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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.

If your child is one of the 210,000 students in grades 3-8 who scored a Level 1 or 2 on last spring's state ELA or math exams, you should know that schools are offering families 30 minute one-on-one conferences with their child's teachers from now through January.

The $5 million Department of Education initiative was prompted by advocates from the Coalition of Educational Justice (CEJ), said Megan Hester, a community organizer with the Annenberg Institute for School Reform which works with CEJ. 

Hester said that when scores came out last summer some CEJ parents wondered whether they should be alarmed at their child's low test scores and what they could be doing about it.

Friday, 25 October 2013 11:36

Watch our event: Applying to high school

Confused about high school admissions? Do you still have questions about how to fill out the 12-school application? Insideschools covered those topics and more at our Oct. 9 high school admissions workshop.

Clara Hemphill and Jacquie Wayans of Insideschools were joined by Hussham Khan, the director of high school admissions at the Department of Education, Stanley Ng, parent member of the Citywide Council of High Schools; Liz Willen, of the Hechinger Institute and two high school students: Paul Michael Wayans, of Eagle Academy in the Bronx, and David Mascio, a junior at Stuyvesant High School.

Here are some takeaways from the conversation:

  • Don't list a school you don't want to attend; however the more schools you list, the better your chances of acceptance. Choose at least six.
  • You'll get more individual attention at a small school, but there will be fewer high level courses.
  • District 2 priority means that those students get accepted before all other applicants. Most D2 schools fill with district students, says Kahn.
  • Test out the commute to the school before applying, preferably at rush hour.
  • Read the Learning Environment Survey. You can supplement some things, such as sports, but it's harder to change things like a bad principal or an unsafe environment.
  • If you're not happy with the high school assignment, continue to advocate for your child, says Kahn.
  • Stuyvesant students get 3 hours of homework nightly, on average; Eagle students between 1.5-2 hours.
  • Not all schools allow all students access to AP courses. Make sure to ask.

If you missed the event, you can watch it on our YouTube channel.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013 15:43

G&T programs still have openings

Given the frenzied competition for gifted and talented seats each year, it was surprising to find that, nearly two months into the school year, there are many empty spots. The Department of Education is reaching out to eligible children to try to fill them by Oct. 31 when registers close.

PS 165, on the Upper West Side had only 14 children enrolled in kindergarten G&T last week, in a class that should have 25 students; their 1st grade only had 10 students enrolled. PS 163, also in District 3, had openings as did PS 33 in District 2. Even the citywide gifted and talented school, NEST+M had some empty seats.

Last spring there were multiple snafus related to the scoring of exams. The testing company Pearson apologized twice for its errors, which were brought to the DOE's attention by parents. When the dust settled, thousands more students had qualified than there were seats available.

More than 13,000 four-year-olds took the tests for entrance into a kindergarten G&T program and about 40 percent of those tested scored high enough to qualify. Some 3,100 offers were made to students around the city for approximately 2,700 seats but apparently not enough of those students accepted the placements. 

The kindergarten register at PS 165 was full on the first day of school, according to DJ Sheppard, the District 3 family advocate, but many students didn't show up.  "We tell families 'if you're not going to take the seat please let us know' but not all do that," she said. 

Tuesday, 15 October 2013 11:56

Find out about middle school tours, forums

Parents of 5th graders spend the fall calling parent coordinators and checking school websites to find out about middle school tours and open houses. Some who aren't quick enough find themselves closed out of daytime tours at popular schools.

Now the Department of Education has compiled a list of school open house and tour dates for many districts. It doesn't include every school -- and some of the schools require you to call and make an appointment anyway. Still the list is a helpful start for busy parents. Find the list of dates and schools here [PDF].

Some districts hold Principal Forums for parents, invitiing principals to give a brief show and tell about their schools. District 15 in Brooklyn is holding a forum on Monday, Oct. 28 at Sunset Park High School; District 3 on Manhattan's Upper West Side is holding one on Tuesday, Oct. 29 at PS/IS 76. 

Middle school fairs conclude this week on Wednesday and Thursday, Oct. 16-17, from 5:30 - 7:30 pm. Check our calendar for details and districts.

