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by Karra Puccia

During 10 months of the year, hundreds of thousands of New York City kids eat free school breakfasts and lunches. These meals constitute a vital lifeline for families with already-stretched food budgets. So for many such families, the June 28th last day of public school classes may be less about planning summer fun for the kids and more about facing a serious months-long gap in their nutrition.

It doesn't have to be that way. Each year, the federal Summer Food Service Program (which New York City's Department of Education administers under the name "NYC Summer Meals") provides free breakfasts and lunches to all kids 18 and younger—without registration, documents or ID required. From June 29th—the first full day of summer school vacation—right through September 2nd, Summer Meals will be offered weekdays at public schools, Parks Department outdoor pools, New York City Housing Authority complexes, libraries, food pantries, soup kitchens, community organizations and other locations throughout the city. There will also be four mobile food trucks providing meals seven days a week.

Unfortunately, the Summer Meals program can seem like the world's best-kept secret. Food Bank For New York City is in a position to know. We serve nearly 1.4 million people—almost one out of every five New New Yorkers –through a network of food pantries, soup kitchens and community-based charities. And our October 2013 report, "Hunger's New Normal: Redefining Emergency in Post-Recession New York City," which was based on interviews with more than 1,200 people using food pantries and soup kitchens in all five boroughs, found that a whopping two-thirds of families using those resources don't take advantage of Summer Meals. The number one reason? They don't even know about it.

Originally posted on Chalkbeat by Monica Disare on June 27, 2016

When people think of Coney Island, they often picture a beachline with brightly colored roller coasters and hot dog stands, but high school teacher Lane Rosen sees it a laboratory for the next generation of marine scientists.

"People don't realize there's 567 miles of coastline in New York City," Rosen said. "There's tens of thousands of jobs, but we're not training anybody for any of them."

Rosen and a group of teachers in Coney Island have a radical plan to transform education in their neighborhood: build a marine science pipeline that helps guide a student all the way from the first day of elementary school through college or into a career.

by Nicole Mader, Bruce Cory, and Celeste Royo

The most recent Urban Matters ("Tough Test Ahead: Bringing Diversity to New York's Specialized High Schools") reported on patterns of racial and ethnic admission to some of the city's most prestigious secondary schools and how admissions might more closely mirror the overall composition of the city's public schools. As we showed, only about 16 percent of high-performing Black and Hispanic middle school students gain admission to these elite public high schools.

This week we're following up on comments and questions we received from you.

First, we show all 7th graders in 2012-13 by race, ethnicity and performance level at all 536 public middle schools (including charter schools). At the top of this chart, we see the handful of "feeder" middle schools that send high-performing students of all races to the eight high schools that rely on the specialized high school admissions tests (SHSAT). But we also see hundreds of schools that fail to prepare any students for these specialized schools. Click here to see the chart.

By Bruce Cory, editorial advisor and Nicole Mader, data analyst at the Center for New York City Affairs.

There’s a longstanding debate about why so few Black and Hispanic students are admitted to New York City’s specialized high schools, including Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and Brooklyn Tech. They accounted for fewer than 9 percent of students offered admissions at eight specialized schools for the current school year; that’s down from 9.6 percent the year before. Some say the specialized high school admissions test (SHSAT) is discriminatory and should be scrapped; others say the test merely reflects the poor preparation most Black and Hispanic students, who make up some 68 percent of public school enrollment, get in the elementary and middle schools.

Now, new research by the Center for New York City Affairs shows that even Black and Hispanic students who do very well in middle school—that is, those who as 7th-graders earn the best possible scores on either math or English language arts (ELA) state standardized tests—are much less likely to attend specialized high schools than their similarly high-performing Asian or White classmates.

This suggests that the City’s Department of Education (DOE) may be able to increase Black and Hispanic specialized high school admissions without scrapping the SHSAT (a politically daunting task) or completely overhauling the elementary and middle schools. It offers hope that plans announced last week to increase the diversity of students taking and passing the SHSAT could produce progress.

The last time you read about PS 191 in the news it probably wasn't a happy story. Over the past year, the school has been at the center of a neighborhood in turmoil over rezoning and all the community angst that comes with it. But last Friday, as Principal Lauren Keville and a PS 191 pre-kindergartner cut the ribbon to the school's new pop-up library, there were only smiles as staff and families joined with parents from schools throughout District 3 to celebrate something beautiful they had built together.

"Our parents have done a tremendous job," said Keville, praising not only swiftness of donations that poured in for the project, but also the months of manual labor and planning involved. "We have a place to engage with our kids about books and hold literacy workshops for parents. This really fits in with all the changes we're making in our school."

