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Ever since New York Sun columnist Lenore Skenazy wrote a column earlier this month about why she let her 9-year-old son travel alone on the subway, parents around the city have had little else to talk about — or at least they've made room in their G&T and kindergarten admissions discussions to ponder whether Skenazy is a hero or a lunatic.

The reason for the journey? Skenazy's son wanted to be more independent, and she wanted to illustrate that the city is safe for children, no matter what their overprotective parents may think. The outcome? Armed with a Metrocard, a subway map, $20, and change for a phone call, her son made it home just fine from Bloomingdale's, "ecstatic with independence."

Skenazy is planning to let her son find his way back from Queens sometime soon, per his request. What about you — would you be comfortable executing this experiment? Your kid would probably thank you. Last year, a Clinton 6th grader argued on Insideschools, "Parents – we know what we’re doing. We’re city kids after all. So think about it -- and let your kids roam a little more freely for a while." Of course, his mother didn't agree.

Update: Skenazy has launched Free Range Kids, a site "for anyone who thinks that kids need a little more freedom and would like to connect to people who feel the same way."

After all of the debate on this blog last week over school admissions and the headaches the process causes, I was wondering whether it is actually getting harder to get into desirable schools in Manhattan than it used to be. The answer appears to be both yes and no.

On the one hand, Districts 2 and 3 are adding population far faster than they are adding school seats. According to a report released last week by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer's office, in four areas at risk for overcrowding, city officials approved new residential buildings that could add as many as 2,300 children to the neighborhoods' schools — but added only 143 school seats in those areas. As those buildings get finished and families move in, school admissions pressure can only heat up.

But at the same time, the recent change in G&T admissions policy actually increased the percentage of children in districts 2 and 3 who meet eligibility requirements. As Eduwonkette noted in the comments to an earlier Insideschools blog post last week, she estimates that the percentage of children in District 2 classified as gifted increased this year from 7.1 to 15.2 percent; in District 3: an increase from 13.8 to 22.3 percent. So while the pressure may be on for neighborhood school admission, more families in these areas may have the option to choose a district-wide G&T program.

I’ve spent considerable time contemplating issues like class size, teacher quality and the importance of after school programs and art and music curriculums in middle school, first for my 7th grader and now for my soon-to-be-6th grader.

I probably should have spent more time checking out shoes.

Apparently shoes – what brand you wear and how many pairs you have — really matter in middle school, at least that’s what my 7th grader tells me. And his skateboarding little brother isn’t far behind.

It’s no longer okay to lace up any old pair of $20 sneakers and wear them till they are trashed.

My public school kids have somehow been tuned into websites where they can browse through thousands of cool and colorful high-end brands or design and customize their own Nikes. They've discovered skateboard shops stocked with DCs and Elements and other brands of sneakers that easily cost $85 or more.

My middle schooler has also brought home the idea that it's not enough to have ONE or TWO really cool pair of sneakers. You are to be pitied, my 7th grader warned me, if you wear the same pair of sneakers over again. Same goes with those pricey hooded sweatshirt jackets.

When I ask about the day -- hoping to catch a small tidbit about an interesting lesson, a book, an exciting moment in history -- I'm more likely to get a plea for new sneakers and a reminder of the horrific humiliation involved in wearing the same pair each day.

I don’t have any solutions or advice here (beyond putting your middle schoolers to work so they can buy their own shoes) but if you are just beginning to think about touring middle schools, you might want to shift your eyes downward a bit toward the footwear – and start saving up just in case.

Read all of Liz Willen's Middle School Muddle

Here's one way to deal with the disheartening and overwhelming school admissions process in New York City: don't apply.

A growing number of the city's families who are choosing to homeschool are middle-class black families who believe the options open to them won't sufficiently challenge or support their children, particularly their boys, according to an article in the Village Voice. Instead, those parents present an enriched curriculum, often with an Afrocentric orientation, in a setting that's free from bullying and other negative social pressures. There are downsides, of course — one parent has to give up working, school supplies and enrichment activities cost money, and it can be hard for kids to make friends — but according to the Voice, more black parents every year think homeschooling pays off in academic achievement, safety, and self-esteem.

I've always thought that New York City would be a great place to homeschool — it's sort of absurd that in a city with such deep cultural, artistic, and academic resources, kids sit in classrooms all day. But homeschooling, like any other alternative school choice, should be a positive choice, not a means to escaping schools that can't meet kids' academic and social needs.

On one of our earlier posts about the changes to G&T admissions, Insideschools blog reader Crimson Wife commented:

The mess in the NYC G&T programs and the ridiculous competition for private school slots is a major reason why my [husband] accepted a position in one of his firm's branch offices rather than its Manhattan headquarters.The bureaucrats need to know that the situation is deterring families from living in the city.

What a sad reality — and there is a growing perception that this truly is the reality. Monday's Times had a column titled "Loving a City, but Hating a School System" about the challenges families face negotiating school admissions run by a DOE that's "withholding, mercurial and unable to commit." The column describes how, because the DOE regularly changes admissions rules and timelines, parents devise contingency plans for every admissions scenario. These plans often include moving on short notice within the city or out of it.

Although some might like it, the DOE is under no obligation to create a seat in gifted programs or desirable schools for every middle-class family that seeks one. But the DOE has perfected its ability to make and enforce policies without showing any concern for their affect on individual children and families. This attitude is offensive to everyone. But only some can respond by opting out, and for the system — and the city — to thrive, it needs to attract and retain educated, middle-class families who want to send their kids to the public schools.

All families seem to be asking is that the DOE stick to its own rules, give fair warning when a rule could change, and not penalize those who made plans based on yesterday's rules. That doesn't sound like too much to expect.

At about half of all city high schools, the only foreign language offered is Spanish, creating a challenge when, as is often the case, many students are already fluent Spanish speakers, according to a new article in City Limits.

What do high schools do with those students? “The schools design classes in Spanish for Spanish speakers,” says Maria Santos, chief of the DOE’s Office of English Language Learners and Foreign Languages, in the article. “They focus on developing more of their literacy in Spanish.” Sounds like a great plan -- but the article's author didn't speak to any students, so I'm left wondering whether this is true. Many of the high schools I've visited take advantage of native Spanish speakers' language proficiency to let them place out of fulfilling the state's one-year foreign language requirement, and then fill their schedules with more English and math class time. I'd be willing to bet that this happens even in many of the high schools that offer instruction in French, Italian, Russian, and other languages. And that's a far cry from taking AP Spanish literature classes.

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.