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When Insideschools staff visits a high school we like to hear about students' hopes for the future. Some say they like animals and want to become veterinarians. Others may like to design and build things and want to become architects or electricians. But these and many other occupations are closed to students who don't take chemistry, physics or advanced mathematics in high school.

A new policy brief by Insideschools and the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School examines the importance of a college-prep curriculum in math and science—algebra 2, physics and chemistry—and how many high school students have access to it across the city. The results are sobering: More than 150 of New York City's public high schools—or 39 percent—do not offer a standard college-prep curriculum in math and science; more than 200 schools do not offer a single Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate class in math or science.

When I describe my personality as a parent, I like to say I'm half hippie, half Type-A. The way I approach summer is a prime example. I want my kids at one with nature, bare feet in the dirt and a Hudson River breeze in their hair, while organic popsicles melt on their faces. But, school is never far from my mind. I want my boys to have fun, but I don't want two months of unabashed play to undo all the hard work they accomplished this past year. During the course of 1st grade, Noodle jumped nine reading levels. Studies show that many kids regress over the summer if they don't read. My Type-A side cannot bear the thought. 

In June, when Noodle's teacher mentioned the New York Public Library's superhero-themed Summer Reading Challenge, I thought it sounded too good to be true, better suited for a docile child who likes to sit and color all day. "He'll never do it," I thought of my strong-willed, soccer-obsessed kid. Still, I decided to give it a shot. Turns out it was the best decision I ever made (in June, at least).

Can you be a strong college applicant with just three years of high school? Two students in very different circumstances want to know.

Q: I live in Honduras, a country where only a few schools offer four years of high school. I attend a school that has only 10th and 11th grades. As an 11th-grader, I am currently a "senior" and am preparing to apply to Ivy League colleges and the best universities in the US. However, I am not sure if American colleges (especially the most selective ones) will recognize my diploma with only three years of high school. I am a straight A student with solid extra-curricular activities and test scores. Is this particular situation an obstacle to my applications? Or will I have to complete 12th grade in another school before applying?

Q: I attend a very large, overcrowded urban public high school in the U.S. I have taken good classes, including some honors courses, and have a GPA of 3.8 out of 4.0 at the end of my sophomore year. But high school really isn't pleasurable for me, and I am thinking of graduating early. Because four years of English are required for a diploma, I figure I can double up on English next year (which is my junior year). This way, I will meet all the minimum course requirements and can graduate a year early and start college a year earlier. Is this a good idea? Will missing a fourth year of high school count against me?

 

A: Both students have the same dilemma—should they apply to colleges with just three years of high school? If they meet the college or university's entrance requirements, can they apply? Yes. But will they be at a disadvantage? In the first case, perhaps; in the second, definitely!

Still looking for a pre-k spot as the July 10 Round 2 deadline looms? Try our new mobile pre-kindergarten search on your phone or mobile device! Many public schools, pre-k centers and early education centers still have room for this year's crop of 4-year-olds. 

Visit Insideschools.org on your phone and you'll be prompted to visit the mobile site for pre-kindergarten. Type in your address and up pops your zoned school and whether it offers pre-k. You'll also see every pre-k option near your home or work, if you type in that address. Click through to read our reviews of public schools that offer pre-k. 

Even if you already received a pre-k offer, you can take advantage of Round 2 which is comprised mainly of new programs that were not listed in Round 1. Like the first round, you can apply online, over the phone by calling 311 or in person at a Family Welcome Center.

If you've just finished 7th grade, it's time to be thinking about high school!

In addition to a summer reading list for 8th grade, you've got another hefty tome to read over the summer: the 2016 high school directory. At 650 pages, this year's directory, is bigger than ever. It's also online.

Take the time to look through the opening pages which detail the timeline, different admissions methods, types of high schools and factors to consider as you select a high school. If you want more explanation, and an opportunity to ask questions from the folks who make the rules, the Department of Education is offering high school admissions workshops in every borough beginning next week. Enrollment officials will provide an introduction to the high school admissions process including the different the types of programs offered, and give tips on how to fill out your application.

Q: I am a sophomore in high school. When it's time for me to apply to colleges, would it be important to list if I had a website? Is that something that could help my application? Also I enjoy writing short stories in my free time. What can I do to show the colleges my writing, if I do not have a portfolio?

A: You are asking two excellent questions. Let's start with the second: You should start to set up a writing portfolio now. Add a story each time you finish one, and also keep a list of ideas you get for stories. Please remember to back up your files—it's heartbreaking to lose creative writing!

As you explore your college options, look for those that have creative writing programs. Those colleges may require applicants to submit an online portfolio. While it is NOT a good idea to send unsolicited stories, poems or writing samples with an application, the common app does have a box at the bottom that says "use this space to tell us anything else you want us to know." There you could talk about your writing, and include a link to your portfolio. Know that unless it's a small school, and unless you are applying to a writing program, admissions officers may not read it.

High School Hustle: Why middle school matters

Written by Liz Willen Wednesday, 24 June 2015 12:38

At one particularly awful moment during my older son's awkward second year in middle school, the principal turned to me as I sat in her office:

"No one goes through middle school unscathed," she said, with empathy.

I tried to laugh, appreciating her sensitivity, but it didn't seem at all funny. In the space of a few months, my formerly angelic child had lost all of his so-called "friends," struck his gym teacher in the head with a ball (accidentally, he insisted, although the teacher begged to differ) and harbored a locker that smelled so foul it should have been condemned.

He'd discovered that cool (read: expensive) sneakers matter, and learned with dismay that most of the girls in his class seemed at least a foot taller. And of course, I wasn't allowed anywhere near the school; we had to designate a meeting place a few blocks away.

