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Laura Zingmond

Laura Zingmond

Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein may not use his emergency powers to override a state education commissioner's ruling that blocked the expansion of Girls Prep Charter School inside PS 188. Last Friday, three days before Girls Prep's middle school students were to report to school, the Department of Education announced that it was working with Girls Prep's Board of Trustees to find an alternate space for its fifth and sixth grades.  

The last minute decision means that Girls Prep's midde school will not open today, and may not open until next month, around the same time traditional public schools start their school year on September 8.  Girls Prep's elementary grades will remain at PS 188 and start school, as planned, on August 23.

DOE spokesperson Natalie Ravitz said it was "incumbent upon the department to exhaust all other options before issuing an emergency declaration," as reported by the New York Times, Daily News and Gothamschools

The latest twist in the year-long struggle over space at PS 188 was triggered by concerns that Advocates for Children (AFC) would seek an injuction, restraining the Chancellor from using his emergency powers. AFC filed the original complaint with the state education commissioner on behalf of PS 188 and PS 94 families. 

"This is a promising step, but it's not over yet. We'd like to see an amicable resolution, but are prepared to take action if necessary to protect the rights of the parents we represent," said AFC's director, Kim Sweet.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010 12:45

Charter school update: The Swedes are coming!

Manhattan's District 2 may get its first charter school in 2011-12 and some parents aren't happy about the prospect. The District 2 Community Education Council will vote on two resolutions tonight, addressing the proposed 2011 opening of KED Manhattan Charter School, founded by a Swedish school management organization.

The CECD2's Resolution 30 would ban the co-location of charter schools in District 2 buildings, which in recent years have been housing many schools, and co-located schools, operating in crowded conditions.

CECD2 Resolution 31, calls for the SUNY Charter School Institute, KED's authorizing agency, to prohibit charter applications submitted by for-profit charter organizations.  As part of the New York State Charter School Act, amended in May to raise the state charter cap, for-profit organizations are banned from managing or operating new charter schools.

Resolution #31 would also expand the ban on charter applications by for-profit organizations to include those that were "were grandfathered in under the old law because of the effective date of the new law."

What is KED?

Kunskapsskolan Education (KED), a school management organization operating schools in Sweden and the United Kingdom, is looking to open its first charter school in the United States.  The charter application under review by SUNY's Charter School Institute is for a middle school (grades 6 to 8).

District 2 is not the typical community sought out by charter schools -- whose mission generally is to serve low-income neighborhoods with poor school options -- which may be why KED chose it for its first US-based site.

The KED model aligns with the progressive educational practices used in many District 2 schools serving middle class neighborhoods.  According to KED's website, instruction is highly personalized with great emphasis on self-paced learning:

The steps and courses offer different kinds of lesson formats, such as lectures, workshops, seminars, laboratory experiments etc, which you and your personal tutor will put together in your weekly schedule. If you feel that any subject is particularly difficult, you can choose to devote more time in your personal schedule to teacher-led learning or independent studies in this subject.

In an article covering the arrival of KED in the UK, the Telegraph described the instructional philosophy as "laissez-faire liberalism,"  citing "no bells, no timetable and few structured lessons."

Other charter schools coming soon

If you're curious about new schools coming to a neighborhood near you, check out the latest list of charter school applications under review by SUNY's Charter School Institute and those under review by the city's Department of Education.


Back in November 2009, Insideschools reported on the controversy surrounding the expansion of Girls Prep Charter School to include grades 5 to 8 inside a building it shares with PS 188 and PS 94 on the Lower East Side.

At the time, the Department of Education proposed three options -- one involved relocating PS 94, a small program for autistic students in grades 4 to 8; the other two involved moving Girls Prep to another location within District 1. The DOE settled on the first option, saying it would reduce the grades served by PS 94 at PS 188 by assigning all incoming 4th and 5th graders to other PS 94 sites throughout the city.

With only two weeks to spare before the start of middle school for Girls Prep students on August 16, State Education Commissioner David M. Steiner ruled last week that the DOE  violated state law. Steiner held that the DOE's Educational Impact Statement (EIS), addressing the impact of Girls Prep's expansion on the community and students did not specifically take into account the effect on PS 94 students.

For PS 188 and 94 families, who filed the formal challenge to the Girls Prep expansion with the support of Advocates for Children (AFC), the victory was short-lived.  Two days later, Chancellor Joel I. Klein invoked his emergency powers authorized by state law, to override Steiner's decision and proceed with the Girls Prep expansion, as planned.

