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Special education students are facing even more significant problems than the busing issues  that continue to keep them spending almost as many hours en-route to school as in the classroom. Despite such snafus, the Times editorial board endorsed the reinstatement of mayoral control, only with the changes recommended last week by the Public Advocate's commission of experts. Meanwhile--as the future of mayoral control hangs in the balance--a  former New York City chancellor is being fired from his new job, and the DOE is investing a million dollars in its own think tank, hoping that the schools can teach each other a lesson. Several NYC lessons have leaked down south where schools in Washington D.C., called the "worst" in the country by Education Week, have seen significant changes with Klein-protege Michelle Rhee at the helm. 

Obama laid out his education plan and the Times analyzed McCain's school policies while advertisements (mis)claiming that Obama wanted to teach sex ed. to kindergarteners hit the airways. The good news: Education issues have suddenly moved to the forefront of the national race. Kindergartners in New York may not have sex ed. class, but many of them will have the Big Kid experience of sitting for standardized tests this year--principals have gone gaga over the proposal. And on Tuesday, the Post ran a glowing profile of PS 8 principal Seth Phillips, just two days before the news broke that his school would receive an F on its report card this year. 

New York students who want to learn about international politics can no longer visit the United Nations on a field trip--at least until the mayor feels confident that they won't be in immediate danger while on international property.  A more likely menace, however, rears its very ugly face on the pages of the Daily News, as well as in classrooms and on heads across the city. 


2008 School progress reports

Written by Helen Zelon Friday, 12 September 2008 03:24

Well, Eduwonkette called it last Monday (and even had fun with a stats results pool):  The DOE has delivered 2008 School Progress Reports cards to the city's schools, far earlier in the academic year than the November 2007 release.  (Nomenclature alert:  Progress reports are DOE measures; school report cards are products of the NY State Dept. of Education.)

Elissa Gootman's Times story leads with a failing grade for PS 8 -- the same school that Bloomberg praised when the DOE committed to building a new, multimillion-dollar annex to accomodate all the students flocking to the now-thriving school.  The school's current F (after last year's C) highlights what critics call the Progress Reports' greatest flaw:  More-than-majority weight on student academic progress -- measured by standardized test scores -- means that schools that start with more kids on or above grade level can show less 'progress' than more challenged schools. The reports weigh other factors, including parent and teacher satisfaction, but a 60% weight on progress could clobber other, quality-of-school-life measures.

The apparent contradiction -- major capital investment in an F school (which, if rules are followed, could risk eventual closure) -- forces the question:  Don't the various departments of the DOE talk to each other?  Parents have to wonder how a school can be rewarded and punished by the same hand.  Parents who want to see scores for their child's school have to wait -- the 2007-08 scores are not yet posted on the DOE website.  

Update:  DOE sources say that someone in the school "apparently leaked" the score information.  The 2007-08 Progress Reports will be released sometime next week.   Stay tuned...  

In Memoriam

Written by Helen Zelon Thursday, 11 September 2008 05:34

The same sixth-graders who were in their first week of middle school, seven years ago today, are in their first month of college.  2001's first-graders are now eighth-graders; the children who fill their small, primary-school seats weren't even born on that crystalline September morning. 

One foot in front of the other: Life goes on.  We remember.

Charter chatter

Written by Helen Zelon Wednesday, 10 September 2008 08:09

With the news that the Obama campaign aims to double federal dollars for charter schools in concert with the McCain camp's established charter-school support (along with its concerted push for public-school vouchers), more attention is being focused on charters as alternatives to failing mainstream schools. Charters are fairly young institutions -- the first charter school in the U.S. opened its doors in 1992 in Minnesota -- but 4,300 more have debuted in the years since, and a new report by Education Week predicts an "acute shortage of leaders" -- to the tune of up to 20,000 new principals -- in response to the "unprecedented scale-up" in charter school growth. Charter school leaders tend to be younger and less experienced than principals of traditional public schools; nearly 60 percent have less than five years experience as school leaders.

Lumping all charters under one expansive umbrella risks oversimplifying the issue: For starters, some are run by veteran administrators, others by mission-driven idealists; some are sponsored by profit-making business entities and others by non-profit philanthropic or community-based institutions; and because most do not use union teachers, there's  enormous variability in pay, hours, and what's expected on the job. Philosophically, charters can be ultra-structured and traditional, as many are, or more progressive. So while it's convenient to talk about charters as a single bloc, it's important to realize the variability in each school's mission, staffing, teaching practices, and the community it serves.

Charter schools have become a fixture of the public-school landscape. Their exponential growth gives some serious pause, but many families find much to praise, as evidenced by jammed lotteries for prized schools. Yet whether charters truly serve all the city's students, or only certain swaths of historically undeserved communities, remains an open question. And given the location of the 18 charters opened by the DOE this fall, it's one that won't likely be answered anytime soon.

Public school versus private school

Written by Lindsey Whitton Christ Wednesday, 10 September 2008 06:33

Insideschools founder Clara Hemphill weighed in on the debate between public and private education in the current issue of New York Family magazine. The article has good advice for parents grappling with the decision -- we only wish they'd identified our new book correctly in the introduction. (For the record, it's "New York City's Best Public Middle Schools: A Parents' Guide.")   

"Middle schools have traditionally been the weak link in the city public school system,"  Hemphill tells New York Family, which makes the new book particularly relevant -- and the DOE's stated goal of revamping middle schools particularly urgent.  (Have a look here  for more on middle-school reform and initiatives like the International Baccalaureate Program.)

