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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.

Thursday, 11 October 2012 14:25

City-as-School students launch Lunch Line

What's on your child's school lunch tray this week? Want to improve it?

Check out LUNCH LINE, a mobile app and website which launched this week, created by students at City-as-School High School. LUNCH LINE allows you to post pictures and comment on your school's daily school lunch page and to join or start a school group to organize improvements and advocate for better food.

"It's a tool for parents," said City-as senior Emma Jenney who was one of 12 students in Naima Freitas' biology class last spring who designed the app with the help of an outside programmer and designer. "It's exposing school food in America right now which has been kind of a hidden thing."

As part of the project, students visited elementary school lunchrooms to see what young children eat and how much they throw away, she said. The students compared the average cafeteria meal offerings to those provided at some 30 schools which subscribe to Wellness in the Schools programs. Wellness schools offer alternative menus.  They use the same ingredients as those provided by the Education Department's Office of School Food, but they prepare the meals differently. And they train the kitchen staff on how to cook healthier meals.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012 14:14

G&T calendar set; preview of new exam

If your child is entering kindergarten-3rd grade in fall 2013, you may sign up now to test for one of the city's 80 elementary gifted and talented programs. Online and in-person registration is open from Oct. 10 to Nov. 9; testing takes place in January and February in public schools.

Handbooks explaining the G&T programs and admissions requirements are online now and include sample tests. This year, in an attempt to increase the diversity of students who qualify, the Education Department changed one of the exams which determines entrance. The DOE will administer the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test, or OLSAT, as usual, but kids will also take the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test (NNAT) instead of the Bracken School Readiness Assessment. The Naglieri will count for about two-thirds of the score, the OLSAT, one-third. In previous years the OLSAT counted for 75 percent.

The percentage of students who qualify for G&T programs from low-income neighborhoods and districts is significantly lower than those qualifying from middle class areas. This year four districts -- two in the Bronx and two in Brooklyn -- did not have enough students qualifying to offer a kindergarten G&T program. 

The city hopes the new nonverbal test will help level the playing field because it does not rely on language skills and, theoretically, is harder to prep for. However, some experts say that hope is unfounded. According to a Wall Street Journal article this week, tutoring companies say the NNAT is "harder than the tests the city has previously used." It can be confusing to children who "don't understand what they're supposed to do," one professor said.

Tuesday, 02 October 2012 12:51

Is my school a B? Or a D? I'm confused!

PS 243 in Brooklyn got a big green B on its Progress Report which seems good. But right next to it is a mustard-colored D which seems not so good.

PS 234 in Tribeca, one of the city's top-performing elementary schools, got a C, a mediocre grade. But right next to the C is a bright green WD. So is the school crappy or squeaky?

PS 3 in Greenwich Village is another favorite with parents. It also got a C. But next to the C was a green P. What's that about?

Too many ingredients in this alphabet soup?

Wednesday, 26 September 2012 23:00

NAACP challenges exam-only policy

The NAACP on Thursday will file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, charging that the exam-only admissions policy for New York City's eight specialized high schools is discriminatory against Black and Hispanic students, is not "educationally sound" and has not been proven to be a reliable predictor of student success at the elite schools. They call for "multiple measures" to be considered for entrance to specialized high schools.

Joined by the LatinoJustice PRLDEF and The Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College and other community organizations, the NAACP is challenging the long-standing New York state law which specifies that students are to be admitted to specialized schools on the basis of a single exam. The law gives the city's Department of Education the latitude to create more exam schools and, in the past decade the city added five smaller schools to its roster of specialized schools.

According to the NAACP, the city's Education Department has "never conducted a study to determine whether the test is a valid tool" and whether "there is any relationship between students' test results and learning standards" in those schools. Furthermore, the complaint says that other elite high schools and colleges around the country use "multiple measures" when considering applicants, such as grades, teacher recommendations and the demographics of the schools they attend.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012 15:22

New blog on parenting autistic child

Good news for fans of our longtime Insideschools blogger Marni Goltsman and her son, Brooks: she has started a new blog: Capturing Autism: A Mom's Perspective.

After four years of blogging for Insideschools about the challenges of finding an appropriate education for her autistic son, Marni launched her own blog about daily family life, with autism thrown into the mix.

Read about Brooks' first experience wearing a necktie in Autism and Weddings and about his optimistic contributions to conversations at the dinner table in DNA of Parents.

Marni's posts are always funny and heartfelt. (Now, I wonder what she would have to say about today's news: overcrowded special ed classrooms in the age of "reform"?)



Monday, 17 September 2012 17:17

Special ed reform "work in progress"

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.

Friday, 07 September 2012 11:34

8th graders: Sign up now to visit high schools

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.

Thursday, 06 September 2012 13:47

Early snafus in special ed reform?

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."


Tuesday, 14 August 2012 11:49

Gifted 4th, 5th-graders apply now for G&T

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.

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."