Commissioner Steiner may not have been surprised by the Chancellor's move as he expressly referred to the emergency powers in the concluding paragraph of his decision:  "...nothing herein shall be construed as preventing the Chancellor from determining that DOE's proposal is immediately necessary for the preservation of student health, safety or general welfare; and from invoking the emergency provisions..."

What's next?

Next Monday, Girls Prep middle grade students are due to report to school, a full three weeks before most of the city's public school students begin classes on September 8. Whether an earlier release of the decision would have avoided the Chancellor's justification for using emergency powers is unclear.  Had the decision stood, Girls Prep would have had little time to find alternate space for its middle school students.

The DOE defended its decision in a statement: "Not a single autistic child in this program would be moved from their current location under our proposal. The emergency declaration would solely be to provide space for 84 middle school girls who start school in one week and, without our immediate action, would not have a place to learn."

But families of rising 4th-graders at PS 94 have yet to be told where their children will attend school in September. Also unclear is whether the DOE's long term plan for PS 94 is to phase out its presence completely at PS 188 or have its students attend 4th and 5th grade at other sites and return to the 188 building for 6th grade.

"The DOE's disregard of the Commissioner's decision shows that it continues to regard students with disabilities as second class citizens," said Advocates for Children director, Kim Sweet.  "AFC is working with the parents at PS 94 to consider their options."

Public officials, including Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, are urging Chancellor Klein to reconsider.

As it stands now, Girls Prep will start school next week with an additional grade inside PS 188.  Emergency powers aside, the DOE still has to comply with state law by issuing an EIS that addresses the impact of Girls Prep's expansion on PS 94 students and accounts for community input. If procedure is followed, there's nothing to prevent Girls Prep from expanding to a K to 8 school at PS 188, as planned.

For more on this topic, see coverage here:

State Education Department ruling; New York Times, NY1, Daily News, Gothamschools, New York City Public School Parents Blog, and The Lo-Down.

Your thoughts?.  Please comment below.

Far fewer students across the state achieved proficiency on the 2010 standardized English and math tests than in past years, according to results released today by the State Education Department.  Under the tougher grading standards put in place this year, only 53% of students statewide met or exceeded proficiency, scoring at a level 3 or 4, in English; 61% were proficient in math.  In 2009 the statewide proficiency percentages were more than 20 points higher:  77% in English and 86% in math.

The results were grimmer for New York City students. Only 42% met or exceeded proficiency in English this year, compared to 69 % in 2009.  Eighth graders performed the worst with only a 38% proficiency level.

In math, the numbers were better with 54% of the city's students achieving proficiency, still much lower than last year's  rate of 82%.

In a statement issued late today, Chancellor Klein put a positive spin on the results, while conceding that the city has a "long way to go."

“It will take an unprecedented effort from school officials, teachers, students, and parents; and it will take a more rigorous set of standards that require our students to do college-level work,” he said.

You can view statewide ELA and math test results by school and district here.  The new grading standards, broken down by performance level, for English and math are available on the city's  Department of Education's website. Check out citywide results here.

Early summer school release for 1807

Nearly 2000 students  assigned to summer school this year based on preliminary cut scores, performed better than expected on their tests and are no longer at risk of being held back.

"All students who were mandated for summer school but, we have learned, scored above a Level 1, will receive a letter informing them that they may discontinue summer instruction," said Department of Education spokesman Matthew Mittenthal in an email. He said that 1807 students fell into that category.

Crunching the numbers

Insideschools did its own number crunching and found that only five city schools had at least one grade achieving 100% proficiency in English:  PS 122, Anderson, Icahn Charter Bronx South (Icahn 2),  Nest+M, and Special Music School. Anderson, a K - 8 citywide gifted and talented school, produced the strongest results, with every grade but 8 performing at 100% proficiency (grade 8 hit 98%).  Check out our full ranking by school and grade here.

In math, 21 schools had at least one grade achieving 100% proficiency. View our ranking here.

When will you find out how your child scored? According to the DOE, parents will receive their children’s scores in the second week of August.

The Department of Education is hiring educators to fill the newly created positions of "master" and "turnaround" teachers. The new  positions were designed in conjunction with the United Federation of Teachers to allow principals in "transformation Schools", those deemed "persistently low achieving" that the DOE wants to improve rather than close, to recruit top notch teachers who can help train and mentor others.

The new positions offer big a big boost in salary for those hired -- 30 percent for "master" and 15 percent for "turnaround" teachers -- but demand a lot in return.  Teachers must commit to working three years at the school and log up to 100 hours per school year beyond the contractual limit on tasks such as teacher training, curriculum development, and student data analysis.

The deadline to apply is Monday, August, 9 at 5 p.m.  You can view the full job listing here.

