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After spending much of last week thinking at gifted and talented programs, I thought it was time to turn my attention to kids for whom academic achievement doesn't come so easily. The Daily News helped this weekend by taking an on-the-ground look at the new 8th grade promotion policy. Although the policies in grades 3, 5, and 7 are supposed to protect against this, sometimes kids in those grades pass all of their classes and one of the state tests but just can't pass the other, the article says. "I'm getting left back for one subject," says a second-year 7th grader in the article. "I was doing my homework and stuff. I just didn't get math." Will the safeguards in the 8th grade promotion policy be enough to prevent students from being held over unnecessarily — or for the third time?

Yoav Gonen has a short piece in today's Post with more details on the numbers of students applying and qualifying for G&T classes for the fall. His numbers (which vary from those reported in the Times yesterday) show that District 2 will likely see several new G&T programs this fall; it had the most students qualifying, at 517, but currently there are only five district G&T programs.

In addition, the Post's graphic showing the districts with the most and fewest children qualifying points out vast disparities. In District 2, 28 percent of applicants tested at the 90th percentile or higher; in District 3, the percentage was even higher, at 30 percent. But in District 23 in Brooklyn, only 3 percent of students tested reached the cutoff for inclusion.

Gonen writes that three districts won't have their own G&T kindergartens this fall, and eight districts will likely have only one G&T program. The DOE says equal access to testing is a move toward greater equity in G&T enrollment, but the numbers appear to say that equal access to testing may actually heighten inequities — and that, as we all expected, socioeconomic status and access to test prep continue to be key determinants for G&T admission.

High school credits in just 9 hours? Sign me up!

Written by Admin Thursday, 10 April 2008 20:44

Earlier this week, a blogger at The Chancellor's New Clothes took aim at Credit Recovery classes, where students who have failed classes can "recover" those credits by completing makeup assignments over the course of a few days. The teacher writes:

[Students] are earning credit in a course that they failed because they deserved to fail. And they will be making it up in 9 hours.So what are we telling our students? What are we telling those students who decide that coming to class or doing work is not important? What are we telling those students who work hard every day for their grades and their credit?

It looks like this teacher is not alone in asking these questions. In today's Times, Elissa Gootman and Sharona Coutts write that educators citywide are concerned about the Credit Recovery option and that the State Education Department is investigating whether the short classes are in fact legal, since "seat time" is one criterion it sets, along with subject mastery, for earning credits.

Gootman and Coutts collected anecdotes and evidence of Credit Recovery classes from dozens of schools around the city. At Wadleigh in Harlem, a student who had to write three essays to get credit for a course he rarely attended said, “I’m grateful for it, but it also just seems kind of, you know, outrageous. ... There’s no way three essays can possibly cover a semester of work.” At Franklin K. Lane in Brooklyn, posters advertised, “If you failed a class, don’t despair ... turnaround your 55 into a 65 in 6 weeks!!! Ask your teacher for details!!!"

Klein is on the defensive in the article, saying that these anecdotes (plus others) don't add up to cause for concern that the city is juking its graduation statistics. He says there is "no basis to suggest that improper credit recovery has affected graduation rates" — the DOE doesn't keep statistics on the subject.

What of the Wadleigh principal who allowed the farcical classes and whose Credit Recovery guidelines are now the subject of state investigation? She's the city's first executive principal, given the reins of a troubled high school in February along with a $25,000 bonus for taking on the assignment. She told the Times the Credit Recovery work packets were "just as rigorous as courses they would have taken sitting in the classroom every day with a teacher, or even more rigorous.” Sounds like Wadleigh is truly a model for other high schools around the city, right? And could the DOE really not find anyone for the executive principal position who wasn't under investigation for promoting rules that skirted state law?

I have visited lots of schools and I think there are good things happening in many of the city's high schools. But when I read an article like this one, I wonder whether all of Joel Klein's reforms are only building a house of cards.

More details on G&T admissions

Written by Admin Thursday, 10 April 2008 08:07

The Times has some interesting district-by-district G&T numbers in its coverage today of the sudden change in G&T admissions criteria.

