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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.

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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.

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When Insideschools staff visits a high school we like to hear about students' hopes for the future. Some say they like animals and want to become veterinarians. Others may like to design and build things and want to become architects or electricians. But these and many other occupations are closed to students who don't take chemistry, physics or advanced mathematics in high school.

A new policy brief by Insideschools and the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School examines the importance of a college-prep curriculum in math and science—algebra 2, physics and chemistry—and how many high school students have access to it across the city. The results are sobering: More than 150 of New York City's public high schools—or 39 percent—do not offer a standard college-prep curriculum in math and science; more than 200 schools do not offer a single Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate class in math or science.

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When I describe my personality as a parent, I like to say I'm half hippie, half Type-A. The way I approach summer is a prime example. I want my kids at one with nature, bare feet in the dirt and a Hudson River breeze in their hair, while organic popsicles melt on their faces. But, school is never far from my mind. I want my boys to have fun, but I don't want two months of unabashed play to undo all the hard work they accomplished this past year. During the course of 1st grade, Noodle jumped nine reading levels. Studies show that many kids regress over the summer if they don't read. My Type-A side cannot bear the thought. 

In June, when Noodle's teacher mentioned the New York Public Library's superhero-themed Summer Reading Challenge, I thought it sounded too good to be true, better suited for a docile child who likes to sit and color all day. "He'll never do it," I thought of my strong-willed, soccer-obsessed kid. Still, I decided to give it a shot. Turns out it was the best decision I ever made (in June, at least).

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If you've just finished 7th grade, it's time to be thinking about high school!

In addition to a summer reading list for 8th grade, you've got another hefty tome to read over the summer: the 2016 high school directory. At 650 pages, this year's directory, is bigger than ever. It's also online.

Take the time to look through the opening pages which detail the timeline, different admissions methods, types of high schools and factors to consider as you select a high school. If you want more explanation, and an opportunity to ask questions from the folks who make the rules, the Department of Education is offering high school admissions workshops in every borough beginning next week. Enrollment officials will provide an introduction to the high school admissions process including the different the types of programs offered, and give tips on how to fill out your application.

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At one particularly awful moment during my older son's awkward second year in middle school, the principal turned to me as I sat in her office:

"No one goes through middle school unscathed," she said, with empathy.

I tried to laugh, appreciating her sensitivity, but it didn't seem at all funny. In the space of a few months, my formerly angelic child had lost all of his so-called "friends," struck his gym teacher in the head with a ball (accidentally, he insisted, although the teacher begged to differ) and harbored a locker that smelled so foul it should have been condemned.

He'd discovered that cool (read: expensive) sneakers matter, and learned with dismay that most of the girls in his class seemed at least a foot taller. And of course, I wasn't allowed anywhere near the school; we had to designate a meeting place a few blocks away.

That's middle school for you. Middle school hurts, but middle school matters. I had gone to see the principal under the mistaken impression that we were going to have a conversation about math and science. (Tip: When choosing a middle school, find out what math and science courses they offer, including the 8th-grade algebra Regents, or your child could start high school behind in key areas.)

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For many years metal detectors have been accepted as a fact of life for more than 100,000 New York City public school students. Now, some City Council members are questioning whether they are necessary—and taking first steps to have them removed.

"I don't believe we should have metal detectors in our schools," said Councilman Brad Lander, (D-Brooklyn) who has backed legislation that would require the Department of Education to report on the schools that have permanent metal detectors and those that are subject to random scans. "Telling our young people that we look to them as potential criminals in the schools that have metal detectors does more harm than good."

Lander hopes the bill, introduced by Vanessa Gibson (D-Bronx) and Corey Johnson (D-Manhattan), will encourage the Department of Education to clarify why some schools have metal detectors and others don't. He is also pressing the department to outline a clear policy on how schools can have metal detectors removed.

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With all of the hoopla that accompanies G&T testing for rising kindergartners every spring, it’s easy to forget that there are opportunities for older elementary school students too. If you have a rising 4th- or 5th-grader who is ready for more of an academic challenge, this Friday, May 22 is the last day to apply for a gifted and talented program for fall 2015.

Unlike applications for the younger grades, the RFP (request for placement) for 4th- and 5th-graders must be made in person at a Family Welcome Center. There is no special test; instead a student’s eligibility is based on three main factors, all weighed equally:

1.         The 2015 NYS English language arts and math exam scores
2.         2015 report card grades
3.         A form, "Descriptors of Exceptional Characteristics,” filled out by the child’s teacher

After you submit an RFP for your child, the Department of Education will collect all the information including test scores, grades and teacher recommendations and will notify families of their child’s eligibility in late summer. Student’s who qualify will receive an application to submit, along with a list of all G&T programs with seats available for 4th- and 5th-graders. 

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Eighth- and 9th-graders who applied to high school last fall but were not matched to any school, or who wanted to apply to a different school in a second round of applications, learned the results of their new application this week, the Department of Education said.

In the first round of admissions, about 8 percent of 8th-graders applying for 9th grade got no match, forcing them into a second round. Other students chose to re-apply to different schools that still had open seats in March.

Students who are unhappy with their high school assignment, or whose circumstances have changed since they applied, now have the option to appeal and try for a different school. Appeal forms are available from school guidance counselors now and are due back on Wednesday, May 20.

Will an appeal be successful? It depends on the reason. See our advice on how to appeal. And, for a look at the number of appeals granted in recent years, and which type of appeals were most commonly approved between 2011–2013, read "Kids win one-quarter of high school appeals."

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by Women's Club of New York

As a parent of a student in a NYC public school, are you curious about what sex education—if any—your child is being taught?

Did you know that 44.5 percent of New York's male high school students and 39.6 percent of female students are sexually active—but a third of sexually active boys report that they do not use condoms? Nearly 80 percent of sexually active girls say they do not use oral contraceptives. New York's teen pregnancy rate is the 11th highest among the 50 states. And about one in three cases of new sexually transmitted infections diagnosed in New York each year occurs among residents 19 and younger, according to a Center for Disease Controls study cited in  "Birds, Bees and Bias: How Absent Sex Ed Standards Fail New York's Students," a NYCLU 2012 report.

In 2011, the NYC Department of Education was mandated to teach sex education to middle and high school students. Unfortunately we do not truly know how well schools are living up to this mandate.

Women's City Club of New York is collecting information to determine whether, and how, New York City public schools are teaching required sex education. To help ensure that all city public schools have comprehensive sex education, we're asking public school parents to fill out a brief survey.

The deadline to complete this survey has been extended to Friday, May 15. We value the input of parents as essential stakeholder in NYC children's school-based sex education.

Founded in 1915, WCC is celebrating its centennial as a nonpartisan, nonprofit, multi-issue activist organization that is dedicated to improving the lives of all New Yorkers. WCC shapes public policy to promote responsive government through education, issue analysis, advocacy and civic participation.

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