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Helen Zelon

Helen Zelon

It's mid-June, and the gifted and talented universe is buzzing: Not only are kindergarten and 1st grade placements anticipated early next week, the Department of Education is accepting applications for 4th and 5th grade seats in citywide and district G&T programs; the deadline for submission, by mail, is June 26th -- the last day of school. Students may apply for 4th grade in schools that encompass kindergarten through grade 5; applications for 5th grade are only permitted at K-6 or K-8 schools.

Students with "baseline scores of level 4" on their standardized state exams are eligible for consideration, according to the DOE, which has set cut scores for current 3rd and 4th grade students for district programs: Third graders need scores of at least 720 and 703 on their ELA and Math exams, respectively, and 4th graders need scores of 716 and 702 or higher, in ELA and Math.  We've asked the DOE for similar cut scores for citywide schools; if they provide specifics, we'll pass them along.

The application for families of students currently enrolled in the public schools is here; for families of kids in non-public schools, there's a separate application, with a carefully-worded paragraph describing the kind of "objective data that demonstrates advanced performance" needed to support a child's application. (Letters of recommendation, according to the DOE,  are not accepted.)

A cautionary note, well-heeded: Seats in upper-grade programs can be very few, and not every program will have open seats this September. Meeting eligibility criteria does not, in any way, guarantee admission to a G&T program.

Look here for details on school tours and open houses. (Another caveat: The tour list that's linked to the application shows tours at the new citywide schools, which will begin in September only with kindergarten and first grade. Unless the DOE changes the tour page, parents of older students should disregard the listing for the new citywides, although the three established citywide schools -- NEST + m, Anderson, and TAG, span all the grades, and could, in theory, have seats for older students.)

Tuesday, 09 June 2009 05:53

Hijinks in Albany, discontent downstate

The New York State legislature, never considered a paragon of governmental efficiency, has outdone itself this week with yesterday's leadership "coup" by a Republican-led coalition. (It's alarming to consider that the education of more than a million children is in the hands of politicians apparently more committed to theatrics than substance.) Speculation is rampant on what this particular flip means for mayoral control. If the legislature doesn't act, mayoral control will 'sunset' on June 30 and the schools could legally revert to the pre-control model, an outcome Bloomberg, Klein and all of Tweed deride as a return to "the bad old days."

Meanwhile, the Times features a poll citing wide discontent with Mayor Bloomberg -- while carefully acknowledging his strong position as a free-spending incumbent, now $20 million into his re-election campaign. While it's best to be cautious about extrapolating widely from a poll of only 683 respondents, it's worth noting that two-thirds of New Yorkers polled favor term limits -- but that three-fourths don't care much about whether Bloomberg spends up to $80 million on his third-term campaign. Asked whether the city was headed in the right direction or not, 51 percent said the city was "on the wrong track." More than half of respondents were dissatisfied with the public schools, down from a Bloomberg-tenure high of 72 percent in a 2004 poll.

Readers continue to vote and comment on our own poll on the mayor's performance as head of schools. We will wrap up the results on Friday, and post a new - but related - question.

The Department of Education announced today the soon-to-be-official appointment of Garth Harries as assistant superintendent of schools in New Haven, CT.

Harries had previously served as CEO of the Portfolio office at the DOE, where he supervised the wholesale closure of dozens of schools and the creation of hundreds of new schools in their wake. In February 2009, he was appointed to review special education services and programs, which was a controversial announcement because Harries did not have any experience with special education. His review is not yet complete, but he told advocates in an email this morning that he was committed to finishing the project before he begins his new job on July 6.

The special education team has lost most of its lead administrators in recent months: Deputy Chancellor for Teaching and Learning Marcia Lyles is leaving the DOE for a Delaware district, and Linda Wernickoff, who has dedicated her career to the special education community, is retiring this year as well.

The exodus leaves only District 75 Superintendent Bonnie Brown to (potentially) spearhead special education reforms. The changes of leadership at this critical juncture make it all too easy to understand why the community of special education parents, educators, children and advocates believe their cause, and their children, take a remote second place at the DOE table.

As yet, the DOE has not announced who (if anyone) will replace Harries.

Friday, 05 June 2009 09:22

Grade the mayor

Given the increasing public conversation about the pros and cons of mayoral control -- and the fact that the law is due to expire on June 30, unless Albany lawmakers approve a new (and improved?) version -- we'd like to hear from you: How do you rate our mayor on education?

The schools grade our kids; the DOE grades the schools; it's your turn, now, to turn the tables and grade the graders. How's he doing? (a la Ed Koch.)

Friday, 05 June 2009 05:55

Middle-school CTT placements

Last year, the Department of Education's new middle school choice and matching process left too many special needs children who were in CTT (collaborative team teaching) classes out in the cold, particularly in "choice" districts where there aren't zoned schools and students take tests or complete auditions and interviews to secure middle-school seats.

