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(This article first appeared on the Urban Matters blog at the Center for NYC Affairs at the New School).
Everyone knows gentrification causes friction. And as recent clashes over proposed changes to attendance zones in Manhattan and Brooklyn demonstrate, the public schools are where gentrification battle lines sometimes get drawn.
But there's another side to the story. Gentrification also occasionally leads to better schools for everyone in the neighborhood, rich and poor. The city should follow the example of these success stories as it crafts solutions for other schools in changing neighborhoods.
Applying to high school in New York City is a confusing process and there is a lot of misinformation out there. In a wide-ranging discussion last year at the New School, our panel of experts took a look at some of the most common myths—and busted them. We decided to rerun them for this year's 8th-graders facing down the Dec. 1 high school application deadline.
This weekend, Sept. 26 and 27, is the Department of Education's gigantic citywide high school fair from 10 am to 3 pm at Brooklyn Technical High School. Prepare for a hectic, information-packed day.
You can attend information sessions about high school admissions, and applying to specialized high schools, led by staff from the education department's enrollment office. This will be helpful especially if this is your family's first time applying (and it will give you a place to sit down and take a breather.) Enrollment specialists will cover most of the same information that was presented in the summer workshops. You can find links to those here.
Most schools will have a table staffed by students, teachers, parent cordinators, guidance counselors and sometimes the principal. Each borough has a dedicated space between the 2nd and 7th floors. The nine specialized high schools are set up in the first floor gymnasium. That's always very crowded so be prepared!
Middle school admissions season kicks into high gear this month for parents of 5th-graders. You can meet school representatives at evening district fairs beginning Wednesday, Sept. 30. Middle school directories for 2015-2016 are online and hard copies are available at elementary schools.
Now is the time to sign up for school tours and open houses! Check school websites or call the school to find out when they are being held. In some popular schools, especially in Manhattan where there is active school choice, many tours are already fully booked. Don't despair. If you're shut out, try contacting the parent coordinator to see if additional tours will be added. In parts of Brooklyn, tours haven't even been set up yet at schools, but they should be by the end of September.
When you visit the schools, be sure to ask about admissions requirements. The directory listings are not always specific.
Mayor Bill de Blasio made a splash with his promise to offer all children classes in computer science over the next decade. But tucked into his education speech on Wednesday was something that may have an immediate, concrete impact: a pledge to hire reading specialists for all the city's elementary schools by fall 2018.
Needless to say, reading is an essential skill. Research shows that children who don't read well by 3rd grade are unlikely to graduate from high school. Unfortunately, New York City has not previously invested in reading specialists—that is, teachers who have a master's degree focused on reading issues.
School's open! For parents who still have questions—or who don't have a school assignment—here's where you can get help and find answers.
Your school district
Got a question about enrollment? Missing special ed or English language services? Contact your newly appointed family support coordinator. There is one for each of the city's 32 districts. Their job is to work with individual parents who have problems or concerns. It's a new position so we don't know how well it is working yet, but it's worth reaching out.
Family leadership coordinators replace the DFAs (district family advocates). Their job is to support PA/PTAs and SLTs (School Leadership Teams) and to lead district workshops and events. If you're wondering why your school's PTA isn't active, or have a question about how to get involved, talk to your district's leadership coordinator. Many of them are former DFAs and know their schools very well.
For more tips about the start of the school year, see the DOE's "Back to School Basics" here. Make sure to download a copy of the Parents' Bill of Rights. Your school should also be sending one home with your child.
With the massive expansion of universal pre-kindergarten this year, there are bound to be snafus. Some 51 programs closed before the start of the school year. If you were assigned to one of those, and need a new placement, call the pre-k outreach team at 212-637-8036 for help. If you never got a placement, or are new to the city, you can go to one of the Department of Education's new registration centers, contact the outreach team or call the DOE's enrollment helpline at 718-935-2009. You can also contact programs directly. (Sometimes you need several options!) Here's a list of schools that had available seats at the end of August.