If you're a teacher in the system, you may have received a recruitment letter from the DOE's human resources department.  If not, check it out here.

Thinking of applying?  Comment below.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010 07:18

HS workshop roundup: CTE schools

Career and Technical Education (CTE) was the topic of last night's high school workshop, the fourth in the Department of Education’s seven-part series on high school admissions. The purpose of CTE schools  -- they used to be called vocational schools -- is to connect high school students with educational and job opportunities upon graduation.  Schools that offer CTE provide academic courses as well as technical instruction that typically culminates in professional certification in a field of employment.

From learning how to maintain aircrafts at Aviation High School near with an annex at JFK airport in Queens, to designing and selling clothing at Fashion Industries in Manhattan's garment district, there are an increasing number of CTE options in the city. Now is the time for 8th graders and their parents to start compiling a list of schools they may want to tour this fall.  You may use our advanced search option to learn more about CTE options in all five boroughs.

The DOE has posted a fact sheet about CTE here.

Were you at the CTE workshop? Was it helpful and what did you learn? Please comment and share information below!

Monday, 19 July 2010 09:47

Arts education funding declines

A recent study published by the Center for Arts Education (CAE) that examined funding for arts programs in New York City schools over a three-year period (2006-07, 2007-08, and 2008-09) revealed a downward trend in support for arts education.  The CAE report found "significant declines" in school budgets in two primary areas: funding for  partnerships with arts and cultural organizations and arts and music supplies and equipment. The report was released on the heels of a year of fiscal woes for city schools that resulted in slashed school budgets, teacher hiring restrictions, and frozen wages for teachers and principals.

The news that arts instruction in schools is a casualty of both the economic downtown and the increasing pressure on schools and municipalities to deliver on test scores is not new. Last year Insideschools reported that the city's schools were not meeting minimum state requirements for instructional hours dedicated to the arts, despite findings that arts instruction in high school boosts graduation rates, the holy grail of student performance.

CAE's current campaign to restore dedicated funding for the arts is grounded in the core value that arts education "...promotes the health and well-being of children, including academic and personal growth, critical thinking, analytical skills, and the motivation to stay in school and excel," as embodied in "Every Child in Every School", CAE's "Bill of Rights" for arts education. Insideschools has frequently chronicled the positive impact of arts education, such as the bump in attendance and student performance that IS 61 in Queens experienced after it rolled out its talent program.

We're wondering what types of art programs your school offers?   And what programs are being eliminated or downsized because of the latest round of budget cuts?  Share your thoughts below.

UPDATE: DOE spokesperson, Matthew Mittenthal responded to our post with the following:

While state cuts have strained school budgets over the last three years, the fact is that overall spending on arts education rose 5.5% in that same period. We’re proud that even in such tough budget times, we have added a large number of full-time arts teachers and boosted spending on arts education—both goals shared by the Center for Arts Education, but barely noted in its report. Instead, the Center makes selective use of data to highlight a decrease in funding for cultural organizations, whose financial support they rely on.

He said that the DOE has stepped up its hiring of full-time arts teachers over the past several years. From 2006-09, "139 new full-time arts teachers were hired, a 5.66% increase-compared to the overall increase in hiring of non-special education teachers, which was 0.24%." Click here to see a chart of the teachers hired.

Parents and students turned out in impressive numbers to last night's workshop at Brooklyn Tech, the third in the Department of Education's seven-part series on high school admissions.  Last night the topic was screened and audition schools.

The first speaker, DOE's Director of Enrollment, Liz Sciabarra talked the audience through the various types of screened programs, how to use the high school directory to evaluate them, and the range of admissions criteria that screened schools used to select students.  Next up was a discussion on the audition process and tips on how to put together a portfolio, which was presented by a panel of DOE officials who oversee performance and visual arts programs in city schools.

What was the take-away from last night's workshop? Summer is the time to start investigating options for high school.  There are hundreds of high schools and programs within schools to consider.  You can't tour them all, so don't wait until September to start figuring out which schools you'd like to visit and apply to.

The advice from DOE officials: Over the summer, look through the high school directory to set up a list of schools that meets your child's interests and needs, take note of each school's specific admissions criteria and mark the dates in October for the city-wide and borough high school fairs on your calendar.

Those who didn't attend the workshop can check out a description of how screened schools evaluate students here.  For tips on how to prepare for auditions and compile an art portfolio, click here.

Here's a brief recap of some of the topics discussed by DOE officials at the workshop:

What is meant by "screened admissions"?

