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Pamela Wheaton is one of the founding members of Insideschools. Since 2002 she has served as deputy director, project director and managing editor. She edits the blog, reviews schools, leads workshops about school choice and oversees editorial content. She collaborated with Clara Hemphill on a series of guides to New York City’s best public schools. Previously Wheaton was a producer of PBS television programs and a reporter and editor at the Buenos Aires Herald. Her two daughters graduated from New York City public schools.
The special education reform rolled out in all schools this fall is very much "a work in progress," according to two prominent experts: Kim Sweet, executive director of Advocates for Children (AFC) and Maggie Moroff, of AFC and the the ARISE Coalition.
The reform's goal of educating disabled children in their neighborhood schools is laudable, write the two in an article for City Limits, but now the emphasis must shift to accountability and ensuring that children's needs are actually being met in the schools that enrolled them.
Sweet and Moroff call upon the Education Department to do three things. First, provide intensive, ongoing, elbow to elbow support and training to school staff working with special needs children. Second, come up with an immediate plan to better inform parents about the reform and give families guidance on what to do if their school lacks "the expertise or capacity to meet their children's needs." Third, publicly report the successes and failures of the reform's first phase - two years in 260 pilot schools. What were the best practices? What was the impact of the reform at those schools?
Read the article "On Special Ed, School Dept. Must do its Homework" in City Limits.
It's only the second week of school but 8th grade parents in the know are already signing up to tour popular high schools.
One enterprising dad began emailing parent coordinators before school started and found out that he and his daughter snagged one of the last spots on a September tour of a large Brooklyn school.
Other parents waited by their computers at noon on the day after Labor Day to register for the Bard High School Early College tours and assessments in Manhattan and Queens. Registration began promptly at 12:01 pm.
How do you sign up for the tours and visits? Unfortunately every school does things a bit differently. The giant high school directory has an "Open House Information" section. Some schools like Bayside High School in Queens and Curtis High School on Staten Island give dates and times, but many do not. They simply say to contact the school.
The aim of the special education reform--being rolled out in all schools this year--is to educate special needs children in the least restrictive settings possible, and, preferably, in their neighborhood schools.
Is that what's actually happening? Not in all schools, according to Advocates for Children. Before school started, the group heard from 40 parents of incoming kindergarten students with disabilities whose zoned schools could not provide the type of class or services that the child needed. According to a statement issued by Advocates for Children, some schools are just not ready to accommodate all special needs students.
The first day of school is too soon to tell whether those 40 students and others actually will get the services they need, said Maggie Moroff, a special ed expert at Advocates for Children and head of the ARISE Coalition. But, she said, "we are cautioning families to make sure what they agreed upon in their IEP [Individualized Education Plans] meetings last spring is not being changed to reflect what the school has to offer but to reflect what the student needs."
Advocates posted guidelines for parents to help them navigate the first days and weeks of the school year.
In another red flag for special ed reform, some parents are just now finding out that the aides who helped their children last year are no longer available. The city is now contracting with agencies to provide workers rather than hiring the aides directly, according to NY1 reporter Lindsey Christ. Because the agencies take a percentage for their work, aides who were paid $20 an hour last year, would now be paid only $10. The city says these new contracts will save money. According to NY 1, the 49 companies that contracted with the city to provide workers "will keep close to half of what the DOE pays them per hour to staff schools with therapists and aides. In other words, taxpayers shell out $18 an hour for educators who make just $10 an hour."
Fourth and 5th-graders who scored 4's (the highest level) on both the 2012 state reading and math exams may apply now through Sept. 14 for seats in district and citywide gifted and talented programs.
Seats are scarce, especially for 5th grade, and some districts will have more openings than others. There may be a very few 4th grade seats at citywide gifted programs. The website for the Anderson School, a citywide K-8 G&T school on the Upper West Side, indicates they do not have room for more 5th graders but "possibly a very limited number for 4th grade."
How can you find out whether a school has an opening since there is no central list? Your best bet may be to call the parent coordinator. Be aware that because families move during the summer schools may not know their final rosters until September. According to the Education Department, if there are more applicants than seats available, a lottery will be held. District programs are only open to students in that district.
Only students who score double 4's may apply. Fifth grade seats are only offered at K-6, K-8 or K-12 schools, not for elementary schools that end after fifth grade.
A downside: Students will not find out until late September whether they get a seat -- not the most opportune time for a 4th or 5th grader to be changing schools.
Click here to get the application, details about admissons and a list of all G&T programs in the city that have 4th or 5th grade gifted programs and may have openings.
On Aug.1, the city launched a hotline for parents of students with special needs in preparation for the roll-out of special education reform in all schools in September. Speaking on the WNYC Brian Lehrer program, Education Department Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suranksky said the helpline was set up with the support of City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and is designed to answer parents' specific questions. Parents may call 718-935-2007 or 311 to access the hotline.
For in-person help, office hours have been set up at nine DOE offices in the five boroughs; some sites are open until 7 p.m. and there are weekend hours too, although everywhere. The office hours began July 31 and go through Sept. 27, according to the schedule posted online.
Families may need all the help they can get, given that Corinne Rello-Anselmi, the new head of special education at the DOE, told parents at a meeting in July that she expected the roll-out to be very rocky." She also said she stands by the reforms as necessary in "setting a fully inclusive environment for all kids."
Parents may now see their children's 2012 reading and math state test scores on the Education Department's parent website, ARIS, a week earlier than scheduled. The schools' test scores were released last week by the state Department of Education and individual student scores are now up as well, according to parents checking the site today.
Parents and guardians may log on using their ARIS user name and password to access their child's test information.
