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Tuesday, 12 June 2012 10:26

Ask Judy: I'm moving to NYC

Dear Judy,

My husband and I will be moving to Manhattan sometime this fall or winter (probably just after Christmas). Our oldest child will start kindergarten this fall. However, he was born in August 2006, so he will be six. The cutoff where we live is September 1 but they allow holding back if parents choose to do it. Can he continue in kindergarten, or will the Department of Education be inflexible and require that as a six year old he has to go to first grade? Also, what choices do we have as new arrivals in the middle of the school year?


Dear Out-of-towner,

For New York City kids, there is a rather inflexible rule: You must enter kindergarten in the year you turn five and you must enter first grade in the year you turn six. However, when out-of-towners show up their kids are placed in the last grade in which they were registered. You have to submit school records to verify the grade – but then you need those records as part of your registration.

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I'll be one of the speakers at a workshop at New York University, Tuesday, June 5, from 12 to 1:30 p.m. to help parents figure out their elementary school options. The event at the Kimmel Center, 60 Washington Square South, Room, 803, is designed for NYU staff, but others may come as well. Maggie Moroff from Advocates for Children will talk about special education and Terri Decker of Smart City Kids will talk about gifted programs.

The workshop is free, but you must register: Call 212-998-9085 for more information

We'll give you information about how to register your child, how to apply to schools outside your zone, and what you should look for on school visits. There will be time for questions and answers as well.

Can't come? Look at our pages on how to apply to elementary school and our YouTube video on what to look for in an elementary school.


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Tom Allon may be a long shot in his quest to be the next mayor,  but he has some fresh ideas about how to fix the city's schools. The publisher of Manhattan Media kicked off his campaign Wednesday with a speech at The New School that suggests a simple way to improve public schools: Help teachers perfect their craft.

He proposes that teachers get training that's more like what medical students get. Instead of working as a student teacher for just three or four months--as is now the case--teachers-in-training should have three years of "clinical practice...three years of student teaching with skilled mentor teachers in the classroom as their guides," he said, quoting from a 2010 report commissioned by the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education.

"Teachers need ongoing, constant professional training to help them overcome what they never received in a School of Education," said Alllon, who is both a public school parent and a former teacher. He points to the New American Academy, a Broookln school where teachers work in teams of four, headed by a master teacher. The teams meet for 90 minutes at the beginning of each day to plan lessons and learn from one another (while the kids are eating breakfast or exercising in the gym). The school is led not by a principal or a CEO, but by a headmaster, the head of the master teachers.

The mayoral race is bound to be filled with debates over charter schools, school closings, teacher evaluations, and new and better ways to test our children. But it's nice that the first salvo is a call for something we can all agree on: better teachers make better schools.


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The New York Times recently ran the second piece in a series called A System Divided. The series aims to "...examine the changing racial distribution of students in New York City's public schools and its impact on their opportunities and achievements." The article, "Why Don't We Have Any White Kids?" is a great piece that among other things informs the reader that integration has been shown to have positive effects on young children. From my own personal experience, I believe that is true.

I grew up in a West Texas town with a large Mexican population. In 1977, when I was set to enter second grade, the state began a program of integration of public schools, and in this case it took the form of forced busing. In my neighborhood most of us walked to school, and I vividly recall the first day when a dusty yellow school bus pulled up and let out a group of children who quietly followed the principal into the cafeteria. After school, when my mother came home from work, the first thing I said to her was "Mommy today all the Mexicans came to school." My mother looked at me and replied, "What do you think you are?" Without speaking to the family pathology behind that exchange (it's a long story) what I can say is that I was raised in a home where Spanish was not spoken and race was rarely mentioned. My seven-year-old self received a good little shock. My curiosity about the group of children who came on the bus grew.

I ended up becoming friends with a few of the children, and I still remember them well. I went to their homes, homes where no English was spoken. I ate their food and played with them and through them and their families I found my Mexican heritage. I still remember their names: Ana, who had five older sisters. I loved to watch them brushing or fixing each other's hair or arguing with their grandmother about staying out late; Benny, a shy slight child whose father dropped him off in a beat up red Chevy pick truck. Once, there were chickens in the back, and Benny dragged us over to see them. Those moments stayed with me all these years.