Upcoming deadline: Sign for OLSAT testing in Queens' District 24 and for the Mark Twain School for the Gifted & Talented test and audition by Wednesday, Oct. 16. See the DOE's middle school admissions timeline here

Monday, 07 October 2013 18:13

Applying to middle school? Here's how.

Middle school admissions season kicks into high gear this week for parents of 5th graders. You can meet school representatives at evening district fairs held between Oct. 8-17. Middle school directories for 2013-2014 are online and hard copies are being distributed by elementary schools. Clara Hemphill of Insideschools will be giving a free talk about middle school options on Thursday at New York University.

Now is the time to sign up for school tours and open houses! Check school websites, or call the school to find out about them. In some popular schools, especially in Manhattan where there is active school choice, many tours are already fully booked. If you're shut out, try contacting the parent coordinator to see if additional tours will be added.  

In addition to fairs, some districts hold informational nights where principals talk about their schools. Check with your district's family advocate to see if one is scheduled. (You can find their names and contact information on our district pages.)

Sunday, 29 September 2013 17:56

DOE replies: Why kids need challenging books

by Isabella Robertson

The recent post, Teachers Ask: "Is 3rd grade the new 7th grade?", suggests that there is a new mandate to require children to read books that are too hard for most of them to understand.

No such mandate exists. A key shift called for by the Common Core standards is to challenge kids to read more complex text. This does not mean read books that are too hard. It does mean kids need to grapple with academic vocabulary and complex language structures if they are to become proficient readers. The current practice of "meeting kids where they are," while well-intentioned, means that many kids never encounter words and language beyond conversational language and their own independent reading level. The challenge of the Common Core is to give children book experiences at their independent reading level and opportunities to experience more complex texts.

The post wonders whether a 2nd-grade teacher's decision to read Charlotte's Web is best for students at that grade level, citing the Scholastic website that lists the book as written at the 4th-grade level. The post does not note that a variety of factors go into determining whether a text is appropriate for a grade. While it's true we might not expect students to read Charlotte's Web independently until at least the 4th grade, it is also true that, when read aloud, many 2nd graders will be engaged by the story and the vivid characters. What you ask students to do with the text (independent, guided reading, etc.) and the types of supports you provide (read-alouds, close reading discussions, vocabulary instruction, etc.) factor heavily in determining what is appropriate to teach at each grade.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013 14:42

New PTA website for parents launches

PTAlink, a website which aims to connect public school parent organizations and serve as a hub of information for parent groups across New York City, launched today. 

The online resource contains information on parent leadership opportunities, PTA development and administration, fundraising, and parent-run school activities and events. Still to come is a forum where PTA officers and members can ask each other questions and share information, say its co-founders Lisa Ableman and Rachel Fine, parents at PS 321 in Brooklyn who conceived of the idea nearly two years ago after getting support from City Councilperson Brad Lander.

They have collected and posted examples of best practices and resource materials from PTAs around the city and are reaching out to parents for more such success stories. For example, PTAlink features a school garden in Boerum Hill along with a "how to" guide on creating a garden, including names of supportive community organizations. 

There is also nuts and bolts information about parent rights, the difference between a PTA and PA, Title 1 schools, available help from the Department of Education and more.

Still to come: a mentoring program, pairing experienced PTA officeres with newer ones.  

"We realized that parent leaders across the city were reinventing the wheel in a range of areas -- and while many PTAs were looking for a way to find out what other organizations were doing, there were plenty of successful PTAs that were willing to share their best practices," Ableman said in an email. "We developed PTAlink to help parent organizations in two ways: as a comprehensive source of information, and an effective way for schools to learn from each other. In the end, we're hoping this leads to a community of parent organizations that work together."

Check out the website here and add your ideas and feedback. On offer is a free book on fundraising, Beyond the Bake Sale.

 

Thursday, 26 September 2013 10:29

Tips for acing this weekend's high school fair

This weekend, Sept. 28 and 29, is the Department of Education's gigantic citywide high school fair from 10 am to 3 pm at Brooklyn Technical High School. Prepare for a hectic day, where you will meet teachers, students and administrators and find out about their schools.

