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Pamela Wheaton

Pamela Wheaton

Pamela Wheaton has been on staff at Insideschools since 2002, serving as deputy director, project director and managing editor. She edits the blog, reviews schools and leads workshops about school choice. She collaborated with Hemphill on a series of guides to New York City’s best public schools. 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.

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."


Thursday, 26 April 2012 10:33

Two "turnarounds" get reprieve; 24 do not

UPDATE April 27: The Panel on Educational Policy voted last night to close and reopen 24 schools including high profile and often sought-after schools such as John Dewey and Lehman High School. Others are huge historic neighborhood schools that have long served a large immigrant population such as Flushing High School and Richmond Hill, both in Queens. They will all have new names and a new staff sometime soon.

There were no surprises in the voting, GothamSchools reports. The seven mayoral appointees at the meeting voted for every turnaround plan, as did the Staten Island borough president’s appointee, Diane Peruggia. The four other borough presidents’ appointees voted against each proposal. That's how the voting has gone in other school closure hearings this year and last.

The day of the vote the city decided to give a reprieve to two of the 26 schools on the turnaround list: Bushwick Community High School and Grover Cleveland High School.

The decision comes after an emotional hearing last week in which graduates of Bushwick, a last-chance transfer school for older students, spoke about how the school and its educators had turned their lives around. An Education Department official appeared moved by the appeals and promised to take the message back to the chancellor.

Cleveland, a large traditional high school in Queens which serves a diverse population, also attracted vocal supporters at hearings earlier this year. A statement from the chancellor said that "public comments" helped confirm that both schools "had the capacity to make great improvements."

Wednesday, 25 April 2012 14:36

Math test question won't count either

A week after a quirky, nonsensical tale on the 8th grade ELA test stumped students and resulted in the New York State discounting questions from the exam, two faulty problems have surfaced on this week's state math tests.

In his weekly letter to principals, Chancellor Dennis Walcott advised schools of errors in the 4th and 8th grade math books. One question has no correct answer, the other has two correct answers.

New York State Education Department chalked one faulty answer up to "a typo" and issued the following instructions for teachers who are proctoring the exams on Wednesday and Thursday:

  • April 25: Grade 8 Book 1, Form C only – question 13 has no correct answer. Students may mark any response; the question will not be scored.
  • April 26: Grade 4, Book 2, all Forms (A, B, C, and D) – question 58 has two correct answers. Credit will be given for either correct answer.
Friday, 20 April 2012 15:17

Too many top-scoring tykes for G&T

A whopping 1,603 incoming kindergartners scored in the 99th percentile on this year's gifted and talented assessments. Out of 14,239 test-takers, 11 percent scored in the top one percent. You'd think this was Lake Wobegon!

The tests are supposedly designed so that one out of every hundred test-takers nationwide scores in the the 99th percentile. So either New Yorkers are 11-times smarter than people elsewhere (or only smart kids are taking the tests) or there is something wrong with the tests.

For the last two years, just over 1,000 kindergartners scored in the 99th percentile. Scoring between the 97th-99th percentile on the G&T assessments means a child is eligible for one of five citywide programs. But there are fewer than 400 seats for incoming kindergartners. And qualifying siblings of current students get first dibs at those seats. At The Anderson School, 16 of the 50 kindergarten seats will go to siblings. At NEST+M, siblings will get about 15 of the 100 seats; at Brooklyn School of Inquiry, there are 12 qualifying siblings and four at STEM in Queens.

The good news for this year's gifted and talented kindergarten test-takers? More kids scored high enough to qualify for a citywide G&T program. The bad news? Eligible students have about a 1 in 7 chance of scoring one of those citywide seats.

Of the 14,249 children who tested for the city's gifted and talented programs, 2,656 -- 18% --  qualified for one of five citywide programs. But there are only about 381 citywide seats.  The number of eligible students continues to rise -- about 1000 students scored in the 99th percentile in the last two years. But the number of citywide seats has not risen to meet the demand.

To qualify for the more selective citywide program, children must score between the 97th and 99th percentile on two assessments; for district programs they must score between the 90 to 96th percentile. Fifteen percent of this year's kindergarten test-takers - 2,256 - qualified for district programs.

Some 35% of the kindergarten test-takers -- 4,912 -- are eligible for a G&T program. In 2010 and 2011, 28% qualified.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012 13:23

Gifted & Talented test results sent

Parents have started receiving the results of the 2012 tests for entrance to elementary school gifted and talented programs.  Score reports were sent by email and regular mail on April 10, according to the Department of Education.

Along with the results, families receive an application listing programs for which child is eligible. Incoming kindergarten and 1st graders are guaranteed admission for programs in their district as long as they list all of them on their application. Students who score at the 97 to 99th percentile are eligible for five citywide programs. However, given the high number of children who score in the 99th percentile - nearly a quarter of all eligible students last year -  most citywide seats are taken up by those top scorers.

Applications are due on April 20.

Information about the number of qualifying students will be coming soon, according to the DOE. We'll post it when we get it.

Did you get your notice yet?

Friday, 06 April 2012 15:10

125 schools have kindergarten waitlists

In a bumper year for public school kindergarten applications, more than 2,400 children are on waitlists at their zoned school. That is 200 fewer than last year at this time, according to data the Education Department released on Friday afternoon.

Three schools have more than 100 zoned families waiting for a slot. Topping the list again is gigantic PS 169 in Sunset Park, with 113 waitlisted zoned kindergartners at a school with 1450 students. Last year it had 95 children waitlisted in March after the first registration period. Nearby PS 94, another large school where more than half of the students are English language Learners, has 111 students on its waitlist.  PS 307 in Corona which opened in 2008, has 109 students on a waitlist.

More than 62,280 kindergarten applications were received in 2012 (as compared to 61,600 in 2011) and 125 schools have a waitlist for children living in their zone (the same number as last year.)  The DOE did not release the number of out-of-zone siblings of current students who have not been given seats. (Last year there were 553.) This year schools must get permission from the enrollment office before admitting students from outside the zone.

Thursday, 05 April 2012 11:38

Pre-k: Apply online or on paper by April 10

Parents of children who turn four in 2012 have a few more days to apply for public school pre-kindergarten programs for next September. The Education Department extended the application deadline from April 5 to April 10.

Online applications will be accepted until 11:59 p.m. on April 10. Parents who prefer to fill out a paper application must go to an enrollment office and apply there before 3 p.m. on April 10.  In previous years paper applications were included in the directory and could be mailed in. But the DOE is no longer accepting applications by mail.

Also for the first time in several years, this year there is only one centralized application round. After the DOE places students in June, schools with space available will enroll students directly. Parents will find out the week of June 11 whether their child has gotten a spot. Registration takes place June 12-22.

Best advice for families who don't get in anywhere is to get your child on a waitlist at the preferred schools. Schools will offer spots as they become available.

State-mandated standardized tests for students in grades 3-8 begin on the Tuesday right after spring break. There are three days of reading (ELA) tests: April 17, 18 and 19 and three days of math the next week: April 25, 26 and 27.

Have the teachers been spending lots of time preparing kids for the increasingy high-stakes exams? Your child's test results help determine the "grade" his teacher will get on her evaluation. the grade his school gets on its Progress Report and even whether the school could be closed down or "turned around".

For students in transition from elementary to middle school and from middle to high school, results on the 4th and 7th grade exams can be a determining factor in where they are accepted!

Given all the testing mania, are teachers being pressured to "teach to the test"? Are they weaving test prep into classroom lessons or has test prep become the lesson?

How has your school handled test prep this year. Too much? Too little? Just right? Take our poll!