Search News & Views
When I first learned that some parents at IS 187/Christa McAuliffe were gathering signatures to fight an increased percentage of special education students enrolling at their school, I was reminded of an event from my childhood.
When I was 9 or 10 -- about the same age as my son Brooks is now -- neighbors came around with a petition to stop the construction of an apartment development for people with physical disabilities. I have a distinct memory of my dad's immediate disdain for the folks at the door who were far more concerned with their property values than with anyone else's hardships. That was way before he became the grandfather of an autistic child, or for that matter, had any personal relationship with anyone who might benefit from the new housing. It was simply a human knee-jerk reaction—he knew right from wrong, and this was wrong.
I'm having the same reaction to the campaigning Christa McAuliffe parents.
And it's not just me—if you read the 46-and-counting comments on Meredith Kolodner's post, you'll find similar outrage. But you'll also find that these parents are being defended for reasons that make a lot of sense.
April is National Poetry Month. It's also the month many New York elementary schools hold benefit auctions to raise money. Inspired by both events, I composed a poem (much in the tradition of Robert Service, my late father's most beloved balladeer) designed to stir the soul of any parent who ever left a school auction carrying a heavy load after an evening of enthusiastic bidding. Feel free to carry this with you on Poem in Your Pocket Day on April 26.
I got an invitation from the folks at PS 3*
to attend the yearly auction and extend some charity.
I pictured a dry evening at a nondescript bazaar.
Then I beheld a lovely sight: the auction’s open bar!
Next morning, as I tried to soothe the pounding in my head,
I spied a formal document, and this is what it said:
“Your winning silent bids have helped our school an awful lot.
We thank you for your purchases. Now, this is what you bought:
A three-night stay at Ed’s Chalet located near Lake Placid.
A thorough urinalysis of your nucleic acid.
A week at camp. A neon lamp. A rug that’s Oriental.
A round-trip fare to anywhere that’s served by Continental.
An expert consultation to make closets clean and tidy.
A seven-course bonanza at a Bronx TGIFriday.
A wheel of cheese. Five DVDs. Fine wool from Colorado.
Some collard greens and Boston beans. A Spanish avocado.
A ruby ring. A turkey wing. An ancient Chinese bucket.
Some Danish clogs. A scarf from Prague. Two lobsters from Nantucket.
A travel guide. A lantern slide. A chance to see ‘The View.’
A bowler hat. A cricket bat. An outrigger canoe.
A cotton towel. A great horned owl. Fresh corn from Oklahoma.
A Rolex watch. Some homemade scotch. A test for melanoma.
A two-book set on etiquette called ‘What to Tip the Doormen.’
Four tickets plus a chartered bus to see ‘The Book of Mormon.’
A ball of twine. Australian wine. CDs by Justin Bieber.
A scholarly translation of the German ‘Ach du Lieber.’
Two tickets to a matinee that’s showing ‘Mama Mia.’
An in-home test in case you’re stressed that you have gonorrhea.”
My aching head filled up with dread as I read off my tally:
A ballet class. A highball glass. A postcard from Death Valley.
A novel signed by Gertrude Stein. A coat by London Fog.
A weekend at somebody’s house somewhere out near East Quogue.
“This now concludes your purchases,” I read with great relief.
But then I saw a second line, and stared in disbelief.
It seems I’d raised my paddle when they sought a contribution
for items meant to elevate this fine old institution.
I’d bought some new gymnastics mats. I’d bought some spelling books.
I’d paid for nonstick bakeware to be used by lunchroom cooks.
I’d started an endowment for the school’s new marching band.
When all was done, I guess I must have shelled out twenty grand.
“Oh well,” I said, and rubbed my head. “It all goes for the school.”
Then I beheld the final line, and felt like such a fool.
“Next year, we know we’ll see you at our benefit affair.
And we are cheered you volunteered to be the auction chair!”
* Not really. I just needed a number to rhyme with "charity."
State-mandated standardized tests for students in grades 3-8 begin on the Tuesday right after spring break. There are three days of reading (ELA) tests: April 17, 18 and 19 and three days of math the next week: April 25, 26 and 27.
Have the teachers been spending lots of time preparing kids for the increasingy high-stakes exams? Your child's test results help determine the "grade" his teacher will get on her evaluation. the grade his school gets on its Progress Report and even whether the school could be closed down or "turned around".
For students in transition from elementary to middle school and from middle to high school, results on the 4th and 7th grade exams can be a determining factor in where they are accepted!
Given all the testing mania, are teachers being pressured to "teach to the test"? Are they weaving test prep into classroom lessons or has test prep become the lesson?
How has your school handled test prep this year. Too much? Too little? Just right? Take our poll!
A group of parents have launched a petition drive to try and reverse the increasing importance of standardized exams in city schools. In particular, they are opposed to a new law that could get teachers fired if their students' state test scores don't increase sufficiently.
"Parents want their children to have the opportunity to learn, to think critically, to engage in meaningful relationships with teachers, and to have positive school experiences," the Brooklyn-based group of parents write.
They also do not want to see a repeat of the Teacher Data Reports, which used state exams to evaluate teachers and then made the dubious ratings public.
They've gotten about 1,000 signatures by tabling outside schools, mostly in Brooklyn. Now there's an online petition you can sign if you want to join their effort.