Screening is the most selective admissions method.  Screened schools and programs evaluate students based on range of criteria that could include grades, standardized test scores, interviews, writing samples, admissions tests, and a student's record of attendance and punctuality.  The high school directory lists the admissions criteria for each screened school and screened program within a larger school.

What if my child wants to attend a screened school, but she doesn't meet all the admissions criteria?

While a school's admissions criteria represents "target" but not firm requirements, according to Sciabarra, it's important to be realistic.  If the school is very popular, the seats may fill up with students who meet all the criteria.  However, some schools are more flexible in the evaluation of students than others, which is why it's very important to reach out to school representatives at open houses and high school fairs to ask them specific questions on how they evaluate students.

My child is very creative and loves the arts.  Should he attend a performing arts school?

There are some good options for students interested in the performing or visual arts.  There are small, arts-themed schools that admit students who are interested in the arts but who have little or no arts background.  Typically, these schools offer electives and programs in select forms of  arts.

Large, comprehensive high schools typically offer a broad range of arts options. Some large schools offer competitive, screened arts programs, such as Cardozo High School's dance program, in addition to a range of  arts-related clubs and programs that are open to all students.

Conservatory-style arts schools such as LaGuardia, Frank Sinatra and Professional Performing Arts School offer rigorous and advanced instruction in a range of arts and demand a high level of commitment and talent from the students they admit.

Is it necessary for my child to prepare for an audition?

Yes!  Audition schools are looking for a combination of talent and commitment. Even students who are very talented and have studied their craft for years will need to put time and effort into preparing for their audition.  Don't show up and "wing it" in front of the admissions committee evaluating your audition.

Anything else I should consider when looking for school?

As with every school you are considering, take into account travel time.  Student life and extra-curricular activities are key components to a successful high school experience.  For most high school students, the school day doesn't end with the last class.   For students involved in the arts, there will be performances and practices that will extend the day by several hours.  Adding a long commute on top of a very long school day may be too much for some students and breeze for others.

The next admissions workshop will be held on Tuesday, July 20 in the Stuyvesant High School auditorium (which is air-conditioned!) and will cover Career and Technical Education high schools and programs.

Did you attend the July 14 workshop? Was it helpful and what did you learn? Please comment below.

Thursday, 08 July 2010 13:11

Specialized HS workshop round-up

New Yorkers are a hearty breed.  Despite the sweltering heat outside and the lack of air conditioning inside Brooklyn Tech's auditorium last night, an impressive crowd of parents and students attended the second installment of the Department of Education's series of high school admissions workshops. The latest focused on specialized high schools.

The workshop series introduces middle school parents to the high school admissions process and the  different types of schools.  Families may pick up a copy of the phone-book size 2010-11 high school directory and the slimmer specialized high school directory, get questions answered by DOE  enrollment officials and parent ambassadors, get help logging on to ARIS Parent Link, and sign up to receive email admissions updates.

Last night the audience heard from all eight  specialized exam high school principals.   LaGuardia was represented by the director of guidance.  Each  spoke for a few minutes about their school and then fielded questions from the intrepid few willing to sweat it out until the end.

For those who couldn't attend, there will be plenty of opportunities to learn about the specialized high schools in the fall at open houses, and at the city and borough-wide high school  fairs.  For specific information about open houses, college admissions, and activities, check out each school's website and our profiles in the Find a School section of Insideschools.

If you didn't make it to the workshop,  see a brief  Q&A recapping the main questions asked by parents, and the DOE's responses, after the jump.

Q.  What kinds of support do the schools offer new students to help them with the social and academic transition to high school?

A.  Incoming 9th and 10th graders attend orientation sessions ahead of the first day of school and meet with their guidance counselors early  in the schools year.  Several schools have "Big Sib" programs that buddy older students with incoming 9th and 10th graders to help them adjust.  Staff at the smaller schools, by virtue of their size, get to know students much better and can often spot problems or changes sooner.  All the panelists emphasized the need for parents to be proactive and let the school know if there are problems at home.

Q. How do I sign up for the SHSAT?

A.  You'll need a ticket in order to take the exam.  Speak with your current school's guidance counselor in September.  They'll register you for the exam and distribute the admissions tickets ahead of the exam date. Tickets will be distributed in mid-October.

Q.  My child attends a private or parochial school.  How do I sign her up for the SHSAT?

A.  As with public schools, speak with your child's guidance counselor, or whoever handles high school admissions.  They'll arrange for your child to get an admissions ticket.

Q.  If I want to apply to LaGuardia High School, do I need to take the SHSAT?

A.  No.  LaGuardia is the only specialized high school that does not require students to take an exam.  Instead, students are admitted based on an audition, or portfolio if applying to the art studio, as well as their middle school report card and attendance record.

