Recent comments

Search News & Views

News and views

Turn Up the Heat

Written by Helen Zelon Sunday, 08 June 2008 04:44

Rally today at 1pm at City Hall, organized by Council Member David Weprin of Queens and joined by Council colleagues and parents citywide to protest pre-K admissions -- and omissions.

Bring kids, signs, and lots of water -- and plan on extra travel time, especially if you're coming from uptown, as the Puerto Rican Day Parade celebrates on Fifth.

Eyes and ears on the ground, let us know what you see and hear.

First Week

Written by Helen Zelon Friday, 06 June 2008 15:00

It's been a full week since Philissa passed along the coordination of the InsideSchools blog -- and like so many other weeks in the world of New York City public education, there's been no shortage of news to report and ponder. But it wouldn't be right to close up shop for the week without a proper thanks to Philissa, whose hard work and astonishing dedication served as the blog's (virtual and actual) foundation. Salut!

As we move forward, we'll continue to hear from familiar voices, like Liz Willen, who'll be writing about high schools, and Jennifer Freeman, who'll be covering Community Education Councils. We'll also welcome a new writer from the nycstudents blog, as our previous contributor, Seth Pearce, heads up to Harvard, and hope to add additional voices to the mix.It's an honor and a challenge to be part of this thoughtful, provocative community. Thanks to all for their thoughts, inspirations, frustrations and wee-hours obsessions -- for the willingness to take that leap of faith, and connect.

Appeals Update from DOE

Written by Helen Zelon Friday, 06 June 2008 09:22

As plenty of parents can attest, talk has been swirling about pre-K and middle-school appeals, and second round applications for pre-K. Here's the latest:

Appeals for pre-K
are due to the DOE by next Friday, June 13. These appeals are meant to address clerical/record-keeping issues, like address changes, name misspellings, etc. These are NOT for parents who wish to appeal their child's exclusion from pre-K.

If you feel your child was wrongly placed or simply excluded from your zoned school, write the DOE's OSEPO office at Tweed pronto, if you haven't already. There is no hard deadline for these letters, but their aim is to resolve all open queries before the round-two pre-K apps begin on June 23d.

To participate in the second round of pre-K admissions, get hold of an application from your borough OSEPO office. Parents seeking sibling priority seats should receive them by mail from the DOE. (Be good enough, readers, to let us know if and when the 2nd round applications arrive -- thanks.) The second round begins on June 23d; there is no deadline yet set for that process, although one will be decided soon (says the DOE) and posted here, of course, and on their site.

Caveat emptor, parents: If you elect to participate in round two and are granted a pre-K seat, you are obliged to accept that seat for your child. In other words, you can't hold on to a first-round placement in hopes of another, somehow better second placement. If your bid's in the ring, you have to accept the outcome. Fair's fair.

On middle schools, elementary schools in districts with appeals processes have, apparently, distributed appeals information. (Help us out again, here, readers: What's in your child's backpack?)

If your 5th-grader applied to a middle school in another district, contact the out-of-district school's guidance counselor for appeals particulars. If you're still unable to resolve your concerns, contact your borough OSEPO office -- be patient, be prepared for some phone tag, but be persistent, too. Remember, not all districts have formal appeals processes. (In this case, fair's not exactly fair.)

Parents in Brooklyn and elsewhere say some of their fifth-graders didn't get any place at all in middle school, or got placed at schools they didn't include on their applications. If this is true for your child, let us know -- getting a sense of the scope of the challenge is the first step.

Hold the Phone!

Written by Helen Zelon Friday, 06 June 2008 06:44

We just heard from Marty Markowitz' office, who asked us to have parents write rather than telephone with pre-K information. Contact

If you do write, be sure to include the following:
Your name, address, and telephone number
Your child's name; if there's a sibling, the sibling's name and OSIS (ID) number. Also, their date/s of birth.
The school your older sibling presently attends, and whether it's in your local school zone or out.

Morning Report

Written by Helen Zelon Friday, 06 June 2008 04:38

The Pre-K coverage in today's Times brings familiar tales of woe -- siblings bounced, in-zone kids displaced by out-of-zone applicants -- but some semi-encouraging news: it seems that OSEPO might reconsider its plan to standardize next year's kindergarten admissions. Other reports (and our own communication with the DOE) suggest that the DOE will be moving the middle school process earlier in the calendar year next year, to prevent bottlenecks and delays. While it's little salve for this year's slings and arrows, at least there's hope that a) they're listening and b) the process just may improve in its next iteration.

For readers waiting for answers to specific questions, we're still waiting, too. With luck, we'll have responses soon.

Bedtime Stories

Written by Helen Zelon Thursday, 05 June 2008 18:00

Last week, Philissa asked about your kids' favorite books, for parents looking to bolster summer reading lists. In a week thick with real-life confusion, a little fiction escape may be more than welcome.

One reader, bermbaby, responded with a few select NYC-based titles, awfully clear-eyed for a 2:29am post. But plenty of terrific city books deserve a nod -- among them, Anna Banana and Me (a picturebook set in Central Park), the old-school series All-of-a-Kind Family (on the Lower East Side and in Seward Park Library), and the Upper East Side classic, Harriet the Spy. And then there's always A Cricket in Times Square, the story of a city boy and a lyrical insect in this complicated, amazing town.

