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At the teacher's prompting, a kindergartner at PS 251 in Queens tries to define "text evidence" for the rest of the class. "Test ed-i-dence," says the 5-year-old, tripping over the unfamiliar words, "is something when you say the word and show the picture."
"Text evidence"? What's with this incomprehensible jargon in kindergarten?
This fall, I visited over a dozen elementary schools and saw firsthand how hard teachers are working to meet the new Common Core standards for reading. I also saw precious time wasted, as teachers seemed to confuse harder standards with puzzling language.
Are you confused by your child's math homework? Is science an afterthought in your child's school? Take a look at our parents' guide to math and science, including what to look for in the classroom. We give you questions you can ask during parent-teacher conferences as well as suggestions of what to do outside of school!
Insideschools will help you find out if your children are getting the math or science instruction they need in pre-kindergarten through 5th grade—and what to do about it if they aren't.
Our two short videos, one on math, one on science, will give you an idea of what to look for in your child's classroom.
All pre-kindergarten through 2nd-graders are eligible to be tested for the city's gifted and talented programs—but the overwhelming number of test applicants come from Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. Bronx children are tested at the lowest rate in the city, and some say it's because efforts to reach them are lacking.
"Information is not being disseminated widely," said Bronx parent Jonathan Ettrick, whose two children attended citywide G&T schools in Manhattan.
The tests are free but parents must fill out a short form called a Request For Testing (RFT). Families may submit online or at an enrollment office. The deadline to sign up for G&T testing for the 2015-2016 school year is midnight, Nov. 7th is Wednesday, Nov. 12. The Department of Education announced on Nov. 6 that it had extended the deadline from Nov. 7.
Which elementary schools offer a great education in math and science?
We scoured the city for schools that give ordinary kids an extraordinary education—zoned neighborhood schools, not gifted programs or schools with a special application process. We picked schools that are willing to open their doors and share their knowledge—in the hopes that these might serve as models for others. We chose schools with good test scores, but we avoided ones with too much test prep or paper-and-pencil drills. Most of all, we picked schools that foster a love of math and science while giving children the skills they need to be successful later in life.
Here are our favorites.
PS 171, East Harlem
Why we picked it: Where else do little kids use words like "heart valve?"
Teachers at PS 171 know that science lessons build children's vocabularies—and that helps them read better. All children—even pre-kindergartners—go to the science lab three times a week for lessons taught by a certified science teacher. Children build models of cells out of clay and write essays about the use of animal parts in medicine, using sophisticated words like "heart valves" and "livers" to support their arguments. Kids take trips to science museums and study ducks in Central Park, building their general knowledge along with their vocabularies. (Pauline Zaldonis)
PS 42, Lower East Side/Chinatown
Why we picked it: Second-graders learn geometry and physics by studying bridges
PS 42 integrates science and math into well-planned interdisciplinary units. For example, 2nd-graders research bridges of the world, explore bridge geometry and physics, create bridge-inspired 3-D art, hear architects speak about their jobs and take fields trips to Battery Park to see real bridges. Children at the school have outstanding math scores and reading scores that are well above the citywide average—quite an accomplishment since more than one-third of them are learning English as a second language. (Anna Schneider)
There's been a rush to sign up for pre-kindergarten in the past few days. Yet, under Mayor DeBlasio's huge pre-k expansion effort there are still some good options among a variety of pre-k choices—regular public schools, charter schools and programs housed in community organizations. (These organizations, such as churches, temples, libraries and YMCAs are called Community Based Early Childhood Centers.) And, even at this late stage, the Department of Education is adding new seats.
For a complete list of programs go to the Department of Education website. To find out if a program still has seats, you'll have to call directly.
Here are some promising new programs that still had seats when we called just before Labor Day. Call first, and then go in person to sign up, bringing your child, their 2010 birth certificate, their vaccination card, and two proofs of residence.
St. Johns' Chrysostom is still enrolling. Parents rave about the pre-k in online reviews.
