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Monday, 17 June 2013 18:09

29 new dual language programs to open

The city plans to open 29 new dual language programs in elementary, middle and high schools in September, according to a list of new programs released by the Department of Education. New York City's public school students speak over 185 languages at home, as reported in the city's recent Internal Budget Office audit of city schools, and there are dual language programs in at least a half-dozen of those languages.

Dual language programs offer English speakers the opportunity to learn a second language alongside native speakers of another language who become proficient in both English and their native tongue. Ten percent of the city's more than 150,000 English language learners were in dual language programs in 2011, according to the IBO. 

Spanish is the second-most common language spoken at home -- nearly a quarter of New Yorkers are native Spanish speakers -- and many of the city's new and established dual language programs are in Spanish.  But the programs opening this fall will expand the city's dual language offerings to include three languages not offered previously in elementary school. The Polish enclave of Greenpoint, Brooklyn will get a Polish dual language program at PS 34 Oliver H. PerryPS 214 in East New York will open a Bengali program; and PS/IS 30 Mary White Ovington in Bay Ridge will start an Arabic program. A handful of new Chinese programs are in the works for the fall, as well. 

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Dear Judy,

We plan to move to NYC from South America this summer. Can we still register our 5-year-old in kindergarten?

DT

Dear DT,

Yes, of course. New York City has a kindergarten place for every child who applies, as long as you can present proof of residence in NYC and of your child's age.  Most districts have zoned elementary schools. You may register at your zoned school once school opens in September. If you already know your address, call 311, or from outside New York, 212-new york to find your zoned school. You may also enter your address in the search box on the Department of Education's website  to find the zoned school for that address. There may be other school options but you are guaranteed a place in your zoned school or one that is nearby, in case the neighborhood school is overcrowded.

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Tuesday, 11 June 2013 08:36

Regents exams: What you need to know

Today is the first day of Regents exams for New York students; testing continues through June 20. Wondering what it all means? Schoolbook's Patricia Willens interviewed Kim Nauer, who directs the education project at the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School and is an Insideschools contributor. Here's the scoop on the current state of the exams and what the future holds. 

"Why does the state give the Regents tests? What is the goal?

We actually have one of the oldest exams systems in the country. It was always meant to be an exit exam so that we know that students have a certain amount of knowledge before leaving high school. And it’s still that. In fact that role has become more important because with the focus on standardized testing the Regents are essentially the standardized tests for high school. They are a series of tests that gives the state confidence that we’re actually graduating students with a minimum level of knowledge to succeed in the world.

What are the minimum and maximum numbers of Regents a student can take?

In New York State there are five Regents exams you are required to take. You must score a 65 or over to pass. The exams include English, which kids typically take in their junior year, one mathematics exam, two social studies exams — Global History/Geography and U.S. History and Government — and then one science exam. Usually, kids take Earth Science or Living Environment. That’s typically what kids do in New York City and they graduate with what’s called a Regents Diploma. They can’t graduate without it. There are exceptions or accommodations for some special education students."

Read the full interview on Schoolbook.

Read more from the education project at the Center for New York City Affairs, including a guide for students and parents filling out the FAFSA.

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Q: Even though my daughter is just going into 9th grade, I feel like we're already behind in the college process. Some of my friends have started their kids on SAT prep now, in 8th grade. Will my daughter have an advantage in also starting early on this? What else can I do to help her be ready for college?

A: It is NOT a good idea to start prepping for standardized tests this early. Junior year – 11th grade – is the appropriate time. First of all, test scores are NOT the most important part of a student's college application. Emphasizing test scores sends the wrong message. Students who start on test prep too early will be absolutely sick of the test before 11th grade, and they may also sour on the whole topic of college if you start stressing it too early.

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Students who applied in the second round of high school admissions will learn on Friday, June 7, where they were matched, according to middle school guidance counselors, who will distribute the responses at school.  In some cases, students have already gotten letters from high schools directly, letting them know they have been admitted and alerting them of open house dates.

Students who are not happy with their assignment may appeal for another school. Appeal forms will be available on June 7 from guidance counselors and must be filled out and submitted by June 14.

Unlike previous years, the appeal results will not be available by the end of the school year, June 26, but instead will be sent by mail to families sometime in July. The high school admissions process was delayed this year by Hurricane Sandy when thousands of students were displaced from school and the enrollment office was scrambling to find places for them.

Although this year's appeal forms are not yet available, in past years the main reasons appeals are granted are for safety, travel distance from school, health concerns or administrative errors on the student's application.  In addition, students can fill in other reasons. The DOE does not say how many students file appeals and how many are granted. 

