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Wish list: DOE to answer

Written by Helen Zelon Wednesday, 09 July 2008 05:40

Last week, we asked readers for questions they'd like to pose to the Powers That Be at the DOE, and you responded with smart, savvy, provocative ideas, summarized in the recent Insideschools alert.

We have another few days to gather questions. Anything you forgot to ask on the last round? Fire away.

Summer project

Written by Helen Zelon Tuesday, 08 July 2008 05:48

While the first days of school may seem blissfully distant, there's no time like now for planning. Remember Aesop? Be the ant, not the grasshopper.

The DOE's Office for Family Engagement and Advocacy has summer workshops for parents; most are on Saturdays to encourage working parents' participation. If your summer plans mean weekends away, write the OFEA for information on their monthly workshops beginning in fall.

Parent engagement can transform a school and its culture; just look at what happened at PS 11 in Clinton Hill. Working with other families in your child's school builds community, a persistent theme among our commenters. But change doesn't come without sweat and effort; if you don't invest it, who will?

Remember that ant: Invest your creative energy now; your children, their friends, and kids you don't even know will reap the rewards.

Fun and games

Written by Helen Zelon Monday, 07 July 2008 13:24

If your big kids are starting to bounce off the walls -- or if you're at wit's end, trying to work and juggle kid care -- the PSAL, which sponsors school sports teams, has just the summer ticket: The Big Apple Games. Free to kids 8 to 19 in all five boros, there's swimming and track, lacrosse and volleyball, along with the full range of team sports and Junior Lifeguard training at 12 pools citywide. For details, and for locations of programs for kids with special needs, visit their website or call 311.

Take a break

Written by Helen Zelon Friday, 04 July 2008 06:09

Hope all our readers enjoy a festive (if slightly soggy) Fourth of July. If your family does something non-traditional and fun, circumventing the beach-BBQ-fireworks trifecta, let us know. We bet you've got some good ideas -- as usual.

On this end, we're taking a weekend break. Thanks to all for their continued support and participation -- working on this project is a blast (pyro pun entirely intentional).

Early round-up this week -- our attempt to get to the news before we get to the grill.

Yesterday, we looked at No Child Left Behind and the second annual Learning Environment Survey results. Even though results were generally positive, three out of four students didn’t take an art class!

Good news for science in Harlem: Millions poured in for middle schools (as first reported on this blog), and hundreds of high school science students found worthwhile (and paid!) summer work in labs. PS 229 in Queens may grow their own environmental scientists – students there are certainly learning how to act green.

Bloomberg’s expensive Leadership Academy will now be added to the taxpayers’ bill, while a lauded principal (not an Academy grad) faces allegations of test score fraud. A few of his teachers might be yanked from the classroom and thrown into the rubber room, but they might not be there that long, according to a new agreement between the UFT and DOE. Is there a rubber room where we can stash daycare providers who have been stealing from the state? Or the students behind anti-Sikh hate crimes?

While the Times lauds a program to help students stay in school, the Daily News publicizes parents’ concerns over older and under-credited students sharing a school building with younger kids. The News also covers public schools that have been closed for good, and the Times showcases the last American high school for would-be Catholic priests.

Guess what? Pre-k admissions was a mess this year, and even paying top-dollar for private school doesn’t guarantee Junior will get into Harvard/Yale/Princeton. But a story about a pre-k program that appears to work wonders and Christoph Niemann’s charming illustrations celebrating his sons’ love of the subway system kick-off the holiday weekend on an aptly joyful note.

Those ads

Written by Helen Zelon Thursday, 03 July 2008 06:46

Anyone else feel in the eye of a swirling PR-storm? The Fund for Public Schools (the private-money gathering arm of the DOE) has sponsored a swath of glossy ads showcasing progress in the public schools that would make the Mad Ave mavens plenty proud. See the ads here -- but if you watched a half-hour or more of TV last night, we're sure you've seen the new, test-score-touting ad already.

Knickerbocker SKD is the agency behind the campaign, which has been underway since 2007; according to the Fund for Public Schools, the production and media buy for this wave cost about $1 million. Beginners, they're not: Also on their client list are Mayor Bloomberg, Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Manhattan DA Robert Morgenthau and real-estate megadeveloper Forest City Ratner.

The Fund, first headed by Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, raises private millions for education reform. But as Kathryn S. Wylde, the president of the Partnership for New York City, put it in 2005, the Mayor's own philanthropy is a powerful model. "He had a lot of chits to call in." And call he did.

