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Kids these days spend more and more time inside their utilitarian public school buildings, and as a result they're alienated from nature and the creativity nature inspires, writes Alison Arieff in a recent Times column. "What if we looked beyond the notion of schools as institutions (like jails, banks, courthouses) and thought about them more as laboratories for creativity, exploration and innovation?" she asks.

Arieff suggests that one way to accomplish this might be by building "green" schools (or renovating existing buildings in environmentally sustainable ways) so that classrooms are integrated with the natural world around them. In New York City, that's not as easily accomplished as it might be elsewhere, especially given the glacier-like pace of school construction here. But schools in New York could do a lot more to release kids into the "wild" of the city, where rather than explore forests and streams they might explore the world's very best museums, theaters, and parks.

Some middle school decisions out now

Written by Admin Monday, 19 May 2008 07:05

Parents are reporting that they've started hearing back from citywide middle schools. They've heard — as have we at Insideschools — that districts will be letting students know where they've been accepted by the end of this month. Does anyone have any other information to share? Good luck to all!

Chancellor Klein: Always wear sunscreen?

Written by Admin Monday, 19 May 2008 04:03

In a couple of hours, Chancellor Joel Klein will give the Class Day address at Columbia; he graduated from the school in 1967. Lots of seniors were nonplussed by the choice, Columbia's student newspaper reported last month. Barnard's got Klein's boss, Mayor Bloomberg. But hey, boring speeches mean more time for blowing up beach balls and stealing bases, right?

Pressure's mounting on budget-cutting mayor

Written by Admin Friday, 16 May 2008 05:50

Mayor Bloomberg has got to be feeling the pressure to restore education funds to the city's budget. On Wednesday, parents gathered at City Hall to urge City Council members to vote down the proposed budget. This morning, State Assembly leader Sheldon Silver presented the mayor with an assembly resolution asking him to restore school funding. Anti-cut rallies are scheduled for Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx in the next week. (See the Insideschools calendar for details about dates and locations.) And the Keep the Promises Coalition has just launched a new TV spot urging New Yorkers to call 1-800-961-6198 to tell the mayor to fund the schools.
Some kind of changes may be brewing. Patrick Sullivan reported last night on the NYC Public School Parents blog that the DOE has delayed the Panel for Education Policy's vote on the executive budget, originally scheduled for Monday, saying that it is working on reducing the impact of cuts to schools. Of course, it could be that the DOE needs time to fix serious inconsistencies in the proposed budget -- Eduwonkette's noted one and it's not hard to find others.

From the minute we dropped our 5th graders off in a sun-dappled elementary school courtyard last September, the search – and the questions – officially began for parents. Would we be able to find a decent New York City public middle school for our 9- and 10-year-olds?

The tours got off to a slow and somewhat confusing start, but one thing became immediately clear as we began to rank our choices one to five: There are far more students who want to get into the most coveted middle schools than there are spots for them.

In recent weeks, a dire picture of the overcrowding lower Manhattan and other areas of the city face and the impact it will have on schools has emerged. The New York Times weighed in, and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer has announced a meeting next week to discuss the implications.

A report Stringer released last month found the city had approved enough new residential buildings to add up to 2,300 new students in K-8 – while increasing total school capacity by only 143 seats.

Overcrowding is a serious problem, and it's only getting worse as more families choose to stay in the city.

I wish I could tell parents not to worry or stress, and urge them to shun private institutions or moves to the suburbs. The problem is, plenty of us are already staying in the city and fighting for better public schools, just as innovative educators are working hard to make the schools we do have more appealing by attracting grants and specialty programs.

It’s not enough. Supply does not meet demand. The overcrowding in some areas is causing parents to be shut out of kindergarten in some of the most coveted neighborhood schools, as the Times story noted.

Fast-growing immigrant areas in the Bronx, Queens and Upper Manhattan have spent years struggling with overcrowded schools, classrooms and trailers as immigrant populations continue to surge.

Finding a good middle school – and then getting into it – is hard enough now: the best have a long list of children shut out for lack of space.

Without serious attention it may become nearly impossible in years to come.Read all of Liz Willen's Middle School Muddle

New charter MS coming to District 15

Written by Admin Thursday, 15 May 2008 05:38

From the Sun comes the news that the Brooklyn Prospect Charter School, which had its application denied last year, is now cleared to open in District 15 in 2009. The school will open with grade 6 and will eventually serve students in grades 6-12. Founders says Brooklyn Prospect will offer the rigorous International Baccalaureate program as part of the school's mission of giving students "the skills, knowledge, and habits of mind necessary for success in higher education, the workplace, and life in the twenty-first century." Parents of current 4th graders can This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. now for more information; as at all charters, admissions will be done by lottery, applications for which will be due in April 2009, and residents of District 15 will have priority for admission.

City budget: Testing office jobs pay out big

Written by Admin Wednesday, 14 May 2008 11:30

Eduwonkette's been taking a close look at the city's proposed budget for fiscal year 2009 (pdf)— and she reports today that the $8,287,282 slated for the Division of Assessment and Accountability includes $7,789,623 for 18 staff positions, or $432,757 per position. Eduwonkette uses these figures to point to the DOE's "selective attention to budgeting issues." But I'd prefer to look on the bright side — the money earmarked for DAA isn't going up next year. Not getting a raise is like a cut, right?

If you don't believe already that the economy is tanking, here's proof: the number of college students applying to join Teach for America increased by 37 percent this year. Nearly 25,000 graduating seniors applied for 3,700 spots, making TFA more selective than all but the most elite colleges — though not as selective as some of New York City's most highly coveted high schools. Let's hope the kids who didn't make the cut — based on grades, essays, and an interview — applied to graduate school as a backup plan. About 500 of those TFA has accepted will make their way to one of the city's classrooms by this fall, where they will fill high-need positions teaching math, science, and special education, among other subjects.

In Texas, GPS helps kids get to school

Written by Admin Wednesday, 14 May 2008 03:52

School officials in Dallas have started giving GPS devices to kids who regularly have trouble making it to school — so they can't pass off illegitimate excuses when they're truant. The GPS devices appear to be improving attendance for these students, and one expert notes in the Times article on the subject, “It’s far better than locking a kid up” — not to mention less expensive, despite paying for a full-time case manager to check in on students.

Still, some in Texas have complained about the tracking systems, saying the ankle bracelets used in an earlier iteration of the Dallas experiment, and currently used in a similar program in another Texas city, are reminiscent of slave chains. I, too, am uncomfortable with a program that eases kids to the indignities of being monitored electronically. On the other hand, perhaps if students at Brooklyn's Boys and Girls High School were part of a program like the one in Dallas, they would make it to school in time for the starting bell, after which, according to the Post, students complain they are sometimes barred from admission. (Boys and Girls is the subject of an ongoing lawsuit over illegal pushouts filed in 2005 by Advocates for Children, Insideschools' parent organization.)

The DOE has responded to the frustration voiced by parents who had their rising kindergarteners screened for G&T eligibility, only to find that their district programs start in 1st grade. This week, parents of kids who scored at the 90th percentile or higher received a letter saying, "After careful consideration, we are pleased to inform you that your child will not have to retest next year and will be eligible for a first grade seat in G&T program in your distict for the 2009-10 school year." It's time to give credit where credit's due -- the DOE listened to parents and responded fairly and appropriately. Queens parents, you were particularly vocal on this subject -- are you satisfied with the DOE's response?