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G&T handbooks available now

Written by Admin Monday, 03 December 2007 11:12

It's December 3 -- time for the frenzy over G&T admissions to ratchet up a notch! Today the DOE released handbooks outlining the updated regulations and containing the Request for Testing form, as well as the hotly anticipated sample BSRA exams.

The basic handbook is online, but to get the test prep materials, you'll need to pick up the particular handbook that applies to your kid's age. To parents' annoyance, those handbooks weren't available today at the Manhattan Borough Enrollment Center on Seventh Avenue, but parents on the Upper West Side were able to pick them up at the District 3 office. Where else are they available?

And you will definitely need the handbook, because after the Daily News let people know that pretty much all you needed to buy the BSRA exam was a master's degree and a non-New York City address, the DOE had Harcourt Assessment pull the exam off the market.

Top NYC schools among top schools nationally

Written by Admin Friday, 30 November 2007 14:03

In keeping with its promise to produce more of the "Best of ..." lists that make newsstand customers open their wallets, US News has just come out with its first-ever list of best high schools in the country. New York City has six schools in the top 100. All of them -- Stuyvesant (No. 15), Bronx Science (20), Staten Island Tech (22), Brooklyn Tech (39), Townsend Harris (45), and NEST (74) -- are highly selective.

Schools were evaluated on how well their students do on state tests, how well "disadvantaged" kids did, and how kids fared on AP tests. So it's no surprise that the most selective schools come out on top, and that good schools that don't offer AP classes, such as Bard, didn't make the list.

Thirty-eight more NYC schools made the cut for the silver and bronze categories. I didn't check every school, but scanning the list I saw at least a handful of schools that got C's on their progress reports. The more lists and grades we have, the less each one will mean.

City Council member takes aim at excessive homework

Written by Admin Friday, 30 November 2007 12:55

Upset about the amount of time he's spending helping his middle school-aged daughters with homework, City Council member Peter Vallone of Queens wants to introduce a resolution to limit homework to 2.5 hours a night and require schools to create one homework-free night a week. The mayor doesn't sound interested in taking up the cause, and the DOE believes homework load is best set by individual schools.

For most kids, I can't imagine that a limit of 2.5 hours of homework would mean a reduction in the time spent on homework. Still, as Izzy noted earlier, some schools have a reputation for handing out hours of homework every night. And it is true that the most conscientious students and parents, who are the least likely to need more work, are the most likely to suffer when it's assigned.

Vallone's quest may be quixotic but he isn't alone. Last year Insideschools reviewed two books arguing for the abolition of homework; we also interviewed Alfie Kohn, the author of one of the books, who said that homework, at least before high school, is "all pain, no gain."

8th Grader Izzy: A new challenge in the future

Written by Admin Friday, 30 November 2007 03:02

Hey again everyone! It's been a while, and I've made a ton of decisions since the last time I blogged.

I handed in my high school application yesterday, and after thinking it over for weeks, I've chosen to put the small school in my neighborhood first. If I get in, it's guaranteed to be extremely difficult, and chances are, most of my time for the next four years is going to be totally devoted to it. I'm honestly a little afraid that if I get in, it's going to be too hard for me, and that I might crack under the pressure. But at the same time, I am totally ready for a new challenge, and I think that I'll be able to handle it.

Until I get my answer (as to whether or not I've made it in), I'm going to sit back and relax, because I've done all that I can at this point. The specialized high schools still haven't sent out the answers yet either, but I'll tackle that mountain when it comes.

As a second choice, I put down my current school. I did that because it's honestly the safest school that I can think of at this point; I know the area, the teachers, the kids, and it's not necessarily known for being a school of crushing homework or a hyper-speed curriculum. So if worse comes to worse, I'll just stay where I am, which isn't really a "worst" at all!

Quick! Thank your teachers before they're gone

Written by Admin Thursday, 29 November 2007 15:05

Yesterday the DOE and the UFT announced a feel-good "Thank a Teacher Campaign" -- just in time for the holiday season, and to head off further criticism from teachers who oppose the new Teacher Performance Unit that will go after incompetent teachers. Students and public school graduates can submit short essays about teachers that made a difference. The DOE will randomly select 200 teachers from those honored to attend a party. Plus, Starbucks has donated gift cards for teachers.

A party! Starbucks certificates! I'm not sure that's what the UFT members rallying on Monday night against the Teacher Performance Unit were seeking. Other than the fact that it's clearly designed to undercut the union, the campaign is a nice one. Teachers ought to be thanked. It's too bad it took a lot of hurt feelings for the DOE to make that happen.

Send your contributions to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. by Dec. 21. Some testimonials are already up, mostly from DOE officials.

Tide turns against testing in North Carolina

Written by Admin Thursday, 29 November 2007 04:49

Thanks to NYC Public School Parents for pointing out news I missed about testing in my home state, North Carolina. Taking into account criticism that students are spending too much time taking tests and schools are spending too much time teaching to them, a state commission has recommended that some standardized tests be eliminated and others not be considered when evaluating schools.

