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TONIGHT (2/12): Final pre-K hearing in the Bronx

Written by Admin Tuesday, 12 February 2008 12:03

Just a reminder that tonight's the last public hearing about the DOE's proposed changes to pre-K and kindergarten admission policy. 6:30 p.m., Dewitt Clinton HS, the Bronx. For a refresher on what happened at the Brooklyn and Manhattan hearings, read our earlier coverage. If you can't make it tonight, you can still email comments to until Feb. 18.

Have the budget cuts moved this major policy change off everyone's radar? It's amazing how that manages to happen so often.

The long ride to Bronx Science

Written by Admin Tuesday, 12 February 2008 04:20

Last year at this time, families were still dealing with the fallout from the DOE's disastrous mid-year bus schedule changes, engineered by the consulting firm Alvarez and Marsal. This year, the busing news is a little bit better – but only a little bit. The Times today follows Bronx Science students on their hour-and-a-half express bus ride from Queens to school. The upside: the bus drops them off right in front of school, and with so many kids on the bus, the tone is conducive to napping or doing homework. The downside: Student Metrocards can't be used on express buses, so the kids are spending $10 a day to get to school via public transportation, and those who want to stay for after school activities have to opt for the subway home, which can take up to two hours and four connections.

Photo by Philissa Cramer/Insideschools

Everyone who's anyone in the fight to improve the city's schools stood on the steps of City Hall this afternoon for a press conference announcing the creation of the "Keep the Promises" Coalition. The coalition of teachers, principals, advocates, elected officials, and community groups, formed during an emergency meeting held Thursday in response to the mayor's mid-year budget cuts, is calling for state lawmakers as well as the mayor to follow through on their promises to fund the city's public schools at the level agreed to in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit.

CFE Executive Director Geri Palast explained today how the state agreed to pay $2.35 billion to the city's schools in four years and how the mayor committed $2.2 billion to match. Now that times are tough in Albany, however, the state reduced the amount it plans to pay the city in the first year of the deal, and the mayor not only reduced schools' budgets for next year but took money back from them for this year as well, forcing principals to cut after school programs, tutoring, and other services.

"This is ridiculous," said the UFT's Randi Weingarten today. "At the drop of the Dow, kids become the last priority again." The coalition plans to hold a larger rally sometime in the near future.

8th Grader Izzy: The final results are in!

Written by Admin Saturday, 09 February 2008 11:31

Great news!! We got our specialized and non-specialized school results back yesterday, and I got into my first-choice specialized high school...


I'm really excited and really proud, because I honestly didn't expect to make it. I was on a bus riding back from a school trip when my mom called with the results, and I could hardly believe what I was hearing when she told me I had been accepted. I guess all of my hard work finally paid off! A whole bunch of kids from my grade also made it in, so if I do end up going there, I'll have a ton of already-made friends to help me out and ride the subways with me.

On the downside, I didn't seem to get accepted to my non-specialized school choice (the one in my neighborhood)...


which I was a little upset about, considering I really thought that I had nailed that interview. But I suppose there was something about me that they didn't like, or maybe they just ran out of room. I heard a rumor that there is a second letter that might arrive sometime in March from Bard with the final word (because they get a lot of applicants and don't always have time to get out the results, or something along those lines), which would tell me once and for all if I have gotten in there, but I'm not holding my breath. Whatever the reason, I'll be bummed for a little while, but I'm sure I'll get over it soon enough.

At the same time, I got into Bronx Science (I love the way that looks when I type it out!) and I really have no reason to complain. I accomplished my goal in finding a great school, and I'm mind-numbingly proud that I made it through all this without losing my cool.

Specialized high school admissions decisions out now

Written by Admin Friday, 08 February 2008 11:35

Let's keep our fingers crossed for Izzy -- today's the day that most kids who applied to a specialized high school find out whether they've been admitted. (It could take a few days for kids to get their decision letters if their middle school chose to mail them home.) According to the DOE's press release, which is not yet online, 5,991 students got an admission offer (up by more than 450 from last year, for some reason) to the specialized high schools and/or LaGuardia. Congratulations to all of them!

