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Searching for schools is fact of life in New York City, one that requires patience, stamina, resilience. At times you need the skills of an investigative reporter, along with the endurance of a long-distance runner.
If you are considering private school, you need many of those qualities as well, along with at least $25,000 grand a year to spend on tuition.
In the city, it's not unusual for parents spend enormous amounts of time thinking about schools and researching options. The truly obsessed may begin their search preconception, or at least around the time they begin investigating that other great New York obsession: real estate.
I didn’t worry much about schools until a girlfriend turned to me in the playground one day more than 11 years ago to ask if I’d completed the nursery school applications yet.
I remember being shocked, because up to this point I’d been happily preoccupied with first steps, solid food and a full night’s sleep. Turns out I missed the deadlines.
I vowed to be on top of all the options from then on, and managed to find a tremendous public elementary school for my sons that gave out-of-neighborhood variances – a rarity these days at the New York City Department of Education.
Now I find myself waiting to hear about middle school acceptance for my youngest son, who is 10. We’ve spent much of this year taking tours, preparing for tests and interviews, weighing multiple factors and discussing moving on and maintaining elementary school friendships.
I grew up in the kind of suburb where everyone stayed together, from elementary school through high school, for better or for worse. No choice existed. Education barely entered the conversation, much less dominating it as it tends to in the city.
Throughout our second middle school search in three years, we’ve managed to block out the scary search around the bend -- high school admissions.
Suddenly, my mailbox is full of upcoming meetings, open houses and Princeton Review tutoring options for high school specialty exams for my 7th-grade son. We’ve missed several already.
A story in The New York Daily News this week contained some startling statistics that snapped me back to the reality check I first experienced in a sun-dappled playground 11 years and some months ago.
Some 7,772 kids did not get into any of their high school choices this year, including one fine student whose angry mother is moving the family to New Jersey, where getting in requires nothing more than showing up to register.
The mother did not sound at all happy about it, though. You are not supposed to drop out of the race before you reach the finish line.
Are there too many obstacles in the way of parents who embrace and support public school and really want to stay in the city?
And so the next search begins.Read all of Liz Willen's Middle School Muddle
In case you haven't seen, we've put up a fairly comprehensive FAQ about G&T scores over on the G&T homepage. One important piece of information: the DOE has extended the application deadline for eligible students to May 14.
The extension gives families who originally received applications with mistakes a chance to think about their revised applications, which the DOE spent a pretty penny overnighting to them earlier this week. Of course, the five-day extension also means it may take applicants a little while longer in "early June" to find out where they've been placed.
The Post and the Daily News today have stories about families in Staten Island and parts of Queens and the Bronx who feel cheated: their rising kindergarteners met the cutoff for G&T eligibility but their districts have no programs to accommodate them. Instead, they'll have to test again next year for entrance to G&T programs that start in 1st grade. These parents' frustration is totally understandable, but I do want to point out that the DOE made it clear through the whole process that entry grades to G&T programs would not change for next year. As always, the DOE could communicate with parents better, but on this count it made a sincere effort, sending reminder letters to families in those districts after they received their score reports, and maintained a straight story. Of course, even a straight story from the DOE doesn't make things too much easier for parents who feel shut out.
One final note: We know all of the G&T program options in many districts. But if you qualified in districts 4, 7-12, 16-21, 23-24, or 26-31, please tell us what schools will be hosting G&T programs next year!
UPDATE: Thanks for sending in the lists for districts 11, 20, 24, 26, and 28. We're still looking for 4, 8-10, 12, 17-19, 27, and 29-31.
What has cost the DOE as much as ARIS in the last couple of years? Teachers who aren't working, according to a report being released today by the New Teacher Project, a non-profit organization that helps school districts find and train new teachers.
The report, titled "Mutual Benefits: New York City's Shift to Mutual Consent in Teacher Hiring," takes a look at the effects of the 2005 UFT-DOE contract, which ended the practice by which older teachers could "bump" younger teachers from their schools and instituted a system where teachers who are "excessed," or released from their positions at schools, continue to earn tenure and be paid while they apply for new positions — or not. The report concludes that the practice of "mutual consent" has resulted in teachers being happier with their positions but that the growing pool of excessed teachers is becoming a financial burden on the system. Half of the 600 teachers who were excessed in 2006 and early 2007 who did not find a new position did not apply for any jobs through the DOE's online hiring system, according to the report, to the tune of $81 million by the end of this school year.
