Published Online: August 18, 2015
Published in Print: August 19, 2015, as Blogs

Best of the Blogs


Article Tools
  • PrintPrinter-Friendly
  • EmailEmail Article
  • ReprintReprints

| NEWS | Inside School Research

Since Michael Brown, Police Have Shot and Killed 53 Teens

Last week marked the one-year anniversary of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, a black 18-year-old, by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., an incident that spurred months of civil unrest and painful debates about race and justice in America.

Since then, 53 other teenagers have also been shot to death by police, according to data I analyzed from two crowdsourced police-watchdog projects, Fatal Encounters and, and checked against updated news.

There are numbers and there are narratives in these data, and both should be troubling to educators concerned about young people. Some of those killed were engaged in serious criminal activity. Some were mentally ill. Some were guilty of mischief—shoplifting, trespassing—that under normal circumstances they would get in trouble for but live to look back on. Looking at all their stories together raises questions about how children and adults respond in high-stress situations, and who gets the benefit of the doubt in matters of life and death.

Police shootings of teenagers occurred nationwide, with several states seeing more than one in the past 12 months. California and Texas led the way, followed by Illinois, Arizona, Florida, Kansas, Missouri, Ohio, and Tennessee.

Slightly more white than black teenagers were killed.

Among the white teenagers, nine were reported actively shooting at or attacking the officers or bystanders. Five others allegedly brandished a gun or knife. Five of the black teenagers and one Latino boy also allegedly shot at officers or others on the scene. In nearly two dozen other cases, police reported shooting because the teenager had or reached for a gun or a knife, which was found at the scene (though two of these turned out to be fake).

Other shootings involved tense and escalating encounters: scuffles, raids, and instances in which police thought they saw a weapon when the person was actually unarmed.

More than a dozen of those shot by police had mental-health issues and were suggested to be suicidal.

While many investigations are ongoing, in completed cases, police so far have been judged to have acted properly in most of these shootings. Yet several cases involved police making fast threat assessments that turned out to be overblown.

–Sarah D. Sparks

| NEWS | Curriculum Matters

Two-Thirds of Arizona Students Could Miss Proficiency Mark

'Tis the season of test results, and many won't be pretty. We've heard the chant for many months now: New common-core-aligned tests will present more challenging material for students, and the cutoff scores will be set higher, so proficiency rates will drop. Some preliminary results out of Arizona add some bracing reality to that warning.

Arizona's case is interesting, too, because it's not one of the states using federally funded common-core tests. It adopted the Common Core State Standards, but instead of PARCC or Smarter Balanced to test mastery of the standards, Arizona hired the American Institutes for Research to design tests in math and English/language arts. Last week, it posted a preview of what proficiency rates will look like on that test if the state board adopts cutoff scores recommended by panels of teachers.

According to local media reports, almost two-thirds of Arizona students would fall below the proficiency mark if those cutoff scores were adopted.

The state is presumably using the results of the tests' maiden run, and calculating performance distributions based on the proposed cutoff scores it is considering.

Districts and schools have a lot riding on those proficiency rates, since accountability ratings depend in part on them. Students have some serious skin in the game too, however;in Arizona, 3rd graders can be made to repeat 3rd grade if their reading scores aren't good enough.

–Catherine Gewertz

| NEWS | Education and the Media

On 'American Ninja Warrior,' A Familiar Name From Education

I was watching one of my summer guilty-pleasure TV shows last week—"American Ninja Warrior" on NBC—when I came across a name that rang a bell. A school bell, you might say.

"Warrior" is a physical competition in which contestants must traverse a challenging obstacle course using balance and strength.

During the Pittsburgh city finals, the hosts introduced contestant Sean Darling-Hammond of Washington.

Now, Darling-Hammond is a unique surname, I thought. Could he be related to Linda Darling-Hammond, the famous Stanford University emeritus education professor?

The answer came soon enough in a short, taped piece setting up Sean Darling-Hammond's attempt.

"My parents made it their life's work to try to make the world a better place, my mom through education, my father through business and law," the son says, as a montage of photos of Linda and Allen Darling-Hammond appear.

Sean Darling-Hammond attended Harvard as an undergrad and law school at Berkeley. He is now clerking for a federal judge in Washington, he says in the piece.

"Using law, I hope that I can expand educational opportunity by ensuring that every child has a constitutional right to a high-quality education," he says.

"I want to be known as the giving Ninja," he continues. "If I win, I plan to donate all one million dollars to organizations that expand educational opportunity."

