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Ask Judy
Sunday, 09 November 2014 14:50

What does your child say?

Another telling clue to successful STEM education: Is your child talking about math and science? Does she bring her enthusiasm home?

One mother we spoke to as part of our project said that her son was thrilled to tell her what he learned about migration when he tallied the number of pigeons in his neighborhood over time as part of a project at the Brooklyn New School. First-graders at Midtown West in Manhattan ask their parents to help them find simple machines at home—a flip-top lid (a.k.a., a lever) and a doorstop (for scientific purposes, a wedge).
 Does your child use words such as “carnivore,” “porous,” “sediment,” “volcanic ash” or “metamorphosis”? Good science instruction builds a child’s vocabulary.

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.

Published in News and views

All pre-kindergarten through 2nd-graders are eligible to be tested for the city's gifted and talented programs—but the overwhelming number of test applicants come from Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. Bronx children are tested at the lowest rate in the city, and some say it's because efforts to reach them are lacking.

"Information is not being disseminated widely," said Bronx parent Jonathan Ettrick, whose two children attended citywide G&T schools in Manhattan.

The tests are free but parents must fill out a short form called a Request For Testing (RFT). Families may submit online or at an enrollment office. The deadline to sign up for G&T testing for the 2015-2016 school year is midnight, Nov. 7th is Wednesday, Nov. 12. The Department of Education announced on Nov. 6 that it had extended the deadline from Nov. 7.

Published in News and views
Wednesday, 05 November 2014 11:36

My son's teachers shun email

I wasn't too happy in September when I found out my son's 1st-grade teachers have no email. The only other person in my life I can't email is my landlord, and I'm pretty sure he doesn't want to hear from me.

Last year in kindergarten, Noodle's 26-year veteran teacher had not only email, but a Twitter feed and Instagram account. So I was just plain confused when I read via a typed letter in my son's backpack on the first day of school that "all correspondence must be in written form." Huh? Like, with a pen?

At drop-off the next day, most parents' reactions were the same. "Notes get lost," one mom said, shaking her head. "When I write to the teacher, I want a record and I want it time-stamped." Another told a story of a former teacher who refused to receive emails from parents, but would on occasion email them when she needed something, like say, last-minute field-trip chaperones. "Why should parents have to function on a two-day time delay?" she asked.

Published in News and views
Monday, 27 October 2014 14:09

What parents can do if a school falls short

If your child’s school falls short in effectively teaching your child math and science or providing the resources necessary to engage him, there is much you can do to help.

Volunteer at the school

  • Start a chess or robotics club after school or during lunch. Shewonia Bowman, an engineer and the mother of two girls, started an early morning math club with interactive games at PS 199 in Manhattan.
  • Help children plant a school vegetable garden to teach them about nutrition and the environment.
  • Chaperone or extend other help on a relevant field trip; excursions to area museums are good ways to bolster science in the school curriculum, for example.

Repeat after me

  • If your child’s school is good at teaching the concepts of math but doesn’t teach quick recall of facts, you may want to supplement at home with more timed drills, a computer program or flash cards.
  • If your child doesn’t respond to old- fashioned memorization drills, look for songs or other ways to memorize facts using pictures or objects. For example, you can teach your child to “skip count” by the dreaded 7s by 
setting the numbers to the tune of “Happy Birthday”: 7, 14, 21 / 28, 35 / 42, 49 / 56, 63...
  • Visit, a free website loaded with drills, to help with memorization of multiplication tables.
Monday, 27 October 2014 13:41

What to look for in the classroom

Whatever your child’s grade level, look for fun-to-read books about math and science, as well as fish tanks, animals such as gerbils, live plants and tools including magnifying glasses, magnets, or electrical circuits. There is more to math and science than what you can find in a textbook. Check the daily schedule, which is usually posted in the classroom. Children should be working on math at least one hour a day. Science lessons should be part of a regular school day, not only a special class once a week. If you see an egg incubator (so children can watch chicks hatch and grow) or caterpillars (which will grow into butterflies), that’s a good clue that science lessons are part of the daily routine.

I am the proud parent of a bright, creative, and unique daughter with learning disabilities. Like many children with high-incidence disabilities, my daughter outperforms in certain academic areas and underperforms in others. From kindergarten until 3rd grade, she relied on these skills and managed in a general education classroom with some extra services. She had caring, committed teachers, well versed in different learning styles. 

By the second week of 3rd grade, however, it became clear that she would have problems. The rapid implementation of Common Core Standards combined with an unsympathetic classroom teacher made her deteriorate—academically, emotionally and socially. The principal told me that an integrated co-teaching (ICT) class—with two teachers, one a special ed expert—did not exist for her grade. I tried to switch to a nearby public school with more services, but because of 2011’s special ed reform, I was told she now had to be served by her zoned school, and they were giving her all that they could. 

Published in News and views
Thursday, 02 October 2014 10:14

Good riddance to A-F school grades!

Say goodbye to the controversial school grading system developed under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Starting this school year, parents will no longer be able to judge schools by their A to F rankings, which were designed to be a simple way to see whether their child's school was succeeding or failing.

Instead, Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña wants parents to look beyond test scores to see what is actually happening inside their children's classrooms and promises the Department of Education will do the same. "Schools are not restaurants," quipped Fariña, "they have unique qualities that need to be captured in different ways."

Fariña announced the new plan for evaluating schools yesterday at PS 503/PS 506 in Sunset Park. She said that before the end of the calendar year, new School Quality Snapshots will be released for all schools and available online for parents to read. They will highlight key results from several different data sources the DOE already collects, including the annual school survey and the Quality Review conducted by experts who visit the school. While test scores will still be included, they will not be the sole focus, nor will they be used to penalize a school that does poorly.

Published in News and views

Ahh, it’s that time of year again. The pumpkins are out, and sunscreen and sandals have given way to light jackets and boots. There’s no denying it: gifted and talented testing is upon us.

Two years ago, I documented my elder son’s attempt to penetrate the exciting, if somewhat notorious world of gifted and talented testing in New York City. Several Pearson debacles and rejection letters later, our son ended up happy and thriving at a wonderful neighborhood school. And although the G&T testing experience taught me a great deal and yielded a few laughs, I secretly vowed then that unless my youngest son was clearly a savant—say, reciting Chaucer and analyzing Bayesian statistics—I’d spare him the hours seated with strangers asking him weird questions.

My husband disagrees. In his opinion, “Delta Force”—my sweet little powerhouse of a 4-year-old—gets the shaft in everything. He wears his brother's old shoes and gets less attention, so how dare we deny him this opportunity. "And besides," he explained, "I want to know how smart he is." 

Published in News and views
Wednesday, 24 September 2014 11:51

What to ask the teacher

Obviously, you want to ask questions as part of friendly curiosity, not grilling the teacher. Remember, you both have your children’s best interest at heart. Here are some ideas for questions:

How do you challenge the best students and help struggling learners?

Reaching children of different abilities in the same class is one of a teacher’s most difficult tasks, particularly when it comes to math. Most teachers know how to find books to match a child’s reading level, but they often pitch math lessons to the whole group in order to cover a certain amount of material.

The best schools ensure the brightest children can move ahead of their peers, either by working on more complex problems or by working independently 
on math websites such as Khan Academy (khanacademy.org). They also ensure struggling kids get the help they need, often in small groups inside or outside the classroom.

Faster learners shouldn’t be told to read a book while other children finish their work. They should be working on math during math time. It’s okay if a teacher occasionally asks them to double-check their work or to help their peers, but faster learners need a chance to do more advanced work.