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Lindsey Whitton Christ

Lindsey Whitton Christ

The results are in! And it turns out that a Catholic school in Queens 'elected' the winning candidate... again. High school students in the South Bronx had been holding their breath earlier this week to see who would win the presidential election. And on Wednesday, boys at Eagle Academy in Brooklyn were thrilled to learn about the man headed for the Oval Office: it “makes us think that we could accomplish anything when you put your mind to it,” one 11-year-old student explained. Younger students in Harlem were equally impressed; one second-grader said, "I’m so happy I don’t know what to do,” -- a sentiment shared by many decades older. Down the street, students at a Harlem middle school shared their enthusiasm.

Several pundits wonder if Barack Obama will tap Chancellor Klein for Education Secretary. New York State's education commissioner will resign in June after 14 years in the position, and Mayor Bloomberg is expected to fight to retain mayoral control now that he's won round one in the fight to retain the mayorship. Sad news from Nevada last weekend: Terence Tolbert, a beloved top DOE official, died of a heart attack on Sunday, where he had been managing the state's Obama campaign.

The Post realized that a high-paying position in the DOE, the director of middle schools, has been vacant for months, and at a time when middle school reform has been given a lot of lip-service. Parents might get more (symbolic?) control if a plan to grant them "advisory votes" in Community Education Council elections gains traction, and the City Council has scheduled hearings into the controversial new gifted and talented admissions process, which has left fewer minorities with coveted spots in the program. The New York Times analyzed the specialized high school admissions process today and found that just like the kindergarten G&T admissions, there is a concerning racial imbalance.

Budget cuts were announced this week, along with a pared-down building agenda – principals are coping with these year’s cuts and already preparing for next year’s tougher budgets. Parents, DOE officials, and advocates battle over re-zoning proposals in District Three, and schools vie for a space in Riverdale that may not even be available next year, as promised. At another school in the Bronx, many children are taught in temporary trailers that have become anything but temporary. Elsewhere in the same borough, a neighborhood is relieved to be getting a much-needed new middle school. Students and teachers in most overcrowded high school buildings, however, will have make do – only two new high school buildings are slated to be built across the city during the next five years.

Beyond reading, writing and arithmetic, health classes are viewed as a vital addition to the pre-school course schedule at one school in the Bronx, and students at one city high school can take skateboarding for credit... now that is an innovative physical education option for the urban teen.

Thursday, 06 November 2008 13:00

Parents cram into G&T meetings

Last night, parents crowded into a hot auditorium at PS 84 for the two Manhattan gifted and talented information sessions. With people sitting side-by-side and back-to-back along both aisles, cramming into the space by all four doorways, and squeezing next to the presenter in front of the stage, many parents grumbled about the set-up of the meeting. Dozens of attendees didn't fit into the room and ended up talking with each other about the G&T admissions process in the hallway, making it even more difficult for people inside the auditorium to hear.

"I can't imagine how many fire-code regulations they are breaking right now," one mother said. "It is a total mess in here."


Anna Commitante, head of gifted and talented at the DOE, gave the same power-point presentation that hundreds of Brooklyn parents showed up to hear last week. She took some questions last night, although there wasn't nearly enough time to call on all of the people with their hands in the air. Commitante suggested parents who didn't get their questions answered could go to the DOE website where she is answering questions this week, but according to the website, yesterday was the last day that she was accepting online questions.

As always, you can post your questions here or in our forum, and we will do our best to find the answers. If you weren't jostling around in the crowd last night, you can still attend the final information session tonight in Queens, but many parents last night advised that they didn't learn anything new in the live presentation that they hadn't been able to learn online. The slides from the presentations should be added to the online resources on the DOE website today - we will update you when they are.

In order to accommodate voting machines and long lines of voters, there was no school today for city students (although teachers and administrators had to show up for professional development). Early indicators suggest that a high turn-out of New York adults had the chance wait for hours inside their local public school with an array of celebrities, politicians and cookies – PTA election bake sales have gotten a lot of attention today.

Some parents struggle to manage work, voting and childcare - would changing election-day to Saturday help? And do you bring your kids to the polls? Do you let them pull the lever? David Sedaris remembers his mother letting him decide for her. Most students at Townsend Harris High School can't vote, but they had elaborate mock-elections leading up to the election.

