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Parents have long felt that city schools are set up to serve the highest achievers -- via gifted and talented programs and the specialized high schools, for example -- and, particularly in the current Mayoral administration, to analyze and attempt to meet the needs of the city's neediest, lowest-performing students. Thus, an era of high-stakes testing, data-driven accountability, and the basic equation of "progress" with rising scores.

But a large swath of students have been overlooked in the alphabet soup of AYP (annual yearly progress), SURR (schools under Regents review), SINI (schools in need of improvement), and NCLB (No Child Left Behind). As Sam Dillon reported in today's Times, and Eduwonkette put into thoughtful context, we risk losing sight of the kids who are doing well, or well enough. They're not making as much progress as their less-able peers, mainly because the educational target has aimed at proficiency, with less emphasis on pushing the already-proficient to new levels of rigor and achievement.

Clearly, resources are finite, and a large segment of the city's kids need and deserve real attention to the academic basics. But can we afford, as parents and as citizens, to slight the students who are already doing well?

With the Obama/McCain showdown claiming more above-the-fold newspaper space and primetime television minutes each week, I have been considering the delicate relationship between teachers’ personal politics, and their educational obligations to their students. Children have no qualms about asking blunt questions, including “who did you vote for in the last election?” which I was often asked when I taught sixth and seventh grade social studies at IS 143 in Washington Heights.

My students really wanted to know what I believed. Most of them were immigrants or first-generation Americans, and they were learning about democracy and politics for the first time in my class. They struggled in particular to understand modern political parties, and they wanted to know what the adults they looked up to believed, so that they could begin to build their own political opinions.But is it fair for teachers to share their personal political views with students or is it a teacher’s job to present the all of the ideas and arguments and teach the students the skills they need to form their own opinions? According the chancellor’s regulations, it is forbidden: all DOE employees “shall maintain a posture of neutrality with respect to all candidates,” while on the job, but in reality, this is not always followed. And remember what happened when a Bronx high school teacher and his students made a video for the Obama campaign this fall?Stanley Fish, a distinguished professor who has worked at several prominent universities, would also argue against bringing politics into the classroom. Fish writes in his New York Times blog that it is not only possible but critical that teachers don’t share their personal political opinions with their students. Gray Lady readers, particularly those who are also professors, have responded in force, igniting a vigorous debate that Fish has now responded to twice (I have even noticed some of my own professors from college chiming in).

But the relationship between politics and teaching is not just confined to higher-education. The commentators who complain that kids don’t know enough, or care enough, about the democratic process are usually quick to blame elementary, middle and high school teachers. If teachers are passionate about politics, should they share that with their students? I am inclined to side with Professor Fish and argue that politics need to be taught but not partisan ideas. In this presidential election year, do you think that teachers’ political opinions should be shared or silenced while they are at school?

Budget-heavy week begins

Written by Tuesday, 17 June 2008 06:28

More than 1,000 students, educators and concerned citizens marched outside a rain-soaked City Hall yesterday in protest of proposed budget cuts to New York City’s public schools. Others organized against the budget cuts online, meanwhile, directing an onslaught of emails to City Council members.

These two protests kicked off a busy week on the budget front. Tonight there is a public accountability hearing in Manhattan at 6:30 p.m. to evaluate the city’s use of Contracts for Excellence funding. And tomorrow, a similar hearing will take place in Queens.

Special Ed Delays for Middle Schoolers

Written by Helen Zelon Tuesday, 17 June 2008 04:15

In the days since middle-school placements were announced, we've heard repeatedly from parents of kids in CTT and self-contained special ed classes: Some students haven't received seats in middle school, even though they will graduate from grade school in a few days.

"Special education students will receive their placements this week," according to the DOE's Andy Jacob, who says that "a more comprehensive approach" to placement, along with making sure needed services are in place, cost the process "a few additional days" (which others might describe as a week or more, but never mind).

Elementary school guidance counselors were told that the special-ed students' placements would follow mainstream-ed matches, according to the DOE. Whether and when parents were similarly informed -- and if not, why not -- remains unclear. (We've asked.)

Parents who write us say there's a two-tier approach to middle school admissions, and that special-ed kids are treated as "second-class citizens." It's hard to believe that's actually true, but easy to see how parents, waiting for middle-school news and wanting the best for their children, can think it possible.

Readers, please keep us posted on when your special-needs children receive middle school placements. Also, we'd love to know how the school your child is offered compares with the choices ranked on the application. Thanks as ever for your feedback.

Mid-70s and partly sunny skies are on the way

Written by Monday, 16 June 2008 11:32

More than 100 people responded to our poll asking “How should the DOE respond to the UFT's call for precautions concerning extreme heat?”

