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DOE announces it will close six failing schools

Written by Admin Wednesday, 05 December 2007 03:43

The ax has fallen for half a dozen of the 14-20 schools that will be closed at the end of this year. Yesterday the DOE announced that six schools — the Tito Puente Education Complex (or IS 117) in East Harlem; EBC/East New York High School for Public Safety and Law in Brooklyn; the Business School for Entrepreneurship (or IS 216) in the Bronx; PS 79 in the Bronx; PS 101 in East Harlem; and the Academy of Environmental Science High School in East Harlem — will either close or begin the process of phasing out after this school year.

Various news reports peg parents and kids as feeling sad but not surprised. All of the schools received D's or F's on their progress reports; many have had a revolving door of principals; and a few refused to let Insideschools visit. Kids at these schools do deserve better. But IS 216 was created to replace a failing middle school only five years ago. How can we be sure that the same problems won't claim IS 216's replacement five years from now?

Student Thought: The first step to saving our schools

Written by Admin Wednesday, 05 December 2007 03:07

As of this year my younger brother is no longer a public school student. Like me, he attended public elementary and middle schools, however, when it came to choose a high school, he and my parents decided that he would do better at a private school. Fortunately, they made a good decision for my brother. He is now at a school that he loves, he really succeeds in and he feels does a good job in educating the students.

Out of curiosity, I asked him what the difference was between the public school he had attended and his current school in terms of educational value. His answer was quick and simple: the adults in the building have time to care about the students.

In the NYC education system, the first step to improving schools is creating a situation in which educators have time to care about the students. This can only come for significant reductions in class size and teacher load.

One problem with my brother's public school experience, he said, was the feeling that whenever he approached a teacher for extra help or just general academic support, he felt as though he was burdening them, like they didn't have the time to help their student. This is a major problem and it is not the teachers' fault.

Through my high school experience so far, I can count on one hand how many of my classes were below the union cap of 34 (even though the City claims the average is 25). As a member of the NYC Student Union, I know students from every corner of the city, and over and over I have heard the same sentiment when it comes to class size. Just as problematic is the problem of teacher load, the total number of students a teacher teaches at any given time. This number is often around 170 in high schools.

Education is based on relationships, the most basic and important being that between a teacher and a student. Large class sizes and teacher loads, prevents many teachers and students from developing the relationships necessary to make education happen. Furthermore, while classes of 34 are extremely difficult to manage and teach effectively in, it should be noted that they are equally difficult to learn in. When I entered ninth grade, when confronted with larger classes, I came to an academic standstill. I tried to do the work and do well on tests, but inside I knew that I was just not learning as effectively as I had in previous schools.

Because these factors make teaching and learning just so impossible, they also prevent the clear evaluation of new academic strategies, as even the best programs are doomed to fail under these conditions. Thus, as the title reads, class size and teacher load reduction is the requisite first step to saving our schools.

What we need in New York City, is an education system that makes education possible. When educators are so overburdened that they don't have time to care about the needs of individual students, this is not the case. When the classroom is completely unmanageable and knowledge can not pass through the barrier between teacher and student because of population overload, this is not the case. And when students feel as though they are just another "problem" for the all-to-busy adults in the building, this is not the case.

It is time to cut class sizes and trim teacher loads. If we really want to save our schools, that is the first step.

Cross-posted at NYC Students Blog

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.