Q.  How much should my child prep for the SHSAT?

A.  Everyone should prepare for the test, but don't put too much pressure on your child or set up the expectation that the only path to educational success is through a specialized high school.  As for how much prep is "too much", every child is different, so the answer is best determined by the child and parents.

Q. What is the cut-off score for each of the schools?

A.  Every year parents ask this question and every year the DOE releases only one figure, the lowest score earned among students who were offered a seat at one of the specialized high schools.  The "official" cut-off score varies each year, but tends to be in the low 470's (out of a possible 800 points).  The DOE doesn't officially release the "cut-off scores" for individual schools [although students, parents, and guidance counselors can often figure it out.]

Q.  Why are there so few black students at Stuyvesant?

A.  It's all about the test. Admission to Stuyvesant or any other of the eight,  specialized exam high schools is determined solely by the SHSAT.  The individual schools do not select students.  Instead, they are assigned students based on a combination of the student's test score, how a student ranks his preference for attending the schools and the number of seats available.  The race, religion or ethnicity of a student is never considered during the admissions process.

Q.  If I participated in the Specialized High School Summer Institute do I still have to take the SHSAT in order to get into a specialized high school?

A.  Yes.

The next admissions workshop will be held on Wednesday, July 14 at Brooklyn Tech and will cover admissions to screened (selective) and audition schools.  After that, the remainder of the workshops will be held at Stuyvesant High School, which DOES have air-conditioning!

Were you at the Wednesday workshop? If so, was it helpful and what did you learn? Please comment below.

Every fall the Department of Education sends home to families a booklet containing the student Discipline Code. Many parents file it away without reading it and may not realize the serious repercussions for misbehavior.  At last month's public hearing on proposed changes to the code, testimony was heard on matters ranging from the inclusion of cyber-bullying and sexting to the list of prohibited conduct, to the frequent use of suspensions as the primary means for disciplining students.

We've put together a rundown of some of the proposed changes.  The revised code is slated to go into effect in September but public comments will be accepted until Wednesday, July 14. If  you are interested in weighing in,  email your comments to

Proposed changes

A key change is the inclusion of inappropriate communications via "texting, e-mailing, and social networking," to the the list of prohibited acts.  Under the revised language, "sexting" ("sending or posting sexually suggestive messages or images") and "cyber-bullying" ("intimidating and bullying behavior through electronic communication") are subject to discipline as "dangerous or violent" infractions.

Another important revision to the code's language  is the greater emphasis placed on guidance measures (counseling, peer mediation, and parent outreach) when addressing student misconduct.  In past versions,  it was merely suggested that guidance be used "in addition to disciplinary responses, as appropriate."   The revised language reads:

Every reasonable effort should be made to correct student misbehavior through guidance interventions and other school-based resources and the least severe disciplinary responses. Appropriate disciplinary responses should emphasize prevention and effective intervention, prevent disruption to students’ education, and promote the development of a positive school culture.

Critics charge that the change will have little impact on how discipline is doled out because the Discipline Code does not mandate that guidance interventions be the first line of response to student misconduct.

Suspensions on the rise

Despite a drop in the overall number of students in the system, suspensions rose by 40%, from 52,000  in 2005-06, to more than 72,000 in 2009-10, the Daily News reported, especially for minor offenses.  Principal suspensions, which last up to five days and typically address less serious misconduct, account for the entire uptick in suspensions, from roughly 35,000 in in 2005-06 to 56,000 in 2009-10.  The number of superintendent suspensions, imposed for more serious infractions, dipped slightly.

"By putting forth a Discipline Code that emphasizes suspensions in far too many areas, the DOE is promoting, and even mandating in some ways, a very specific and harsh approach to discipline that is not working," said Chris Tan, a lawyer at Advocates for Children, in his hearing testimony.

According to the testimony of an 11th grader at Flushing High School, "what many would consider normal youth behavior ten years ago is now being treated as violent or disruptive behaviors.  Think about it, we are punished for being late to class, and our punishment is to miss the rest of the day or sometimes many days of class time."

Students of color and those with disabilities received a disproportionate number of the suspensions in recent years, according to Tan.  In 2006-07,  African-American students made up 35% of the citywide student population, but accounted for 53% of the suspensions; special education students made up 9% of the city's students, but received 28% of the suspensions.

A draft of the proposed 2010 Discipline Code is available in multiple languages here.  According to the DOE's website "all wording changes have been highlighted in blue, text that has been moved within the document has been highlighted in brown and words that will be removed are indicated with strike through marks."

Have you ever read the Discipline Code? How does your school handle discipline? Please comment below.

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