What to expect from the new schools chancellor, Carmen Farina, just announced this morning at MS 51? More collaboration between schools--and less competition. Less emphasis on test scores. And more consistent efforts to improve the quality of teaching.
The new chancellor is not against school choice—which expanded under the Bloomberg administration. But her focus during nearly half a century of teaching has been to improve neighborhood schools—not to close the bad ones.
I first met her in the mid-1990s when she was was a principal of PS 6 on the Upper East Side. She transformed a school with lackluster teaching into a national model for writing instruction, a lively place with teachers who willingly adopted new methods. She eliminated “tracking,” or grouping children by ability, insisting that all children could benefit from a challenging curriculum. She replaced textbooks with classroom libraries of children’s literature, and allowed each child to choose a different book based on his or her interests and ability.
The city and state education officials keep saying the new Common Core standards are much tougher. I got a glimpse of just how much tougher on a visit to a Queens elementary school this week.
PS 254 in Richmond Hill has adopted Pearson’s ReadyGen reading program, one of three programs recommended by the city and state. Now, at the very beginning of the school year, 2nd graders are being asked to read Charlotte’s Web. A terrific book, but one that the Scholastic Book Wizard website (which lists the difficulty of different texts) says is written at a 4th grade level. Fourth graders at PS 254 are reading The Tarantula Scientist, a non-fiction book about spiders, which Scholastic says is appropriate for children in the second half of 5th grade.
Parents have been peppering us with questions ever since Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced last week that parents must to apply to kindergarten online starting in January. We don't have all the answers—and the Department of Education is still working out the details--but for now, this is what we know:
--Parents may apply to elementary schools, online or by phone, between January and March for admission in fall 2014. They may apply either to their zoned neighborhood school or to various schools of choice such as dual language programs or magnet schools.
--Parents who are interested in gifted and talented programs will have to sign up to have their child tested, but the Department of Education hasn't said when. That will be a separate application.
--Parents who are interested in charter schools will also apply online or in person—but that's yet another application.
Parents who want to take advantage of school choice in the fall of 2014 may apply to kindergarten online beginning in January, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced.
Parents still have the option of registering their child at their neighborhood school the old-fashioned way, in person, in the spring or even the first day of school in September. But for those who want to apply early to a crowded zoned school, or who want to apply to special programs or to schools outside their attendance zone, the online application spares parents the trouble of going to schools in person, the chancellor said. In addition, parents will be able to apply via telephone or by going in person to an enrollment center, according to the Department of Education website.
A group of public school parents and community groups filed a complaint today with the U.S. Office of Civil Rights alleging that New York City’s high school admissions policy discriminates against black and Hispanic students by concentrating them in low-performing schools where they are more likely to fail.
Filed by the Educational Law Center in Newark, N.J., on behalf of 13 parents, the Alliance for Quality Education and several community organizations, the complaint takes aim at the city’s complex system of school choice which assigns students to 386 high schools across the five boroughs.
Excluded from the complaint are the eight specialized high schools, including Stuyvesant, Bronx High School of Science and Brooklyn Tech, which require an entrance exam. Admission to those schools is governed by state law, not city policy. Also excluded from the complaint are “international” schools, which serve new immigrants, and transfer schools, which serve students who have been unsuccessful at traditional schools.
“Of the 386 high schools at issue in this sweeping federal complaint, 242 schools (or 63%) have a student population that is more than 90% African American and Latino. Thirty-seven of the 386 high schools (or 10%) have a student population that is more than 24% white, thus more than double the percentage of white students in the district,” the Alliance for Quality Education said in a press release.
Some scholars, including Bruce Fuller, Richard Elmore and Gary Orfield in their 1996 book "Who Chooses? Who Loses?," have suggested that an unfettered free market of school choice tends to increase racial and economic segregation because the best educated and wealthiest parents are best equipped to navigate a complex admissions process.
The Parthenon Group, a consulting firm hired by DOE to examine its NYC high school admissions, wrote in a 2008 report that concentrating students with high needs in any one school increases the overall chances of student failure and school closure. “Yet, despite this evidence DOE has continued to concentrate the highest-need students in minority schools, creating a vicious cycle that has doomed more minority schools to closure,” the press release said.
