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The Times and Khalil Gibran: why now?

Written by Admin Tuesday, 06 May 2008 04:38

Did you catch the 4,500-word story about Debbie Almontaser in the Times last week? If you did, were you as puzzled as I was about why the story was running now? The initial brouhaha over the Khalil Gibran International Academy appears, finally, to have died down; Almontaser's lawsuit alleging unfair treatment when she was pressured to resign as principal was rejected; and the school seems to be improving, an observation that's buried at the end of the Times piece. To me and others I've talked to, the piece read like something the paper had been sitting on until Almontaser surprised the author by offering to go on the record. But given that the school has encountered hostility from its new home, PS 287, stirring up controversial issues, particularly ones that by all accounts, including the Times' own, are now moot, feels like irresponsible journalism to me.

Hey, kids! Big Mother is watching you

Written by Admin Monday, 05 May 2008 11:37

It's getting easier to be a helicopter parent, according to an article in Sunday's Times about the rise of online data systems that allow parents to track their kids' school performance in real time.

Using programs such as ParentConnect and Edline, parents in some school districts can log on to see whether their kids cut class, aced a test, or failed to hand in a homework assignment that day. The programs, which are used in thousands of school districts nationwide, recalculate student averages with each new data point entered, making grade-tracking akin to, as one parent notes in the article, tracking the stock market. School officials say the programs build connections between home and school and allow busy parents to be involved in their kids' lives.

Many students seem to like the fact that the programs let them monitor their own progress and check their teachers' work. But they don't love letting their parents in on their daily lives and decisions. And for good reason -- parents in the article admit getting out of hand, checking obsessively and getting too involved in their kids' schoolwork.

I don't think any of these programs are being used in New York City schools, at least not to any sizable degree. But the DOE did say two years ago when it first unveiled the plan to require interim assessments multiple times a year that "parents will be able to log into a website that will have up-to-date information about their child and their school." I don't think this component of the plan has come to fruition -- but in a city where data, not parents and children, come first, perhaps it's on it's way.

If a computer program like this existed in your child's school, would you use it?

Last week, the mayor released the city's proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year. Calling the numbers describing the city's fiscal situation "scary," Mayor Bloomberg preserved the sizable cuts slated for the schools. Education advocates have only until June, when the budget will be finalized, to reverse the cuts — so they have ramped up the intensity of the Keep the Promises Coalition, originally launched in February when the cuts were first announced.

Last week, the coalition held a rally at the Bronx Courthouse, revealing plans for a major advertising campaign, starting with a slick new radio spot. School funding advocates were successful in Albany, so we can hope they will find similar success closer to home.For his part, the mayor continues to assert that the DOE will be receiving a sizable funding increase. But as Elizabeth Green at the Sun writes, he appears to be using fuzzy math to arrive at that conclusion:

The net amount the public schools are gaining, by Mr. Bloomberg's tally, does not account for losses the education department faced during this fiscal year and projected losses already tabulated into next year's budget. ...

Comparing the budget first implemented last year to this executive budget, the Department of Education's net change is a modest gain of about $56 million.

Considering that the cost of many programs grows larger every year — teacher salaries, slated to see a 5% raise this month, are a prime example — that increase will probably not be enough to spare the public schools from having to cut some programs and services.

What programs and services might principals cut? If this year is any guide, next year we can expect to see reductions in tutoring programs, after school activities, supplies purchased, and more.

Insideschools 2.0

Written by Admin Friday, 02 May 2008 12:24

Are you on Facebook? If so, you can now become a fan of Insideschools!

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.

G&T admissions: your take

Written by Admin Monday, 28 April 2008 10:01

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.)

If you, like Chris, want to help Insideschools be able to continue to provide this kind of forum, here's how to make a tax-deductible donation. Thank you!

The G&T facts: what we know

Written by Admin Monday, 28 April 2008 03:17

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!