Heads up on high school: The process begins

Written by Helen Zelon Tuesday, 09 September 2008 05:16

Yes, the new-school dust is still swirling, but for families of eighth-graders, the high school admissions process looms large on the horizon. Much of what you've heard is true: The process is daunting and potentially confusing; it can be hard to know which of the city's 400+ high schools might best serve your child; and yes, this is the kind of decision that can have a profound effect on your child's life and future. High stakes? No kidding.

The DOE hosts a behemoth, two-day citywide high school fair and fairs for each borough (dates and times to come); we'll have more on the blog next week on how to navigate a fair without feeling swamped. OSEPO's high school admissions head, Evaristo Jimenez, took questions on the DOE website (responding mainly with generic 'see the directory/talk to your counselor/go to registration centers' answers); Insideschools' guide to high school admissions walks you through the basics; and faithful readers will be glad to welcome back Liz Willen, whose Middle School Muddle will morph into High School Hustle this year. We'd also be glad to hear from readers about the process -- what works, what doesn't, and what surprises them along the way.

Stay tuned for more on fairs and open houses, and look for details on our Open House calendar, which is updated often in this pre-tour season. The process is intense and demanding, but at least it's fairly short-lived: By mid-December, your child will have completed his or her application and the decision-making will shift to the schools and to DOE.

Weekly news round-up:

Written by Lindsey Whitton Christ Monday, 08 September 2008 13:37

To herald the new school year, the news last week was filled with first day of school stories. Articles spotlit new schools, new charter schools, and charter school networks new to New York; others described overcrowded schools, school enrollment issues and school scheduling issues; yet more explored poorly performing schools, projected shortages of schools in the future, and traffic problems around schools.

Even in this maelstrom, a significant amount of conversation swirled around mayoral control of the Department of Education and whether it would be renewed, especially in light of the recommendations made by the Public Advocate's commission of experts. Despite the commission's support (with caveats) for mayoral control, Bloomberg slammed their suggestions, saying he "can't take it very seriously." But just one day before his harsh outburst, the Mayor held a press conference decrying school bullies and introducing new anti-bullying regulations.

Although term limits most likely mean a Bloomberg exit from City Hall, some movers and shakers want to put Chancellor Klein up for the job. Parents, meanwhile, are taking school reform into their own hands - in both in legal and illegal ways.



DREAM charter opens in East Harlem

Written by Helen Zelon Monday, 08 September 2008 06:18

It may be less than two miles from principal Josh Klaris' former elementary school, PS 183, to the brand-new DREAM Charter Schoolopening today with a visit by Chancellor Joel Kleinbut the challenges of opening a charter school in East Harlem differ greatly from managing a thriving, Upper East Side elementary school, where the PTA raises about $300,000 a year.

The DREAM school draws its students, by lottery, largely from Manhattan's District 4. In a new spin on the collaborative-team-teaching model, which pairs gen-ed and special-needs teachers in a shared classroom, each of DREAM's four classes is led by two instructorsone general-education and one certified to teach English as a Second Language or Special Education. The curriculum revolves around University of Pittsburgh's Dr Lauren Resnick's Nine Principles of Learning (which marry educational goals and business practices) and with a strong focus on health and wellness (including an on-staff bilingual social worker). One of the school's eight teachers is Jerry Phillip, ex- of the embattled charter Ross Global Academy, which spent its first year at Tweed under the DOE's watchful eye.

The DREAM charter school, which opens with 100 kindergarten and first-grade students, will eventually grow up to eighth grade, adding a class a year as children 'age up.' The school is an outgrowth of Harlem RBI's nearly two decades in community recreation, education and enrichment; Harlem RBI founder Richard Berlin sits on the school's Board, along with Skadden, Arps counsel Josh Goldstein and Eric Wiengartner, the executive director of the Mayor's Office of Comprehensive Neighborhood Economic Development.

Lottery admissions limit enrollment; it's not known whether younger siblings will enjoy enrollment preferences or be part of the general applicant pool. How the school fares in its first year will determine future demandand shape its future as an East Harlem institution.

First week: Bus bust

Written by Helen Zelon Friday, 05 September 2008 11:46

So it's Friday afternoon and the first week of school is very nearly behind us. But it seems that bus problems never quite fade away -- a parent on a Brooklyn blog wrote in to say that his child spent 2 1/2 hours on the bus ride home, the Times covered a charter-school bus driver who got lost with a bus-load of kids and finally returned to the school around 9pm, and WNYC reported on parents in the Bronx whose special-needs kids got on the bus just fine but weren't permitted to attend the school where the bus delivered them, for reasons that continue unclear.

Parents in the Bronx have been trying to contact DOE since the first day of school with little progress. Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum's take on the situation is sobering, to say the least.

The art of parent involvement

Written by Helen Zelon Friday, 05 September 2008 06:30

Who doesn't want more arts education for our city's students? Parents as Arts Partners, via the Center for Arts Education, brings the creative process to thousands of kids and families every year. It's a great way to get involved in the life of your child's school and to make a real contribution to the school culture. It's also a lot of fun.

Last year, PAAP grants funded fine arts and performing arts programs that spanned the gamut: think book-making and collage workshops, videography and architecture projects, and dance and folk-tale performances. Have a look here for successful programs.

Funding shortfalls mean that two-thirds fewer grants will be awarded this year than in years past. Grants of up to $3000 are available to 50 public schools provided they have never been CAE-funded in the past. The CAE website has tips, information and application materials; they'll also host pre-application seminars starting later this month.