If you don't have internet access or need help logging onto the ARIS system, the city has set up ARIS access stations at select libraries in all five boroughs during the week of Aug. 6-10. Be sure to bring a photo id. Translation services will be provided. (See a list of the libraries below.
Some 7,000 elementary and middle school students were surprised to find out last week that they had actually passed the state's reading or math tests, even though they had been told they had failed, and were sent to summer school, the New York Post reported on Thursday. Because the state tests for grades 3-8 are now given in the spring, results are not available until after the end of the school year. Schools must use preliminary scores to estimate how many students won't make the mark and they have miscalulated over the past two years.
The School Board blog has run the numbers for the city's elementary and middle schools where 4th-graders scored highest on the 2012 state standardized math and reading exams. Most of the top-ranking schools are no surprise -- they are gifted programs and schools in high-performing districts. An exception is number three on the list, PS 262 in Bedford Stuyvesant, a school where 95 percent of the students get free lunch. It ranked just below academic powerhouses Anderson, a citywide gifted program on the Upper West Side and Lower Lab, a District 2 program on the Upper East Side and ahead of NEST+M, a citywide gifted K-12 school.
PS 262, a neighborhood K-8 school, also known as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, for years struggled with low test scores but has made a turn-around since 2004 when it was on the state's list of schools in need of improvement. A new principal came in that year and by 2006 the school was off the SINI list. In 2011, student performance had improved so much that PS 262 was one of 26 schools where teachers received cash bonuses from the city. It was one of five successful schools that then-chancellor Cathie Black toured on her first day on the job. Joeletha Ferguson, principal since 2004, was named a Cahn Fellow in 2012, an honor which recognizes outstanding principals.
School administrators were not available this week to explain the turn-around at this small Bed Stuy school. It's clear that more attention to strugging students has played a role. "Mandated students" arrive 37 minutes before the rest of the school for additional instruction, according to the school's voicemail. Test prep begins early in the school year for testing grades, according to the school's website, and kindergartners get nightly homework, including worksheets.
The only other high-poverty school listed in the top 25 schools having the best results on 4th grade tests is PS 172 in Brooklyn, a perennially high-performing school with stable leadership. Several of the top-ranked schools saw big gains in 4th grade test scores from 2011 to 2012 including tiny PS 150 in Tribeca, PS 222 in Brooklyn's District 22 and PS 101 in Forest Hills. No schools in either the Bronx or Staten Island were among the top 25 performers on 4th grade tests.
Click here to see School Board's rundown of the scores.
The State Education Department said today that standardized math and reading test scores for grades 3-8 will be released Tuesday, July 17. That's nearly a month earlier than 2011 when test data was released on Aug. 8, with parents able to access their children's scores online on Aug. 17.
This year, test administration in April was marred by errors on the several of the exams resulting in questions being discarded. An 8th-grade exam had a nonsensical story about a talking pineapple that almost no one understood and, in May, teachers were confused about how to score the exams. This was the first year that the testing company Pearson produced the tests. Because of the many mistakes, the state said that Pearson would have to pay for an expert review of its test development process.
Families of 113 children, angry about the emphasis on high-stakes testing, decided to opt out of taking the exam, the New York Times reported, more than in previous years. Many others decided to boycott the field-tests in May and June.
Five Manhattan moms started composting programs in their schools' cafeterias this year that saved 450 pounds of food waste from landfills daily and reduced the volume of cafeteria garbage by 85% in eight schools over four months.
The parents, members of the District 3 Green Schools Group, were part of a pilot program designed to test the viability of separating and composting food waste – including meat and dairy, kitchen scraps, and sugar cane food service trays.
"We were upset that we were paying for sugar cane compostable trays and they were being thrown in the garbage," said Emily Fano, a parent at PS 166, one of the eight participating schools in four buildings.
If your 12-year-old is completing 7th grade this week, it's time for you to start thinking about high school. Here's what you and your rising 8th-grader can do this summer.
Schools are handing out the 2012-2013 directory of high schools (now online) before summer vacation. If your child doesn't bring one home. you can pick one up at the nearest enrollment office. You'll will find information about every high school in the city including: what it takes to get in, what time school starts for freshman, whether there is a dress code, and the number of students who applied and were accepted last year. You can also see the school's graduation rate.
To introduce middle school families to the complex admissions process, the Department of Education enrollment office is offering evening workshops, two in every borough betwen July 12 and 19. Rather than a series of workshops offering different admissions topics, all 10 sessions will present the same information so there's no need to attend more than one. There are two additional two workshops, about the specialized high schools only, on July 24 at Prospect Heights High School in Brooklyn and July 26 at LaGuardia High School in Manhattan.
For parents who have not gone through the high school admissions process, the workshops can be very informative. For most city residents the days of sending your 13-year-old to the neighborhood high school are long gone. Even if you think you know how it works, listening to other parents' questions and answers can be constructive. And, you'll be more prepared when admissions season ratchets up in September for the round of school visits, auditions, and tests.
And for more help, make sure to watch our Insideschools videos: Specialized high schools, How to apply to high school, How to apply to an audition school, Weighing your options: long trip vs short trip, and videos spotlighting individual high schools.
The gigantic high school fair, introducing you to representatives from all schools in the city, will be held on Sept. 29-30; fairs for schools in each borough on Oct. 13-14. Before you go, be sure to watch our video, Making the most of the high school fairs
What else should you be doing this summer to help prepare your 8th-grader? Check out Liz Willen's posts on High School Hustle about how to study for the specialized high school exam, the perils of choice, the ins and outs of visiting schools, and more. They which include many thoughtful comments and suggestions about schools by parents.