student-level data, and consider whether there are additional student subgroups that might have educator equity gaps.
When will states eliminate identified educator equity gaps? NCTQ calls for states to make publicly available timelines and interim targets for eliminating the gaps.
What are states’ strategies to target identified equity gaps? NCTQ says that specific strategies should be developed with stakeholder input and be evaluated over time.
(It’s important to note that these are not specified by the federal law; they are NCTQ’s interpretation of what states should be doing under ESSA.)…
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Nine states and the District of Columbia had turned in their state plans for the Every Student Succeeds Act as of Monday evening, according to an Education Week survey of states. One tricky issue states have to address in those plans is how to deal with schools where less than 95 percent of all students take required state exams.
Under ESSA, states are allowed to have laws on the books affirming parents’ right to opt their children out of these tests. But ESSA also requires that states administer these tests to all students with sanctions kicking in if the participation rate falls below 95 percent and meaningfully differentiate schools based on participation rate in some fashion. Just how states address this issue if the participation rate of all students (or a subgroup of students) at a particular school falls below 95 percent is up to them.
The opt-out movement sprang up in the last several years as part of a broader resistance to testing, and has been particularly strong in states like Colorado, New Jersey, and New York…
The plans will now be read by different teams of peer reviewers at the department. Political appointees, including U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, are forbidden from monkeying with that process. But the secretary gets to give the plans the final thumbs or down. More on how all that will work here…