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by Sarah Darville, Chalkbeat New York

Few black and Hispanic students won admission to eight of the city's specialized high schools this year, leaving the schools' diversity figures unlikely to change as their admissions process faces continued scrutiny.

Just 5 percent of offers went to black students, and 7 percent went to Hispanic students — numbers identical to last year's admissions figures — though those two groups make up 70 percent of the city's eighth graders. Asian students won the biggest share of the offers, at 52 percent, while white students claimed 28 percent, according to numbers the Department of Education released Thursday.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, Chancellor Carmen Fariña, and civil-rights advocates have said those figures for black and Hispanic students are unacceptably low. In the past, they have expressed interest in moving away from the current admissions system for those schools, which relies solely on the Specialized High School Admissions Test.

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High school acceptance letters went out last week and the good news is that 92 percent of 8th graders who applied got one of their choices. Of those, 76 percent got one of their top three picks. The bad news? Once again, thousands of kids were disappointed: eight percent of the more than 75,000 applicants didn't get accepted anywhere. That is still better than last year, when 10 percent of applicants received no match.

If you were one of the 5,800 8th graders who wasn't matched to a high school (or if you're unhappy with your match) it's time to look at the list of the schools that still have space (pdf). There is a wide range of large and small schools with available seats, including several good arts programs, but for the first time in more than a decade there are no new schools opening. 

Most of the top performing selective schools have a handful of seats only for students with special needs. This year those seats are reserved for students who receive "special education services for more than 20 percent of the instructional school day," according to the Department of Education.  If you don't know whether you qualify, ask your guidance counselor to check in the online student enrollment system (SEMS).

School representatives will be at the second-round high school fair from 11 am to 2 pm on March 14 and 15 at the Martin Luther King Educational Campus at 66th and Amsterdam in Manhattan. You can also meet with guidance counselors at the fair to help consider your options. 

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Q: I've been denied by two schools already and now I'm waiting for the decisions from my other colleges. One school has asked me for my first-semester grades as well as an essay that explains why my grades have been inconsistent. Is this a good sign, or not? I have such low confidence now, and I'm worried about being admitted anywhere. Am I on the right track?

A: This will come as news to you, but ALL colleges to which students have applied—even colleges to which they have been admitted early—ask high schools to send first-semester grades. They want to be sure that all applicants are keeping up with their academics.

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February break is the right time to plan what your children will be doing during the warmer, balmy days of summer. Where to start? Check out our guide to free and low cost programs offered throughout the city. Launched last year, our listings highlight more than 100 free and low-cost programs for children and teens, and include summer and school-year programs in math, science, art, humanities, and academic prep.

To help you get started, here's a sampling of free programs you'll find in our guide:

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Wednesday, 11 February 2015 12:39

Fariña urges parents to run for CECs

Zoning, space-sharing, charters—think you have no say? Since 2004, Community Education Councils (CECs) have offered New York City parents a voice in shaping school policies in their districts and addressing community concerns. Today, Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña urged parents across the city to run for an Education Council seat and take a direct role in the education of their children.

“Education Councils make important contributions to their communities and I want to encourage parents across the city to apply for a seat,” the chancellor said in a Department of Education press release. “We need strong CECs in every district and citywide.”

While few dispute CECs' influence on zoning these days, many of the councils' other roles are advisory and have historically been dependent on how much the mayor and schools chancellor were willing to listen. Laurie Windsor, president of CEC District 20, says things are changing. "It was more difficult with the prior administration," she said. "Parents now are more hopeful than in the past about our place at the table with the DOE."

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Q: My son is interested in a school that is very popular but has the reputation of not giving students access to "real professors" until the 2nd or 3rd year. Instead, they use a lot of "adjunct" faculty. When I asked the representative of this school about this at a college fair (much to my son's embarrassment), he said, "all our teachers are professors." How do I find out the truth?

A: Remember the TV show that said "the truth is out there"? Well, the truth about adjunct faculty is out there, too, and it's not pretty. Don't expect complete truth from admissions representatives—their job is to bring in as many applications as possible.

Adjunct faculty—also called contingent faculty—teach part-time, maybe one or two courses a semester. They are usually not given the same benefits as full-time staff; they have no health insurance or retirement plan. Therefore, they are much cheaper for the school to hire.

There are two kinds of adjunct faculty: those who teach in addition to their other, regular full-time career, and those who depend upon their adjunct teaching for a living. An example of the first is a lighting specialist who works full-time at a theater but may teach a class on theatrical lighting at a nearby college. This is not exploitation; she is an active professional sharing her knowledge with students, and the college gets someone with expertise that none of their other teachers has. In the second example, teachers—most of whom have masters' degrees or doctorates—are paid anywhere from $1,300 to $1,900 per course, per semester. Obviously, one cannot live on that income, and so the adjuncts need to work at two or three schools to make ends meet.

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Now that bringing cell phones to school will soon be OK, the calls I dread are finally about to stop.

"Hello, we have your son's cell phone,'' a voice from his high school says. "We had to confiscate it because he was using it. You can pick it up between 4 and 4:30 pm today."

Routinely, the next call comes minutes later from my son, using a friend's cell phone. He'll be begging me to drop whatever it is I am doing, run to his school and get his phone because he simply cannot live without it.

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By now many families of high school seniors have probably seen the scary article in last Sunday's New York Times. You know, the one that details the panicked quest for college acceptances causing many students to feel they need to file 20 or 25 applications just to have a chance.

I have a 3-word response:

Get a grip.

You don't have to file 20 to 30 applications. Usually 8 to 10 will do, and will offer you a choice of acceptances. But you need to be willing to listen to some advice:

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On Monday the Department of Education released new School Quality Reports for every city school, fulfilling its promise to abandon the labeling of each school with a single letter grade. For parents who appreciated this simple shorthand when seeking out the best school for their children, this new system may appear daunting. But for anyone who ever wondered how those grades were calculated or why some fluctuated wildly when all appeared stable on the ground, the new system will be a breath of fresh air.

The new School Quality Reports are comprised of two separate documents, both intended to make the existing school data more transparent to parents and educators alike. The School Quality Snapshot is a short and straightforward tool intended for parents. Much like InsideStats on Insideschools' profile pages, it seeks to present the most relevant information for parents in a way that is easy to read and understand. On this document, you won't see any statistical analyses or weighted comparisons, only the raw test scores, graduation rates and school survey results that matter to parents most.

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Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday announced his strategy to support the city's schools that are "most in need of help." In conjunction with some additional coaching, oversight and a longer school day, 94 "Renewal Schools" identified for their poor test scores, graduation rates, and School Quality Reviews will receive $150 million to become "Community Schools" that provide additional programs and social services to meet the needs of the "whole child, whole school, whole community."

Yesterday's announcement doubles down on de Blasio's campaign promise to establish 100 new community schools by the end of his first term. This summer, he repurposed state funds dedicated to attendance improvement and dropout prevention into a competitive grant to fund 45 new community schools. When those schools (to be announced soon) and the additional 94 Renewal Schools are underway, the number will far surpass de Blasio's goal and will establish New York City as the largest system of community schools in the nation.

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