That's middle school for you. Middle school hurts, but middle school matters. I had gone to see the principal under the mistaken impression that we were going to have a conversation about math and science. (Tip: When choosing a middle school, find out what math and science courses they offer, including the 8th-grade algebra Regents, or your child could start high school behind in key areas.)

It takes a lot of skill and commitment to be an elementary school teacher. Many who enter the profession love to read, are interested in social studies, civics and art and are adept at managing a room full of small children who are learning and growing at different speeds. Unfortunately there’s something else many early childhood teachers have in common: math anxiety. According to one study, elementary education majors, who are overwhelmingly female, have the highest levels of math anxiety of any college major, and unwittingly pass it on to their pupils, especially girls.

A new policy brief by Insideschools and the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School examines one of the most vexing problems facing elementary school teachers—their own anxiety over math. The brief takes an in-depth look at two elementary schools, PS 26 on Staten Island and PS 63 in Manhattan, and how their leadership and teaching staff confronted the problem head-on through collaboration and retraining—and got results.

Pre-k, Round 2: Apply by July 10

Written by Aimee Sabo Tuesday, 23 June 2015 10:38

Everyone deserves a second chance. If you're not happy with your child's Round 1 pre-k placement, take heart: Round 2 of pre-k admissions is officially open, now through July 10, offering families dozens of new programs to choose from.

Even if you already received a pre-k offer, you can take advantage of Round 2 of the pre-k enrollment process. Round 2 is comprised mainly of new programs that were not listed in Round 1, as well as some sites that did not fill to capacity. The DOE will be adding more programs as they become available. (Check nyc.gov/prek for the latest updates.) As in Round 1, you can apply online, over the phone by calling 311 or in person at a Family Welcome Center. Applications can be updated right up until the July 10 deadline.

A quick look at the Department of Education's Pre-Kindergarten Round 2 Program List showed some interesting additions (and only one closure) with the majority of new programs in Queens. In Brooklyn, we noted 20 full-day seats at PS 112 Lefferts Park, an Insideschools pick and the subject of the 2005 documentary "Mad Hot Ballroom." In District 2, PS 51 Elias Howe and two new schools, PS 340 Sixth Avenue School and PS 343 The Peck Slip School, are housing pre-k centers. (In neighboring District 3, DNAinfo found that there are decidedly fewer options.)

The DOE's pre-k center programs are a central focus of the expansion this year. Exclusively dedicated to serving pre-k students, these free-standing programs are housed in existing schools or leased space and are run by DOE-appointed site coordinators who report to their district's director of early childhood education. All pre-k centers will host open houses in August when families who have been accepted can tour the program, meet staff and register their children, according to the DOE.

Yes, August feels far away. Many parents will be taking a leap of faith this year one way or another, and it's not an easy thing to do when it comes to your child's education. What do you do when you can't tour the school, the program is new and untested, or you are placed in a "failing school"? Aside from reading our reviews when applicable, talking with other parents, and attending any summer open houses, there aren't easy answers. But when it comes to pre-k, it's important to remember that some of the usual rules don't apply. Some things to keep in mind:

1. A failing (or mediocre) school doesn't necessarily mean a failing pre-k. If you're a dedicated Insideschools reader you've gotten used to looking at school surveys, attendance numbers and even test scores. We can tell you from years of combined experience that in many otherwise troubled or so-so schools, pre-k can often be an oasis of skilled teachers, sweet kids and thoughtful programming. Take PS 48 in the Bronx or PS 120 in Bedford-Stuyvesant, for example. PS 48 has struggled with test scores and discipline in the older grades, but it also has a strong pre-k program in a separate learning annex that our reviewer described as "adorable." At PS 120, where test scores have been low, the pre-k classes we saw had an undeniable spark that was lacking in the upper grades. If you can, take your time to find hidden gems like these. 

2. Pre-k for all doesn't mean pre-k down the block. Who doesn't want to take a leisurely stroll around the corner with their 4-year-old to the best pre-k in the city? We all do, but sometimes you may need to take a train or a bus instead. The city has rolled out an impressive number of programs this year, but mostly where space was available, not where need was highest. Decide on your priorities, and if quality trumps proximity, you may want to open your eyes to great programs further away. 

3. And remember, those wait lists move. As we've said before, you can apply to Round 2 and still remain on a wait list for all the schools you listed above the school your child was assigned to in Round 1. Even as you move forward with other options, an old favorite choice could surprise you with a spot. Stay patient.

Round 2 decision letters will be sent out in early-August. Families will need to pre-register in person with their child and required paperwork by mid-August. In the meantime, good luck and let us know how the process is working for you!

Q: After we spent a lot of money on test prep and our daughter spent a lot of time studying for the SAT, the College Board messed up the June 6 SAT! So all of our effort is for nothing. What is going to happen? What do you suggest we do?

A: By now, everyone is aware of the problem with the administration of the June 6 SAT: A printing error on test booklets forced the College Board to discard two of the 10 sections. It's bad luck all around, and the College Board will do what it will do to make amends, in this case waiving the fee for students who want to retake the exam. It's not the first time something has happened, and I'm sure it will not be the last.

About nine years ago, the College Board erred in its scoring of hundreds of tests, and students received scores that were anywhere from 100 points or more lower than they actually achieved. And I remember when my daughter was applying to colleges about a dozen years ago, and she needed several SAT Subject Test scores. She took three tests, but only two scores arrived. When we inquired, we learned that the College Board had somehow "lost" her literature essay. "And it's really too bad," said the apologetic College Board service representative, "because she scored well on the short answers!" She had to re-take—at no cost, of course—the entire exam. It's almost inevitable that there will be problems from time to time, especially when dealing with huge amounts of data on a national basis.