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Ask Judy

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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Q: So we all read the article in the New York Times last week about waiting lists and the extreme things some applicants do to get noticed and maybe picked. This seems to create an unnecessary amount of stress, since so few colleges take students who are waitlisted. And by May 1, we’re enrolled somewhere anyway. So what’s the point? Why don’t colleges either accept or reject people and get it over with?

A: Over the years, colleges have found the use of a waiting list to be quite helpful – well, helpful to them. On the other side of the question, just ask a student who has enrolled at her #2 college if she’d like a chance to go to her #1 school – most would be thrilled!

As colleges have become increasingly conscious of how their acceptance and enrollment rates are perceived, and how these affect the all-holy rankings, they have come to use the waiting list in a variety of ways. In general, applicants are wailtlisted for one of three reasons:

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A group of public school parents and community groups filed a complaint today with the U.S. Office of Civil Rights alleging that New York City’s high school admissions policy discriminates against black and Hispanic students by concentrating them in low-performing schools where they are more likely to fail.

Filed by the Educational Law Center in Newark, N.J.,  on behalf of 13 parents, the Alliance for Quality Education and several community organizations, the complaint takes aim at the city’s complex system of school choice which assigns students to 386 high schools across the five boroughs.

Excluded from the complaint are the eight specialized high schools, including Stuyvesant, Bronx High School of Science and Brooklyn Tech, which require an entrance exam. Admission to those schools is governed by state law, not city policy. Also excluded from the complaint are “international” schools, which serve new immigrants, and transfer schools, which serve students who have been unsuccessful at traditional schools.

“Of the 386 high schools at issue in this sweeping federal complaint, 242 schools (or 63%) have a student population that is more than 90% African American and Latino. Thirty-seven of the 386 high schools (or 10%) have a student population that is more than 24% white, thus more than double the percentage of white students in the district,” the Alliance for Quality Education said in a press release.

Some scholars, including Bruce Fuller, Richard Elmore and Gary Orfield in their 1996 book "Who Chooses? Who Loses?," have suggested that an unfettered free market of school choice tends to increase racial and economic segregation because the best educated and wealthiest parents are best equipped to navigate a complex admissions process.

The Parthenon Group, a consulting firm hired by DOE to examine its NYC high school admissions, wrote in a 2008 report that concentrating students with high needs in any one school increases the overall chances of student failure and school closure. “Yet, despite this evidence DOE has continued to concentrate the highest-need students in minority schools, creating a vicious cycle that has doomed more minority schools to closure,” the press release said.

The Bloomberg administration dramatically expanded high school choice, closed low-performing schools and created hundreds of new small schools in the hopes that competition would force bad schools to close and allow good schools to flourish. Rather than attending school based on their address, all students must now apply to high school. Some selective or “screened” schools rank the students they want to admit based on their test scores and grades; others schools are assigned students at random. Some popular schools may have 5,000 applicants for 125 seats and attract high-performing students; unpopular schools struggle to fill their seats and get mostly low-performing students

The complaint calls this a “hands-off” approach to school assignment which results in disproportionate numbers of black and Hispanic children being assigned to low-performing schools.  “There are, apparently, no controls to ensure a distribution of students that will not overwhelm certain schools with high concentrations of students with high needs,” the complaint states.

As a proposed remedy, the complaint suggests the city could institute a system of "contolled choice" that limits the number of high needs students in any school.

The DOE responded by saying that choice has “empowered” families and suggesting that critics wanted to “turn back the clock.”

"This administration inherited an unequal system-–where zip code often determined a child’s fate,” deputy chancellor Marc Sternberg said in a press release. “Today, because of our nationally recognized high school admissions process, every student has the freedom to apply to any school throughout the city.” Sternberg said that graduation rates had increased for black and Hispanic students during Bloomberg’s tenure.

A copy of the complaint can be downloaded below.

 

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A catalogue arrived the other day from Urban Outfitters, the ubiquitous clothing chain that dresses so many U.S. teenagers. Along with hipster uniforms of skinny jeans, chunky jewelry and platform sandals, I saw photographs of long-limbed girls wearing shorts so skimpy they might as well have been bathing suit bottoms.

With so little left to the imagination, I couldn't help asking the teenage boys who reside in my household if this was how girls dress at their New York City public high school.

"All the time,'' was their answer, and I should not have been surprised. Since middle school, I've repeatedly noticed girls coming to school wearing not much at all.

Apparently, I'm not the only one who has taken note. A lot of New York City public school officials aren't terribly happy about the scantily clad students whose desire to shed layers increases as the weather warms up.

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