First, the Times is reporting that 3,000 children will score high enough to be guaranteed seats in kindergarten and 1st grade in the fall. This is significantly more than the "more than 2,300" estimated in the DOE's press release yesterday and the 2,400 the DOE says are currently enrolled in the entry grades of G&T programs.

The Times reports that there are actually 4,649 students enrolled in G&T kindergarten and 1st grades right now, and that next year 4,916 students will be eligible for seats in those grades, either because they scored high enough or because they are already enrolled in a G&T kindergarten. (In some districts, gifted programs begin in kindergarten; in others, they begin in 1st grade. Children entering both grades citywide are guaranteed a seat if they meet the new standard. Read more about G&T programs. )

Also in the Times article: District 7 in the South Bronx wouldn't have been able to field a gifted program next year had the 95th percentile cutoff stood -- only five children would have qualified. Under the new rules, 13 children qualify -- so the district's kindergarten G&T landscape will shrink from two schools to one, where classes will be very small. Kids in District 16 won't be so lucky; the Times reports that even under the relaxed standard only five kids qualify for G&T, so they will have to travel to neighboring districts if they want to take advantage of their test-earned right.

And some surprising news: While District 22's kindergarten G&T programs will be slashed by at least two-thirds for the fall, there could be as many as 60 percent more children in G&T programs in District 3 -- the Times reports that 310 kids tested at the 90th percentile or higher, compared to 192 students currently enrolled in the entry grades. Still no word about District 2.

MORE BREAKING NEWS: State restores money to NYC schools

Written by Admin Wednesday, 09 April 2008 14:16

After months of bad budget news from both the state and the city, here's a big piece of excellent news: the State Assembly just passed a budget that restores all of the cuts the state had made to the city's schools!

The city's schools are now set to receive a $643 million budget increase as part of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity settlement; previously, Governor Spitzer announced he would reduce that increase by $350 million. The restoration of aid, which comes after months of intense lobbying and protest, should let principals who are deciding which services to eliminate breathe a little easier. But Mayor Bloomberg's cuts, which could amount to as much as 8 percent of next year's budget, still stand.

Confirming rumors floating earlier this week, the DOE has just announced that it will guarantee seats in gifted and talented programs in their entry grades to all children scoring at the 90th percentile or higher on the BSRA and OLSAT. The new G&T policy approved by the Panel for Education Policy earlier this year required children to score at the 95th percentile; the PEP will approve the change at a special meeting tomorrow morning, according to a DOE press release. Eligible children will receive preference at their older siblings' school.

Letters go home around April 18, giving parents of eligible students a few weeks to rank programs and assess their chances of admission to citywide programs before their preference forms are due May 9.

According to the press release, the DOE is anticipating offering 2,300 seats for the entry grades for the fall, almost as many as currently exist in those grades. The press release also says that the proposed change will almost double the number of students who qualify for gifted programs. I think it's safe to assume that the DOE decided it wanted to avoid the outcry from families who would have been shut out and from schools that would have lost their gifted programs.

At the same time, it's clear from the DOE's press release that even with this change, some districts might not have enough eligible students to field a gifted program. The PEP tomorrow is expected to approve a reduction in the number of students required for a program, from 10 to eight. Still, the DOE notes that "families that live in districts without sufficient numbers of qualified students will be asked to rank programs in nearby districts."

The change is good news for districts 3 and 22, where schools have been concerned about the prospect of having their gifted programs cut. But it introduces an interesting situation for other districts, such as District 2, where significant numbers of students are expected to qualify but where existing gifted programs are few and far between. This policy revision could hasten a culture change in those districts.

Mobile scanning report from the front lines

Written by Admin Wednesday, 09 April 2008 07:52

Over at the Insideschools high school forum, user LeonDMatthew describes what happened earlier this week when the mobile scanning unit showed up at his school:

I came into school today and was surprises to see the police presence. I knew what was happening we were being scanned. This time I was determined to keep my belongings but was unsuccessful. I was told that if I did not surrender my cellphone and zune (like and i-pod), I would be handcuffed and they will be forcefully taken. So I surrendered them. While my belongings were being bagged and tagged I voiced my opinions to the school aid. I said "I can understand if they were taken because I was caught using them but the scanning and threatening and all the commotion were unnecessary." All he said was this is what the principle says and I'm doing my job. I also petitioned to him all of the "what ifs" I could think of. For example I mentioned an incident that happened last week when there was a gang shoot-out in front of my school, but still no cigar. I was told my belongings would be returned on Thursday. What do you think? Was I and my fellow students wronged today? Please tell me what are your opinions about the whole no cell phone policy I want to know what parents are thinking. Please give me some adult insight.

