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DOE settles lawsuit

Written by Lindsey Whitton Christ Tuesday, 24 June 2008 08:32

Insideschools' parent organization, Advocates for Children of New York, announced the settlement of a lawsuit filed in 2003 against the DOE on behalf of parents with students with disabilities. The lawsuit contended that the DOE was not always following through on the (legally required) orders of independent hearing officers who had been called in to settle disputes over students' special ed. services. The DOE will now follow a series of benchmarks when dealing with these cases and be monitored by an independent auditor.

If this situation sounds familiar, and the DOE has failed to act on the orders of an independent hearing officer in your child's case, you may be entitled to compensation in the form of a voucher. The vouchers - which are for as much as $15,000 - can be used for services like tutoring, career and vocational training, assistive technology, speech therapy, occupational therapy, and other educational services. Insideschool's article on the lawsuit, the Advocates for Children press release and the lawsuit website have more information and claim forms.

Test score bounce: Looking at the numbers

Written by Helen Zelon Tuesday, 24 June 2008 04:28

New York City and State's big gains in test scores lead the news at the Times and Daily News, and are featured at the Post and the Sun, which focuses on charter-school progress. But amid the celebratory, double-digit party (and leaving aside, for the moment, critical questions about score inflation and comparisons with national tests), disturbing trends persist, and -- not surprisingly -- get far less play than testing's great leap forward.

Have a look at the test score "deck" from the DOE's Department of Assessment and Accountability, which breaks out scores by grade and race.

The achievement gap that yawns between white and Asian students and their black and Hispanic peers has narrowed, but continues far too wide: Overall, 80% of white students earned level 3/4 (grade-level and higher) on the ELA, compared with 54% of black students and 53% of Hispanic kids. That's a 26% or 27% gap. Even if it closes at the rate of 2 or 3 points a year (the recent, upward trend), that's 9 or 12 years, or many kids' entire public-school career, before the races achieve parity -- if white and Asian kids' scores don't rise, which they likely will (again, tracking Bloomberg-era trends).

The abyss that separates 8th grade's middling progress from 4th grade's high scores is even more threatening: About two-thirds of white eighth-graders, 65%, earned levels 3/4 on the ELA; just over one-third of black and Hispanic students (36% and 33%, respectively) posted similar scores. Taken together, 43% of the city's eighth graders scored level 3/4 -- which means that nearly six in ten will proceed to high-school officially reading below grade level.

Cue the party horns here (or not).

Update: According to DOE, the scores were embargoed on State directive, meant for school use in planning placements (as if year-round testing didn't yield sufficient data) and available to parents on request, but not publicly released until their presentation to the Regents yesterday.

Call me, K?

Written by Helen Zelon Monday, 23 June 2008 17:00

A little-noted irony of the DOE's many student incentives, the cell phones meant to reward middle schoolers -- the ad campaign just won a prize in chic Cannes, France -- are still 100% prohibited on school premises, by DOE regulation.

So, figure this: Give the kids a phone, but ban its use. Or, alternatively, teach kids that what you say -- No Phones! -- is far from what you do: Are you a good student? Here's a phone, and you can 'earn' minutes, too.

No wonder kids say middle school is confusing.

A toast to test scores

Written by Lindsey Whitton Christ Monday, 23 June 2008 13:15

It was a love-fest today at PS 178 for New York City’s educational leadership. Ongoing battles over budget cuts were tabled (momentarily) as the Mayor, Chancellor Joel Klein, UFT president Randi Weingarten and CSA rep Ernie Logan lauded city children’s performance on the state ELA and Math tests, which were announced today, and are posted on line here. The credit for the steadily rising test scores (with still-glaring gaps between grade 4 and grade 8 achievement), was generously shared as speakers thanked each other, the children, the parents, the teachers and, of course, themselves.

Each speaker in turn emphasized how much work educational reformers in New York City have yet to accomplish.“It’s a wonderful day for New York,” the Mayor said, before adding this caveat: “If history looks back and says, 'this is a high point,' shame on us.”

2008 Test scores

Written by Helen Zelon Monday, 23 June 2008 13:01

Scores for city schools have posted on the DOE website.

Look here for math scores; here for ELA.

We're looking closely, too, and eager to hear what you think: surprised by the gains? skeptical or grateful? is test prep an issue in your child's school? what's your take?

Let us hear from you.

At high noon today, the New York State Department of Education will present the 2007-08 English/Language Arts (ELA) and Math scores for students statewide, including New York City public school students. (We'll post a link when they go live, anticipated for noon.)

Of course, the official New York State report cards, available for most city schools, are two years out of date (with data from 2005-2006). Last year, new report cards posted in late May. This year, it's late June and we don't yet know when the updated report cards will go live. We've heard "end of June" -- but who's counting?

Update: Sorry for initial misdirect; here's the link to 2008 ELA and Math scores. It's an unwieldy pdf; we're looking for a more compact, accessible link.

Just heard from David Cantor of the DOE, who says they'll post city stats today; stay tuned.

Radioheads: Tune in today

Written by Helen Zelon Monday, 23 June 2008 05:05

The blog's hitting the big-time! This morning at 11 am,'s Project Manager Pamela Wheaton will be on the air with WNYC's Brian Lehrer, DOE officials, and others to talk about the g+ t admissions process this year.

Parents and commenters, your thoughts and questions made the difference; don't take the pressure off now. Listen and call in if you can: 646 829.3729.