New York City Montessori Charter School in the South Bronx offers a promising vision: hands-on learning that prepares the brain for long-term understanding. There was a wait list with about 10 names when we called.
PS 307's expanding pre-kindergarten program is attracting children of middle class families in DUMBO and Brooklyn Heights. Students with special needs from throughout the district come for the school's excellent ASD Nest program. Principal Roberta Davenport, who grew up in the nearby Farragut projects, has forged partnerships with city and neighborhood agencies as well as artists and entrepreneurs.
PS 120 was called "well developed" on last year's Quality Review, the highest rating the city gives to a school. Although test scores have a ways to go, teachers say Principal Liza Caraballo is a good manager and the school is safe and orderly, with zero bullying, according to school surveys.
Park Slope (District 15)
The Department of Education opened seven new pre-k classrooms at the recently closed Bishop Ford Central Catholic High School. The 126 new seats are reserved for children living in District 15. The seats will now be assigned according to a lottery. The pre-k's will be located at 19th Street and Prospect Park West but the lottery will be held a few blocks away at PS 10, at 511 Seventh Ave. near 17th Street. Applications will be accepted through September 2nd from 9 am–3 pm, and from 6 pm–9 pm Thursday, August 28. They will be announcing weekend hours today. Laura Scott, principal of the highly regarded PS 10, will supervise the Bishop Ford program.
East New York
There is still space at PS 346, which has better test scores than most schools in District 19, a positive climate, and is making improvements each year.
PS 212 is a safe school with happy teachers and strong leadership according to school surveys. Teachers create a "comfortable" learning environment at this "well developed" school, according to the city's Quality Review.
PS 361 is an early childhood (pre-k–2) program with a promising new leader who is setting a higher academic bar than in the past in order to prepare children for 3rd grade and beyond. Teachers use points and small rewards to motivate children to do their best and teach character education lessons three times a week. School surveys indicate the school is safe and welcoming.
Lower East Side
PS 188 had three spots when we called. Teachers are overwhelmingly happy with the leadership of Principal Mary Pree and 100 percent of the staff report that the school is safe and orderly.
PS 64 is a small school on Avenue B that serves many children of local Latino families. Dedicated teachers draw out children in group discussions and help them learn to express themselves with ease. The administration has been working to increase the arts, recently adding a new visual arts studio and a new dance studio.
Racially diverse PS 171 is making dramatic academic progress under the leadership of Principal Anne Bussel. The numbers of children scoring a 3 or 4, the highest scores, on the English Language Arts exam, doubled from 2013 to 2014. Attendance has also improved under Bussel's leadership, and most teachers say the school is safe and orderly.
Some of the other programs were filled when we called, but there may be movement in the next week or so. Do get on a waiting list if there's a spot you really want. (Evan Pellegrino contributed to this report.)
(This article by Lydie Raschka, Insideschools writer and school reviewer, appears in the April 22, 2014 online edition of Education Week.)
Recently I spent 10 weeks as a classroom teacher again, after a long hiatus. One night, I stayed late at school to prepare the shelves for our cross-genre reading unit. My six-year-olds were going to hunt through baskets of books to find fiction, nonfiction, and poetry related to a topic of interest to them. I ransacked the shelves and filled the baskets with books about math for a boy in my class named Evan, about U.S. presidents for Deana, and old-fashioned automobiles for Eliana.
Over the course of the week each child would pick a topic and read for information about it from different genres, so I'd spend prep time making it easier for them to get the books they needed. But when it came to poetry, I hunted around and was pulled up short. All the poetry books were unwieldy and hard to categorize by topic. They were also oddly shaped: I had to place them between our book baskets because they were too big, too fat, and too wide to go inside. One of the metal bookends I was using bent and the books clattered to the floor like the dominoes the children set up in snaking rows around a table at indoor recess.
