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Tuesday, 15 January 2013 11:15

Quinn: less test prep, more collaboration

Council Speaker Christine Quinn said she would focus less on standardized tests, give parents a stronger advisory role and extend the school day for low-income children if she is elected mayor.

You can watch her entire speech and Q&A session, sponsored by The Center for New York City Affairs (our parent organization) and Insideschools.org at the New School, here.

Without criticizing Mayor Bloomberg, Quinn implied that, if elected, her administration would depart from some of Bloomberg's education policies. While Bloomberg has focused on standardized tests as a way of measuring progress, Quinn said "testing should not be more important than teaching" and should not define schools. While Bloomberg has fostered competition among schools to outperform each other, Quinn said her administration would instead promote more collaboration by identifiying what is working and encouraging schools to share best practices. She pointed to New Dorp High School's literacy program as an example of something that should be expanded to other city schools. 

Charter schools are here to stay, Quinn said, but she suggested she would not expand their numbers significantly. "They're at a good level right now," she said. She pledged support to large high schools like New Dorp or Truman High School. Bloomberg's Education Department has closed dozens of large high schools in the Bronx and Manhattan, breaking them into smaller schools. Quinn said she supports the small schools, but large schools can be successful as well.

On the topic of closing schools, Quinn said she would like to see earlier intervention and mentioned a "red alert" system she would put in place to support "failing schools." "Instead of treating schools closings as a good in and of itself, we will treat it as a last resort," she said.

In another departure from Bloomberg, parents under the Quinn administration would have a stronger advisory role. She would like Community Education Councils to be elevated to the status of Community Boards, which advise city government on land-use. She said she's undecided on the topic of school networks, and welcomes parent input. The Bloomberg administration dismantled school districts based on a geographical area and replaced them with "networks" that may include schools from a number of boroughs. 

Notably absent from her speech were mentions of the teacher's union, except to say both sides should "lower the temperature" on the debate over teacher evaluations. She also was mum on special education, which the city has begun to overhaul.

 

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After weeks of back and forth, the yellow school bus strike will officially begin on Wednesday, Jan. 16, Mayor Bloomberg announced this afternoon in a press release.

Officials from Local 1181 Amalgamated Transit Union, the school bus drivers' union, confirmed that the strike is happening during a press conference, according to Schoolbook.

Yesterday, the city posted information online detailing what to do in the event on a strike and says it will hand out metrocards to all children who normally ride yellow school buses to school. The Mayor's office is also posting fairly up-to-the-minute news via official NYC.gov Twitter account and Tumblr blog. Or call 311.

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Updated 5:30 p.m. There will be a strike of the drivers and matrons of yellow school buses beginning on Wedneseday, the head of the union which represents the bus drivers announced late Monday afternoon. Chancellor Dennis Walcott on Sunday issued guidelines for parents on what to do if school buses stopped running. Marni Goltsman, the mom of a child with autism, says the bus drivers and matrons on her son's buses have been unfailingly professional and courteous and don't deserve a pay cut. This post appeared on her blog Capturing Autism.

Since pre-K, my son’s New York City school bus drivers and matrons have always been professional, punctual, and polite. This year, every morning as Brooks boards his yellow minibus, I watch the matron help him with his seat belt, and I know that she and the driver will look out for him because they understand that he can’t always speak up for himself. They both have years of experience with special needs busing, and because of that, my husband and I can wave goodbye to Brooks comforted by the fact that he feels safe and is in good hands.

I could go on indefinitely about the mind-numbing bureaucracy of the Office of Pupil Transportation when it comes to setting up routes and travel times, but our experience of the drivers and matrons in the field has always been positive.

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Tuesday, 08 January 2013 13:03

DOE wants to close 7 more schools

The Department of Education announced Tuesday that it plans to close seven more schools -- mostly elementary and middle -- for poor performance. An additional two schools will lose their middle school grades: PS 156 in Queens and Academy for Social Action: A College Board School in Harlem, where the high school will remain open despite posting an F on its Progress Report.

The announcement brings to 24 the number of closures announced this week. Pending approval by the Panel on Education Policy, the schools will not accept new students, although current students will be allowed to stay until graduation for all except MS 45 and Freedom Academy which will close in June. New schools, with new leadership and new staff, will be housed in the old buildings.

Just four years ago, the Performance School in the South Bronx replaced another failing elementary school. But low test scores and attendance persisted at the school and it will be closed too. Fewer than 15 percent of the students met grade level standards on state math and reading exams in 2012.

About 32 low-performing schools were saved from the ax, including several large, historic high schools: Flushing High School in Queens, George Westinghouse in downtown Brooklyn, Boys and Girls High School in Bed Stuy, and DeWitt Clinton in the Bronx.   Although these schools were threatened with closure, after visits and conversations with school communities this fall, the DOE decided to develop what it calls an "action plan” to improve them instead. There is no guarantee that these schools will continue to survive, however: many of the schools on this year's closure list, last year were on the list to get "targeted action" for improvement.

