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Wednesday, 05 August 2009 13:24

The REACH for AP success

timg_0297.jpgAt a midtown Chase Bank this morning, star-shaped mylar balloons heralded successful high school students who earned hundreds of dollars for top marks on their May AP exams. The students are participants in the two-year-old Rewarding Achievement, or REACH, program, a New York City pay-for-performance initiative that gives financial awards to students who pass AP exams.

The program operates at 31 high schools that serve low-income, minority communities. At these schools, participating students not only have financial incentives for taking AP courses. REACH also provides students with free study guides and Saturday test prep to support them throughout the academic year.

This "experiment in incentives and additional support," as REACH's Executive Director Edward Rodriguez described it, seems to be paying off. At the awards reception this morning, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein announced an increase in the overall number of students taking AP courses at REACH program sites, and a 21% increase in students passing AP exams. In particular, he highlighted a 35% gain among black and Latino students.

Jane Viau, an AP Statistics teacher at the selective Frederick Douglass Academy, in Harlem, trumpeted her class's 91% passing rate, which she said exceeds the national passing rate of 59% on the stats exam. As part of the REACH program, FDA will receive $21,000 to re-invest in AP programming at the school. Viau said this fall she will teach an additional AP course in response to student interest in the college-level classes.

"Even if [kids are] just doing it for the money, they're still getting a great education and a better chance of getting into college," said Morkos Hanna, a senior at Grover Cleveland High School, who took four AP courses this year.

The New York Times pointed to criticism of the program from Sol Stern, a fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute, who wonders if such programs simply reward students for learning test-taking skills. The article mentioned another city program that pays students for doing well on standardized exams.

What do you think about programs in which "scholars earn dollars?" Comment and let us know below!

results_physed_pollIn our last poll, we asked you to tell us what you think about your school's physical education program. Almost a third of respondents told us it was great, but nearly 50 percent think there's room for improvement. In her introductory post, our new blogger Bronx Mom said that the lack of satisfactory physical education facilities was one factor that lead her to look outside of her district for schools. Thanks for your comments on her post and on our poll!

One parent told us: "Physical education is given in the cafeteria. Kids only get it once a week and all the supplies including balls are paid for by the PTA, because there isn’t enough money in the budget to cover that stuff. Upper grades have recess in the street because the yards are too small to accommodate everyone."

Elizabeth, a NYC public high school teacher said that large gym class sizes and short class length are a huge problem. She noted, however, that she's thankful her school offers rigorous dance and yoga classes. " These make physical fitness an integrated part of students’ lives - doing things that are active but that students are also invested in," she said.

Marge cited the need for physical fitness opportunities outside of schools: "Let’s do all we can for kids while they are at school, but our society needs to address some of the imbalances outside of school as well, like affordable summer camps and sports programs and after school activities that allow for adequate physical exercise and making neighborhoods safer so kids can play outside."

This week, we’d like to know whether you think school's should require summer reading. Vote now, and add your comments below!

Monday, 27 July 2009 10:20

New state commissioner of education

The Board of Regents elected Dr. David Steiner as New York state education commissioner and president of the University of the State of New York. According to the state education department's press release, Steiner, current dean of the Hunter College School of Education, is "best known for his leadership of the national effort to transform teacher preparation and improve teacher quality." The New York Post reported this morning that Steiner supports merit pay and higher wages for teachers.

The previous state education commissioner, Richard Mills, announced in November that he was retiring after 14 years on the job. His tenure was marked by an increased emphasis on standardized test scores and tougher high school graduation requirements.

Friday, 31 July 2009 12:29

Musical schools

Summer break is hardly a vacation for more than 90 schools across the city that will be moving into new locations for the new school year. For some, moving means a home in a brand-new building, while for others, it is a less-than-welcome change. Many of the moves involve charter schools which some public schools have resisted housing in their buildings.

On Monday, The New York Post highlighted parents' and students' upset over the Coalition School for Social Change's move from the West 50s to East Harlem, an area they say is known for gangs and violence. Families of the Bronx Early College Academy are not happy about the school's move to the South Bronx. The move from Riverdale to a troubled middle school campus takes the school farther away from Lehman College, where students in the upper grades will eventually take classes.

