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Looking for a summer job? The city can help

Written by Admin Tuesday, 13 May 2008 06:43

Every year, teenagers and their parents ask us at Insideschools how to find summer jobs. In fact, Judy recently answered a question about what kinds of work a 14-year-old might look for. An internship can often be a meaningful way to spend the summer both learning and working. And if your child is set on landing a paying job for the summer, the city can help.

Until May 16, kids can submit applications for the city's Summer Youth Employment Program, which places young adults ages 14-21 in positions at community organizations, city agencies, and local businesses. The DOE's Office of Special Education Initiatives will help teens with disabilities find jobs as well; to apply, complete the regular SYEP application and mail it by May 16 to John McParland, OSESI Placement and Referral Center, 145 Stanton Street, Room 223, New York, NY 10006.

I've been tossing around this idea for a while now as I've been finishing up the final classes of my senior year. It's a little out there, so please stay with me till the end.

The test prep culture in our schools is bad and widespread. It detracts from learning. It pervades all of our classes. It impedes good relationships between students and teachers. How do we rid ourselves of this beast? Well, my answer — and I know it is kind of out there — is this: Legitimize it!

What do you mean, Seth? That's ridiculous! Why would we legitimize something that we want to get rid of?

What I am suggesting here is that we legitimize testing by recognizing that for primary and secondary education students it is important to know how to take a test and how to take it well.

Standardized tests in 4th and 7th grade are sometimes the only way to distinguish among such a large and diverse field of applicants in middle and high school admissions. And the SAT and ACT tests one of the current standards for college admissions (except at a couple of amazing liberal arts schools that have made the SAT optional). And right now, the social divide between people with college educations and those without is growing, and in today's world, you're going to have to take some tests in order to get that seemingly magical degree.

Thus, the ability to take a test is quite a valuable one. So why not create a class to teach that skill?

Testing Class, as I will call it, by its very nature would be a process- (instead of content-) based learning class, something we need more of in our schools. It would teach students how to approach many problems and issues. It would also be more helpful in preparing them for standardized tests, by focusing on specific skills rather than today's tactic of vaguely tying it into other subjects, which just confuses students as to what they're supposed to be concentrating on. This aspect of the class could also hopefully improve equality by giving students who can't afford pricey test prep services these helpful skills.

But the most important part of Testing Class will be that it will alleviate the need for test prep in academic subjects. Academic teachers will then be able to focus more on other skills, such as writing, approaching a document, understanding complex conceptual ideas, and taking on creative projects.

Just an idea...

Spreekt u het Nederlands? (Do you speak Dutch?)

Written by Admin Monday, 12 May 2008 11:16

If so, you might want to visit the website of Onderwijs Consumentem Organisatie, or the Education Consumers' Organization of Amsterdam. Schools are very different in the Netherlands -- there, the government supports private and parochial schools -- but parents aren't. There, just as they do here, parents want to find the best schools for their children and help make those schools excellent. For the last two years, representatives of OCO have visited Insideschools to share their experiences running a similar organization, and this year, the two sites created a formal relationship that has been recognized by Amsterdam's alderman for education. (That's Insideschools director Pam Wheaton signing on as a partner with OCO's Han van Gelder in the picture above.) We've already gotten several good ideas from the folks at OCO -- but we probably won't be buying Insideschools-branded bikes to ride to school visits!

Happy Mother's Day!

Written by Admin Sunday, 11 May 2008 04:48

Happy Mother's Day to all Insideschools moms!

Calling all Urban Baby defectors

Written by Admin Friday, 09 May 2008 12:01

A new iteration of Urban Baby launched yesterday. At first, the new site had no schools board, but after hours of posts from frustrated parents, NY Schools became an option by which to "filter" all posts -- but using that option doesn't recreate the beloved schools board of Urban Baby past. Naturally, UB users aren't happy. I'm with the user who says, "Honestly, maybe we should just defect to insideschools." We've got message boards (and, of course, this blog) where parents can talk about schools. And we don't have any plans to sell out to CNet!

Popular, successful elementary schools are overcrowded because too many families want to attend them. Not really news, is it? It is when kids start getting put on waiting lists at neighborhood schools because the city hasn’t planned for the influx of kids living in new apartment buildings in those neighborhoods.

That's the story in several school zones in District 2 and elsewhere, according to an article in today's Times, which focuses largely on downtown Manhattan, where construction and residential conversions have proceeded at a fierce pace in recent years. The discrepancy between school seats and planned construction has been the topic of several recent policy reports – including one issued today by Comptroller William Thompson’s office, titled “Growing Pains: Reform Department of Education Capital Planning to Keep Pace with New York City’s Residential Construction.”