Here's how you voted:

  • 39 percent (41 votes) said the DOE should implement all of the UFT’s suggestions.
  • 25 percent (26 votes) said the DOE should dismiss classes early on extremely hot days.
  • 19 percent (20 votes) said the DOE should hold classes as usual.
  • 16 percent (17 votes) said the DOE should cancel school altogether.

Thanks again for your votes! Enjoy the nice weather this week.

Money, money, money!

Written by Monday, 16 June 2008 10:00

On top of admissions jitters, stormy weather and Brooklyn’s new IKEA opening, a busy week on the budget and funding fronts is ahead of us. Stay up-to-date with the Insideschools calendar as we plow towards the summer break.

Today the Keep the Promises Coalition is holding a rally against the budget cuts at 4:30 p.m., when protesters will attempt to encircle City Hall. Protesters should meet along Broadway before marching to City Hall. In an email this morning, Betty Zohar, Brooklyn’s UFT parent and community liaison, estimated some 1,500 protesters will attend.

Tomorrow and Wednesday at 6:30 p.m., the city will conduct public hearings in Manhattan and Queens, respectively, to discuss the DOE’s use of Contracts for Excellence (C4E) funding. Chief among its many goals, C4E funding aims to reduce class size and to bolster instruction for students with the highest needs, which include students living in poverty, English Language Learners and special-education students.

Parents, students and community members who wish to testify at the C4E public hearings should sign up at 6 p.m. The Manhattan hearing will be at Fashion Industries High School; in Queens, at I.S. 230.

--posted by Tanner Kroeger

Middle School Families: Special Ed. Question

Written by Helen Zelon Monday, 16 June 2008 09:41

We've heard troubling news from parents in Brooklyn: It seems that some rising sixth-graders with special needs, both those who participated in Collaborative Team Teaching (CTT) classes and self-contained classes, haven't yet received middle school seats. The news is especially worrisome because many elementary schools hold graduation ceremonies this week; it stands to reason that kids and families should know where they'll be going in September.

If your child is in this situation, please let us know -- and be certain, we're asking the DOE for clarification.

G+T Update: Courier Service

Written by Helen Zelon Monday, 16 June 2008 04:21

Parents citywide should have g+t kindergarten and first grade placement results no later than today, according to the DOE, which used couriers to hand-deliver letters across all five boros -- even in Staten Island, according to one commenter.

Apparently, the fallout from pre-K had big bureaucratic repercussions: "We identified issues that caused confusion with some pre-Kindergarten placements, so we ran additional checks on the gifted and talented placements -- especially the placements for siblings," said DOE press spokesman Andy Jacob.

The extra efforts were made to "ensure that parents receive clear and accurate information," according to Jacob. "We delivered the letters via courier because we wanted parents to get the letters when they expected them, and with sufficient time to accept or decline their offers." According to Elizabeth Green in the Sun, deliveries cost about $5 per envelope -- plenty pricey, but less than overnight-mail fees. (Parents can also expect duplicate letters via conventional post.)

Timing is crucial for schools as well: As these last days of school unfold, schools that will receive new students need to know who's coming, in order to plan their mix of classes.

If you expect a placement letter and don't have one by the end of the day today, telephone OSEPO's elementary placement office, at 212 374-4948. They're following up on undeliverables, which they estimate to be less than 1% of letters, but a quick hello can't hurt. (And if you have a chance, drop us a note, too - curious to see how many deliveries found their mark, and how many went awry.)

Father's Day Follow-Up

Written by Helen Zelon Sunday, 15 June 2008 07:13

First, Happy Papa's Day, Dads -- hope your families are treating you well, soggy weather notwithstanding.

On the g+t front, one commenter to the blog either got a letter today, Sunday, or found one in her mailbox that might have been left there yesterday. Another commenter was grateful for the kindness of neighbors (pace, Tennessee Williams), when a friend from her old building found a DOE letter with her address. This gives rise to an urgent question: If a family doesn't receive a letter, or if the hand-delivery goes awry (as above), who should be contacted? We are waiting for direct instruction and specific contact information from the DOE, and hope that very few readers will actually need it.

We're also curious as to why the letters were hand-delivered, and -- of course -- have asked for amplification. We'll report what we learn; in the meanwhile, please keep in touch, as we and parents citywide are grateful for on-the-ground reports, as they come in.

District 1 parents waiting for lottery outcomes, we've heard that letters went out this weekend. Perhaps someone's had news already? If so, let us know.

District 2, still in the land o' waiting limbo. We'll report more as we learn it.

Finally! G+T Kindergarten and Pre-K Action

Written by Helen Zelon Friday, 13 June 2008 13:54

According to the DOE, placement letters for g+t kindergarten are in the mail, at last.

They assert some families will have news today, others, over the next few days.

We've also heard directly from the family of a pre-K sibling who didn't initially get a seat -- but whose case was resolved favorably this afternoon, with a place offered (and accepted!) in their first-choice school. Any others with this experience, let us know.

Please let us know when your news arrives.