Several years ago the school's previous library was remade into a state-of-the-art media lab, and while families and staffers embraced this exciting new opportunity, the void left by the missing library was always felt. "Every other school in this neighborhood has a library," said PTA President Kajsa Reaves, "Why not us?"

by Barbara Glassman, Executive Director, INCLUDEnyc

The just-released 2017 New York City High School directory has a whole new look. It features more pleasing graphics, and information that is clearer and easier to understand.  While we at INCLUDEnyc support the DOE's efforts to bring more clarity to a notoriously intimidating process, applying to high school is still challenging for students with disabilities (SWD) who have Individualized Education Programs (IEPs).

INCLUDEnyc staff has come to know these challenges firsthand, after 30 years of advising parents and students with disabilities about the high school application process.  We tell them that the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) stipulates that all schools must be able to accommodate students with disabilities and provide them with the services and support they need in order to receive a Free and Appropriate Education (FAPE).

Unfortunately, what happens in reality does not always comply with federal law. While the directory is a good place for parents and students to begin their search for the best-fit high school, families must know that not every school can provide every SWD with the support and services they need. As we continually coach parents, it is of vital importance that they contact the school administration at the school their child is interested in attending to make sure he or she will be properly accommodated.

It's time for 7th-graders to be thinking about applying to high school. The Department of Education announced key dates for rising 8th-graders including its annual series of July high school admissions information sessions.

The 2017 high school directory is online, and paper copies are available for every 7th-grader at schools and at Family Welcome Centers. In addition to the 600-page book that lists every city high school, there are now individual directories for each borough. Students may see at a glance the different kinds of programs in each borough and what the particular challenges are for students applying. 

In another change, the directory now makes it easier to understand the odds of acceptance to a school whether you are in the pool of general education (GE) students or are a student with a disability (SWD). For each school there's information on the number of GE and SWD seats available, how many applicants there were for each category in the previous year and whether or not those seats were filled.

Fewer students received offers to gifted and talented programs this year than any year in recent memory—and that's a good thing according to the Department of Education. Fifty-three percent of students who qualified for G&T in grades k–3 and applied received offer letters last week, down from 66 percent in 2015. 

The downward trend in offers is part of a broad effort to streamline a G&T process that has long been marred by long waitlists and unfilled seats. Until this year, the Enrollment Office has traditionally "over-offered" G&T seats to account for families who may decide to decline or move, a DOE press release explained, and enrollment was controlled by the central office. Still, inefficiences were glaring in this system with many students remaining on waitlists well into the fall despite open seats—while families and schools were powerless to do anything about it.

"I hope that with schools managing their own wait lists, that they can move through them quickly enough to offer more seats than ultimately they did in the past," schools consultant Robin Aronow told us via email. "It has been disappointing to schools and to qualified applicants who did not get off wait lists by October, only to learn that the programs were under-enrolled because they [DOE enrollment office] did not move through wait lists quickly enough."

Q: I hope you can answer this before school closes for the summer. It would help settle a family dispute! Our son is finishing his junior year of high school. He's a good student, B/B+ average—not at the top of his class, but probably in the top quarter. He has to apply to college next fall, and I think he needs to use this coming summer to better advantage. The last three summers, he's played baseball in a town league and when not playing baseball he's worked at a local restaurant as a busboy and server. I think he ought enhance his applications. I want him to take an SAT prep course and to get at least one internship. Our next-door neighbor is a dentist, and is willing to let our son work in his office for a month. Wouldn't an internship in a dental practice look better on his applications than a job bringing people their pizza?

A: No, not necessarily. One can learn a lot about people by serving them their meals, as well as a lot about oneself by accepting responsibility.

Unless your son's essay or other activities indicate that he has an interest in the health professions, working in a dentist's office for a month won't matter.

Pre-kindergarten offer letters went out earlier this month to nearly 68,000 city children born in 2012, and 85 percent got an offer to one of their top three choices; 71 percent to their first choice. Those who didn't get a seat at one of the schools they listed on their application were assigned to a different program, according to the Department of Education. Every 4-year-old is guaranteed a slot in a full-day program at a public school, a pre-k center run by the DOE or at an early education center—although not necessarily at the school or program closest to home.

This year 11 percent of applicants—7,386—were matched to a program they didn't apply to. Most of them were offered a program in their district and 17 percent were given one in their borough. 

If you like what you got, make sure you pre-register at the program or school by May 27, 2016 (the deadline was extended one week from May 20.) If you're not happy with your choice or just want to keep looking, here's what you need to know.

Accept a placement

Children will automatically be placed on waitlists for schools listed above the one they were assigned to. Unless you have a fallback plan like private or parochial school (or are moving to New Jersey!), it's best to accept your offer while you pursue other options. Accepting the seat you were offered will not impact your ability to move off the waitlist at another school or to apply again in a second round. May 27 is the deadline to accept an offer and pre-register at the school. May 20 is still the deadline to submit your application for Round 2.