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Pre-K round ll news

Written by Helen Zelon Friday, 22 August 2008 08:27

Families who applied for pre-K seats in the second application round should have news by the end of this week; letters went out by mail yesterday afternoon, according to an email from the DOE's Andy Jacob.

Hark, budding Iagos and Hermiones

Written by Helen Zelon Wednesday, 20 August 2008 11:36

If your teen's looking for some last-minute summer culture, contact Mudbone about their Shakespeare workshops at the Public Theater (this week) and in the Bronx (this Sunday, the 24th

Money for high marks

Written by Helen Zelon Wednesday, 20 August 2008 05:20

In a signature transposition of business practice into the education environment, the Klein administration at the DOE has installed a range of mechanisms to pay people -- teachers, principals, and students, at selected schools -- for performance. Today's Times story challenges the merits of a $2 million REACH incentive program (for REwarding ACHievement). Guess what? The results are a mixed bag.

Turns out more high-school students took Advanced Placement exams, which can earn college credit for high-scoring students. Fewer students passed, but a fraction more scored at the highest level, 5.

Promoters beg more time to show stronger results; critics say there are better ways to spend that kind of (private) money, despite similar programs' rising popularity in schools nationwide. And you can bet that man-about-town Joel Klein will face sharp questions on the program in his three public appearances today, at a REACH briefing, an NAACP event in Brooklyn and a Teach for America welcome-teachers evening program. But a quote at the end of the story caught our eye: Kati Haycock, director of the DC-based Education Trust, says that "rich kids get paid for high grades all the time and for high test scores by their parents."

Do you pay your kids for good grades? Do you reward effort (trying hard) or outcomes (the grade itself)? And what's the line between motivation and bribe -- between incentive and payoff? We don't think parents have deep pockets for report-card shakedowns, but we could be wrong...

Charter chatter, Q & As

Written by Helen Zelon Tuesday, 19 August 2008 07:16

Citing competition as the key to success, Mayor Bloomberg says that pressure from charter schools force traditional public schools to improve. But advocates like Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters beg to differ: the small classes that are the charter norm are all too elusive in mainstream public education, despite long-fought battles. And one has to ask a question that's tough to ask aloud: Are middle-class parents fighting as hard for access to charters as families in neighborhoods long poorly served by city schools?

Maybe that's one of the questions that will be answered on the New York Times Charter School Q&A thread. And for families of high-school students and rising eighth-graders, who will be facing the high-school selection process this year, the DOE is hosting a Q&A with Evaristo Jimenez, head of high school enrollment.

As one commenter implored yesterday, speak up! If parents don't ask the hard questions to advance their child's education, who will?

News, local and other

Written by Helen Zelon Monday, 18 August 2008 08:05

It's safe bet that most readers saw yesterday's New York Times magazine cover story, detailing the vast educational experiment underway in New Orleans. In a similar vein, today at noon, Mayor Michael Bloomberg will announce the opening of 18 new charter schools, which are subject to stringent oversight (read, lots of student testing to measure achievement) but not obliged to meet city-mandated curriculum guidelines -- or or bound by union rules, as most charter school faculties aren't UFT members.

Some schools, like the KIPP charters and Excellence Charter School of Bedford Stuyvesant, have great reputations, while others flounder and struggle. We'd love to hear from readers whose kids attend charter schools; are you happy with what and how your kids are learning? What's happening in your child's classroom?

And in the spirit of behind-the-headlines illumination, see this tiny AP item. Teachers in a Texas district get the official ok to pack heat in the classroom -- ostensibly, to discourage school violence. Anyone else get awfully nervous at this kind of news?

Pre-K round II: News?

Written by Helen Zelon Friday, 15 August 2008 07:58

A number of parents have been wondering whether others in the city have heard any placement news on their child's round II pre-K application.

DOE said they'd let folks know by now (mid-August), but many don't have news yet. To connect with other pre-K parents, visit our forums, click on the pre-K thread, and join the conversation. And let us know, please, where the news has arrived -- and where it hasn't.

We've heard reports from parents across the city that some g+t programs in local schools have been shuttered for the coming school year -- for a range of reasons, including low enrollment and g+t funding cutbacks by DOE planners. We've asked the DOE repeatedly for a current list of g+t district programs (they say it's coming), but hear conflicting reports from parents, principals and administrators in the field. That's why we're asking readers to let us know of changes in their districts.

In District 6 in Washington Heights, for example, g+t programs that recently enrolled up to 80 kindergarten students have been pared back to one class (a second class, planned for a far-uptown school, was cancelled when too few families enrolled their children). We've heard of changes, too, in District 18 in Brooklyn and elsewhere.

Our readers are our eyes and ears on the street; please let us know what's happening in your neighborhood.

G+T questions and answers

Written by Helen Zelon Thursday, 14 August 2008 04:55

In the end of June, we started gathering questions for the DOE on a wide range of subjects. It took a month to set up the interview, but on July 31st, we spoke with DOE administrators about gifted and talented admissions, among other issues. A short blog post gave highlights (and generated dozens of reader comments); for more, see the article in the current alert.