What are we missing? What are your best NYC book picks? Nonfiction fans, don't be daunted -- let's have your favorite city fact titles, too.

Take Action

Written by Helen Zelon Thursday, 05 June 2008 14:47

A few organizations have set up petitions and letter-writing campaigns to attempt to address education issues of concern:

Families of pre-K siblings denied seats at their older-sibling's school, take a few minutes to complete this survey, conducted by Parents for DOE Accountability and Action.

If your child was not placed at your zoned school for pre-K, Marty Markowitz' office wants to hear from you. [NB, the prior link is not working; instead, call 718-802-3762 in the morning for particulars, and we'll try to identify another link.]

To protest budget cuts, Concerned Parents of NYC encourages kids to raise their voices, along with their parents and the wider school community.

Exercise your civic activism: Chime in.

DOE: Rethinking for Next Year?

Written by Helen Zelon Thursday, 05 June 2008 08:03

With the pre-K dust still swirling and hundreds of middle-school families still waiting for official word on where their children have been placed, the citywide admissions process obviously needs rethinking. Politicos like Betsy Gotbaum, Bill deBlasio, Brookyn borough president Marty Markowitz and others are challenging the DOE to review, and redo, applications as needed. (DeBlasio, a public-school parent, is also waiting for middle-school news for his own child.)

The difficulties are undeniable, and the cures uncertain. But while the DOE says they'll work to clarify whatever confused parents this year ahead of next year's applications, they don't (yet) explain how they will address and amend this year's problems. It's increasingly difficult to wait with a degree of patience.

Comments like "it's simply not correct to say that we're running way behind" on middle-school notification, which Andy Jacob wrote to me this morning, sorely test that patience. Earlier this week, he said all letters were to have gone out by Monday June 2. Now, he says, "some of the assignments went out last week. ... Some of them went out earlier this week. All the letters should be out by today." Does that 'should' make you nervous, too?

We are working with the DOE, seeking detailed comment on specific enrollment and admissions questions. We hope for their candor and prompt communication. And for the reader who wondered, where's Chancellor Klein in all this? He's in Washington, DC -- giving a talk this afternoon at the American Enterprise Institute, on the challenges of revitalizing urban schools.

Questions and a Few Answers

Written by Helen Zelon Wednesday, 04 June 2008 17:13

Lots of questions waiting for answers from the DOE, but in the meanwhile, here's some feedback on specifics that have come in via comments. (Thanks as ever for posting, and for voicing questions shared by scores of city parents.)

One parent asked about out-of-zone kids getting pre-K seats while her child wasn't seated at their zoned school. You can try to appeal the decision, but chances are, no one will officially tell you how the decision to exclude your child and include another was made. The party line is that no out-of-zone kids were offered seats unless in-zone kids were all covered; this may give you some basis for an appeal, but unfortunately, nothing's certain.

Bronx shrink, I checked the pre-K application again, and checked in with the DOE. The application does stipulate that the older sibling be continuing in elementary school -- but it doesn't say 'boo' about ranking the big-sib's school as a first choice. Waiting for official word back on this, and will report more when it's known.

Dr Monty asked about appealing middle school placement. Last year, a few districts offered appeals (details here); D 15 does, but D 21 and 22 do not. Brutal, I know. Insult to injury, the deadline last year for appeals was May 25th, well ahead of first-round news for most parents this year. Try contacting parent coordinators at the school/s in question to see if any informal process exists. Sometimes a bit of relationship-building can go a long way.

Keep the questions flowing.

"Noise," but Not Much News

Written by Helen Zelon Wednesday, 04 June 2008 11:38

A midday protest on the steps of Tweed organized by Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum and City Council member Bill deBlasio drew a few dozen parents and DOE representatives David Cantor and Andy Jacob, who fielded questions but had few concrete answers to offer.

"The scale of the problem is misrepresented by the amount of noise," said Cantor, as parents of barraged him with questions. "Everything will be resolved within the next couple of days." That means a seat in a pre-K program, although not necessarily at the first-choice school, for siblings of already-enrolled students.

DeBlasio and others challenged the DOE's count of 200 families affected. "The issues this raises for parents are huge," he said, citing the thousands parents may have to pay for private pre-K, and the fact that many programs are already full for fall. Frustrated parents want to know what to tell their kids, and worry aloud about plans to centralize next year's kindergarten admissions process.

DOE reps promise that all legitimate sibling priority enrollments will be honored (though again, not necessarily at the first-choice school), and that all calls and emails to OSEPO will be returned (not what we're hearing). But the issue, while immediately pressing for hundreds of city families, has a much larger import.

"We know pre-K is an essential educational tool," says UFT president Randi Weingarten. "They've done with this what they did with high school enrollment, and with middle school enrollment -- they've taken all human judgment out of the equation. They dismiss the nature of neighborhoods, they dismiss the nature of human needs, for what a computer tells them to do. It's a computer, instead of common sense."

And for the record, even DOE staff aren't immune from the vagaries of the system: Cantor's 4-year-old will attend their local public-school kindergarten in the fall -- but, he said, "even my kid didn't get into pre-K" last year.