The Bloomberg administration dramatically expanded high school choice, closed low-performing schools and created hundreds of new small schools in the hopes that competition would force bad schools to close and allow good schools to flourish. Rather than attending school based on their address, all students must now apply to high school. Some selective or “screened” schools rank the students they want to admit based on their test scores and grades; others schools are assigned students at random. Some popular schools may have 5,000 applicants for 125 seats and attract high-performing students; unpopular schools struggle to fill their seats and get mostly low-performing students
The complaint calls this a “hands-off” approach to school assignment which results in disproportionate numbers of black and Hispanic children being assigned to low-performing schools. “There are, apparently, no controls to ensure a distribution of students that will not overwhelm certain schools with high concentrations of students with high needs,” the complaint states.
As a proposed remedy, the complaint suggests the city could institute a system of "contolled choice" that limits the number of high needs students in any school.
The DOE responded by saying that choice has “empowered” families and suggesting that critics wanted to “turn back the clock.”
"This administration inherited an unequal system-–where zip code often determined a child’s fate,” deputy chancellor Marc Sternberg said in a press release. “Today, because of our nationally recognized high school admissions process, every student has the freedom to apply to any school throughout the city.” Sternberg said that graduation rates had increased for black and Hispanic students during Bloomberg’s tenure.
A copy of the complaint can be downloaded below.
Charter school applications were due on April 1, but some may still be accepting them and have space. Here are descriptions of some of the best-known charter networks and schools, and a few that are opening next fall and look promising.
We list the networks first, followed by the “mom and pops.”
The big networks
KIPP NYC is one of the city’s first charter organizations, opened in 1995. It operates four elementary schools, five middle schools and one high school in New York City. KIPP NYC is affiliated with the California-based KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) network, which now operates 125 charter schools across the United States, most in low-income neighborhoods. Students typically enter the KIPP system as kindergartners and remain in the KIPP system; new faces are now rare in middle or high school. KIPP NYC’s philosophy emphasizes rigorous academic instruction, longer school days and a focus on core values designed to foster good citizenship. Discipline is structured to make students understand the consequences for bad behavior, while good behavior is often rewarded (everything from T-shirts to class trips). KIPP teachers are typically young and energetic—necessary qualities in a demanding environment. They employ a mix of traditional and progressive teaching techniques.
If you’re unhappy with your neighborhood school, you may want to enter a lottery for a charter school. The deadline is April 1--so hurry. In most cases you can submit an application online. Get an application on the New York City Charter School Center website, on the individual schools' websites or at the school. (Some charter schools are open this week, even though the public schools are on Spring break.)
But which school? Here are tips for making your choice.
Here are some recommendations for high schools that still have room—either new schools opening in the fall or established schools that haven’t filled their 9th grade seats, according to the Department of Education "Round 2 program list."
Westchester Square Academy, housed in Lehman High School, has seats in its new honors program. Founded in 2011 by the former assistant principal of Brooklyn Latin, Westchester Square has lots of good word of mouth.
For strong students, the Macy’s honors program at Dewitt Clinton High School still has seats. Although there are some concerns about safety and discipline in the building, the smaller honors program has challenging academics.
Bronx Design and Construction Academy is a new school that's off to a good start.
Bronx Latin has high expectations and a classical education.
Bronx Collaborative High School, a new school housed in Dewitt Clinton High School, is modeled after the popular Institute for Collaborative Education (ICE) in Manhattan. Brett Schneider, former ICE assistant principal, is the new principal.
Abraham Lincoln High School has a good photography program that still has seats. Overall, the school is better than its reputation and a good place for kids who can handle the huge size.
Acceptance letters for high school went out today, and 90 percent of students got one of their choices. But if you are one of the 7,225 8th graders who didn’t get matched to a high school (or if you’re unhappy with your match) it’s time to consider one of the 16 new schools opening in the fall of 2013—or one of the established schools that still has space.
You can meet representatives from these schools at the second-round high school fair from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on April 6th and Aprll 7th at the Martin Luther King Educational Campus at 65th and Amsterdam in Manhattan.
Some of the schools will also have their own open houses. We've also compiled some recommendations for high schools that still have room.