An election-day profile of a politician-turned-charter-school-leader (who plans to run someday for the city’s highest elected office), reminds us how closely politics and the schools are intertwined everyday of the year. And finally, a particularly lively choir of middle school students remind us that "you can vote however you like..."

Some spooky Halloween disappearing act (or perhaps a whisper from DOE?) may explain how a piece of investigative reporting vanished into thin air. Another surprise came from the UFT, in support of the Teaching Fellows - the groups haven't always had the coziest relationship, but now, the union's defending more than 100 new fellows who have yet to be actually hired by any specific school. And substitute teachers will now have to pass a test before being allowed to take over the classrooms.

One snobby newbie will hopefully never teach again; the courts supported a Bronx principal who fired a teacher for cursing at his students and boasting that his parents didn’t send him "to Cornell so I could take care of a bunch of animals." Others, thankfully, go above and beyond in their lessons on global warming - a Harlem teacher taught class from Antarctica and a Brooklyn teacher did same, from the Canadian Arctic. Not to be outdone, math teachers study comedy improv solutions to classroom problems. And one struggling artist/author who turned to teaching suddenly hit it big with his latest book - but plans to keep teaching art anyway.

And how much art is being taught in city schools? We may never really know, contends an article that questions the DOE's latest report. But a new research center to study city schools opened this week... again. So now there are two centers researching what is happening in classrooms and principals’ offices across the city. Maybe they can study the effects of overcrowding and reports that schools in some neighborhoods are less and less diverse. The feds, through No Child Left Behind, announced plans to hold schools accountable for the achievement gap in high school graduation rates, and another report said that parents make a substantial difference in a child's decision to drop out. A Voice column argues that the actions of school safety officers need to be better regulated, and there may just be an obvious, fair, easy, and inexpensive solution to the issue of military recruitment in city high schools.

Maybe the next generation of investors can learn from the current market-troubles: when CNBC recently reported a bounce in the Dow, cheers broke out in a fifth-grade class in Queens. Parents celebrate more options for autistic students, like a charter school specifically designed for students on the autism spectrum, and a school for social justice finally found a permanent home, delivering on a deathbed promise. Seward Park High School's rooftop got a hip-hop redesign, organized by the New Design High School, and the students at PS 19 weren't about to let a state-senate hopeful off easily when he served as principal for a day. As 8th graders consider their high school picks, current Staten Island high school students weigh in on the commute to Manhattan.

We can bet the state certainly won’t increase aid to schools next year, but will they decrease it? With all the talk of cut-backs, the DOE defends spending more than $5 million for courier services. After all, high stakes testing necessitate high security. And some wonder how the job of school district superintendent fits into the new systems in the city. Chancellor Klein said he would look into it.


It looks like the city and the schools might get four more years of Bloomberg and Klein; when push came to shove, the City Council’s Education Committee was proportionally more supportive of the mayor than the Council as a whole.On the other hand, 10 public school teachers filed a law suit on Wednesday arguing that the change breached voters civil rights. And in a second lawsuit, the city was sued after police handcuffed a 10-year-old special education student.

Other high profile school news: The $80 million data-management system the DOE bought hasn't been working all fall (although a homegrown data-tracking system is thriving in Brooklyn) and well-regarded sociologists continue to question the city's progress reports, which are due out soon for high schools. Crime may be down, but grand larceny is up in city schools, and a bureaucratic mess between the DOE and the Department of Sanitation is playing out on one truly messy Brooklyn street. Also in Brooklyn, a teen with special needs has been assigned to two schools, neither of which provided her with mandated services.

In good news, a new playground - the first of several to come - opened in Brooklyn thanks to a hefty donation. And New York was highlighted as one of the cities that requires green standards for new school buildings, plans for two of which were unveiled yesterday – and should be built cost-free to the city. And it turns out that 270 classic New York school buildings, some built a century ago and still in use, can be credited to one man.

In light of the DOE's new policy on military recruitment of high school students, one elderly warrior-for-peace assembled her own army to fight back. A school in the Bronx is trying to harness the popularity of online communication into academic purposes, and the highly selective Hunter College High School has seen its applicant pool decline. Klein shared his philosophies and policies with a packed-house in Bridgeport, Conn., while an opinion piece in the Daily News argued that school's budgets should be cut but the union is bribing politicians in Albany to keep the money flowing...