In childhood identity can be a mutable thing. Through play, children take on and off roles in ways adults can't or won't. How do you instill acceptance of differences and pride of self? Get them while they're young. By not acknowledging a Mexican identity, my parents did me a disservice. Thanks to integration I cobbled together a greater sense of myself.

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New York’s Department of Education recently announced 24 city schools were given new names. About the same time, 5th-graders learned which middle school they were selected to attend. Combined, the two events might result in letters from DOE like this:

Dear scholar (formerly known as “student”),

We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted to the Albert Einstein Academy of Integrated Sciences in the Rosa Parks Campus, formerly known as Middle School 525. The ivy-covered walls of AEAISRPC eagerly await you, and we feel sure that your class will set high standards for the five or six future classes who will attend this school before its name gets changed again.

Please note that the Albert Einstein Academy is merely one of several institutes of learning (formerly known as “schools”) at the Rosa Parks Campus (formerly known as George Wallace High School for Accounting and Carpentry, and before that as Washington High). Also sharing the building will be:

- Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Academy of Dramatic Arts (formerly Laurel & Hardy High)

- Fashion School of the Bronx (formerly known as Bronx Fashion School, and briefly known as the J-Lo School for Showing You Got It Girl Fashion Academy before the department invalidated the student-run name-selection contest)

- Middle School 32 (formerly MS 23, but the stone carver was dyslexic)

To avoid confusion and metal detectors, we request that you and other Albert Einstein Academy students enter the building through the Relativity Gate (formerly known as “that door near the gym”) and follow Princeton Hall (formerly “the hall”) to your homeroom (formerly a closet).

We hope you are as excited about attending Albert Einstein Academy as we are about the prospect of providing a high-quality educational experience that integrates the new Common Core Standards within a cohesive metric designed for optimal success (formerly known as “teaching to the test”). We believe students in this pioneering middle school will leave 8th grade fully prepared for success at some of the city’s top high schools, including Global Scholars Academy at Flushing, the College and Careers Exploratory Institute at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Campus, and the Academy of Humanities and Applied Science at Shoreline High School in the Ephraim Zimbalist Jr. Campus at Greenpoint West.

We can’t wait to see you this September. So study hard and keep learning right up until the last day of school on June 22 (formerly June 27).

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With the permission of the chancellor, many New York City schools are hastily scheduling no classes on June 25 and 26, two of the final three days of the school year, choosing to convert unused “snow days” into two days of professional development for teachers.

For the schools that choose this option, the last day of school will effectively be Friday, June 22, and not Wednesday, June 27, as originally scheduled. All New York City public schools will be in session on June 27, but educators expect a large majority of parents will not send children to school for that final half-day in the middle of the week.

No school on June 25 and 26 is good news for parents and kids eager for an early start to summer vacation. But it is an unwelcome surprise for working parents whose summer plans don’t begin until June 28, and who must now arrange child care during what they had assumed would be two full school days.

Last week, Chancellor Dennis Walcott issued a surprise memo giving all schools the option to use June 25 and 26 for professional development. Extra days added in case of severe weather had gone unused during the mild winter.

Many schools hastily opted for professional development after conducting a vote among teachers. Some schools also are asking parents to vote on the matter, although such votes typically are arranged with little notice. "It's really up to the principals to decide," said Department of Education spokeswoman Margie Feinberg, adding she didn't know how many schools had decided to cancel classes.

At one Manhattan elementary school, PS 87 on the Upper West Side, a majority of parents attending the Parents Association’s May meeting reluctantly voted Thursday to endorse no school June 25 and 26. The vote came after several parents complained about what they said was a lack of respect for working parents’ time and plans.

PS 87 parents learned about the matter Wednesday afternoon, hours after the school’s teachers voted to approve taking professional development on those two days. Teachers will use the time to review the state’s new Common Core Standards, which will force curriculum changes at most NYC schools.

PS 87 Principal Monica Berry told parents that report cards would be sent home with kids June 22. “We treat that Friday as the last day anyway,” Berry told parents. Berry noted many summer camps open the following Monday, and school attendance is typically low during the final few days of any school year.