Take a perennial favorite, Shel Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends. Because poetry lends itself to being read aloud, most teachers of young children (myself included) keep a copy of this beloved book on a shelf by the daily schedule, cover faced out, or tucked into a larger basket of read-aloud books on the rug where the class gathers for morning meeting.
Unfortunately, at 176 pages, Where the Sidewalk Ends is a heavy book, so for the most part it remains in the hands—and the power—of the adult. I'm not saying the kids in my class couldn't or didn't browse through it on their own but they were generally less inclined to pick up this book and other classroom poetry books because they were big and occupied a separate space.
Read the rest of the article at Education Week.
Queens will have more than 1,500 new pre-k seats this fall. Unfortunately, most are clustered in the southeast and other areas of Queens where there’s little demand — rather than in the very overcrowded northeast section.
Corona, Glendale and Elmhurst
There are 90 new full-day pre-k seats opening up in District 24, a densely populated section of Queens that is home to many immigrants, but it won’t be enough to satisfy demand. Overcrowding persists despite the opening of several new schools in recent years. One possibility: The Children’s Lab School, a new school opening in the fall, will offer two full-day pre-k classes.
Flushing and Whitestone
District 25 has many well-regarded, neighborhood schools — but the competition for full day pre-k is fierce. Three wildly popular early childhood schools — PS 130, PS 242 and the Active Learning Elementary School--receive several hundred applications each. PS 169 is another good pre-k pick if you can manage to get your child in. It will offer two full-day pre-k classes for a total of 36 seats, although last year the school received almost 300 applications. Your best bet: PS 201 is adding two additional classes for a total of four. Our reviewer called the school “charming” and the Department of Education rated it “well-developed,” the highest rating.
Here are our recommendations for pre-kindergarten in the Bronx and Manhattan public schools, based on our school visits and the results of the city’s parent and teacher surveys. We didn’t include some very popular schools that receive hundreds of applications for a handful of seats. Instead, we tried to find some good schools that aren’t hopelessly oversubscribed.
Lower East Side
If you live on the Lower East Side, you’re in luck. Every school in District 1 has full day pre-kindergarten classes and all offer tours to prospective parents. There are no zoned schools in the district. Some of the schools are known for their progressive philosophy and high levels of parent involvement, including Earth School, Children's Workshop and East Village Community. The Neighborhood School shares a building with PS 63 William McKinley/STAR Academy, which is expanding its pre-k program from one to two classes. Shuang Wen has long been a top-scoring school serving primarily Asian families who want their children to be fluent in both English and Mandarin. Under new leadership, the school has become more welcoming to non-Asian children who want to learn Mandarin. Some schools have space for families outside the district.
Upper East Side, Midtown and downtown
District 2, a huge district that stretches from 96th Street on the East Side and 59th Street on the West Side all the way down to the Battery, has some of the best and most popular schools in the city. Unfortunately, there are far more applicants than spots in pre-kindergarten. A brand new school, PS 340 Sixth Avenue Elementary, in Chelsea, will offer two pre-k classes in the morning and two in the afternoon. If you’re looking for full day options popular Midtown West is opening its first pre-k class, PS 116 Mary Lindley Murray is opening two classes and PS 40 Augustus Saint-Gaudens is opening one. PS 126 and PS 1 Alfred Smith are terrific schools that sometimes have room for children outside their attendance zones.
Upper West Side and Harlem
District 3 covers the west side of Manhattan. Most of the schools on the Upper West Side have far more applicants than seats, but PS 191 sometimes has seats for children outside its attendance zone. In Harlem, we loved our visits to the Early Childhood Discovery and Design Magnet (with a hands-on engineering program and LEGO Lab) and PS 180 (which boasts a strong arts program). We haven’t visited PS 76, but parent and teacher surveys say it has a friendly vibe and strong leadership.