Many of the report's findings are likely verifiable, but it's important to note that the New Teacher Project has an organizational interest in making sure there are positions for new teachers and funds free to pay them — it runs the city's Teaching Fellows program. Evaluated in this context, the report's central recommendation — that excessed teachers be removed from the payroll after a "reasonable period" and allowed "for a certain number of years" to be able to return to a teaching position at the same salary and seniority level — reads like opportunism, not thoughtful education policy. And it makes Mayor Bloomberg's use of the report as a reason to reopen contract negotiations with the UFT positively inexcusable; he is planning to seek permission to remove from city payroll teachers who have gone without a job for 12 months.
The Times notes that Chancellor Klein has characterized most teachers in the reserve pool as undesirable or unwilling to look for work. We don't know exactly how many of the non-working excessed teachers fit that bill. But we do know that with budget cuts making it financially stressful for schools to maintain experienced teaching staffs, principals must make hard choices to be able to afford to hire senior teachers. And with a cadre of first-year teachers always at the ready (thanks in part to the New Teacher Project), the incentives to make those choices are slim. That's why the UFT earlier this month filed an age discrimination lawsuit against the DOE. In times like this, senior teachers need more protections, not a new rule that removes them from the system so long as schools can get along without them.
And if you're worried about unqualified teachers keeping their jobs, don't be — the Teacher Performance Unit is on the job.
Through their anxiety — a few parents said the experience of testing and waiting ... and waiting may land them in therapy — many parents left sane, thoughtful comments on this weekend's post about G&T admissions. Here's a sampling:
From parents whose perspective returned not too long after receiving (or not receiving) their envelopes:
Congratulations to all of these kids on such an outstanding job. I do not believe the test was made child-friendly. The test administrator was a stranger, and I do not believe that the questions would be repeated more than once. (think about that.) I believe it was a difficult test, so if your child passes, they really gave it their best and if not in the 90%, that child is still bright just to sit there to attempt that test. Good luck parents!!
Resolved myself to thinking that we aren't in and made my peace with it. It's a beautiful day and I'm going to go and spend time with my beautiful, intelligent daughter and enjoy her for who she is not what she scores on a test.
And from parents who rightly have a whole new set of anxieties, despite their children's high scores:
I am only willing to consider one of the G&T schools in our district but would really prefer one of the citywide schools. I don't know how realistic our chances are for getting into a citywide school since (as ridiculous as it sounds) my DD only scored in the 98%tile.I am in district 25, my daughter is entering kindergarten and scored in the 98th percentile. I want to make a united front on the fact that there are no new "K" programs in our district. ... Let's get as many people on board with this and make an aggressive, united move to change this system which is failing our children.
From parents with radical notions about the DOE:
Don't get me wrong - as the parent of a public schooler as well as a teacher in district three, I am no fan of the DOE. But in this case, they are clearly looking to improve schools for the greatest number of children, rather than the select few. ... Here's a radical notion, what if, regardless of a child's score all of us as parents made a commitment to improving our local schools? Now that would be radical.....I wouldn't be bashing DOE all that much. They are under tremendous pressure to do something, and I think the fact that the testing is open now to the whole city as opposed to those who were willing to spend enormous amount of money on private psychologists who tested for Anderson and Hunter is a great leap forward. It wasn't exactly a smooth operation, and there will be always tons of people who are very unhappy. I think the thought process and the intentions of Board of Ed were good.
And from parent Chris Johnson, who understands how hard it is to keep up with what's going on at the DOE:
I am in Egypt and just spoke with my wife and our daughter apparently is 90%+ - she will fax me the letter. NOTE: Thank you InsideSchools for providing us parents with such a useful forum. I am sending another contribution and encourage others to do the same. (InsideSchools is a non-profit organization that needs every contribution, no matter how small.)
Most of the folks who could have answered your questions were out of their offices on Friday, but I am working on getting responses and as soon as I do I will share them with you. Until I can find out more, here's a roundup of what we already know, thanks in great part to your comments.
- We know where programs will be housed next year (see below for lists of schools in some districts); this information was part of the application mailed to families whose children scored in the 90th percentile or above.
- We know that in many districts in Queens, Staten Island, and the Bronx, gifted programs continue to start in 1st grade, meaning that 90th percentile+ scorers entering kindergarten are without options (or are able to apply only to citywide schools if they scored in the 97th percentile or above). Some Queens parents didn't understand that the DOE didn't plan to change programs' entry years and now feel shut out and angry.
- We know that siblings get priority for admission; a lower-scoring sibling who qualifies for admission will beat out a higher-scoring child.
