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By Judy Baum
City Limits devotes its entire March issue to Harlem Children's Zone, featuring a comprehensive report by Helen Zelon, long-time contributor to Insideschools.org. The lead article, "Is the Promise Real," chronicles the history and status of the initiative, developed by charismatic leader Geoffrey Canada, to envelop whole neighborhoods with social services from cradle to college.
The HCZ now includes the Baby College, starting with pre-natal services, pre-school (Harlem Gems), three Promise Academy charter schools covering elementary through high school, and more than a dozen family and employment support organizations. It has caught attention and praise from philanthropists and politicians, including President Obama, who see it as a template for the nation's troubled school children. A substantial sum of federal funds will go to 20 school districts to replicate the initiative.
The report offers an analysis of the schools' practices and early results and describes the difficulty of measuring social service impact. It also examines the potential for replication in cities less saturated with social services and patrons than New York.
Check out the Q&A with founder Geoffrey Canada, and a video of interviews with Harlem residents online at City Limits. To read the full report, you'll have to buy the journal at a newstand or subscribe..
On February 4, ARISE , a coalition of individuals and 24 organizations of which AFC is a member, issued a statement charging that the Department of Education's plan to reform special education does not go far enough.
The DOE revealed its Implementation Plan for the Reform of Special Education: A Two-Year Phase-in Process Focusing on the Advancement of Student Learning and Achievement in a meeting with advocates earlier this week. While ARISE praised the plan " to the extent that the DOE's guiding principles indicate the removal of roadblocks to quality supports and services for youth with disabilities," it also said that "the DOE's plan is short on both detail and accountability."
The DOE's plan states that "every school should educate and embrace the overwhelmingly majority of students with disabilities,' but that a "cohort of students....with highly specialized needs will continue to be clustered in specialized instructional programs." The DOE confirmed that District 75 will continue to serve those students.
According to Maggie Moroff, coordinator of the ARISE coalition, the plan falls short in two ways. First, while encouraging and supporting principals to institute recommended changes in special education, there is no mandate to hold them, or officials in the department, accountable for doing so. Second, although the DOE's plan calls for the development of new programs, "it has done remarkably little to marshal the work [already] done in New York City schools and in academia." Incorporation of existing successful programs could speed up implementation, she noted. Click here for the ARISE statement.
Dear Judy - I have been reading about the [schools that are closing] and I am wondering: what happens to students at those schools? Are they allowed to transfer? Also, if they have not accumulated enough credits to graduate by the time the school is closed, what do they do?
---Worried about the kids
Dear Worried about the kids:
According to Liz Sciabarra, director of enrollment at the Department of Education, 9th- graders in phasing out schools will be offered the opportunity to apply for another school. Kids should speak to their guidance counselor about how to proceed. Another option: visit the local enrollment office.
Tenth graders will also be helped to transfer, if they wish, but by and large, the DOE expects students, especially in the upper grades in phase-out schools, to stay put and graduate. Be aware that many schools do not accept kids after 10th grade and sometimes the new placement will be no better than the current situation. It would be wise to contact the guidance counselor or the enrollment office 212-374-2363 as soon as you can to start the process.
Back in 2008, a similar question came up and Peter Dillon, then of the Office of Portfolio Development, told us that in general, as closing schools phase out and the school gets smaller, students will get more individualized attention and they will be able to acquire enough credits to graduate, even if they are now behind.
According to the DOE, students who don't accumulate enough credits to graduate will be given a new placement - or as the DOE puts it - "will be able to earn the needed credits in another setting." Students shouldn't settle for a GED program as the new setting, unless it's the best option. They are entitled to stay in school until the age of 21.
By the way,some students might want to consider a transfer alternative school. These schools are open to older kids who can't make it in their regular high school, and may do better in a setting that has strategies for helping them get back on track to graduate. Check out our listings in the Find a School section or on the DOE's website. Interested students should contact the transfer schools directly to apply.
A recent poll by Insideschools.org found parents overwhelmingly against the bake sale restrictions imposed by the chancellor. Insideschools' readers were not alone in their disapproval.