Spoiler alert: Sean performed well on the course, but was tripped up by the second-to-last obstacle. Still, his performance was good enough to allow him to advance to the Las Vegas finals.

–Mark Walsh

| NEWS | Early Years

Indiana Preschool Program Bans Undocumented Children

Children who are living in Indiana illegally will not be allowed to enroll in that state's new preschool program. Nor will they be allowed to enroll in Indianapolis' new city-based program, which Mayor Greg Ballard has touted as a solution to kindergarten readiness for low-income families in his city.

In her story explaining the citizen-only policy for Chalkbeat Indiana, Hayleigh Colombo nails the key question on the head: "How can public schools be barred from excluding those kids while publicly funded preschool programs are free to do so?"

Apparently, it's because the federal policy requiring that public schools serve all comers extends only as far down as kindergarten, leaving states to do as they will on preschool.

"This maintains consistency in policy among our early-childhood-education programs," Jim Gavin, a spokesman for the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, told Chalkbeat. He said other state funds for early-childhood education also require proof of citizenship.

Despite the policy, there has been some effort to reach out to families who do not speak English as a first language. Applications for Indianapolis' public preschool program were sent out in four languages.

Colombo found at least one public school that has found a work-around to accept noncitizens; the school uses federal dollars to fund some preschool spots for children who don't qualify for state-funded spots.

–Lillian Mongeau

| NEWS | State EdWatch

Principals in Wisconsin Complain About Walker's K-12 Policies

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker may be slogging away on the presidential campaign trail, but a group of his state's principals haven't let their grievances with him (and state education policy) fall by the wayside. A group of 35 principals wrote to Walker last month arguing that in the current policy and political climate, districts simply don't have the resources and support to provide what they should to students. And as a result of policy shifts stretching back over 20 years, these district leaders say, school boards have not only lost the local control considered vital by many communities, but the "competitive business model" now governing education will lead to "segregated schools."

The governor is famous for successfully pushing to strip public employees, including teachers, of most of their collective bargaining rights in 2011. But Walker also cut about $800 million in state aid to K-12 in the two-year budget he signed the same year. At the same time, the state also adopted lower property-tax caps for districts that cut into their ability to raise revenue.

The most recent budget Walker signed gives a slight boost to education over the 2013-15 biennial budget, although Walker had initially floated a $127 million cut to K-12 education in his proposed spending plan. And once again, lawmakers decided not to raise local tax caps.

But what's been Walker's counterargument? Districts have been given more control, not less, over their budgets, he says, and starting teachers' salaries have gone up.

As for the competitive-business model that the principals say they fear damages public schools? Walker has expanded private school vouchers' influence—for example, he eliminated the previous cap on vouchers and made them available on a statewide basis.

Then there's the governance grievance. The principals reference reduced local control over curriculum, testing, and other matters.

"Governor Walker, you speak of the need to reduce 'Big Government,' and we see that you are doing so as it relates to eliminating positions in government, but the 'power of the people, by the people, for the people' is less in people's hands than it once was," the principals wrote, referencing what they see as the denuded power of locally elected school boards. "... These respected school board members have far less control over local decisions than they did in the past."

–Andrew Ujifusa

| NEWS | Politics K-12

Education Department Grants More Waivers: 33 and Counting

Make that 33. The U.S. Department of Education last week approved additional renewals of state flexibility from the mandates of the No Child Left Behind Act for Maine and Michigan.

Both states received three-year renewals through the 2017-18 school year, meaning they won't have to request another extension during President Barack Obama's tenure (if waivers last that long).

In its renewal-approval letter, the department commended Maine on increasing the number of districts that are participating in coaching and mentoring, as well as on its principal-leadership development.

It also praised the Cross Discipline Literacy Network program, which provides professional development and support for literacy in various content areas.

In addition, the department lauded the state education department for offering "a wide range of supports for school districts and schools, including models for educator evaluation systems, workshops to support local implementation and trainings on various aspects of educator evaluation systems."

Notably, in June, Maine dropped out of the Smarter Balanced testing consortium that provided the common-core-aligned assessments students took this past spring.

As for Michigan, the Education Department applauded its increased use of data to help priority and focus schools (the lowest-performing in the state) make decisions regarding how to best reach and intervene with students who are falling behind.

Waiver renewals have been rolling in as the summer draws to a close. Only the week before, the Education Department granted renewals to seven states—Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Mississippi, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin.

These latest two leave just nine states waiting in the wings.

–Lauren Camera

Vol. 35, Issue 1, Pages 13,25

Related Stories

Back to Top Back to Top

Most Popular Stories