In 2012, 75,690 8th graders applied to high school and 68,465 got one of their choices. That left about 10 percent of students without a spot and they entered the second admissions round. Other students who wanted to apply to a new school, or to a different school, also entered Round 2.

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Finals will begin in many New York City high schools next week, and I already have a vision of what "studying,'' will look like in my household.

Banish forever any image of notebooks, highlighters, textbooks, index cards and teenagers hunched over a desk.

Instead, picture headphones or ear buds and dozens of open windows – the digital kind – with sites ranging from Facebook to i-Chat, spark notes, Twitter, Hulu or even Netflix. One hand will undoubtedly hold a cell phone with multiple text messages coming in and out.

As a parent, you may be tempted to shout: "Turn it off! You have finals! Study!"

It's most likely a losing battle; in their minds, they are studying – and to some extent, they are. How much is being retained is subject to debate.

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My daughter is in 9th grade and while she has had some good experiences overall, she's not thriving at her large high school. We've been told that a smaller school might be a better option for her. Is it possible to transfer? We missed the window of applying through the general admissions process for 10th grade!

High school parent

Dear High school parent:

Changing high schools at the end of 9th grade is difficult, but not impossible. There are three official transfers that the Department of Education will allow: Health, travel time and safety issues, including bullying. You can read more about these on our high school transfer page or, for more details, see Chancellor’s Regulation A-101.

In certain circumstances, you can ask for what used to be called a guidance transfer but no longer officially exists. That is best approached with a recommendation from the guidance counselor attesting to the mismatch of child to curriculum or atmosphere of the school, Unfortunately, the enrollment office makes the decision, and although you can specify the school or schools you want, there is no guarantee that she will be assigned to one of them. For this kind of transfer, you can go to the enrollment office right now, or wait until the very end of the summer and go to one of the special high school enrollment centers that operate for a few weeks into the school year. Be aware that these transfers are tough to get but persistence may pay off.

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On Wednesday, a 12-year-old middle school student in Queens hanged herself, leaving behind a note saying she had been harassed by classmates at school and bullied online. What can be done to prevent tragedies in the future? One issue may be that teachers are unaware when students are being bullied, especially when there is cyber-bullying. According to the Learning Environment Survey at IS 109, the school Gabrielle Molina attended, 80 percent of the students said there was bullying; but only 15 percent of teachers said students were bullied.

About 30 percent of IS 109's students said they felt unsafe at the school, although all the teachers reported feeling safe.

The tragedy occured just two days after Chancellor Dennis Walcott joined City Council Speaker Christine Quinn in asking schools to step up antii-bullying efforts before the end of the school year.

Walcott mentioned the latest anti-bullying initiative at a Town Hall meeting in Bedford Stuyvesant on Monday night, telling parents that bullying was still "very prevalent" in city schools. Just two days later, according to the Daily News, he was comforting the family of Gabrielle Molina, a student at IS 109 Jean Nuzzi Middle School, who was found dead that afternoon.

"Any child that takes his life or her life is something that deeply concerns me and hurts me as a parent and not just as a chancellor,” Walcott told the Daily News on Thursday. "Bullying is something that I feel very strongly about. We are always looking at new ways to work on the issue."

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A group of 15 principals from across the city announced this week they will no longer be using results from a controversial new state test as part of their middle and high school admissions criteria.

In a letter to parents, students and school communities, the principals — from Manhattan, Brooklyn and The Bronx — explained their dissatisfaction with the Common Core, which they said did not live up to their expectations.

"Inauthentic tests and test prep are taking away time for quality instruction and authentic learning and testing," the letter stated.

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Wednesday, 22 May 2013 10:57

Parents win victory in PCB removal

The Department of Education's announcement yesterday that it will accelerate the removal of light fixtures that may be contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs) from more than 730 school buildings by December 2016 is an important victory for New York City school children and their families.

Prompted by a lawsuit brought by parent and advocacy groups, the city agreed to halve the timeline for the PCB removal from flourescent lights.The clean-up was supposed to be done by 2021 but the city will expedite the process to be completed in the next 3.5 years.

The renegotiated timeline is a result of more than two years of litigation brought by New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI) on behalf of New York Communities for Change. The advocacy groups sued the DOE in 2011 over its intentions to remove the PCB contaminated fixtures over a ten year period. In March, a federal judge ruled against the city's motion to dismiss the suit, admonishing the city for its "foot-dragging" and "spurious" arguments over the clean-up of school buildings. In a stinging decision, the judge said that he was troubled over the city's dismissive attitude to potential health risks faced by children in schools with PCB-contaminated light fixtures. The settlement will require the DOE to provide semi-annual progress reports and the NYLPI and the court will continue to monitor the city's work until the last light fixture is removed. 

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