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Chancellor to principals: "Money isn't everything"

Written by Admin Wednesday, 06 February 2008 12:51

Chancellor Klein understands that principals are furious about the mid-year budget cuts. That's why he emailed them on Monday to tell them how much he wants to help them (through their Integrated Service Centers, of course) and to explain that the city has shielded schools from budget cuts for years and is making cuts now reluctantly and "in such a way that respects principals' decisions." He wrote:

More money is always welcome in education. Everyone in our City -- from principals to parents to the Mayor and me -- always wants to see budgets increase. But we also know that money isn't everything. Some schools in our City are literally doing more with less. They were shortchanged in the past -- but [are now] achieving better results for kids.

No excuses, right? View the whole letter on the Class Size Matters' yahoo message board.

We just added a dozen more principal responses to our compendium of what schools are cutting as a result of last week's budget cuts. The most frequent things to go: After school programs, extra tutoring, and per diem personnel. Principals say classes will be more crowded and students who need extra help won't get it -- not quite the "no impact whatsoever" that the mayor promised.

Principals, teachers, and parents aren't going to take the cuts without a fight. Tonight, parents are getting together in Park Slope to rally against the budget cuts. (6:30 p.m., John Jay building. Map) Tomorrow, UFT President Randi Weingarten and local union leaders are holding an emergency meeting to discuss the cuts. Visit the Insideschools calendar for details on how to RSVP.

At least New Yorkers don't have it this bad, right?

Written by Admin Wednesday, 06 February 2008 05:13

The Times reports today from India:

This year, admissions for prekindergarten seats in Delhi begin for children as young as 3, and what school they get into now is widely felt to make or break their educational fate.

And so it was that a businessman, having applied to 15 private schools for his 4-year-old son, rushed to the gates of a prestigious South Delhi academy one morning last week to see if his child’s name had been shortlisted for admissions.

Alas, it had not, and walking back to his car, the fretful father wondered if it would not be better for Indian couples to have a child only after being assured a seat in school. “You have a kid and you don’t have a school to send your kid to!” he cried. “It’s crazy. You can’t sleep at night.”

Charter schools have never sounded like a better idea than they do now — at the same time that regular public schools are being forced to cut essential services like tutoring and counseling, a new charter school is planning to offer unprecedented levels of social support. According to the Sun, Mott Haven Academy Charter School, opening this fall in the Bronx, will offer not only academic instruction but also a full-service welfare agency running tutoring, counseling, and activities for kids.

The Sun reports, "The result, the school's founders say, could be to revolutionize the way the government tackles poverty, giving the public better results for the same buck." I'm not sure the situation outlined in the Sun article is quite revolutionary, but it sure does make sense. Poverty, not teachers' lack of skill or dedication, is the greatest hindrance to student achievement. Greater coordination between city agencies will be necessary
to help kids learn and want to learn — and that's something that the founders of Mott Haven Academy Charter School seem already to understand.

Two questions I wish the DOE would address

Written by Admin Tuesday, 05 February 2008 04:56

1. If the DOE is using state test scores to judge students, schools, teachers, and principals, how can it stomach forcing schools to cut extra tutoring (among other programs and services) just six weeks before the state math exam?

2. Assuming that the DOE understands that it's in the city's best interests to keep middle-class families here and attending public schools, why is it that the two new enrollment initiatives — for pre-K and kindergarten and gifted and talented programs — are designed to push families into zoned schools they've sought to avoid?

The cynic in me already has answers to both of these questions, but I'd love to know what others think.

Vote today in contested presidential primaries

Written by Admin Tuesday, 05 February 2008 04:05

Today is Super Tuesday — and in an unusual circumstance, New Yorkers will cast their ballots in a presidential race that has not yet been whittled to two opponents. Vote early or late, or on your way to celebrate the Giants' Super Bowl win, but do make time to vote at your local polling place. Polls will close at 9 p.m.

Schools have never been closed on primary days, so they are open to students today — but some parents are concerned about having a record number of strangers in school buildings, the Times reports. Chancellor Klein says the schools will keep kids safe and notes that schools might use the opportunity to offer a lesson about democracy — a lesson not tested on standardized tests but one, apparently, worth learning nonetheless.

Principals fume over mid-year budget cuts

Written by Admin Monday, 04 February 2008 12:55

On Friday, Insideschools asked principals to tell us how they're dealing with the mid-year budget cuts, and our record of their responses is up now. We'll be continuing to add to this as we principals get in touch with us, so tell your principal to email us now.

Robin Aronow reports from Manhattan pre-K hearing

Written by Admin Monday, 04 February 2008 04:12

Robin Aronow, a consultant who advises parents on school choice, wrote with additional information from last week's Manhattan pre-K proposal hearing. It sounds like most of the issues raised there are similar to those raised in Brooklyn, which I reported on last week. Parents want more preference for siblings, and they don't want their kids to be forced to switch schools after pre-K because there will be no automatic admission to kindergarten in the same school; they are especially concerned about kids having to leave dual-language programs, where enrollment shifts are disruptive for both students and the school. (There has never been automatic admission, but many principals have used their discretion to admit out-of-zone pre-K children to their kindergarten.)

One thing Robin heard was very different from what I understood to be the plan. She writes, "As for the uniform kindergarten policy for next year, [DOE officials] are still working out many factors, including whether zoned schools will be part of the uniform application process or remain a separate option." At the Brooklyn hearing, DOE officials made it crystal clear that zoned schools would be part of the same application process. Has the DOE realized that requiring parents to apply to zoned schools will greatly limit school choice, or did someone misspeak in Manhattan?