NCLB: Testing the law that sets the tests

Written by Helen Zelon Wednesday, 02 July 2008 04:45

A new crack in the NCLB edifice has emerged, as 6 states have won the right to design their own means to achieve federally-mandated landmarks of academic progress. According to Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, up to 10 states will pilot their own achievement and accountability programs; 17 states applied for the program, including New York, which didn't make the short list.

Spellings also bemoaned Congress' decision to yank funds for Reading First, the Bush-endorsed reading program that's shown flat results -- and been linked with dubious business practices by the Education Department's own Inspector General. In a trope that echoes New York testing outcomes, Spellings says state data show the progam is working, while federal review documents no effect at all on reading comprehension.

Does education reform merit attention in the Presidential election? Lots of Americans agree -- to a point. This poll puts education third, behind gas prices and economic concerns, but ahead of health care, homeland security, and the environment (dead last).

And the survey says...

Written by Helen Zelon Tuesday, 01 July 2008 12:02

Mayor Bloomberg announced the results of the 2008 Learning Environment Survey this morning; not surprisingly, there's good news and bad news.

This second year of the survey generated a significantly larger response, especially at schools that scored poorly last year (targets of DOE response-generating efforts). Overall, parents report high levels of satisfaction with their childrens' education and teachers; teachers who responded say they're more satisfied, too, but some areas, like professional development, still fall short.

Of great interest to us is the student survey, which shows a kid-typical mix of answers. (Middle and high-schoolers were invited to participate; between 11% and 15% actually did.)

Learning environment, for kids, means the life of the hallway and the schoolyard--what's said too loud in the cafeteria and who bumps who in gym. Bullying, fighting, and adults who yell continue to be problems, kids say. About half feel they can't turn to adults at school for help; more than half say that students don't "help and care about each other" or "treat each other with respect."

Four in ten students report that their schools don't have enough variety, in classes and activities, to keep them engaged. And it's still really hard to be smart and cool: Almost half of the students the DOE heard from say that kids who earn high grades at their school don't get other students' respect.

Bottom line: The grown-ups seem happier than they did last year. The kids -- well, they're still struggling. They want more challenge, and they need more support.

The DOE plans to post citywide survey results and reports for individual schools this afternoon; we'll update this post with a link when they do. (Learning Environment Surveys and attendance account for 15% of each school's annual progress report.)

Summer wish list: Questions for the DOE

Written by Helen Zelon Tuesday, 01 July 2008 08:07

We're hoping to take advantage of summer to ask the DOE questions about some things that confused many readers this year, both to understand what happened and explore what's on deck for 2008-09.

We want to know about middle-school admissions -- the calendar, the process, and how special-needs students can better be included. We want to know about gifted + talented programs -- admissions, lotteries, citywide schools, and qualifying tests. And we want to know how the DOE aims to prevent the pre-K admissions confusion that characterized this year's experience. We also have questions about centralization and how much decision-making power rests with the districts, for both K and middle school.

What do you want to know? Now's the time to write our wish list; with weeks to go before the pre-September ramp-up, we can try to get some answers. Let us hear from you.

Ten Harlem middle schools will get new math and science programs this fall, thanks to a $17.9 million, five-year grant from the General Electric Foundation, announced just this afternoon by a sun-drenched Mayor Bloomberg, flanked by CEO of GE Jeffrey Immelt, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, and Harlem's own Charlie Rangel, House Ways and Means Committee Chair and undisputed king of 125th Street.

The largest corporate grant ever awarded to city schools, the DOE money is the lion's share of a $29-million package that directs GE funds to Teachers College, Geoffrey Canada's Harlem Childrens' Zone, the Council for Opportunities in Education and College for Every Student, in that corporation's ongoing effort to develop math, science and engineering talent. Klein said that participating public schools have yet to be identified, although a Teacher's College press-release named PS 200 and PS/IS 180 as part of the program.

We don't yet know how the money will be spent or the programs administered, but Klein did mention that a portion of the grant might be used to "reconfigure" middle schools (translation: break them up and make them smaller). The mayor and the chancellor have reminded us often over the past week that middle schools remain their biggest challenge for reform, and they heralded this latest cash flow as a boost to their invigorated efforts. We're curious, however, why other parts of the city, with similarly acute needs for strong math and science education, aren't part of the powerhouse's largesse.