We still have open questions, of course, and have had assurances they will be answered. In particular, we're waiting to hear about the sibling/non-sibling mix of each citywide g+t Kindergarten class (both in terms of seat count and test scores).

In terms of overall takeaway, the DOE heard the anger and confusion of parents stymied by gifted and talented admissions this year: They felt the heat, and they want very much to avoid similar experiences in coming years. All agree that this year's process had flaws.
We have absolute assurances from Elizabeth Sciabarra and Anna Commitante that communication ahead of, during, and after admissions and placement decision-making will be clearer, more explicit and more frequent this year. But how these good intentions will inform actual practice can only be known as the year unfolds.

We look forward to brokering an ongoing conversation between parents and the DOE, and welcome reader responses, questions, observations and comments.

Spinning the numbers

Written by Helen Zelon Tuesday, 12 August 2008 04:16

Interesting to see how the grad-rate report is presented by local media. Facts are facts, but how they're spun reflects how they're seen.

For starters, the Post notes the upward trend -- but sets the NYC data against even greater apparent progress in long-troubled cities like Chicago and Los Angeles. The Sun describes "an uptick" in state and city scores (and a brief moment of mayoral pique), while the Daily News, incredibly, says "the gap between black and white students closed" -- somehow overlooking the 21 percentage points that separate both groups' graduation rates. The Times' headlines the on-time graduation of "most" city students, for the biggest "hunh?" moment of the morning's news. No argument, 52% is more -- but most? Could a student who scored a 52 on a 100-point exam celebrate getting "most" of the questions right? (Would you accept that, as a parent? The DOE doesn't think twice about calling a 52 a failure on a Regents exam.)

The mind reels, as do the perceptions of readers, decision-makers, and parents citywide.

Grad rates at last: Inching up, with caveats

Written by Helen Zelon Monday, 11 August 2008 12:40

The State and the City finally released the 2007 high school graduation rate today, and the news is both heartening and discouraging, on more than a few counts.

First, the good news: The overall graduation rate continues to nudge upward from the swamp where it had long languished. For the city as a whole, 52.2% of students who started high school in 2003 (the 2003 cohort) graduated in four years. Another 3.6% graduated in August, via credit recovery and other recuperative programs (mention of which flummoxed the Mayor briefly at a press conference today). If this seems lower than the 60% that was so widely celebrated last year, it is -- in years past, the city included GED-earners in the grad rate, unlike the State's more stringent criteria, which the city now shares.

More Asian and white students continue to earn diplomas than their African-American and Hispanic classmates (bad news) but the gap between the races is narrowing -- slightly (good news, but not that good): Nearly 71% and nearly 69% of Asian and white students graduate in four years; only 43% of Hispanic kids earn their diploma in the same time, as do just over 47% of African-American students. So while it's true that grad rates are rising for African-American and Hispanic kids, it will be a long, long time before the academic playing field is even approximately equal. And demographics notwithstanding, boys continue to lag behind girls in academic achievement. But back on the good-news side, New York leads the state's biggest cities in academic gains. On the bad-news side, the cities still lag well behind the state's overall grad rate of 79.2%.

Less enthusiastic results were posted for English Language Learners, who Chancellor Klein identifies as "our greatest challenge." ELL grad rates dropped in recent years and now have risen three points, to 23.5% for four-year grads and 32.4% for kids who stay in high school for five years (no typo on those stats). Students with disabilities showed slight change in their graduation rate (from 19.4% in 2006 to 19.1% in 2007. Good news, no drop; bad news, scant improvement.

The general tenor of the announcement this afternoon was celebratory but clear-eyed; the Mayor, sporting a spectacular tan, praised all involved, from Klein (also summer-bronzed) and Weingarten down into the academic trenches -- teachers, principals, APs, parents, and of course the students, especially the kids who stick with high school into a fifth or sixth year. "That they didn't do it in four years is immaterial," said the Mayor, who added that staying longer in high school is "demonstrative of someone who wants to take charge of their life," and graciously crediting Jennifer Medina's Times story today as proof.

Still, Bloomberg acknowledged, "despite this heartwarming progress," there's "enormous room for improvement." Notably, 38% of students don't graduate in four years, and nearly 14% drop out. "It's going to be very hard to get them back," he said. (About 10% stay enrolled in high school beyond four years.) The dropout rate contracted slightly since last year, from 15% to 14.7%; we're waiting for follow-up from the DOE on students who were discharged from school -- and don't show up in DOE records as students or dropouts.

Students now in high school can earn one of three diplomas -- local, Regents, or Advanced Regents. About two-thirds of NYC grads earn a Regents diploma, which is good news -- but not so good for the third who get less-rigorous Local credentials, and moot entirely for the kids starting high school next month, who are not eligible to earn the local diploma at all. We've asked the DOE for diploma and grad-rate details on the new small high schools and Career and Technical Education schools, and for more specific demographic and gender information -- and we'll report back whenever we hear more.

Let us know if you have questions; the State published a thick deck of data slides, and we'll post links to specifics if there's interest.

Update: A correction for clarity: The overall state graduation rate cited above, of 79.2%, reflects the grad rate for schools outside the state's five biggest cities, and not the state as a whole. Regrets for any confusion.