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Sex education classes will start in the spring semester at all of the city's public middle and high schools. When the initiative was announced in August, a poll of Insideschools readers showed that more than 40% of you thought these classes were long overdue, and another 16% thought that schools were already mandated to teach sex ed.
Today Gotham Gazette published an in-depth report, Sex Education in the City, which details the prevalence among city teens of sexually-transmitted diseases and quotes teachers and public health advocates who believe the mandated classes are not comprehensive enough.
All that is required under the plan is that schools offer "sex education lessons during one semester in both middle and high school," reports Gotham Schools, and parents can opt their children out of the classes.
Read also about the history of sex education in NYC schools, and about the mandated HIV/AIDS curriculum in the full report.
We at Insideschools face a mighty task — keeping up with all the city schools.
If we visited one school every school day, it would take us nearly 10 years to get to all 1,700 of them. Increasingly we depend on the Insideschools community — public school parents, students and educators-- to let us know what’s happening. What did we get right, what didn’t we get right? What’s changed since our visit? Our paid staff consists of two full-time editors, plus freelance writers and part-time reporters, and we can't do it alone.
District 3 is holding an elementary school fair to showcase its 21 public elementary schools. On Saturday, Oct. 15, principals, teachers, students and parents will be on hand to talk up their schools and explain the admissions process. District 3 schools include neighborhood schools, schools that have brand new magnet-themed programs to attract students from outside the zone, French and Spanish dual language programs and gifted and talented programs.
The fair is sponsored by the Community Education Council (CEC) and the district President's Council. It runs from 10 am to 1 pm at PS 165, 234 West 109th Street, between Broadway and Amsterdam. It is the first such elementary school fair that we have heard about this year. Any others planned? Post the event on the calendar and share the news through in comments below. Also see the District 3 forum for individual school tours.
A standing-room-only crowd greeted Department of Education presenters at the first of six Gifted & Talented information sessions, held Oct. 5 on the Upper West Side. It was a "friendly, lively and through description of the G&T application process," according to Robin Aronow of School Search NYC, with three DOE representatives speaking for more than an hour, and answering parents' questions for another half-hour.
Virtually all of the information presented is detailed in the G&T Handbook, hardcopies of which were available that night (before they ran out) as well as on the DOE's G&T webpage. The handbook describes the process, includes frequently asked questions, an admissions timeline and a practice OLSAT (Otis-Lennon School Ability Test) by age. The OLSAT is one of two measures that will be administered to children applying for kindergarten through 3rd grade, along with the BSRA (Bracken School Readiness Assessment). The DOE will be looking for a new assessment next year when the current contract with the testing company, Pearson, expires.
There are three G&T sessions remaining: Oct. 11 in Queens, Oct. 12 and 18 in the Bronx and Oct. 18 in Brooklyn. Is it worth attending? Probably not, if you read the handbook carefully, but if you like to hear information directly from the enrollment office or have additional questions, you might benefit.
Parents of prospective kindergartners in some New York City neighborhoods tour elementary schools the way families elsewhere visit colleges, (although they may not bring their 4-year-olds along).
Discovering and keeping track of what schools to visit when can be a challenge. Robin Aronow of SchoolSearchNYC has done preliminary research and compiled information about tours at some Manhattan schools. We've posted those dates on our new District 2 and District 3 pages and we'll add information about schools in other districts if we get it.
The first day of 1st grade typically holds a few unpleasant surprises, and Thursday's start of the school year was no exception. The most serious problem was rain, which at my daughter’s elementary school meant returning students were quickly handed off to unfamiliar adults at the door rather than allowed to gather in classroom groups in the playground.
For me, rain meant no meeting the new teachers, no leisurely mingling with parents, just a quick goodbye to my nervous 5-year-old as she was whisked inside the building. The coddling my daughter and I experienced in kindergarten, when camera-toting parents were allowed to accompany their darlings from a secluded gathering spot to the new classroom, had been replaced by institutional efficiency. The first day of kindergarten is a once-in-a-lifetime moment, but the first day of 1st grade is more like your second wedding: You know a lot more about what awaits, and you don’t get as many presents or take as many photos.