Only a few days after the UFT sued the DOE for infringing on teacher's freedom of speech by forbidding them to wear political buttons on the job, the feds ruled against the union, satisfying Chancellor Klein: "Keeping politics out of the classroom was our primary concern here, and our position has been fully vindicated." Just to be sure, DOE told one school to take down a poster of Barack Obama. The UFT, in a move that won't make Mayor Bloomberg happy, announced that they will support preserving term limits. And more potential teachers competing to be in the classroom could, according to reports, be one of the rare positive trends brought about by the financial meltdown.

Focus on special education and special needs students during the presidential debates elicited an angry response from one advocate. A parent in Brooklyn realized that her son may not have been receiving his mandated services - and someone at his school may have tried to cover it up - and an autistic three-year-old was left on an empty school bus for six hours. Sunday's Times Magazine looks into how schools are teaching autistic teenagers, and New York parents have successfully lobbied for more publicly-funded residential schools, to reduce the flow of students to private boarding schools in other states. But even a high profile lawsuit didn't seem to get special education students at Fredrick Douglas Academy IV their mandated services, state officials discovered.

While home-schooling rates have risen in the city (more than 2,600 students registered this year, while only 1,600 home schooled in 2001), the Times wrote about parents who have chosen anti-schooling, not to be confused with un-schooling. Research questions the way gifted students are designated, and the DOE may have ignored warnings of overcrowding in Riverdale schools. Classes are now offered in Brooklyn to “help parents help their kids,” and a conference today was supposed to help educators and school safety officers discipline better.

In high school news, a lawsuit on behalf of students who were illegally pushed out of Boys and Girls High School was settled, and the students can now hopefully get their degrees. And as 8th graders consider which high schools to apply to, the DOE released the list of the most popular schools last year: Francis Lewis HS in Flushing, followed by Benjamin N. Cardozo, Midwood, Forest Hills, and Edward Murrow. For students who want a new option, Post reporter Yoav Gonen wrote about new themed charter schools in the city. "These aren't your older siblings charter schools," he said. And vocational schools these days aren't offering your older siblings - or parents - technical education, either; they are much more academic. The way military recruiters gain high school students' information has also changed - and this new policy is already being protested by the NYCLU.




As the stock market dips and swings, families at city private schools are considering switching to public schools, threatening to flood already-overcrowded schools. Officials in Riverdale, coping with an unexpected influx, have switched students out of their bursting-at-the-seams zoned schools a month into the semester. In Greenwich Village, another prime neighborhood with overcrowded schools, parents are pushing the city to buy a building from the state to accommodate more students.

The economic downturn has trickled into the budget for the Community Education Councils, and Brooklyn parents worry what else budget cuts will affect in the schools. But it seems that the DOE's central offices just keep growing; despite a hiring freeze, job openings are posted for numerous positions, including Knowledge Management Domain Leader for Leadership & Organizational Management, which comes with a generous $170,000 salary.

Now that the Mayor is pushing for a third term, the debate over mayoral control has become more about Bloomberg and Klein. And at a rally in Queens, one group of parents said no to mayoral control and no to Mayor Bloomberg. At the national level, advocates fret that other issues may have officially relegated education to the back burner in this November's election.

Bad news for girls in the papers this week: girls in cities play sports less and later than boys, and their math talent is less likely to be identified and encouraged than American boys' or foreign girls'. And New York girls trying to buck the trend by attending the all-female Urban Assembly Institute of Math and Science have obstacles outside the gender battle: a brand new school building in Brooklyn (shared with three other schools) where construction is dangerously incomplete.

Games are more than child's play, or so it seems from a swath of stories. A computer game that requires solving algebraic equations is in play in 100 city middle schools and a newly-formed institute will study the impact of educational computer games (and develop new ones). A brand- new training center opened in Co-Op city to serve the 3,500 students in the Beat the Streets wrestling program, special needs students in Staten Island practice yoga with their principal, and a petite high school girl in Queens is suiting-up to play in a football game this weekend. Game on.

Bloomberg admitted that when he argues for renewal of mayoral control, he also hopes to continue as Mayor, despite the twice-voted term limits law currently on the books. But Bloomberg’s second major reason for wanting to stay in City Hall – the economic woes of late – has already wreaked havoc on schools’ budgets. Whether the state is doing enough to help continues a hot topic, and Wall Street donations to public education will certainly start drying up soon – meaning less, less, less. Would it be cheaper to allow high school students to take some classes online (and “at 3 a.m. in their pajamas if they desire")? And a new program is bringing laptops created for students in developing countries to city classrooms at the wonderfully affordable sticker price of $200 each.