Students who are new to New York City public schools, or who are re-entering city schools after a time away, can enroll in school at temporary registration centers set up across the city beginning Sept. 1.
The centers are open Monday–Friday, 8 am–3 pm through Sept. 18, with the exception of Sept. 7, Labor Day, and Sept. 14-15 for Rosh Hashanah. Family Welcome Centers will be closed until Sept. 21.
All high school students as well as elementary and middle school students who do not have a zoned school must go to a registration center to enroll in school.
Elementary and middle schools students who have a zoned school, including special education students who have a current New York City–issued IEP (individualized education plan), should wait until the first day of school, Sept. 9, to register directly at their zoned school. Regardless of whether or not you have a zoned school, new students with IEPs from outside of New York City should go to a registration center.
New York City students performed slightly better on state standardized tests in 2015 than they did in 2014, but about two-thirds of test-takers in grades 3–8 still failed to meet state standards on either the ELA (English language arts) or math tests, according to figures released by the state education department today. The so-called "opt-out" movement gained momentum this year with nearly 2 percent of eligible New York City students refusing to take the tests, the city said; statewide some 20 percent of 3rd–8th-graders sat them out.
Math scores continue to be somewhat higher than ELA, with 35.2 percent of students meeting the standards—scoring a 3 or 4 on the Common Core–aligned exams, as compared to 34.2 percent last year. Only 30.4 percent of students passed the reading exam, up from 28.4 percent last year.
Parents can find their child's test scores on their NYC Schools parent account. If you don't yet have an account, you can contact your school, or local school district, to help you set it up. Scores for individual schools and districts are now posted on the Department of Education's website.
The gap in scores among ethnic groups remains large throughout the city and state. "Black and Hispanic students face a discouraging achievement gap," said State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia in a conference call with reporters. Similar to last year, more than 50 percent of white and Asian students in the city scored 3 or 4 on the English test, while only about 19 percent of black and Hispanic students did. In math, 67 percent of Asians passed, compared to 57 percent of whites, 24 percent of Hispanics and 19 percent of black students. [See the chart above].
Students with special needs and those learning to speak English fared the worst: Only 4 percent of English language learners passed the English test and 14 percent passed the math. Of the students with disabilities, nearly 7 percent scored a 3 or 4 on English and 11 percent on math, down slightly from last year.
Algebra is a gateway course—the foundation for higher-level math and a critical hurdle that New York students must clear in order to graduate. Eighth- and 9th-graders who do well in it are steered to more advanced courses that prepare them for college and good jobs. Yet in New York City, nearly half of all students fail the Algebra Regents exam on the first try, and thousands end up re-taking the exam multiple times, caught in what educators call the "algebra whirlpool."
A new policy brief, the third in a series on math and science education by Insideschools and the Center for New York City Affairs, examines factors that fuel the algebra whirlpool. It also highlights what some schools are doing to help struggling students who lack the mathematics foundation to master algebra by 9th grade pass the course and move on to higher-level math.
Reporters from Insideschools visited more than 100 middle and high schools and found that with the rollout of the Common Core standards, many educators have been thinking about new ways to teach algebra and to structure class time so students fully understand the material. We also found that there is heightened attention in school to getting algebra instruction right, given the importance that higher–level math plays in college readiness and careers.
Applying to high school in New York City can be a full-time job for 8th-graders and their families. Students who don't have an adult to help them have an even harder time navigating the system—and making the most of their options. Now, in two city neighborhoods, an innovative Department of Education program trains students to help each other through the process.
Modeled after a successful high school college access program, the Middle School Success Centers began as a pilot program on the Lower East Side and in Cypress Hills in late 2013, targeting neighborhoods where students could really use the help.
At IS 171 in Cypress Hills, counselors from the Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation offer intensive high school choice counseling and training for youth leaders in one of the poorest communities in the city. The middle school youth leaders are trained in a summer program and commit to working with their fellow students during lunch hour and after school to help them understand the admissions process and make good choices on their high school applications. They apply for the job and are paid $50 per month.