Second unpleasant surprise: After watching my daughter disappear, I walked 10 paces and realized I was still holding her backpack.
Mayor Bloomberg declared an end to tenure as an "automatic right" for New York City teachers, when he announced last week that only 58% of over 5,000 eligible teachers were approved for tenure this year. This number represents a sharp departure from just five years ago, when 99% of eligible teachers earned tenure. The mayor attributed the significantly lower number to a tougher teacher rating policy that went into effect in 2010.
Of the teachers who were not granted tenure, 39% will have their probationary period extended through the coming year, and the remaining 3% were denied tenure, excluding them from working for city schools. According to The New York Times, a similar amount of all New York City teachers received unsatisfactory or "U" ratings this year, "suggesting the percentage of truly bad teachers in the school system may be similar across experience levels."
State law mandates that teachers are eligible for tenure after completing a three year probation and allows districts to determine how tenure will be awarded. In December, the city announced a new four-point rating scale for earning tenure--highly effective, effective, developing, and ineffective. Teachers must rank in one of the top two categories two years in a row to earn tenure. If principals rate teachers still-developing or ineffective, they must give written feedback to teachers on how they may improve. Principals and their supervisors are supposed to weigh test scores, parent feedback, classroom observations and other factors to determine the ratings. (Gothamschools.org has a copy of the "effectiveness framework" rating scale.)
Bloomberg and schools' Chancellor Dennis Walcott say the new system enforces higher standards for teachers and gives teachers clearer guidelines on how to improve. The pair went a step further on Bloomberg's weekly radio show, when the mayor questioned the need for tenure and suggested it's an unnecessary throwback from the McCarthy era. Walcott predicted that the number of teachers denied tenure, or put on probation, will increase next year.
Critics charge that the four-point teacher-effectiveness rating scale is not clear enough and fear that principals may give poor ratings for personal reasons that have little to do with teacher performance. Two teachers writing on GothamSchools.org say school administrators discriminated against them because of union activity.
What do you think? Do you agree with the stricter requirements for teacher tenure? Take our poll!
Just two days before the end of the school year, many students and their families are still waiting to find out where they will be attending school in September.
High school appeal decisions are coming out today, according to the Department of Education. Eighth and 9th-grade students who were unhappy with the match they got in either the first or second round of high school admissions, or who may have moved far away from the high school to which they have been assigned, had the right to appeal the match. Those who appealed should be able to get their decision letters at school today.
In districts which offer middle school choice, 5th-graders could also appeal their matches. According to a DOE spokesperson, those results will be out "by Monday at the latest." With school ending on Tuesday, that news can't come soon enough.
And for elementary school, today is the last day to register for gifted & talented programs for students who got offers this week. Meanwhile, there are children on waitlists for kindergarten at their zoned schools who are hoping to hear that spots have opened up for them because other students have accepted placement in G&T programs. Waitlisted children were given alternative kindergarten offers in late May, but many are still hoping for a seats in their neighborhood schools, preferring not to send their child to a school far from home.
We've asked the DOE for the latest list of schools that still have zoned students on waitlists, and will post it when we get it.
Was your appeal granted? Is there still a waitlist at your school?
As the elementary school’s outdoor dance festival dissolved into a free-for-all waltz party, I hoisted my 5-year-old daughter into my arms and stumbled out a 1-2-3 cadence. It was a glorious June morning in New York, and I cherished the moment — part of that brief time when kids still want to dance with their parents.
Later, after the waltz ended and I reunited my child with her kindergarten class, I endured what I call the “kinder-cling”: tears, a quivering lower lip, outstretched arms, cries of “Don’t go!” My daughter’s wonderful teacher expertly jumped in, and I did what wise fathers do in such situations: detach, walk briskly away, trust that the situation will improve once I’m no longer present, and choke back my own separation anxiety.