The outcry by parents and kids against the Department of Education's ban on bake sales seems to have convinced the DOE to amend Chancellor's Regulation A-812. Under proposed changes, parent organizations would be able to hold one bake sale per month at any time of day, and sell "non-approved" food during that sale. To many, that means cupcakes. Sales are not allowed in the cafeteria.
For students, looking for revenue to support their clubs and teams, the regulation relaxes the time constraints. Kids could sell approved foods outside the cafeteria at any time of day and for as many days as they wish. Still no cupcakes there, in fact no homemade goodies at all. Students would be limited to selling only those serving-size, packaged snacks that are on an approved list.
The regulations governing the sale of foods and snacks is part of a larger Wellness Policy which includes ways to improve kids' physical fitness. Both the Wellness Policy and Chancellor's Regulation are open for public comment until Feb. 22.
Let us know what you think. Do you approve of bringing back the bake sales?
Parents packed into the District 3 CEC meeting on Jan. 20 to hear Department of Education officials address the impact of charter schools moving into public schools in Harlem, and overcrowding in Upper West Side schools.
According to Robin Aronow, of School Search NYC, who attended the meeting, several proposals were presented by Elizabeth Rose, of the Department of Education Office of Portfolio Development, including a plan for a new elementary school on the Upper West Side.
Rose said that there are no new charter schools planned for District 3 next year. She reported that parents are joining school and public officials in walk-throughs of buildings where the amount of space allocated to a particular school-- its "Instructional Footprint" -- is under question due to space utilization or overcrowding. Presumably, the addition of parents could lend credibility to the process of siting charter schools or deciding how many children can successfully be educated in a given building.
One of the DOE's proposals is to merge PS 185, a pre-K-2 school and PS 208, a 3-5 school under one principal. The DOE will hold meetings with the two schools to discuss this proposal. While acknowledging city funding constraints, Rose also promised to look into the lack of full day pre-K programs to fill the demand in the upper part of the district.
Further downtown, the DOE proposes to open a new elementary school at the MS 44 school building to help alleviate overcrowding caused by new residential construction and an increase in families choosing to attend their zoned public schools. The Computer School, the citywide gifted and talented Anderson School, and a new middle school, West Prep, now share the building.
To accommodate a new school, Anderson would have to scale back to two classes per grade instead of its recently enlarged capacity of three, and in the future, West Prep would move to a new location. The enrollment procedure for the new school is not yet determined.
The DOE believes that the opening of a new school, coupled with previously enacted zoning changes to take effect in 2010, would alleviate overcrowding at downtown schools such as PS 87 and PS 199. However, she noted the possibility that PS 199 might need to cap its enrollment and redirect some of its zoned students to PS 191, nine blocks away.
While appreciative that they had convinced the DOE of the need for a new school, CEC members and parents at the meeting expressed concern that the three kindergarten classrooms offered would not be enough to handle the demand. In addition, they were adamant that the overcrowding problem needed a long term solution, including a new school building rather than squeezing several schools into a building with inadequate space.
Parents of non-zoned siblings at the affected schools, said they put much time and energy into their schools and expressed concern that they would lose priority placement and be forced to take children to two different schools.
According to officials, there will be no change in the district gifted and talented programs for fall 2010. The District 3 lottery this year will be limited to PS 76, PS 145, PS 149, PS 165, PS 185, PS 241, PS 242. PS 84 will be in the lottery for its dual language program.
It has not yet been decided whether out-of-zone and out-of-district children will be allowed to apply through the lottery to the popular Dual Language programs at PS 75, PS 163, and PS 84. (UPDATE: DJ Sheppard of the District 3 office confirms that all families from outside District 3 may participate in the lottery, although preference is given to District 3 applicants.)
And, please share your thoughts in comments below.
My mother told me that I should write to you about the fact that that I forgot all my math facts when the teacher gave us two minutes to solve 32 multiplication problems. Do you think two minute tests should be allowed?
Jake (4th grader)
Short, timed tests are tough, but they do have a purpose. Before we discuss that, I want to assure you that you are not alone -- many kids lose it when they first meet a timed test, even in places where test prep pressure is not as strong as it is in NYC schools.