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Monday, 07 January 2013 17:18

City proposes closing 17 schools

Seventeen schools on a list of 60 targeted as "academically struggling" earlier this fall are now slated for closure, Deputy Schools Chancellor Marc Sternberg said today, with more school closures to be announced tomorrow. If approved, two of the schools would be closed at the end of the school year -- MS 45 in East Harlem and Freedom Academy in downtown Brooklyn --  the others would be phased out more slowly, with current students allowed to stay until graduation.

Three of the 17 schools are elementary schools, six are middle schools, seven are high schools and one, Choir Academy, serves grades 6-12. Most have previously been identified as troubled and at risk of being shut down. A few are large neighborhood high schools, such as Lehman in the Bronx and Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn, but others are small high schools, created as an alternative to huge zoned schools, such as Bread and Roses and Jonathan Levin High School for Media and Communications. All have test scores and graduation rates that are below the city average.

Sternberg said that the decision to close the schools was made after a "rigorous review of academic performance" this fall. "We expect success," he said. "We've listened to the community and provided comprehensive support services to these schools based on their needs. Ultimately, we know we can better serve our students and families with new options and a new start."

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Tuesday, 08 January 2013 16:00

DOE says 2013 CEC elections to be smoother

The Education Department announced the start of the selection process for the city's Community Education Councils and vows to run the bi-annual elections more smoothly this spring. They could hardly be worse than the last elections in 2011, parent leaders say.

Two years ago, the Community Education Council elections were fraught with SNAFUs and confusion. Some qualified candidates’ names were mysteriously left off ballots and parents were unable to log on to a website to vote in the election’s first round.

“It was chaos and total disaster because the DOE didn’t do proper outreach,” said Shino Tanikawa, the president of District 2’s CEC.

The process was such a mess that even schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott admitted it was mismanaged and ordered a do-over.

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Thursday, 03 January 2013 11:44

Future of NYC schools event with Quinn

On Tuesday, Jan. 15, Insideschools and the Center for New York City Affairs will co-host a conversation with City Council Speaker Christine Quinn on the future of schools in New York City.

Quinn will discuss her vision for "building a 21st century school system," including college and career readiness. She will also participate in a Q & A with Insideschools' founder and senior editor, Clara Hemphill. This event is one of a series of events with potential 2013 mayoral candidates sponsored by the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School.  (See a write-up of a 2012 event with mayoral hopeful Tom Allon here.) 

Quinn also spoke about city education policy, along with other potential mayoral candidates, at a GothamSchools event in November. See a rundown of that event here.

The Jan. 15 forum will be at The New School, at 65 West 11th Street, from 8:30 am to 10 am. Tickets are free but you must reserve a seat; RSVP here: http://strongerschools.eventbrite.com/. Do it soon! It's a small venue and seats are going fast.

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Thursday, 20 December 2012 11:09

Free stuff to do over the holidays!

What to do with your children once the presents have been opened, the holidays feasts consumed and the kids -- and you -- have had enough of games and computers? How about a visit to one of New York City's "more than 500 galleries, 375 nonprofit theater companies, 330 dance companies, 150 museums, 96 orchestras, 40 Broadway theaters, 24 performing arts centers, five zoos, five botanical gardens, and an aquarium."

That rundown is from the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs which compiled a list of city venues with free or "suggested" admissions, perfect for families looking for something to do over the holidays. (Thanks to DJ Sheppard, District 3 family advocate for forwarding it to us!). Here they are, in alphabetical order.

FREE HOURS AT CULTURAL VENUES

For more events, see the NYCulture Calendar.

And, as always, it's best to call or check online before you visit to confirm the details.

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Tuesday, 18 December 2012 11:40

Applying to middle school with an IEP

All 5th graders will turn in applications for middle school this Friday, Dec. 21. That includes students with special education needs who will fill out the same application as other children.

There is often some confusion about the process, even after the roll-out of the special education reform this year. Now all schools are expected to accept students with special needs, which wasn't the case in the past. Parents say that outreach was poor at some schools last year, with special needs students unaware that they could apply.

To help families of children with special needs better understand their rights when applying to middle school, Advocates for Children put together a list of recommendations and tips. See their suggestions after the jump.

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Monday, 17 December 2012 14:17

How to talk to children about Dec.14 tragedy

All schools should offer a "safe place" for children who wish to talk about last Friday's tragedy at Sandy Hook elementary school, Chancellor Dennis Walcott wrote in a letter to school communities and families today.

The letter, signed also by UFT President Michael Mulgrew and Ernest Logan, president of the principal's union, encouraged teachers to "give solace and support to your colleagues so we can be strong enough to take care of our students."

Included were suggestions of resources that teachers, school staff and families can refer to when helping children try to comprehend Friday's horrific acts such as Resources for Dealing with Traumatic Events in School, published by the University of Maryland's Center for School Mental Health.  

Ever since news of the school shootings in Newtown on Friday, parents have been sharing resources and suggestions on how to speak to their children about what happened. Here are a few resources to consider:

And, after the jump, here are some tips from a social worker accustomed to treating victims of crime. Thanks to Park Slope Parents listeserv for sharing them.

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