The siting of charter schools in existing zoned schools has long been a contentious issue. In March, parents filed a law suit against the DOE for its plans to close three neighborhood schools (PS 194 and PS 241 in Harlem, and PS 150 in Brooklyn) and replace them with charter schools. Although the DOE eventually backed down from its decision to close the schools, the middle school grades of PS 150 and PS 241 are being phased out and charter schools will move into their buildings nonetheless. (PS 150 will become home to Brownsville Collegiate and Leadership Prep Brownsville, which will both open in September, and Harlem Success IV will move into PS 241.) Harlem Success II, which was slated to move into PS 194, is instead relocating to PS 123, where it was met with opposition earlier this month.

In Marine Park, however, parents and community members successfully petitioned to keep the Hebrew Language Academy from opening in their local middle school, IS 278. HLA, like five other new charter schools, has found space in private facilities. but most of the more than 20 new charter schools will open in DOE buildings.Not all moves are unwelcome, though. Frank Sinatra High Schol for the Arts, which opened in 2001, will stay in Long Island City, moving to a brand-new modern glass building with "state of the art performance hall, theatres, art studios, and practice rooms," according to Exploring the Arts, the organization which worked to fund the building's construction.

The Peace and Diversity Academy has a long-awaited a permanent home. In 2004, the small Bronx high school opened at Herbert H. Lehman High School, and then relocated in 2007 to the fourth floor of Cornerstone Academy for Social Action, a new elementary school. Now the school will move one last time to a brand-new building in Morrisania. It will share the space with Metropolitan High School, which has been housed in trailers while the building was under construction since it opened in 2005.

A highly regarded small District 2 high school, Baruch College Campus High School is moving from cramped quarters in Baruch College buildings, a few blocks uptown to the School for the Physical City, which is phasing out. Meanwhile Ross Charter, currently split between two sites - will be vacating Physical City and Tweed Courthouse and will share a building with East Side Community High School.

PS 65, the Little Red School House in Brooklyn outgrew its 1897 landmark building, and has housed its lower grades at a separate site two miles away. This fall, the school will be reunited under one roof in a brand-new building just blocks away from its original site. The Department of Education's decision to move Achievement First East New York Charter School into the old building, however, was not well-received by the Cypress Hills community. According to the Daily News, local parents hoped the building would be used to alleviate overcrowding in other neighborhood schools not to enable a charter school to expand.

Stay tuned as more changes are sure to be announced! And please share your thoughts about new schools and moves in your community.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009 12:58

The iClassroom of the future?

Yesterday, Chancellor Klein visited the School of One, a two-month summer school program at Chinatown's MS 131. Unlike typical summer school programs which target low-achieving kids who need to catch up, 80 middle school math students volunteered to spend their summer vacation in MS 131's school library. They  are piloting the use of a technology-based classroom that offers them individualized instruction, complete with their own laptop and daily "playlist."

According to Gothamschools, which has a good rundown of the program,  a student’s playlist, or schedule, might direct him to start the day by meeting with a tutor, then to complete a set of online assignments, and then to work on a project with classmates. The New York Times reports that, for some, online tasks may take the form video games in which math problems are obstacles: "[Students'] screens looked no different than typical arcade screens — except when their equations popped up."

Each playlist is unique; it's based on the results of the student's daily end-of-lesson quiz. The New York Post explains that this closing assessment not only reflects whether or not a student mastered the work assigned, but also shows which lessons worked best for his learning style and how to improve mastery of a topic the next day.

Is  the School of One  a ploy to cut costs by cramming more than 40 kids into classrooms and replacing real-live teachers with its interactive technology? In the current 80-student program, there are four flesh-and-blood teachers who are supported by four New York University graduate students and two high school interns, which GothamSchools notes is a lower student-teacher ratio than most middle schools have. reported that the bulk of the financial support for the $1 million pilot program came from private sponsors, led by tech companies Cisco and Microsoft, and educational publishers Pearson and McGraw Hill.

In a Department of Education press release, Klein is quoted as saying the innovations of the pilot program are " some of the most exciting and promising work being done in education today." There are plans to expand the program to additional schools in the 2009-1010 school year. Are you on board?

Tuesday, 21 July 2009 10:48

Charter school push-outs?

