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by Sharon McCann-Doyle
My 3rd grade daughter still cries at Disney movies and is afraid to see Matilda on Broadway. So I was dismayed to discover that her school's reading list includes "Behind Rebel Lines", by Seymor Reit, part of the city's new reading curriculum called ReadyGen. It's a terrific book for middle-school students but completely inappropriate for 8-year-olds.
"Behind Rebel Lines" is a compelling story about Emma Edmonds, a woman who, disguised as a man, becomes a Civil War spy. The 127-page book explores issues of war, feminism and race and is full of emotional and historical complexity. The language is dense and the vocabulary is very advanced. But more troubling to me are the content and context.
At one point, Emma's friend and potential love interest is shot through the neck by a musket—a scary, violent scene. At another, Emma dresses as a slave to go behind enemy lines in scenes that introduce minstrels, black face, and the use of racial slurs. The vernacular reflects the era and social status of the book's characters. For example when introducing herself, disguised as a male slave, Emma says "Mah name Cuff, suh. Lookin' fo' Mistuh Prahvit Thompson. Ah b'lieve he wuk here?"
If you're a parent choosing a middle school, you want to know: Do the academics prepare kids for high school? Do the teachers recommend the school? Kids want to know: Does the school require uniforms? Are the other kids nice?
Now, just in time for this week's Dec. 13 application deadline, Insideschools has launched Insidestats for middle schools. Similar to Insidestats for high school, we have comprehensive data on 430 middle and secondary schools, including charter schools. You can see at a glance how big the classes are, whether kids think there are enough interesting programs and whether 8th graders take and pass Regents math and science exams.
A couple of years ago, we criticized the Department of Education's school Progress Reports for oversimplifying the strengths and weaknesses of each school with a single "A" to "F" grade. (Apparently Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio agrees with us, having said he'll do away with the simplistic letter grades.)
With Insidestats, we offer a more nuanced picture, because different schools are good at different things. Some schools take high-achieving kids and push them to ever greater heights. But others do a particularly good job with kids who need special education or English language instruction. Insidestats shows you the difference.
Take Mark Twain in Coney Island, which is open to students citywide. Everyone knows it's a terrific school that sends more graduates to specialized high schools than almost any other middle school. But maybe you didn't know that its students with special needs also fare better than the average city school. Or that 100 percent of the teachers say they recommend the school to parents. On the downside, students have to contend with larger-than-average class size.
Compare that with another popular citywide school: New Explorations into Science, Technology and Math (NEST). Class size here is lower, just about average for the city, but fewer teachers--82 percent --say they would recommend the school and only 28 percent think the principal is a good manager.
We hope Insidestats will help those of you still wondering which schools to rank on your middle school applications.
Five-year-old J.P. started kindergarten at his neighborhood school in September. Like many kids, he had never been to school before. Two days into the year, his mother received a phone call from the assistant principal complaining that J.P.’s behavior was disrupting the class. His offense? Getting out of his seat and playing with his shoelaces.
While the rest of the class would attend the full day of school, J.P. would now only attend half-days indefinitely, the family was told. After consulting with Advocates for Children, his parents asked for a specific action plan to target J.P.'s behaviors so that he might be able to return to school full-time. At his IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meeting in November, school staff told them, “We’re not behavior specialists.”
The school’s actions were not only unfair; they were illegal. Schools are mandated by the state to perform "Functional Behavior Assessments" (FBAs) and develop "Behavior Intervention Plans" (BIPs) when the actions of a student with a disability or a student referred for an evaluation are impeding learning or leading to disciplinary action. The problem is, most school personnel (and parents) have no idea what these assessments are.
I am concerned about the new kindergarten admissions process in regard to my young child. He has a late December birthday. I know I don't have to send him to kindergarten but what if he is not ready for first grade in the year he turns 6?
December child's mom
Dear December child's mom:
I know that there are lots of parents who are concerned that their children are too young to start kindergarten -- especially those who will still be four years old for the first three months of school.
Gifted & Talented seats remain open on the Upper West Side -- and elsewhere in the city -- but parents of qualified children who want the seats say they can't enroll.
Last month, we reported that despite the extreme demand for G&T seats this year and the high number of qualifying students, some programs remained under-enrolled a few days before the DOE's Oct 31 deadline for closing school registers. Now, a month later, vacant G&T spots sit unclaimed at both PS 165 and PS 163 on the Upper West Side, according to City Council Member Gail Brewer's office.
Frustrated parent Karen Alicea-Dunn can't get her son -- who scored in the 96th percentile on the exam -- into PS 163's kindergarten G&T program.
New York City’s Education Funders Research Initiative asked our parent organization, the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School, to identify key priorities for education reform under Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio. On Thursday, the Center for New York City Affairs released the results: a new report called "Building Blocks for Better Schools: How the Next Mayor can Prepare New York's Students for College and Careers," co-authored by Insideschools founder Clara Hemphill. The paper analyzes the successes and failures of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s education initiatives—and proposes six key areas on which the next administration should focus attention and resources.
A top priority: Make sure young children can read. This is a first, crucial building block for school reform efforts.
Other priorities include:
- Use the Common Core to build a true, skills-based college preparatory curriculum.
- Revise the accountability system to use a wider range of measures, and to be more responsive to schools and families.
- Keep principals' control of hiring, budgets and curriculum—but provide them greater supervision and support.
- Strengthen neighborhood schools and create new structures to connect all schools—neighborhood, magnet and charters alike—within given geographic areas.
- Build early and ongoing support for college and career guidance.
Teachers, students and parents are invited to a free screening of "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom" hosted by the American Federation of Teachers and The Weinstein Company.
Screenings will take place in Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan starting at 4pm on Monday, Nov. 25.
Groups, individuals and classrooms are invited to attend!
RSVP to Brandon.Piper@cegny.com or call (646) 254-6718, indicating which screening you'd like to attend.
The film also has a free educators guide if teachers wish to engage students in activities or discussions around the film.
The film is screening at:
UA Court Street 12
106 Court St.
Brooklyn, NY 11201
UA Kaufman Astoria Cinemas 14
35-30 38th St.
Astoria, NY 11101
AMC Loews Lincoln Square
New York, NY 10023
The official high school directory is essential reading for 8th graders applying to high school in New York City. But, at 565 pages, the directory can be cumbersome, especially for kids already lugging pounds of textbooks.
Now, we've created a mobile site that will get this information to kids where they are most likely to use it--on their smartphones.
Our new iPhone/Android mobile website, http://insideschools.org/
I am getting concerned about applying to kindergarten. How does the new system work? I like my zoned school, it has a great reputation, but because of that it is very popular and there is always an overflow of kindergarten applications. What happens if it is the only school I choose and my child does not get a place?
Anticipating KG Mom
Dear Anticipating KG Mom,
Under the new Kindergarten Connect system, which is managed by a vendor not the schools themselves, parents rank up to 20 schools in order of preference. You apply between Jan. 13- Feb. 14, filling out an online application, calling 718-935-2400, or visiting a borough enrollment office from 8am-3pm, Monday to Friday. If you go to your zoned school, or any other school, the staff will advise you on how to file the application, but they won’t do it for you.
High school applications are due on Dec. 2, the Monday after the Thanksgiving holiday, for 8th graders, and 9th graders who want to go to a different school next year.
Still undecided where to apply? Check out our new Insideschools mobile website on your smartphone. You can search by borough, subway line, middle school grades and/or keyword, sifting through hundreds of high schools to find the best matches.
Here are some tips for 8th graders and their families to mull over after the turkey is eaten.