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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.
by Sharon McCann-Doyle
My 3rd grade daughter still cries at Disney movies and is afraid to see Matilda on Broadway. So I was dismayed to discover that her school's reading list includes "Behind Rebel Lines", by Seymor Reit, part of the city's new reading curriculum called ReadyGen. It's a terrific book for middle-school students but completely inappropriate for 8-year-olds.
"Behind Rebel Lines" is a compelling story about Emma Edmonds, a woman who, disguised as a man, becomes a Civil War spy. The 127-page book explores issues of war, feminism and race and is full of emotional and historical complexity. The language is dense and the vocabulary is very advanced. But more troubling to me are the content and context.
At one point, Emma's friend and potential love interest is shot through the neck by a musket—a scary, violent scene. At another, Emma dresses as a slave to go behind enemy lines in scenes that introduce minstrels, black face, and the use of racial slurs. The vernacular reflects the era and social status of the book's characters. For example when introducing herself, disguised as a male slave, Emma says "Mah name Cuff, suh. Lookin' fo' Mistuh Prahvit Thompson. Ah b'lieve he wuk here?"
If you're a parent choosing a middle school, you want to know: Do the academics prepare kids for high school? Do the teachers recommend the school? Kids want to know: Does the school require uniforms? Are the other kids nice?
Now, just in time for this week's Dec. 13 application deadline, Insideschools has launched Insidestats for middle schools. Similar to Insidestats for high school, we have comprehensive data on 430 middle and secondary schools, including charter schools. You can see at a glance how big the classes are, whether kids think there are enough interesting programs and whether 8th graders take and pass Regents math and science exams.
A couple of years ago, we criticized the Department of Education's school Progress Reports for oversimplifying the strengths and weaknesses of each school with a single "A" to "F" grade. (Apparently Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio agrees with us, having said he'll do away with the simplistic letter grades.)
With Insidestats, we offer a more nuanced picture, because different schools are good at different things. Some schools take high-achieving kids and push them to ever greater heights. But others do a particularly good job with kids who need special education or English language instruction. Insidestats shows you the difference.
Take Mark Twain in Coney Island, which is open to students citywide. Everyone knows it's a terrific school that sends more graduates to specialized high schools than almost any other middle school. But maybe you didn't know that its students with special needs also fare better than the average city school. Or that 100 percent of the teachers say they recommend the school to parents. On the downside, students have to contend with larger-than-average class size.
Compare that with another popular citywide school: New Explorations into Science, Technology and Math (NEST). Class size here is lower, just about average for the city, but fewer teachers--82 percent --say they would recommend the school and only 28 percent think the principal is a good manager.
We hope Insidestats will help those of you still wondering which schools to rank on your middle school applications.
High school applications are due on Dec. 2, the Monday after the Thanksgiving holiday, for 8th graders, and 9th graders who want to go to a different school next year.
Still undecided where to apply? Check out our new Insideschools mobile website on your smartphone. You can search by borough, subway line, middle school grades and/or keyword, sifting through hundreds of high schools to find the best matches.
Here are some tips for 8th graders and their families to mull over after the turkey is eaten.
This information just in from our friends at Advocates for Children:
"The NYC DOE's Office of Innovation is interviewing parents regarding their experience with the DOE's busing system for students receiving special education services in NYC. The purpose of these interviews is a collaboration between parents, the Office of Pupil Transportation (OPT) and the Division of Students with Disabilities to improve the special education busing experience for children.
Interviews will take place on Wednesday, November 20th between 4:30 & 6:00 PM at 10 Jay Street in Dumbo, Brooklyn. Interviews will last approximately 30 minutes and parent names will be kept confidential so people can feel comfortable speaking candidly.
No RSVP is needed. Just come to share your experiences."
There have been the usual horror stories this year, of children spending hours on the bus and buses that never arrived. Some buses even dropped off children at the wrong stop. If you have a tale to tell, here is your chance to tell it.
Fifth graders applying to middle school should get their applications beginning Nov. 18 at their elementary schools, according to the chancellor's letter to principals this week.
Applications must be completed and returned to elementary school guidance counselors by Friday, Dec. 13. If you're applying to charter schools, those applications aren't due until April 1.
Still don't know what schools to apply to? Check your district's directory for a list of schools. Schools that are open to kids throughout the district, borough or city are listed in the back of each directory. Read our reviews on noteworthy middle schools.
And, be sure to visit the school before applying. There is a list of tours and open houses on the Department of Education's website. You can watch our videos for more information on how to apply and what to look for on a school tour.
Families will have just one month to use the new online system to apply to kindergarten for 2014, according to admissions dates posted by the Department of Education today. Parents of children born in 2009 may apply online, on the phone to a central DOE number or in person at an enrollment office between Jan. 13-Feb.14. Not only is the online admissions process, called Kindergarten Connect, a change from previous years, but the application period is earlier and shorter. Last year families applied in person at schools between Jan. 22- March 1.
The shift in timeline caught some elementary schools and parents off guard, according to DNAInfo which yesterday reported that many schools have scheduled tours and open houses in February and March, after applications are due. "If this hasn't been coordinated with school tours, how can you make an educated decision?" a parent said to DNAInfo.
Families may list up to 20 schools on the application and will be given one placement in April. All public schools will participate in the new admission system, even those that are unzoned. Admission priorities will remain the same as previous years, the DOE said, with zoned students given priority to their zoned school.
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.
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.
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.
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.