You can attend information sessions several times during the day, led by staff from the Education Department's enrollment office. This will be helpful especially if you're a newbie to the process (and it will give you a place to sit down and take a breather.)

Here's the schedule provided by the DOE:

  • High School Admissions at 11 am and 2 pm on both Saturday and Sunday
  • Auditioning for High School Arts Schools and Programs at 12:30 pm on Saturday and Sunday

Most schools will have a table staffed by students, teachers, parent cordinators, guidance counselors and, sometimes the principal. Each borough has a dedicated space between the 2nd and 7th floors. The nine specialized high schools are set up in the first floor gymnasium.

Before you go, make sure to make a list of your "must see" schools. Read the reviews on Insideschools and watch the slideshows and videos. Look at our new "Insidestats" section. It'll give you a thumbnail description on a school's safety and vibe, how well it prepares kids for college, the graduation rate and much more.

Here are some questions you might want to ask school representatives:

  • How much homework is typical? Is homework assigned over school vacations?
  • Are students allowed outside the building for lunch?
  • Does the school offer four years of math and four years of science? (Important for college prep)
  • Are Advanced Placement classes offered? What subjects? What are the requirement to take an AP class?
  • Besides passing required Regents exams, are there are requirements for graduation? Some schools require you to present a portfolio of your work, or perform community service.
  • If the school has a graduating class, which colleges did graduates attend? What percentage of grads went to college? (Check out our Insidestats for that info as well)
  • How does the administration handle discipline? 
  • Are there metal detectors?
  • How does the school help students who are struggling?
  • How does it challenge the strongest students?
  • What are my chances for admission if I don't meet the specific requirements?
  • Is there a uniform?
  • What are the after school activities? What teams do they have? (Note that this can change from year to year and the directory might not be accurate!)

Here are a few more pointers for the day of the fair:

  • Rather than carry around a hefty, heavy directory, consider ripping out the pages of schools that most interest you beforehand.
  • Bring a notebook and pen to write down your impressions and any notes
  • Collect fliers, or write down, the dates and times of school info sessions and tours
  • If there's a sign-in sheet for a school that interests you -- sign in! That gives you a leg-up in admissions for some schools
  • Dress for summer. It gets hot and steamy inside the huge building and there is no place to stash a jacket.
  • Wear comfortable shoes and bring water. You'll be climbing up and down stairs. There will be food and drink for sale, but still, nice to have your own supply.
  • Don't drive! Brooklyn Tech is close to virtually all subway lines and many bus routes. Traffic in the surrounding residential streets can be horrendous, so do yourself a favor and take public transportation.

Insideschools will be at the fair. Stop by our first floor table too.

Before you go, be sure to watch our video: Making the most of the high school fair

If you don't make the big fair this weekend, there will be fairs in every borough on Oct. 19 and 20. Insideschools is hosting our own Applying to High School event on Oct. 9. Watch for details.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013 12:28

Wiggle-room for late birthday kids?

There's good news for parents who don't want to send their kids to kindergarten before their 5th birthday. The Department of Education is proposing a change in enrollment allowing for more flexibility in the placement of five and six year-olds. In the past, the DOE has been rigid in its rule that a child's birth year determine his grade placement.

The change to the city's enrollment regulation gives district superintendents the final say in deciding whether a child who turns six during the calendar year must enter 1st grade or whether kindergarten - or a different grade - is more appropriate. Parents will have to provide medical, or other documentation, making the case for placement in a different grade.

Thursday, 19 September 2013 12:11

Parents to PEP: Vote no to online K admissions

Parents concerned about a new online kindergarten admissions system, announced by the Department of Education last week, are urging the Panel of Educational Policy (PEP) to vote no to funding the project at their meeting tonight, or to delay action until there has been time for public comment or the new mayor to take office.

"What is problematic here is they are centralizing kindergarten admissions and that’s a huge shift in policy," said Liz Rosenberg, a Brooklyn parent and founder of NYC Public, a parent advocacy group. "It was spun in a way that makes it sound like it’s simply bringing the process online. But, it’s moving from a school-based process where people walk into a school and talk to a real person to a process by which parents have to rank their schools online."

"It is a humongous policy shift and that’s not the way the press release reads," said Rosenberg.