Since October, we've visited more than half a dozen middle schools, compared notes and listed our top five choices in order. We care a lot about education and choice in our family, so we laid out a fairly ambitious schedule of tours, questions and considerations. But we fell down on the job.

I can't help but think about all the parents in the city who simply did not have time for tours, questions and soul-searching. Or the single parents who had to go it alone.

Some may have simply opted for their zoned school, where admission is guaranteed. We never even visited our zoned school - Baruch - because the location wasn't right and the size - 1,043 -  seemed daunting.

We never got to Salk, a school high on the list of many of my son's classmates, simply because the day starts at 8 a.m. and the commute would involve two subway switches. If we couldn't get there on time for the tour, how would my son manage on a daily basis? (Okay, we slept through the alarm clock that day, truth be told).

We missed the truly beloved East Side Middle on York Avenue, reasoning again that the commute would be too far. We didn't tour highly regarded Robert Wagner on East 76th for the same reason, along with its overwhelming size - 1,400 students.

Parents who applied for out-of-district or specialized middle schools (with a tryout, like the one my son did for the Professional Performing Arts School) or their own admissions criteria and exam (like the highly competitive NEST+M) had even more extra homework.

Those applying for private schools had additional tours, day long school visits, admissions exams, tutors and letters of recommendation. And with chances slim of snagging a spot in these vaunted institutions, they went through the public process as well.

If it seems a little overwhelming, it is. And this year, we've been told our children will likely be interviewed and take admissions tests at their top two choices instead of just their first.

My son came home last night with a list of interview questions he might be asked. He had to describe his strengths and weaknesses as a student and as a person. He is 10. I wasn't surprised when he told me had trouble falling asleep.

There is a danger these kids will be burned out when it comes to finding a high school and tired of touring. They may, however, be savvy pros by the time they tackle college admissions.

Let's just hope they have also developed a love of learning about something other than what to look for in a school. Blog commenting now open to all

Written by Admin Thursday, 07 February 2008 09:10

I want to let you know that it's now easier than ever to comment on this blog  you no longer have to be a registered Google user. Check out the latest news and also the archives, which go back to last June there's plenty here that could benefit from your comments!

Student Thought: Depression Cheese

Written by Admin Thursday, 07 February 2008 04:14

I've been a bit depressed lately. After learning about the new budget cuts, I had to begin talking about how to work around the cuts with my school's School Leadership Team. It's a scary situation for principals, teachers, students and just about everyone else in our school communities.

Last Monday, Bloomberg proposed a cut of of $324 million from NYC's education budget. He claimed that he was doing this as a healthy management exercise. He believes that it will force principals to examine the effectiveness of their programs and cut out the ones that aren't succeeding. Unfortunately because of the cuts, many principals are being forced to cut programs that work.

This comes on the heels of a cut by Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who said he was giving city schools $100 million less than planned because of the economic problems we have been facing and will continue to face in the coming months.

As much as the Bloomberg-Klein Complex has been proven guilty of some shady motives, I think this decision might make some (albeit terrifying) sense. Combine the Spitzer cuts and the threat of recession and you have yourself a sizable cut.

As I've been learning in economics class, recession is somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy and by not admitting that that is the real reason for the cuts, Bloomberg is fighting the recession. Maybe I'm giving him too much credit, but if the man knows anything, it's money. In addition, his statement about the cuts struck me to be a little phony, like he's hiding something.

This leads me to believe that an important part of of the edu-activist's work in the troubling times ahead is to look for solutions that are non-fiscal and maybe even non-political. We need a change in how we look at education issues, as I discussed in my post about the student's role in society, and how we can further improve relationships between the different constituent groups of our education system.

A good place to start is Queens student Ashu Kapoor's post on how her biology teacher effectively dealt with preparing students for the Regents. Check it out.

Cross-posted on the
NYC Students Blog

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.