- We know that families must rank all district programs in order to be guaranteed a spot in one of them; applications are due May 9.
- We know that the Office of Pupil Transportation covers transportation costs for children who live at least half a mile's walk from their school when it's within their district. For elementary students, this often comes in the form of a yellow bus as long as the school has busing. The DOE doesn't provide any busing across borough lines.
- Yet again, we see that standardized tests can be capricious, especially for 4 year olds: some kids did extremely well on one of the two gifted assessments, but not the other, despite their skills, and according to parent comments, some children who made it to the second round of Hunter admissions didn't make the gifted cut this year.
- We know that when the DOE spokeperson emailed me Wednesday afternoon to say that letters hadn't yet been mailed, he must have been misinformed, because letters began arriving on Thursday. (Or maybe the mail is really that fast?)
- And we know, as we have long known, that it's hard for parents to get a straight answer from the DOE. In the comments on our last post, different parents reported getting different answers to the same questions when calling DOE officials, and one asked, "Why do they all have a different story?"
Where will district G&T programs be housed?
In District 1: PS 19 and PS 110
In District 2: PS 11, 77, 111, 116, 124, 126, and 130
In District 3: PS 9, 145, 163, 166, 185, and 191
In District 5: PS 129 and PS 154
In District 6: PS 98 and PS 153
In District 7: None
In District 11: PS 121 and PS 153
In District 13: PS 3, 9, 20, and 282
In District 14: PS 132
In District 15: PS 1, 10, 32, 38, and 230
In District 16: None
In District 18: PS 114, 115, 208, 276, 279
In District 20: PS 102, 104, 176, 185, 204, and 229
In District 22: PS 52, 152, 193, 195, 206, 207, 217, 222, 236, 277, and 312
In District 23: None
In District 24: PS 16, 91
In District 25: PS 21, 32, 165, and 209
In District 26: PS 18, 115, 188, and 202
In District 28: PS 101, 117, 144, 174
It's the middle of school vacation week, which means it's the perfect time for the DOE to send out important letters -- letters that some Insideschools readers consider potentially life-altering. Did you get your G&T score notification letter today?
We'd love to see a copy of the letter, if you can scan and email it to us. Thanks and relax!
Parent coordinators are increasingly unavailable by phone, according to a report released recently by the Public Advocate's office, where staffers called 100 parent coordinators after school hours, only to leave messages for the vast majority of them. Many of those messages — 71 percent of those left by staff members posing as prospective parents, according to the Post — were never answered. When the Public Advocate's office conducted a similar study in 2005, 50 percent of parent coordinators responded to calls.
Parent coordinators are supposed to be available around the clock, and the DOE is supposed to provide them with a cell phone that should remain on all evening and on weekends. But over time, parent coordinators have lost their phones, their phones have broken, and departing parent coordinators have failed to hand their phones over to their replacements. I've had little trouble reaching parent coordinators during school hours by calling schools' main numbers and asking for them. But reaching them after school or by cell phone exclusively (if indeed that's what the Public Advocate's office tried to do) sounds like a different beast.
Of course, the real issue is that which a District 4 parent advocate notes in the Post: "You talk to a lot of answering machines when you deal with the DOE. ... No return calls, no-pick-up calls - it's true."
Today's word from the DOE: "Letters haven't gone out yet. They will go out later this week," according to a DOE spokesperson who just wrote to me. Our collective mailbox check can continue -- please keep sending in your helpful comments!
Bad news for critics of the citywide cell phone ban in schools: Yesterday, a state appeals court upheld the ban, saying that "the department has a rational interest in having its teachers and staff devote their time to educating students and not waging a 'war' against cell phones."
The author of the opinion also wrote, "If adults cannot be fully trusted to practice proper cell phone etiquette, then neither can children" — but that to me sounds like grounds for an etiquette lesson, not a costly rule that inconveniences families and causes students to feel alienated and persecuted.
Of course, many families won't let the ban stop them from sending their kids to school with a cell phone. Louise at Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn, for example, recently wrote that she's contemplating getting her soon-to-be-6th grader a cell phone to provide security during the trip to and from middle school next year.
After great uncertainty about dates -- at first it was supposed to be the end of March, then April 18, then the end of this month -- we're hearing that the first G&T letters have gone home. Have you checked your mailbox today? What's the word at your school and in your neighborhood?
UPDATE: I just wanted to note that we are not at all sure letters have actually gone home anywhere -- so don't be alarmed if you haven't gotten anything!