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Wednesday, 11 February 2015 09:53

How I learned to (sort of) love fuzzy math

Like many NYC parents, I was mad at the Common Core math my 1st-grader was bringing home. He is still learning to read Pete the Cat, so damn you, Common Core, why are you giving him word problems?

But after some digging—talking with reading specialists, math specialists, and frankly, doing more math with my son—I realized that word problems help kids think, if they're done right.

“I think all math should be taught in word problems,” Jodi Friedman, assistant principal and math coach at STAR Academy-PS 63, told me when I visited last week. “You have 12 snacks and three kids. How do you share them? Kids can understand that concept even if they're not doing ‘division.’”

At this small school with a large number of low-income families, teachers use drawings, objects, and role play to help kids learn math—even before they can read well.

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As the city's top public schools get overcrowded, parents are looking for under-the-radar options that can still offer a quality education.

Many families in Brownstone Brooklyn and other rapidly growing neighborhoods are taking a fresh look at schools that have long struggled with low test scores and few resources in the hopes of transforming them.

"If we're waiting for someone to create more good schools, that's not going to happen," said Stephen Leone, a parent at Cobble Hill's PS 29 who is leading a grassroots movement to improve the nearby School for International Studies.

"We have to do it."

Leone is working with families from PS. 29 and two other well-regarded elementary schools to send an influx of local sixth-graders to International Studies next fall in the hope of boosting the middle and high school's performance and fundraising.

As families across the city are rolling up their sleeves to help remake schools, in ways big and small, here are some tips for parents on how to do it from

1. Get organized.

2. Figure out what your community needs and how to get it.

3. Find a willing principal.

4. Get Involved: Join committees, advocate and fundraise for your school.

5. 5. As a last resort, start your own school.

Read the full article on; Five Ways You Can Help Create the School You Want for Your Child.

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Don't expect miracles anytime soon, but the new organization of schools announced by schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña on Thursday may spell the beginning of the end to one of parents' most frustrating dilemmas: what to do when you can't get a problem resolved at your school.

Under Mayor Mike Bloomberg's organization of the school system, if your principal couldn't—or wouldn't—fix a problem, you were pretty much out of luck. Principals were "empowered," which means they didn't have supervisors. They only had coaches, called network leaders. If you called the network leader, you'd be told the network works for the principal, not the other way around. If you called your community school district or high school superintendent, you'd be told the superintendent has no authority. If you called your elected official, same story. If you called 311, your complaint would go back to the principal.

So let's say your child wasn't getting special education services, or the playground equipment at your school was dangerous, or the school safety agents were too aggressive with your child. Short of calling the chancellor directly, there wasn't much you could do.

Published in News and views
Tuesday, 20 January 2015 19:01

Don't blame the Common Core

If the Common Core were a person, I think we could be friends. I’d call her CeeCee and take her out for a drink. She needs it. I imagine CeeCee sobbing on my shoulder, saying something like, “I’m just trying to give all our kids a fair shot. Really I am!” Poor CeeCee. She means well and I think she got a lot more right than anyone is willing to admit, but we’re all just having too much fun hating on her.

It’s all the rage to bash Common Core these days. People see the standards, not as a well-meaning mom like I do, but as a thug with a gun in a dark alley shouting, “Make those kids read developmentally inappropriate texts or you’ll be sorry!” A Siena poll cited by Capital New York in mid-January found that 49 percent of New Yorkers statewide think Common Core implementation should be stopped. Not amended, just stopped. I’m left wondering how many of those voters can actually explain what Common Core is.

In New York City, the standards have become a convenient scapegoat for an education system plagued by big problems. Drastic economic inequality, uneven teaching and mass confusion about pretty much any directive handed down by the Department of Education all serve to create a broken education system. Common Core was intended as a long-term, partial solution to schools that vary widely in quality. If all kids are held to the same grade-by-grade expectations, the logic goes, we’ll be five steps closer to making sure all kids who receive a NYC education receive not just a comparable one, but also a great one.

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At the teacher's prompting, a kindergartner at PS 251 in Queens tries to define "text evidence" for the rest of the class. "Test ed-i-dence," says the 5-year-old, tripping over the unfamiliar words, "is something when you say the word and show the picture."