It was also the subject of a hearing last night in Manhattan's Community Board 2, held at PS 41 in Greenwich Village. I stopped by the meeting, which, in contrast to a meeting in January where parents aired their concerns about overcrowding, focused on concrete steps District 2 residents and elected officials can take to influence the DOE's capital plan. I’ll have more details about the meeting next week, but here’s the short version of what I learned: it takes serious organization and serious work to get the DOE to commit to building new schools, but investing time and energy can pay off. (Yesterday, the DOE announced that it has finalized plans to create new school just up the street from PS 41 -- I'm willing to bet the timing of that announcement had a little something to do with the public meeting on the calendar.)

Mayoral control of schools should allow the mayor to require major developers to fund school creation; since I moved to the city, I’ve been puzzled as to why this is not so. It seems like a total no-brainer, not something that should require policy reports and public hearings and families being locked out of their zoned schools to make happen.

Some hope for waitlisted college applicants

Written by Admin Friday, 09 May 2008 05:02

Good news for the subject of Insideschools' most recent "Ask the College Counselor" column, who was waitlisted by his top three schools: top colleges this year are digging further down onto their waitlists than they have in recent years, which could start a chain reaction that will benefit waitlisted applicants everywhere, the Times reports today.

Do you have a question for the college counselor? Ask her.

What's making your kid obese today?

Written by Admin Thursday, 08 May 2008 06:34

It's not the lack of gym classes in schools -- that was earlier this week (and last month). Perhaps it's the changes to school lunches being made because of rising food prices?

"From such healthy staples as fresh spinach to more haute cuisine like cornmeal-encrusted fish and Cuban roast pork, dishes are getting 86'd from school menus as officials scramble to maintain the same quality with cheaper options," the Post reported recently about food in the city's schools.

As we know, of course, canned fruits and vegetables and "imitation" foods like fish sticks and chicken nuggets aren't at all in the same league as fresh spinach and fish in terms of quality. But they do give kids all the calories they would need if ever they were given the opportunity to use them in a game of kickball or tag. (Or if they were allowed to bike to school; parents in England are stopping their kids from riding to school because of safety concerns. Are parents here, with their fear of "free-range kids," making similar rules?)

Overcrowded times at John Dewey High

Written by Admin Wednesday, 07 May 2008 03:29

Today Sam Freedman reprises his jeremiad from earlier this year about what happens to schools when large high schools near them begin to phase out. The only thing that's really different in today's story is the schools involved: Instead of Beach Channel accommodating students zoned for Far Rockaway, to apparently disastrous results, now its kids who would who have gone to Brooklyn's Lafayette flooding into the unconventional, highly rated John Dewey High School. Freedman writes:

Faculty members, students and administrators at Dewey say that the students coming from Lafayette are academically deficient, although Education Department statistics show that the current crop of ninth graders performed essentially similarly to previous cohorts on the citywide reading test. Still, the perception at Dewey is that Lafayette students did not choose Dewey for its quality, but landed there by default because they did not qualify for any of the Lafayette building’s mini-schools. With the overcrowding, Dewey students and staff members say, in many periods of the day there are several hundred students with no assigned room, often roaming the halls. A round of budget cuts this year sharply reduced staffing of the “resource centers.” ...The nadir for Dewey came in March, when a student — not newly admitted from Lafayette — was spotted by classmates and a teacher handling a gun and the building was put under police lockdown for several hours. Though the weapon was never located and no charges were ever brought against the student, a heightened sense of disruption continues.

Reading between the lines, it seems possible that administrators and students at Dewey are using Lafayette-zoned kids as scapegoats for trouble that's not always caused by them and that the problem is just as much a school program that is inflexible in the face of crowding pressures as it is the particular kids who have started enrolling.

But the DOE's response is truly ridiculous: to encourage more overcrowding and a wholesale abandonment of the progressive scheduling that has made Dewey special. Garth Harries told Freedman bringing enrollment down at Dewey is "absolutely a priority" — but implied that the way the DOE plans to execute that goal is by waiting for Lafayette's small schools to become attractive and large enough to draw more kids.

Even worse, Harries noted, “There are many schools that are over capacity, and more over capacity than Dewey, and they can program their students so everyone has a place to be,” he said. “I would be surprised that a school that has just 118 percent utilization has that many students unprogrammed." In other words, Dewey isn't that overcrowded -- why can't it just stuff more kids into its classes? When Insideschools visited in January 2007, school officials told us classes range in size from 28 to 34 students. It doesn't sound like there's much wiggle room in classes that large.

One other similarity between Freedman's story on Beach Channel and this one about Dewey: the sad fact that some at those schools think the pressure they're under is the DOE's way to destroy formerly successful large high schools. True or not, how can you teach or learn when that's what you're led to believe?

Yesterday, Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum's office released a report on the state of physical education in the city's schools, concluding what we already know: schools stink at making sure kids get physical activity. But the facts, at least according to the Public Advocate's office, are worse than I imagined. Only 4 percent of 3rd graders get gym daily as required by the state; just 31 percent of middle schools give kids enough P.E. time; and more than half of all middle schools have no sports teams at all. Given the scope of its own failure, it's no wonder the DOE wants to hand off responsibility for fitness to families!