The Public Advocate explained her position on mayoral control – again – in the Daily News, and the Times analyzed the data used to compile the controversial school progress reports, demonstrating how manipulating the methodology yields different results for individual schools. City students’ standardized test scores are being used to generate yet another type of report card: teachers’ grades. The DOE doesn’t want teachers to wear political buttons to school; some teachers are now asking whether Klein’s prohibition is un-Constitutional. And the eternal debate over how to best teach English language learners was rehashed and re-argued in the Times this week.

Craving news that everyone can celebrate? Local kids are bucking the stereotype of nicotine-craving urban teens: dramatically fewer New York State teenagers are smoking than teens in the country as a whole. A $9-a-pack pricetag can be plenty persuasive...


Friday, 26 September 2008 08:30

Weekly news round-up: mayors, milk, and DNA

If you've spent all week wondering whether paying some teachers not to teach improves the over-all quality of instruction, or if you have been too engrossed in the Times Magazine’s annual College Issue to get to the papers, here's a recap of NYC school news.

First, some some shake-ups in the DOE: Chief equality officer Roland Fryer has resigned to lead the newly minted Educational Innovation Laboratory. Fryer, who is also a Harvard professor, will continue to study the controversial cash-for-performance program that he brought to New York, which is being expanded to include some eighth graders. The city has hired a new person in charge of schools ethics who held the same job for an infamously ethically-challenged former-politician. Christine Quinn, who is most likely running for mayor in '09, staunchly defended mayoral control of the schools. She may be facing some steep competition in that mayoral race; both Bloomberg and Klein might throw their hats in, with schools at the center of either potential candidate’s platform.

With all the excessed teacher news, the Sun also wrote about a disturbing trend that the percentage of new teachers who are black is shrinking, rather dramatically. A host of teachers with illegally-large class-sizes have filed grievances with the DOE. And there doesn’t seem to be any space for classes of any size downtown next fall, but when new schools finally do open, parents are relieved that they will have K-8 options. Students and teachers across the city may get two more religious holidays off next year: Eid ul-Fitr and Eid ul-Adha. And a new field-trip option opened in Harlem: a state of the art DNA lab.

City Limits took an in-depth look at universal pre-k issues in the city, and a five-year-old was mistakenly loaded onto a school bus and then kicked out at the end of the line. The big push to get soda out of schools may not have had much of an effect on soda consumption, but an advertising lesson in three California High Schools aims to emphasize the value of drinking milk to students across the country.


Friday, 19 September 2008 14:01

Weekly news round-up: Money, grades, and buses

Wall Street may be flailing but this week, many city teachers and principals are flush, thanks to bonuses based on the school progress reports. There also still seems to be enough cash left for Village residents to open a new private high school and parents to apply in record-breaking numbers for spaces in Financial District private kindergarten. For some, spending money still looks like a good investimen; as there are more high school seniors in the United States than ever before, lots of families hiring expensive private college counselors to try to get an edge on the competition.

A teacher at the Bronx School of Law and Finance is using the volatile markets to teach economics lessons. Maybe she can explain how class size in more than half of city schools went up despite state aid to lower class size -- and the revelation that more teachers are receiving paychecks without being given a teaching assignment.

Despite Bloomberg’s "no social promotion" mandate, fewer students were held back this year. Summer school lessons, however, do not seem to be enough to help most students who failed during the regular school year make up the work and move to the next grade.

Charter schools, many of which received top grades this week, may face serious threats in the future, according one advocate. But for now, New York's charters hope to get a little more help from the state and a little less regulation.

Some of the school bus problems may be getting sorted out, but the affected students, many of whom have special needs, now have to settle into their school year routines… three weeks late. Several students with ADHD who attended an NYU summer program are adjusting well to school, however, which their parents credit to their structured summer.

Bloomberg responded to the Times editorial last week that suggested mayoral control of the schools might have a few more checks and balances. Naturally, the mayor disagreed. Several top Boston educators who have moved to New York might add to his case.

Education experts square off on Obama’s plan for the nations schools, and The Sun uncovered Klein’s education policy reading list.

While most of the education news this week circled around the Progress Report grades, when the Times discovered that the Chancellor also grades his own staff on how well they host a press conference, press secretary, David Cantor, was inspired to email the Gray Lady their own grade: “Value of the story: F.”

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