Other new information:

  • In order to be on the same timeline as other school choice processes, the District 3 kindergarten lottery has been pushed back for this year. Applications will now be available at the beginning of March and notifications of placements will happen in May, around the same time as the Gifted & Talented notifications arrive.
  • The DOE has said that community-based organizations will use the same admissions timeline as the DOE, but parents noted that many of the CBO pre-K programs are already filled for next year.
  • Above kindergarten, applicants will have to go through the OSEPO and request a Placement Exception Request, the new name for a variance, to attend a school other than their zoned school.

Finally, Robin notes that in some overcrowded zones, being zoned for a particular school is not always a guarantee that you can attend it — so getting into those schools from out of the zone will be almost impossible. She writes, "For anyone planning to move to a new school zone, I strongly encourage you to do this sooner [rather] than later, and no later than the close of school in June prior to the year your child will attend."

For more on the anxiety parents are starting to feel over the proposed changes, check out Neil deMause's report in the Village Voice. The pre-K hearing in Queens is tonight; hearings in Staten Island and the Bronx will be next week. Let us know what you hear in your borough.

School budgets slashed; CEO principals not given much say

Written by Admin Monday, 04 February 2008 02:23

You must be living under a rock if you haven't heard about the significant school budget cuts that the DOE made last week. In addition to the $324 million that schools will need to cut from their budgets next year, principals were also lost 1.75 percent of this year's budget — before they could even stop to think about where to find the money.

As of early last week, the DOE hadn't actually told principals that they would each have to cut a total of $180 million from their budgets; principals had to learn about the plan from the newspapers. I spoke to a principal on Friday who said she received an email at night informing her that she would have to cut $125,000; when she woke up in the morning, the money was already gone.

While the DOE will be making some cuts centrally, most of the reductions are being passed down to individual schools. The Times reported that the cuts will range from $9,000 to $447,587; for many schools, it's possible that the cuts will undo the Fair Student Funding gains they might have seen earlier this year.

As the mayor suggested earlier this week, Klein told the Times that principals will "have to tighten some programs." He suggested that principals might eliminate after-school activities or Saturday tutoring programs. But even if principals were okay with making those cuts, it looks like the losses might go deeper; Steven Satin, principal at Norman Thomas High School, told the Times that he has to cut the equivalent of "six teachers' salaries for the rest of the term" from his budget. The Daily News reports that schools in Queens have already canceled dance classes, disbanded a class taught by a long-term substitute, and cut tutoring programs. Also on the chopping block centrally: two of the 10 planned citywide standardized tests (NY Times); some ESL teaching positions (NY Times); and the Lead Teacher program (last Monday's PEP meeting).

Principals disagree with the DOE's ideas about what ought to be cut, and they've been circulating emails with sarcastic (and yet eminently reasonable) suggestions for the DOE. From the Times on Friday:

The principals in their e-mail chain of complaints wondered whether their evaluations would take into account constraints because of budget cuts, and also spoke disparagingly of the city’s contracts with I.B.M., which developed the $80 million computer system, and as one principal put it, “a whole host of other private, for-profit corporations that have entered into our world.”

The DOE considers principals the CEOs of their schools, but it sounds like many principals continue to put their students, not the notion of business efficiency, first. Chancellor Klein is testifying at a legislative budget hearing this morning in Albany. For which philosophy will he advocate?

A 5th-grade boy raised his hand on our last middle school tour and posed a question that took everyone aback. It reminded grown-ups in the room what it must feel like to be 10 or 11 years old, contemplating your educational future.

“Is it easy to make friends at this middle school?’’ the boy wondered.

Kelly McGuire, the energetic principal of Greenwich Village Middle School had already distributed a glossy brochure, articulated his educational philosophy and answered predictable questions about class sizes and whether 6th graders can go out to lunch.

He’d spoken about literacy and math scores. He’d described a small, caring and nurturing community with a commitment to social justice and a “really rigorous approach to academics."

(Every school we’ve toured has a “really rigorous approach.")

The 8th-grade students had answered questions about where they want to go to high school and how much homework they have. They complained about what they least like about their school – all those stairs they must climb to get to it

(Every middle school we’ve toured has also been on the top floor of an old building with no elevator.)

No one really knew how to answer the little boy’s question about making friends, although it laid bare a top priority of 5th graders as they prepare to rank their top five middle choices by Feb. 6.

Hint: It’s not a “content-rich program,” an “integrated theme-based curriculum,’’ a “peer mediation/conflict resolution program," or “collaborative team teaching,’’ to mention a few of the phrases we’ve heard on tours.

For 5th graders, middle school means splitting up from classmates they’ve known for years and finding themselves in an unfamiliar environment.

How, they wonder, will they make new friends?

No principal, parent or student can answer that question for them. No tour guide has the answer.

I’m grateful we have a choice of middle schools, but I strongly wish that 6th graders could remain one more year in their elementary school – the old K-6 configuration that I grew up with and one that is being considered again, as are pre-K-8 schools, like the new one being proposed for Battery Park City. I love the idea.

I’m not sure what is gained by hurtling them into the adolescent world of cell phones, instant messaging, traveling alone and school dances where grinding (if you don’t know what it is, ask any middle schooler) rules. They will face those social pressures far sooner than many parents -- and I suspect educators -- would like.

My 5th-grade son looked weary but relieved after our last tour, which was probably number 7 or 8 -- we slept through one and lost count. Mostly, he wants to go to school with his best buddy or least some of the classmates he’s known since kindergarten. And he'd like to get back to enjoying the rest of elementary school.

That, he told me, was what he was thinking about when the little boy asked his heartfelt question about making friends.