Fortunately, what you describe is not the situation you will face when you take the New York State math test in May. Then you will have an hour and a half -- plenty of time to pace yourself. You can tackle the easy problems first, and then go back to those you have trouble with.
Nevertheless, you will be given short two-minute test prep exercises all along the way to graduation and to do well on them, you have to keep your cool and you have to practice. Just as you will before every test, tell yourself, this test will help me find out what I still have to work on. Then tell yourself, I am going to do the best I can. Then take a deep breath and start.
I can almost guarantee that the more math facts become automatic in your head, the easier it will be to perform under pressure. So remember, it's really important to practice, practice, practice. Get someone at home to time you so you are used to the pressure when the actual quiz is given.
And be glad that this was not an oral test. Oral tests, timed or not, are the hardest for some people. Sometimes in math, the teacher asks you to stand up in front of the whole class and add a long row of figure, or solve some problems. At least that's what I remember from my long-ago education and it truly undid my confidence in arithmetic. Try not to let that happen to you. As long as you know the combinations and strategies you need to solve math problems, and use your "keep cool" techniques, you can gain confidence.
Timed or open-ended, tests are supposed to be a way to figure out what you have learned and what you need to work on further. I personally think the short, timed tests are okay, as long as they are teaching tools and not an important part of a kid's grade. After all, thinking fast is helpful, but being thoughtful is what education is all about.
What can I do if a teacher intentionally lowers my son's grades? He is in the 2nd grade of the gifted and talented class. At the parent teacher conference the teacher said that my son was doing very well - reading on a 3rd grade level, But she did mention some issues with his behavior. When we got the report card, it had only 1's and 2's! We think she intentionally lowered his grades because of his behavior. What should we do? Please advise.
The simplest solution is to make an appointment to discuss the report card with the teacher. Most schools use a uniform report card and use specific standards to decide on grades. That is hard in 2nd grade because there are no state standardized tests on which to base a grade. In 2nd grade, however, there are progress assessments to help the teacher form a judgment.
Some teachers and some schools give low grades in the first marking period to give the kids an incentive to work harder. You should find out if that is the policy in your school, or if that was the teacher's intention. And, ask more specifically about what progress measures the teacher used to give him his grades. Bring the issue to the principal if you get no satisfaction.
Your letter implies that the teacher lowered his grades because of his behavior. This should not be - there are two separate issues here. As the teacher of a gifted class, perhaps she has unrealistic expectations. She should know that lots of young boys have trouble settling down in school; they are naturally active and find it difficult to sit still for long. However, if there is a real problem with your son being disruptive or inattentive, you should work with him and the teacher to address the situation.
He will face all kinds of teachers with all kinds of rules and he has to accept that and adjust to them. If you think the overall tone of the classroom is too strict, consider discussing the problem with other parents in the class so that you can bring many voices to the principal for a discussion of the problem.
Good luck for a more balanced assessment in 2010.
The State Supreme Court today ruled against the Department of Education’s plan for development and use of the playing fields on Randall’s Island, long used for public school sports. The city, in partnership with the Randall’s Island Sports Foundation, brokered a deal with 20 private schools to upgrade and expand the fields. In exchange for hefty contributions towards the redevelopment project, the private schools would have a 20 year lease for the exclusive use of the majority of the area during school hours. According to the State Supreme court the city’s plan is illegal, and must go through full community and environmental review.
Community groups from East Harlem and South Bronx, park advocates, public schools parents, and Civil Rights Attorney Norman Siegel, returned the case to court after a previous ruling (February 2008) was ignored by the city. According to Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters, who reported on the ruling, “The judge was so angry at the city's failure to respect the previous court decisino in the case that she ordered the city to pay court costs and attorney fees."
Reporting the original case in 2008, The New York Times said, "The ruling means that the Bloomberg administration must essentially start from scratch by submitting its deal with the private schools, which include Buckley, Dalton and Chapin, through the Uniform Land Use Review Process. That process requires major projects to be approved by the City Planning Commission and the City Council, and to be reviewed by the local community board and the borough president. The agreement had been approved by the city's Franchise and Concession Review Committee, a majority of whose members were appointed by Mr. Bloomberg."