It's up to the state Board of Education to approve the changes, but if it does, kids in 4th, 7th, and 10th grade will no longer have to take a (routinely flawed) writing test, and 8th graders will be free from a computer exam, which was far more difficult for teachers than students even in 1997, when I took it. And the pressure will be off in five high school subjects, where students will still have to take end-of-course tests to pass but schools won't be judged on their success.

North Carolina's testing program has been in place since 1995 and was a model for other states' accountability programs. A member of the commission told the News and Observer, "We’re testing more but we’re not seeing the results. ... We’re not seeing graduation rates increasing. We’re not seeing remediation rates decreasing. Somewhere along the way testing isn’t aligning with excellence.” Now it's time to try something else. Trends in education have such a short lifespan. Joel Klein and James Liebman may already be living in the past.

A week after hearing that money it won for the city would finally be on its way, the Campaign for Fiscal Equity has issued recommendations on how to reduce class size in struggling schools. In a report, "A Seat of One's Own: Class Size Reduction in the Lowest Performing Schools in New York City," CFE shows that the city's capital plan falls far short of funding the number of classrooms that will need to be created to drop class sizes at schools on the state's list of those in need of improvement.

Of the 408 schools on the list, CFE found that class size can be reduced immediately at 152 schools and that 43 other low-performing schools can drop class size if they put in place adjustments such as creating annexes or improving the way schools within a building share space. (View geographical maps with school-by-school recommendations.) Beyond that, however, the city would need to add more than 1,500 new classrooms to help the remaining 122 schools that do not already have reduced class size. But the city's capital plan provides only 680 new classrooms, and the DOE is planning to hire only 1,300 new teachers.

With its focus on the lowest-performing schools, the CFE report doesn't even begin to address the investment that will be required to reduce class sizes at the two-thirds of schools not considered failing, many of which are seriously overcrowded. As Class Size Matters's Leonie Haimson has noted, the DOE has not yet released current data about class size citywide; the DOE says the information will be released by Dec. 18.

UFT says 'nay' to TPU; PEP votes yea on G&T

Written by Admin Monday, 26 November 2007 20:28

Urban Academy Principal Ann Cook collects signatures to a Time Out From Testing petition opposing the progress reports during the UFT's candlelight vigil against the Teacher Performance Unit. (Philissa Cramer/Insideschools)

Hundreds of teachers lined Chambers Street in front of Tweed earlier tonight to protest the creation of a "Teacher Performance Unit" to root out and fire incompetent teachers. Speakers included City Council members Robert Jackson and John Liu, UFT President Randi Weingarten, and a UFT chapter leader who has experienced reprisals for speaking out for teachers and students in her school.

UFT supporters sing "Solidarity Forever" at the vigil. (Philissa Cramer/Insideschools)

Unfortunately for critics of the union, no one defended truly terrible teachers or said they should be retained even if remediation fails; instead, the speakers repeatedly decried the culture of fear and potential for abuse the TPU creates.
Inside Tweed, the Panel for Educational Policy voted 8-1 to approve a slightly modified Gifted & Talented proposal. The revised policy builds in a sibling preference policy, eliminates on-site assessments for the three citywide programs, and adds summer testing dates for children whose families are new to the city. Patrick Sullivan, the Manhattan representative to the PEP, voted against the proposal to honor the wishes of District 3's CEC, which passed a motion expressing concern about the potential closure of successful G&T programs on the Upper West Side.

TONIGHT (11/26): Teacher rally and PEP meeting

Written by Admin Monday, 26 November 2007 11:58

It's a big night down at Tweed -- the UFT is holding a candlelight vigil at 5:30 p.m. to oppose the Teacher Performance Unit announced last week. Some are saying the vigil is a symbolic event designed to prevent more substantive action, but Chancellor Klein is nervous enough that he sent out a fawning letter explaining the TPU to teachers this afternoon, saying, "Our teachers are heroes, one and all, and I am deeply grateful to them."

Then, at 6 p.m., the Panel for Educational Policy is meeting to vote on the Gifted & Talented proposal. Also on the agenda: progress reports and NAEP results.

Poll: Who has the best information about schools?

Written by Admin Monday, 26 November 2007 10:42

Buried in a Downtown Express article about the changes to the middle school admission timeline -- Did you hear? The calendar will be standardized across districts and applications will be due in February -- was this gem about Insideschools:

The problems with notification — [parent Linda] Levy found out about the timeline change not from the school system but from the Web site — are quintessential Department of Education issues, she said.

So that makes me curious. I'd like to think Insideschools always has the most timely and accurate information about schools. But schools, other parents, and yes, even the DOE often beat us to the punch. Which source do you think is the best? Answer in our poll (at the top right side of the blog). Explain your answer in the comments.