Don't be shy -- speak up!

Top of the morning

Written by Helen Zelon Monday, 23 June 2008 04:17

It may be the last Monday of the school year, but the work of education goes on: This evening at 6 pm, the Panel for Education Policy will hold public hearings at MLK High School complex; sign up at 5:30 pm for a 2-minute speaking slot.

Of the PEP's 13 members, 8 (including the Chancellor) are appointed by the Mayor, and 5 are named by boro presidents and must be public-school parents. As a group, the panel is charged with "approving standards, policies, objectives, and regulations that are directly related to educational achievement and student performance, as well as certain contracts, an estimated annual operating budget, and the DOE capital plan," according to the DOE. Should be quite a lively meeting.

And an interesting juxtaposition in the Times; while the editorial page praises New York's largely successful attempt to recruit and certify teachers who were solid, high-achieving college students, it overlooks a high attrition rate among young idealists who leave the public-school classroom, and poses, in another article, the 'paycheck or pay back' question, as Harvard grads flow to Wall Street and to high-power consultancies like McKinsey and Bain, instead of into public service, in medicine, government and -- yes -- education.

Admissions: Still sifting through the fallout

Written by Helen Zelon Friday, 20 June 2008 14:28

It's the last full Friday of the school year, and it seems that we can say with confidence, at long last, that all admissions placements (save for upper-grade g+t) have been made. The appeals cycle has begun, and although we're still waiting for word from the DOE on when, exactly, the g+t second round deadline might be, readers write in of registrations and transitions to new schools.

Not that the registrations are going smoothly. Most are, but we've heard from families with acceptance letters not appearing on their new school's list, of kids boxed out of zoned schools and offered seats at distant g+t programs as consolation, and from parents whose children scored well above the g+t cut but who didn't receive seats -- anywhere. We've heard, as you have, of programs that won't open, and of others that are overfull, on the risky gamble that some students may opt for other situations come fall. We've also heard from lots of readers reconsidering their quest for g+t, and opting for zoned schools instead.

We've also heard from Lisabeth Sostre, formerly of District 3, and one of the architect of their middle-school choice program, who counsels parents to harness their political power -- "the strength you have as parents is huge" -- and demand answers on a swath of education issues from whoever aspires to next reside in Gracie Mansion. (See "And the Winner Is..." from June 18th, here, for a heartbreakingly apt take on DOE mishaps.)

A savvy sixth-grader in Amanda Fairbanks's post on City Room says it best; there's likely not a parent who's been though the admissions maelstrom this year who wouldn't agree with her sharp-eyed
summa: "I'm just glad I survived it. We should have a party for that.”

Too busy worrying if you still have a job, your fifth grader got into middle school or the commute to Manhattan for a G&T program is plausible to read the paper? Don’t worry - we’ve flipped through the pages for you. Welcome to the first installment of our education and school news round-up. Look for it every Friday! This week, while Margaret Spellings, Chancellor Klein and Mayor Bloomberg were in Disney World speaking at Jeb Bush’s national education reform summit, a paroled felon ran from the cops ran straight into a Brooklyn elementary school, brandishing his loaded handgun. Luckily, everyone at PS 108 was okay, but some older Brooklyn students found themselves behind bars after serving a laxative laced cake that left two teachers hospitalized. While in the Magic Kingdom, Chancellor Klein wished upon a star for the ability to certify teachers and principals without a university. The College Board might wish that the new SAT had proven to be a better indicator of college success; they sure tried to spin their study results that way. At least veterans had one dream come true when Congress greatly expanded their educational grants and permitted the transfer of aid to family members.  In Albany, Gov. Paterson has successfully pushed through legislation that will push sex offenders out of the classroom, but he has been less successful in convincing fellow lawmakers to cap local school property taxes, although a poll shows that 74 percent of voters support the cap. But in "America's first suburb," the property tax debate has been overshadowed. Town officials in Levittown complain of psychological damage to 8th graders, who came across their town name as an answer choice on the state social studies exam and were so upset to see their community associated with Hoovervilles and tenements that they were unable to complete their tests. A high school in Massachusetts, however, has a real problem. Some students supposedly made a pact to become pregnant, and now 17 girls under 17 years-old are expecting. Wendy Kopp and Richard Barth, the Upper West Side-based education power-couple who is devoted to closing the achievement gap through Teach for America and the KIPP charter school network, might wonder why European countries are looking to the US schools as a model of desegregation. Local columnists, meanwhile, muse on Obama’s father’s day speech, and the effect of home life on school achievement. All New York public school students might soon learn more about how to be nice to each other, and a few New York private school students will study Arabic next year. Language skills, however, continue to bar many immigrants from accessing the city’s childcare offerings. And, of course, the topics covered in our blog were also covered in the papers: flaws in the new G&T admissions policy, which left the program even less diverse than in years past; the Robin Hood effect of No Child Left Behind, which has potentially created a boost in low-performing students scores while stagnating high performing students’ academic growth; the middle school placement mess; and the interview with Chancellor Klein, which focuses on Brooklyn schools but is illuminating in general.

Thoughts? Reactions? Opinions?

UPDATE (6/25/08): The story about the teen pregnancy pact has gotten a lot of follow-up ink. Was it a pact or not? Regardless, there are still 17 pregnant teenagers in one high school, several of whom have confirmed that their pregnancy was intentional.