So, adults, what can we tell LeonDMatthew? Hope you're not caught without a cell phone next time gang violence flares up in your neighborhood? Shut up and obey the security guards -- it's the only way you'll be able to get to class? There has to be a better way to deal with school safety.

Principal training academy going public

Written by Admin Tuesday, 08 April 2008 04:32

Five years after the Leadership Academy was created to train new principals, the DOE is going to start to pick up the bill for it. Until now, the experimental program was supported with private money. But now, citing an internal study that found Leadership Academy graduates to outperform other principals in student test score gains, the DOE says the program is successful enough that it's willing to foot the bill — which could add up to about $20 million a year. Almost 200 of the city's current principals went through the training program, which has been criticized for focusing more on the logistics of principalship than the pedagogy and for accepting teachers with only a few years of classroom experience for a fast-track to school leadership.

Here's where an independent research verification group, an idea that's been batted around for the next iteration of mayoral control, could play an important role. It's entirely possible that Leadership Academy grads are more skilled than other principals. But we just don't know, and no DOE analysis could satisfy my skepticism. The DOE has an interest in making Leadership Academy principals look successful, so those principals might have received assistance in addition to the academy training. In addition, an independent research board might design an experiment that looked at variables other than test scores, which of course do not make up the entirety of what principals are charged to do.

And anyone sitting outside Tweed Courthouse could point out the frustration some might feel to see the DOE taking on a new $20 million a year commitment while simultaneously cutting funds for schools and for principals to use in carrying out their jobs.

Oops. Administrators at the Bronx High School for Performance and Stagecraft are in hot water with the DOE after they allowed the Barack Obama campaign to film students discussing a class assignment based on Obama's "Yes We Can" speech. It's against DOE policy for schools to be used in political or promotional films; the 13-minute film has been circulated as a fundraising pitch by the Obama campaign. In addition, students are identified by their full names, and several say they are 9th graders — it's unclear whether the campaign sought releases from those students and their families before filming.Principal Mark Sweeting said he knew the film was against the rules but that getting students to become politically engaged and informed was worth the potential consequences. I agree with Sweeting that inspiring kids to think critically about race and to see themselves as integral to the political process is a great thing. And I think the DOE's rules can be constricting for schools that want to publicize their work. But in this case, I am worried that structuring a class assignment around the speech of a particular candidate and then offering students the chance to speak about that assignment on behalf of that candidate creates a coercive environment that's inappropriate for the classroom.

Man, the DOE just can't keep its mind made up about anything, can it? When DOE officials announced the new policy for admission to gifted and talented programs earlier this year, they were emphatic that research has proven that gifted programs are useful only for students who score in the 95th percentile or above on certain standardized tests. But now the Daily News is reporting that the DOE might be considering children in the 90th percentile and higher.

The Daily News speculates that "officials may be reluctant to exclude large numbers of children" — more than 50,000 kids tested for G&T this spring. If the rumor turns out to be true, I'll wager that the change was made not because of the number of students who would be excluded with the higher cutoff but because of where those students live. In some districts that haven't had robust G&T or test prep cultures, too few students might have scored at the 95th percentile or higher to field an entire class. That wouldn't look too good for the DOE, which explained the policy change as an attempt to create equity across districts.

And perhaps the DOE is responding to the anger of parents and community leaders in districts where the new standard would almost certainly cut down on existing gifted programs, such as District 22 in Brooklyn. Their frustration and anger are nothing, of course, compared to that which the DOE can expect from parents whose kids narrowly missed the cut for G&T, no matter the cutoff ultimately used; letters will go home by the middle of this month, several weeks later than originally planned.