This year, the DOE said that they would send special education students middle school notification at the same time as their general education peers. According to a note in the Principals' Weekly email, however, the letters for special education students were delayed again. They should have been sent by the end of this week, according to the email.

Patricia Connelly, a member of both the Citywide Council on Special Education and the Parent Commission on School Governance and Mayoral Control, is asking parents of CTT kids in "choice" districts to contact her with concerns about their child's placement. Information shared with her will be held "in the strictest confidence," Connelly notes. She can be reached at

Friday, 05 June 2009 05:59

Map what's missing

Our colleagues at GothamSchools have a nifty new feature built to assess the impact of the coming budget cuts:  If you know what's on the chopping block at your child's school, chime in and help paint an e-portrait of what 5 percent cuts look and feel like across the city.

Monday, 01 June 2009 05:07

State math scores released

Update: The math scores are out and both state and city education officials have been busy touting the "steady, measured gains" (as opposed to the "steady, moderate" gains on the ELA exam). Across the state, 86.4 percent of students in 3rd to 8th grade have scored proficient, versus 65 percent in 2006 and 80.7 percent last year. In the city, 81.8 percent of 3rd to 8th grade students scored proficient, versus 57 percent in 2006 and 74.3 percent last year. The city press release touts the fact that the achievement gaps - between the races, the city and the rest of the state, and elementary versus middle school students - have continued to close, albeit slowly. See the Times and Gotham Schools for more analysis and see the press release from City Hall for the mayor's spin on the scores.

Morning post: The New York State Department of Education will release 2009 math scores for students in grades 3 through 8 at 10:30 am today.

On the standardized reading exam this year, "steady, moderate" statewide gains mirrored citywide trends; 2008 math scores in the city, which historically have posted at higher levels than language scores, showed 79.7 percent of 4th graders at or above state proficiency standards, along with 59.6 percent of 8th graders. (The ongoing mayoral control debate, here and in Albany, will undoubtedly include much discussion on whether the grade-school to middle-school gap and the historic achievement gap between the races have narrowed or not.)

Thursday, 28 May 2009 05:32

Update: PS 9, PS 151

Parents of Manhattan's PS 9 students whose gifted & talented qualifying tests were lost are still waiting for results from the repeat round of tests, a delay that the Department of Education attributes to some students' unavailability for re-testing.Tests were scored by hand here in New York at Tweed, but had to be sent to Pearson, the test company in Texas, DOE spokesperson Andy Jacob says, in order to convert raw scores into percentile scores. Why this conversion couldn't be accomplished electronically isn't clear -- but what's certain is testing results are late in getting out to waiting families. Jacob says parents will get news today, Thursday. We've asked if the application deadline will be changed to reflect the timing delay and will post details when they're known.

Upper East Side families zoned for PS 151 will learn today at 12:30 of the school's new site and planned opening in September -- hot on the heels of Jeff Coplon's damning kindergarten feature in New York magazine. Again, details to follow.

News confirmed: As expected, the Chancellor announced that PS 151 would reopen this fall in the former site of Our Lady of Good Counsel School on E. 91st Street. In the Department of Education's official announcement, the principal of the school, Samantha Kaplan, said that the school's curriculum would relate to "a neighborhood that is abundant with cultural institutions, historic landmarks and parks all of which provide authentic learning experiences."

A small footnote at the bottom of the press release notes the the DOE has "reached a preliminary agreement with the Archdiocese of New York to lease P.S. 151’s new building on a short-term basis. The DOE is in negotiations with the Archdiocese to finalize terms."

Wednesday, 27 May 2009 06:08

Flu tally: Programs close within schools

The most recent update from the Department of Education lists schools that are newly closed today and others that will reopen. It also itemizes certain specific programs -- for disabled students, for example, or for kindergartners registered at one school who share a site with another school -- which will close, while the schools that host them will remain open.

It's not clear why decisions were made to close parts of specific buildings -- and even less clear how flu viruses may be contained across arbitrary, human-imposed borders in a single physical structure. To this non-epidemiologist, closing part of a school seems baffling: the virus can't discern which students it affects, or where they attend school, or which program is theirs. Viruses don't ask questions; ask any parent with more than one child what happens when one gets sick.

If the contagion is sufficient to warrant protecting some of the students in the building, why not protect them all?

Tuesday, 26 May 2009 07:30

Timing squeeze, middle school G&T

We're hearing from middle school parents who've had happy news from a Manhattan citywide gifted and talented school -- but, as of Monday, hadn't yet had word regarding district G&Ts in their Brooklyn neighborhood.

The deadline to accept offers at citywide gifted and talented middle schools is tomorrow, but the decision is impossible to make with incomplete information -- without knowing the local options. (Attending the citywide in Manhattan would involve a commute of at least an hour each way for one family in this situation.) So the day before a critical deadline, families don't have all the information they need to make informed choices for their children.

Whether or how the Department of Education plans to respond to their own notification delays isn't yet known -- but if you're a prospective middle-school parent still waiting for G&T placement news from your district schools, please let us know.