East Harlem has long been a pioneer of innovation and school choice and is home to popular progressive schools such as Central Park East I, and Central Park East II, which receive hundreds of applicants for only 18 full day pre-k seats. Try a hidden gem like River East instead, which is opening a new pre-k class. We haven’t visited PS 102, PS 146 or PS 155 recently, but positive surveys of parents and teachers suggest they are worth considering.
District 5 in Central Harlem has long had some of the lowest-performing schools in the city. However, there are a few bright spots: We loved our visit to Teachers College Community School (although competition for seats there is fierce.) Our recent visit to PS 200 suggests that it’s moving in the right direction. We haven’t visited PS 125 or PS 197 recently, but parent and teacher surveys are positive.
Washington Heights and Inwood
District 6 once had very overcrowded schools, but enrollment has declined in recent years as the neighborhoods of northern Manhattan have gentrified. Some of the most popular schools have far more applicants than seats. You may have a better chance at three schools we visited recently: Washington Heights Academy, Castle Bridge and PS 128.
District 7 in the South Bronx has mostly low-performing schools, but we can recommend the pre-kindergarten at a few schools we that we have visited. PS 5 has strong leadership and a happy cohesive staff. PS 25 has an amazing science exploration center. PS 157 boasts a good arts program.
Soundview and Throgs Neck
In District 8, we enjoyed our visit to PS 152, which often takes kids from outside across its attendance zone. PS 69 and PS 304 are terrific schools but they are flooded with applicants. It doesn’t hurt to apply, but don’t get your hopes up. We haven’t visited PS 182 in quite a while, but parent and teachers surveys say it’s a safe school with strong leadership and solid academics.
Grand Concourse, Morrisania, Crotona Park
District 9 is on the western edge of the south Bronx and is home to Yankee Stadium and much of the revitalization in the south Bronx. Best bet here: PS 63, which our reviewer called “an oasis of calm.”
Riverdale, Wave Hill, Central Bronx
One of the most overcrowded districts in the city, District 10 is also the top-performing district in the Bronx. A few schools are adding new pre-kindergarten seats: Bronx New School and a new school opening on Webster Avenue called Bedford Park Elementary.
District 11, covering the northeast Bronx including Pelham Parkway, Eastchester and Woodlawn, has space opening up at Linden Tree Elementary, a new small school that strives to be attentive to children’s different learning styles. PS 160 Walt Disney is one of the best bets for getting a spot in this area with three full day classes opening in the fall and good leadership, according to teacher surveys.
District 12 is smack dab in the middle of the Bronx so it’s worth checking all the bordering districts to find borough-wide options. Bronx Little School is a safe, welcoming place with high-expectations, but over 200 families applied for 18 seats in 2013. Samara Community School is a new school opening in the fall hosting one full day pre-k.
Parents of kids with lopsided abilities despair of finding the right educational fit: for the math whiz who has dyslexia; the child with a photographic memory who can’t sit still; the ace test-taker who struggles to get along with her peers. These kids are Twice Exceptional, often abbreviated as 2e. They’re super smart, but profoundly challenged. Most have Individualed Education Programs (IEP), specifying special education services. They just don’t fit into the public school system.
Now the Education Department is telling schools they must admit and meet the needs of these students within the context of their school as part of the special education reform rolled out last year. On January 13, Chancellor Dennis Walcott sent a letter to principals saying: “choice, non-zoned and screened schools will be asked to admit and serve a percentage of students with disabilities equivalent to the percentage of students with disabilities in their district or borough.” said Lauren Katzman, director of special education at the DOE. “There have been targets [enrollment numbers] all along. The change is we’re saying you have to meet your targets.”
On January 19, dozens of parents turned out for a meeting hosted by the Citywide Council on Special Education (CCSE) featuring a panel of educators and Education Department officials including Katzman. They were not surprised to learn that there are no programs designed specifically for 2e kids, moreover the Department of Education does not have “clean data” showing how many 2e’s there are in the system: “Gifted and Talented is not tracked by disability yet but the number is extremely low,” said Katzman.