That instance seemed to define my daughter’s first year in elementary school. I still am a necessary and desired presence in my child’s life, but I’ve turned over tremendous responsibilities to people who ten months ago were total strangers. Teachers, classmates, principals, even other parents now often exert as much (or more) influence on my daughter as I do.
(I’ve also become aware of powerful social forces present in a large New York elementary school with a turbo-charged parent association. I didn’t think sending my kid to kindergarten would lead me to adopt a whole new social circle, but that’s pretty much what happened. Two phrases keep echoing in my brain: “You will be assimilated” from Star Trek, and “Your people shall be my people” from the Book of Ruth. If those words aren’t in the school’s parent handbook, they ought to be.)
Just as important, my child’s personality is rapidly evolving. It recently dawned on me that a whole imaginary family — a dozen fictional siblings and cousins who last year were a constant invisible presence in our one-child household — had not been mentioned in months. When I asked about their whereabouts, my daughter casually said they were “away.” I suppose a kindergarten class of 24 other kids supplies enough real drama that fictional characters become superfluous.
I knew all these changes would happen, because it’s what elementary school is designed to do. Good teachers educate and mold children more expertly than I can. Criticism from a classmate will deflate a young ego faster than any timeout issued by a parent. We raise children to be well equipped for the real world, but that world doesn’t appear the day they turn 21. It arrives in chunks, often one school day at a time.
And so I waltzed with my clingy kindergartner, enthusiastically returning her embrace, unsure how much longer such displays of affection will be tolerated. Soon, the notion of dancing with your dad at a school function will be, like, totally gross, and “Don’t go!” will be replaced by “Why are you still here?” Like a child’s imaginary family, some things simply go away.
“Do you have a child-centered marriage?” someone asked me last week. My initial response was, “I was not aware there was any other kind.”
Turns out, most therapists (at least the ones I Googled) say couples have either a child-centered marriage or a parent-centered marriage. It boils down to whether the adults’ time and passion are focused on their children at the exclusion of their own needs. To put it another way: Has an intense commitment to being good parents come at the expense of a healthy romantic relationship?
I gave the question serious thought. I pondered it as I walked my 5-year-old daughter to and from kindergarten, as I hovered around her in the park, as I hung out during a play date, as I prepared her dinner, and as I gave her a bath and put her to bed. I thought about it Saturday as I sat in a stuffy school auditorium watching her perform with her after-school troupes, and thought about it some more during my three-hour volunteer shift at her school’s street fair.
And I definitely gave the question serious thought Sunday night, as I calculated ways to cram in some freelance work on this crazy June week in which my daughter’s elementary school has a half-day on Tuesday (for “clerical” reasons) and no school on Thursday (a “staff development day”).
Verdict: I have a child-centered life! Part of this is unavoidable: Raising a child involves a ton of work, not the least of which is keeping up with the demanding pace set by New York’s top public schools and the Byzantine rules of the Department of Education. But much of my situation is the result of intentional choices: My wife and I deliberately opted for a no-nanny existence, and we’ve set high-minded standards that we hope will result in a good kid. Call it “child-centered” if you want. I prefer to think I’m making tough decisions and legitimate sacrifices for my daughter’s long-term benefit.
I might be noble or foolish, depending on your perspective. Many marriage counselors blame a child-centered outlook for marital difficulties, and say parents need to carve out more time to be couples. Others say the reverse is true: Too many self-absorbed adults neglect their children’s welfare.
The pragmatist in me believes a middle ground exists somewhere. Children can have their needs met without being placed on pedestals. Husbands and wives can be model parents yet also provide their kids good examples of how adults behave in a loving relationship. As we nurture our children, we can still nurture ourselves.
My wife and I took a small first step toward adjusting the balance: We now make sure to regularly hug and kiss each other in the presence of our daughter. Fortunately, some sacrifices made on behalf of my child are less onerous than others.