Two dozen new charter schools will be opening next fall, adding to the 136 charters now operating in New York City. Applications for most schools are due by April 1, although several have later dates. Parents may apply online using a common application for some of them. Check the New York City Charter School Center website for details.
There's a mix of elementary, middle, high school and transfer schools, with the majority in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan. Admission is by lottery, giving priority to residents of the community school district where the school is located. A few have additional admission's priorities. Some locations have been hotly contested by community schools and not all new schools have an address yet, or even a confirmed district. Some, like the three new Success Academies and Icahn or Explore charters, are part of an existing network of schools; others are so-called "mom and pop" charters, without a big organization behind them.
Kindergarten registration begins today and the early word is that some Manhattan and Brooklyn schools have waitlists for kindergarten, although they are somewhat shorter than last year.
The waitlist phenomenon occurs every spring after the first round of applications. Long lists tend to shrink or disappear after families move, choose a private, charter or a gifted and talented program. Still it causes some anxious moments for parents waiting to learn where their child will attend elementary school and there are always some schools that don't have space for all zoned students.
Some parents are still waiting to hear where their children have been placed. Because of a glitch with the Department of Education computer system, some letters announcing the placements weren't sent out until Friday.
Rezoning on the Upper East Side meant the zone for popular PS 290 shrunk and school officials worried they might not even fill all the seats. Instead there is a waitlist of about three dozen zoned students, said Parent Coordinator Sally Mason. PS 59, also on the Upper East Side, will be moving into a brand new building in September, but already has a wait list, the principal said. DNAInfo reports a waitlist of 28 students at PS 116 in the east 40s.
In downtown Manhattan, where several new schools have opened and zoning lines have been redrawn, popular PS 234 still has a waitlist of 38 zoned students. Last year there had a similar number but the school managed to place all of the students, said Parent Coordinator Magda Lenski. She said it was too early to predict what would happen this year. PS 41 in Greenwich Village, also has zoned children waitlisted. PS 3, which shares a zone with PS 41, last year added an additional kindergarten to acommodate the overflow from 41.
Kindergarten registration begins March 26 after families learn this week where their children got accepted. Schools sent out notification letters via email and regular mail by March 23.
While the majority of public school children attend their zoned elementary schools, other families apply to schools the way 18-year-olds apply to college. They visit many, work out the odds of admission and may even have a list of "safetys," and "reaches".
The Education Department's system of choice allows parents to apply virtually anywhere, even though priority in admissions goes to students in the school's zone and district. The odds of getting accepted at a school outside of your neighborhood or district can be slim.
Because of overcrowding some zoned schools can't accommodate all their students, so parents in the know begin early to look and apply elsewhere. (The Education Department will assign students to another district school if there is no space at the zoned school.)
In addition to zoned schools, families may apply to magnet or dual language programs, unzoned schools and charter schools, which are public but independent of the DOE. Since there is no central application, parents go from school to school to apply. In mid-April, children who qualify for gifted and talented programs will apply to another school, or several schools.
We're wondering, how many schools did you apply to for your 5-year-old? And, although it's not in the poll, we're curious to know how many acceptances you get! Take our poll and comment below!
Sparks flew at the Brooklyn Secondary School for Collaborative Studies on Monday night as the chief academic officer defended the city's heavy reliance on standardized exams to judge schools, principals and teachers.
Deputy Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky was under fire all night from the crowd in the packed school auditorium in Carroll Gardens. The two principals on the panel who said they believed the testing regime had damaged education in city schools.
The former head of the Office of Accountability kept his cool and acknowledged that the current state exams did not do a good job at measuring "critical thinking," but he denied that the exams were overly influential and said that better tests were coming. Why, then, has the Bloomberg administration made such a public spectacle of the A through F grading system, which is mostly based on student progress on the exams, if they aren't very good? Polakow-Suransky never answered that question.
You can read more about the event, which was moderated by Insideschools reporter Meredith Kolodner, on GothamSchools and SchoolBook. Watch a video clip of the meeting from the Grassroots Education Movement:
I stood frozen in front of the principal's white board—it's the first thing you see when you arrive at my son's elementary school.
The principal writes an inspiring message on it every day. A point of etiquette. A new vocabulary word. Or something sweet and simple like welcome back from a vacation or a cheery observation about the weather. All the kids read it. The parents, too. Today, this was the message:
We will be going to go around with a jar of treats, the class which estimates closest to the correct number wins the jar!!!
What are we talking about here? Hundreds of treats? Thousands? I can't take it anymore. My son's school has been co-opted by Willy Wonka.
Nearly a dozen new middle schools will open in the Bronx and Brooklyn next fall. New school applications are available now from elementary school guidance counselors in districts 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 16, 17, 19, 23 and 32. Students who apply to a new school may get an offer from two schools -- one they applied to in the main round and a new school. They'll get both offers in the same letter and then will be able to choose, enrollment officials said. That letter will come out some time in May.
A list and description of the new middle schools is on the Department of Education's website. A few, like PS/IS 5 in the Bronx, PS/IS 8 in Brooklyn Heights and Community Roots Charter School in Fort Greene, are successful elementary schools which are expanding to include middle school grades. Those will be good options, which will give priority to continuing students. The Urban Assembly Unison School in Clinton Hill and Young Women's Leadership in the Bronx, are created by organizations that have effectively run other schools and are good bets as well.
Other schools are virtually "replacement schools," moving into buildings where previous middle schools have failed and are being closed by the DOE.
Applications for new middle schools are due March 26.