Students who do not attend school on June 27 will be counted absent in official records. That could be a factor in some students’ applications to middle school or high school, as elite schools often consider attendance as a factor in admissions.

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Wednesday, 16 May 2012 16:38

Talent show trumps standardized tests

I'm happy to report that what loomed large for my son at school a few weeks ago had nothing to do with the mandatory standardized 3rd grade ELA and math tests, and everything to do with LearningSpring's annual talent show.

To our relief, the tests were given the appropriately small amount of attention they deserve. They don't drive the school curriculum, and their results will be refreshingly meaningless. We already know that my son is academically well-below grade level. He will get practice taking tests—not a bad thing—and no teacher will be fired because he didn't score high enough. But I understand that our school's common sense attitude is atypical in NYC public schools, and I support and admire Anne Stone and Jeff Nichols for taking a stance against these tests that take so much away from and contribute so little to our kids' education.

What Brooks got out of the talent show cannot be measured by a test. He shared his love of music with the whole student body, and he experienced the teamwork of the school coming together to create a performance for their friends and families. Although the teachers and therapists were guiding them, we knew from the way Brooks had talked about rehearsals that this was their show. And from the moment the two upper grade masters of ceremonies warmly welcomed the parents, my husband and I became enchanted.

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Not only are the state tests confusing for the kids. Now teachers say they can't figure out how to score them.

Long-time principals and teachers say they have never witnessed the level of confusion that has broken out in scoring sessions for the state math and English tests this year. Principals have received several emails with corrections to the scoring guide created by the testing company Pearson. More than 5,000 city teachers have been pulled out of their classes to grade the exams, a job which is scheduled to wrap up Wednesday.

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Monday, 14 May 2012 12:17

Must I send my son to summer school?

Dear Judy,

My son’s teacher said he might have to go to summer school so he won’t be left back. Does he have to go to summer school? I want to send him to camp.

Annoyed parent.

Dear Annoyed,

Good news: No one is going to force you to send your son to summer school – attendance used to be required, but now is voluntary. However, they can keep him back from the next grade if his school work does not warrant promotion. It is all covered in Chancellor’s Regulation A-501. More good news, summer school sessions run until August 8th at the latest. So he can go to the last three weeks of camp – most camps have flexible schedules with campers signing on for a few weeks rather than a whole summer.

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Friday, 11 May 2012 14:13

Poll: Should teachers be paid more?

It’s the end of teacher appreciation week: the DOE's number two guy, Shael Suransky, taught a class, Chancellor Walcott has been visiting schoolsMayor Bloomberg and countless others shared some #thankateacher love on Twitter, and maybe a few students brought apples to their teachers. We wonder, how can we best show our teachers appreciation all year round?

There are several politically charged answers to the that question that have been highlighted in the news lately. But, what about better pay? It’s no secret that teachers aren’t in it for the money. Teaching can be a highly rewarding job but it is not a career path paved with financial gold. A public school teacher in New York City with a BA can expect to earn $45,530 his first year, according to the UFT’s salary schedule.

Still, that’s almost 10K more than the national average: $36,502, according to Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s most recent survey of education from around the world. But the high cost of living in the Big Apple, eats up much, if not all, of the difference.

After three decades on the job NYC teachers with a Master's degree can make over $100,000. Of course if you luck out and get a job at TEP, The Equity Project Charter School, you'll make $125,000 your first year there. But that's the exception.

Average starting pay for teachers in Finland, Diane Ravitch’s favorite place to learn, is actually lower, $32,692 (of course, the Socialist country has much better government benefits, but that’s a blogpost for another day). Teachers in Japan make $27,995 starting out and $30,522 is first-year pay for teachers in Korea. In Poland, on the other hand, starting salary is $9,186 on average. Luxemborg is one of the best places to teach if you’re after some green, starting teachers there make $51,799. (All these numbers are from OECD.) 

With that perspective, maybe New York’s not so bad! Then again, teachers are some of the most valuable members of society, should we pay them more? What do you think is a fair starting salary? Take our poll!

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