A dozen New York City high schools were awarded gold medals by US News and World Report, in its annual ranking of the 100 best high schools in the nation. Schools are ranked according to the degree to which all students meet state standards, and that minority and economically disadvantaged students in the school performed better than statistically expected on state tests. Schools that met these benchmarks were ranked according to their performance on Advanced Placement or Baccalaureate tests, factoring in the achievements of poor and minority students.
The top 100 schools won gold medals, including 12 NYC high schools. Of those, six were highly selective specialized high schools. Of the 461 schools that were given silver medals, NYC high schools were awarded 20, and of the 1,189 bronze medalists, NYC schools received 42. One school won honorable mention.
Gold medalists, in alphabetical order, are Baccalaureate School for Global Studies, Bronx High School of Science, Brooklyn Tech, High School for Dual Language and Asian Studies, High School of American Studies at Lehman College, High School for Law and Public Service, Newcomers High School, New Explorations for Science and Technology +Math, Queens High School for Science at York College, Staten Island Tech, Stuyvesant High School, and Townsend Harris.
The December holidays are approaching, and I am wondering how to broach the topic of other religious celebrations to our son. He has already come home from school talking excitedly about an upcoming Kwanzaa parade and chatting away about Santa Claus. While I think it's great that my young son is being exposed to other cultures in his public school, how can I be sure that the school will know where to draw the line? What are the guidelines about holiday celebrations in school? In this day and age, where it seems Christmas is everywhere, how can I make sure to help him distinguish between our family's traditions and those that others celebrate?
Thanks very much,
For years, parents in a multi-cultural city like NYC have been facing the "December Dilemma"—the desire to maintain personal practices and traditions in a context of competing holidays and symbols. New York City families celebrate Christmas, Chanukah, Eid al-Adha (which sometimes falls in December), the winter solstice, Kwanzaa and more. And some do not recognize any religion.
Of course, parents have the responsibility of teaching their own beliefs and principles to their kids but schools have long been the locus of this dilemma, because that is where kids encounter competing cultures. The subject has been deliberated in lower courts across the land, yet there is no definitive Supreme Court ruling. However there are guidelines, weighing in on the side of keeping in-school holiday celebrations secular, and inclusive. You can find a summary of guidelines and court opinions about appropriate practice, endorsed by 17 educational and religious organizations, at First Amendment Center.
More to the point of your own concerns, a recent "reminder" (below) to principals from the Department of Education, does set boundaries on holiday displays and appropriate celebrations. The key is to help your school maintain an atmosphere of mutual understanding and respect for the diversity of the city, even if your own school does not have a widely diverse student body.
Reminder about Guidelines for Holiday DisplaysAll schoolsNew York City is a diverse multi-cultural community. It is our responsibility as educators to foster racial, ethnic, and cultural heritage. Therefore, we must be cognizant of and sensitive to the special significance of seasonal observances and religious holidays. At the same time, we must be mindful that the Constitution prohibits a school system from endorsing or promoting a particular religion or belief system.With that in mind, please remember these guidelines with respect to the display of cultural and holiday symbols:
- The display of holiday symbol decorations with secular dimensions is permitted. Displays that depict images of deities, other religious figures, or religious texts are prohibited. Permitted symbols include, but are not limited to, Christmas trees, kinaras, dreidels, Menorahs, and the Star and Crescent.
- Holiday displays must not appear to promote or celebrate any single religion or holiday. Therefore, any permitted symbol or decoration must be displayed simultaneously with other symbols or decorations reflecting different beliefs or customs.
- All holiday displays should be temporary in nature.
- The primary purpose of all displays should be to promote the goal of fostering understanding and respect for the rights of all individuals regarding their beliefs, values, and customs.
If you find a glaring breach of this policy, take it up with the appropriate school staff and parent committees. Contacting the Office of Mandated Responsibilities, Room 218 at 52 Chambers Street, 212-374-6095 is the next step.NYC schools' policies about accommodating students' religions in respect to released time for religious instruction and days off for celebrating holidays, are outlined in Chancellor's Regulation A-630.Meanwhile. enjoy the school holiday parties, plays, and songs. December is fun—no matter how you celebrate.
P.S. Also puzzled about holiday gift giving to teachers? Check out an Ask Judy on that subject.