In the news this past week come reports that some low-performing students, as well as students with special needs, are being pushed out of charter schools and enrolling in their neighborhood zoned schools, echoing what we reported in May (See: "Most vulnerable students shut out of charter schools).
In her opinion piece, Insideschools founder Clara Hemphill questions whether charter schools help or hurt neighborhood public schools. She highlights two low-income schools in the Bronx that, although located just one block away from each other, serve very different student populations.

According to Hemphill, the majority of students who go to the Carl C. Icahn Charter School are African-American and speak English at home, while the majority of students at PS 42 are Latino and only speak Spanish. PS 42 has many students who receive special education services, and teachers there say some are students "who can't meet the academic or behavioral requirements of the charter school are encouraged to leave and wind up at PS 42."

Additionally, PS 42 serves many students from local homeless shelters who move in and out of the school throughout the year. At the charter school, however, families sign up for the entrance lottery by April, and as Hemphill notes, "know in the spring where they will be living in the fall. " In our May article, we reported that the Carl C. Icahn Charter School enrolled only one homeless student. Jeffery Litt, superintendent of the Carl C. Icahn charter schools, told us that he did not know whether homeless families had the time to research the ins and outs of the charter school application process.

An article in Sunday's Daily News finds that the practice of dumping low-performing kids on local public schools may be widespread. It quotes Brooklyn's PS 173 Principal Melessa Avery as saying that low-performing students were pushed out of charter schools and enrolled in her school late in the year. According to the Daily News, 550 charter school students transferred into traditional public schools between Oct. 31 2008 and June 1, 2009.

Is this happening in your neighborhood? Please tell us about your experiences below.

Monday, 20 July 2009 09:53

Parent-funded assistants get the boot

In April, our blogger Jennifer Freeman wrote about the potential for parent-funded teachers' aides to be pushed out of our city's overcrowded classrooms. That looming threat has now become a reality, The New York Times reported yesterday.

Parent associations at top schools have a long tradition of raising thousands of dollars to independently hire assistants to help teachers in the classroom, run enrichment programs, or manage students in the cafeteria and at recess. Sparked by a complaint from the teachers union, however, the Bloomberg administration has told principals to put an end to the practice. Any aides hired for the coming school year must be employees of the Department of Education whose salaries are included in the school's official budget.

DOE employees will cost schools more money. While teaching assistants hired by parents earn $12 to $15 an hour, unionized paraprofessionals earn around $23 plus benefits. Even if schools want to pay their current aides the union wage, they won't be able to keep them on staff because of the citywide hiring freeze. The future of additional adults in classrooms is now up in the air.

Jennifer's April post got some great comments from our readers.  Is this yet another example of Bloomberg steamrolling parental involvement in schools? Or is it a necessary measure to level the playing field citywide? Please let us know what you think!

The Daily News reported yesterday that five of the city's schools that posted the lowest scores on state math exams this year had been  opened to replace  failing schools  closed by the Department of Education for poor performance. Additionally, the News reported, some of the schools slated for closure this year actually made test score improvements that were twice that of the citywide average . Other schools targeted for closure posted scores close to the citywide average when their student demographics (such as the special education population or number of English Language Learners) are taken into account.

The policy of closing schools is one of the most controversial initiatives launched since the state gave Mayor Bloomberg control of the city's school system. What is your experiences with "replacement" schools in your neighborhood?  Do you support or oppose the policy?

Wednesday, 08 July 2009 08:01

Summer G&T testing

Families of soon-to-be kindergartners or 1st-graders who are new to the city may request an application to test for gifted and talented programs. Applications are due July 16. Contact your local placement office for an application.

The Department of Education will not guarantee placement -- even for students who qualify -- because spaces are limited. All parents whose children are tested will be notified by August 31.

Note:  You must have proof that you did not move to the city before February 15 and proof of current NYC residence.

Tuesday, 07 July 2009 11:27

G&T placement

Parents of  2nd and 3rd-graders waiting to find out their gifted and talented program placement should be on the lookout! A Department of Education official confirmed that the letters were sent out last Thursday - a day earlier than expected!

Remember: you must accept your placement offer by Friday, July 17.  Let us know  if you've gotten news!

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