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Pamela Wheaton

Pamela Wheaton

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.

Monday, 30 July 2012 14:18

Special ed hotline, help centers open

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."

Thursday, 26 July 2012 14:08

Test scores now posted on ARIS

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.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012 11:40

Test scores & highest-ranked schools

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.





Monday, 16 July 2012 12:34

Test scores released Tuesday

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.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012 12:04

Moms piloted successful compost program

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.

Thursday, 14 June 2012 11:31

Pre-K: No seats for 30% of applicants

Offer letters for public school pre-kindergarten slots went out this week and once again about one-third of the families of four-year-olds were disappointed. In a year when there were more applicants than ever -- 29,072 as compared to 28,815 in 2011 -- there were only 22,505 seats. About 70 percent of the applicants got offers to a morning, afternoon or full-day program, but 30 percent did not.

That's a slightly higher percentage than in 2011, according to Education Department statistics, mostly because there are several hundred more seats available this year. Families who got a placement may register now through June 22.

There are still seats available for full-day and half-day programs -- 10 percent of the seats remain unfilled, including 1,371 spots in the more desirable full day programs. A list of schools that may have open seats is posted on the DOE's website.

Not surprisingly, there are no pre-kindergarten openings in a few of the most sought-after and crowded districts. There are no schools with open seats in Manhattan's District 2; only one school has seats in District 15 in Brownstone Brooklyn and neighboring District 20. In District 26 in Queens, generally the highest performing in the city, only one school has openings for a half-day program. District 4 in East Harlem and District 5 in Central Harlem, have numerous schools with availability in full-day programs. District 6, covering northern Harlem, Washington Heights and Inwood has seats only in afternoon programs. Many schools have open slots in Brooklyn's districts 19, 21 and 22. In the Bronx, districts 7 and 12 list the most schools with openings in full-day programs. Five Staten Island schools have openings only in afternoon programs.

Families who wish to be on a waitlist for a slot must contact each school starting Monday, June 18.  As spots open up, they will be given out through a lottery, with preference first to zoned students with a sibling in the school, then to zoned students and then to students with a sibling who lives in the district.

Only children in those three categories will be offered open seats before September 21.

This week's offers were for public school programs; there are thousands of seats available at community organizations and daycare centers which have a separate application process.

For the full breakdown of school-based pre-kindergarten admissions from 2008-2012, click the graphic above.

(updated 4:30 p.m. with a link to schools that still have seats available)



In 2011 the city began adding "college-readiness" scores to each high school's Progress Report, by calculating the number of students who graduated from high school prepared to do college-level work. 

While a passing score on the state Regents exams is 65, the city determined that students needed to score at least a 75 on the English Regents exam and an 80 on the math Regents exam to avoid having to take remedial courses at city colleges.

This week's release of the 2011 high school graduation rate showed that it has flattened after six years of growth. Although the mayor says an increased number of graduates are considered college-ready, the number falls far short of expectations.

On June 21, the Center for New York City Affairs and will present a panel discussion, moderated by Meredith Kolodner: Creating College Ready Communities: Preparing NYC's Precarious New Generation of College Students. Among the findings in a report to  be presented about the city's college readiness efforts, is that many New York City public school graduates drop out of college, discouraged that they aren't able to do the work. On June 28, Insideschools' Clara Hemphill will moderate Center event: Beyond Test Scores: Imagining New Ways to Measure NYC's High Schools.

This month high school students are taking Regents exams. We'd like to know: do you think Regents' scores accurately predict which graduates are ready to do college work?  Take our poll!

A pilot for the city's new test prep program to help low-income students qualify for the elite specialized high schools has shown improved results.

About 30 percent of the students – from predominately black and Caribbean schools - who began the pilot DREAM, Specialized High School Institute as 6th graders got offers to a specialized school after taking the test in 2011. The rate of acceptances for black and Latino students in the previous program was about 20%.

The Department of Education, politicians and advocates have long been disturbed by the low number of black and Hispanic students enrolled at the city’s elite specialized high schools. Over the years they have looked at ways to increase the numbers without changing the exam that determines admission at one of the eight schools.

In the DREAM pilot, instruction focused more on test-taking skills, critical thinking and time-saving strategies than previous courses, according to the DOE. There was also "robust teacher professional development and coaching" and a reporting system that allowed teachers to tailor instruction to individual students, concentrating on areas of weaknesses. In other changes designed to improve the retention rate, more test prep sites have been set up. Now the 18 programs are district-based, making it easier for students to attend. Participants are provided with MetroCards and free lunches.

This year, DREAM will also include more students than the previous program (SHSI), enrolling 2,600 6th and 7th graders – up from 932 6th graders last year. The program may be expanded even further in the future, beginning in 5th grade.

Still, the higher success rate for black and Hispanic test-takers didn't allow them to catch up with Asian and white SHSI participants. In 2011, 62 percent of Asians who took the now-defunct SHSI prep course received a specialized offer as did 39 percent of white students.

The SHSI program, started in 1995, was primarily aimed at increasing the number of black and Hispanic students at specialized high schools. Since 2009, admission has been determined by income level, not race. As a result, a significantly higher percentage of Asian students and far fewer Hispanics enrolled. In 2011, the percentage of Asian students jumped to 45 percent from 16 percent in 2009 while Hispanics dropped to 24 percent from 42 percent over the same period.

In the first year of DREAM, which began on May 5, 40 percent students are Asian, 26 percent are Hispanic, 21 percent are black and 12 percent are white, according to the DOE.

(City high school students overall are 17 percent Asian, 39 percent Hispanic, 30 percent black and 13 percent white.)

This year 6,232 6th and 7th graders qualified for 2,600 slots. (There are about 5,800 freshmen seats in the specialized schools that base admissions on the exam.) Eligible students must meet academic and income guidelines. Because there are more qualified students than spaces available, students were chosen randomly in district-based lotteries. Students who didn’t get in were placed on a waitlist.

The $1.2 million program is paid for by Title 1 federal money.


2012 offers to specialized high schools by ethnicity (below) show that blacks and Hispanics trail Asian and white students in gaining acceptance. The chart does not indicate which students were enrolled in the SHSI or pilot DREAM program.

Friday, 11 May 2012 10:28

Quinn keeps up kindergarten crusade

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn is continuing her push to make sure all 5-year-olds go to kindergarten. The state Senate Education Committee has signed off on a bill which would give New York City the right to make kindergarten mandatory and Quinn is sponsoring a petition drive to urge the State Legislature to take action before the summer break.

All 5-year-olds are guaranteed a seat in kindergarten but they are not required to enter school until 1st grade.

Here's what Quinn suggests parents can do to help make kindergarten compulsory in New York City:

  • "Sign our "Kindergarten is a Right" petition and urge your friends, family and neighbors to do the same!  You can find the petition online here.
  • Post our petition to your Facebook page and Twitter account.
  • Visit your local day care centers and UPK programs during pick-up and drop-off hours and hand out hard copies of the petition and encourage parents to sign it.  A paper version can be downloaded for printing here.
  • If you have children in school, contact your school's parent association and encourage them to get involved in our campaign.
  • Contact your local community board and Community Education Council (CEC) and ask them to pass a resolution in support of mandatory kindergarten.  To find your local community board and CEC click here and here."