"Text evidence"? What's with this incomprehensible jargon in kindergarten?

This fall, I visited over a dozen elementary schools and saw firsthand how hard teachers are working to meet the new Common Core standards for reading. I also saw precious time wasted, as teachers seemed to confuse harder standards with puzzling language. 

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If you have a child born in 2010, now is the time to be thinking about kindergarten: Applications are due between Jan. 7 and Feb. 13. You may apply online, on the telephone or in person at a Department of Education Family Welcome Center (formerly known as an enrollment office). You'll find out in April where your child has been assigned.

Unlike pre-kindergarten for 4-year-olds, full-day kindergarten is guaranteed—and required—for all children who turn 5 during the calendar year. Children have the right to attend their zoned school (space permitting) and most do, but you may apply to other schools as well. The Kindergarten Connect application, in its second year, allows parents to apply to up to 12 schools and submit the form online. Welcome news for parents who don't speak English: This year applications are available in nine languages and translators are on-hand for those who apply in person, or by calling 718-935-2009 between 8 am and 6 pm.

This year's elementary school directories are also better organized than previous years', neatly broken down by districts, zoned schools and unzoned schools. (Charter schools are listed in the back. They require a separate application and have a different due date: April 1, 2015).

Here are answers to some common questions.

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Wednesday, 10 December 2014 10:44

Students say segregated schools 'root of problem'

(This article is excerpted from

When Samantha Ramos walks the hallways of her South Bronx high school, nearly all the faces she sees are Latino or black.

Samantha, 15, is a student at the Bronx Academy of Letters on Morris Avenue, where last year just 2 percent of the 584 students were white or Asian. She has recently been thinking a lot about diversity in the wake of the Ferguson, Mo., shooting of an unarmed black teen by a white police officer, and she believes segregated schools like hers are one root of the problem.

"If you're not exposed to different people — people who don't look like you — it's easy to create assumptions and create stereotypes," said Samantha, a 10th-grader, who is part of a newly formed advocacy group at her school called IntegrateNYC4me.

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Are you confused by your child's math homework? Is science an afterthought in your child's school? Take a look at our parents' guide to math and science, including what to look for in the classroom. We give you questions you can ask during parent-teacher conferences as well as suggestions of what to do outside of school!

Insideschools will help you find out if your children are getting the math or science instruction they need in pre-kindergarten through 5th grade—and what to do about it if they aren't.

Our two short videos, one on math, one on science, will give you an idea of what to look for in your child's classroom. 

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On Monday the Department of Education released new School Quality Reports for every city school, fulfilling its promise to abandon the labeling of each school with a single letter grade. For parents who appreciated this simple shorthand when seeking out the best school for their children, this new system may appear daunting. But for anyone who ever wondered how those grades were calculated or why some fluctuated wildly when all appeared stable on the ground, the new system will be a breath of fresh air.

The new School Quality Reports are comprised of two separate documents, both intended to make the existing school data more transparent to parents and educators alike. The School Quality Snapshot is a short and straightforward tool intended for parents. Much like InsideStats on Insideschools' profile pages, it seeks to present the most relevant information for parents in a way that is easy to read and understand. On this document, you won't see any statistical analyses or weighted comparisons, only the raw test scores, graduation rates and school survey results that matter to parents most.

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Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday announced his strategy to support the city's schools that are "most in need of help." In conjunction with some additional coaching, oversight and a longer school day, 94 "Renewal Schools" identified for their poor test scores, graduation rates, and School Quality Reviews will receive $150 million to become "Community Schools" that provide additional programs and social services to meet the needs of the "whole child, whole school, whole community."

Yesterday's announcement doubles down on de Blasio's campaign promise to establish 100 new community schools by the end of his first term. This summer, he repurposed state funds dedicated to attendance improvement and dropout prevention into a competitive grant to fund 45 new community schools. When those schools (to be announced soon) and the additional 94 Renewal Schools are underway, the number will far surpass de Blasio's goal and will establish New York City as the largest system of community schools in the nation.

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