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Last week was a scary one for two Brooklyn high schools.
On Thursday, John Dewey High School was locked down for three hours after a student dropped his gun in class, then picked it up and fled. Dewey doesn't have permanent metal detectors, although the roving detectors recently made an appearance. An insightful student wrote on the Times' City Room blog, "First they manage to take all of our phones away but when someone brings a gun to school they cant find it." Check out the comments there: students are mixed on whether they would like to see metal detectors installed, but there doesn't appear to be any division on the subject of whether Dewey has grown less safe and why. The reason for the decline, commenters say, is an influx of students from Lafayette High School, which is phasing out due to poor performance.
Paul Robeson High School in Brooklyn does have metal detectors, but that didn't stop a student from being stabbed during a fight there on Friday; this weekend, he was in critical condition and his attacker had not been arrested. Officials say the attacker may have used scissors as a weapon, but students say the school has so many doors it's possible to sneak illicit items inside.
For many years, the city's specialized high schools have operated a summer program for disadvantaged students who score close to their admissions cutoff on the Specialized High School Admission Test. Successfully completing the program earns those students admission to the city's most selective schools -- and helps keep those schools socioeconomically diverse.
State law allows the schools to operate such a program but does not require them to. And so although this year's specialized high school directory promoted the program, called the Discovery Program, we're hearing rumors that most specialized schools could be axing the program this year. We've heard that only two schools, Brooklyn Tech and Brooklyn Latin, are contemplating accepting students through the Discovery Program.
But we can't figure out who in the DOE can verify — or quell — the rumor. We can't seem to find out the details of why this change is happening, and we don't know whether any students have been invited to apply. Does anyone have any information about the 2008 Discovery Program? Let us know in the comments.
For the last year, parents at PS 154 in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn, have been looking for ways to replace the styrofoam trays in their cafeteria with something more environmentally sound — something that takes less than 10,000 years to degrade. This week, they finally rolled out their solution: trays formed out of bagasse, a fibrous byproduct of sugar extraction. The new trays are designed to break down after 45 days in landfill conditions — but I hope parents at PS 154 know that won't happen if the trays are shipped off to landfills in plastic bags. And it looks like the PS 154 parents may be at the vanguard of a food service revolution in New York City — Bill de Blasio, the City Council member who represents PS 154, has sponsored a bill to ban the use of styrofoam by city agencies!
That's probably the only word I can use to describe last week's protest: Massive.
Students, teachers, parents and administrators lined Broadway right next door to City Hall and the DOE, temporarily creating a new branch of our education system, one that was based on the needs and concerns of the real constituents of our community instead of the impractical ideas of the Klein-Bloomberg complex.
We called for a restoration of the city's education budget, with signs reading, "Don't Cut the Future Out of Your Budget!", "Budget Cuts are Nuts," and "It's our Budget, Don't Fudge it!"
We called for a refocusing of our educational priorities: a shift from tests and worksheets, consultants and computer systems to project-based learning and a rebuilding of the relationships between teachers and students around our city.
Most of all, we called for respect.
We brought out the numbers, guys! Take heed!
In my time as a student activist, I have never seen so many students up in arms, taking to the streets. The NYC Student Union alone brought out over 500 students, thanks to the online organizing of freshman Rebecca Morofsky of Brooklyn (special shout out to her for a great job).
Students realize the direct impact these cuts are making on our schools and on our lives. We feel the powerful disrespect when the government fails to recognize that the future is at stake here. We have spoken.
Cross-posted at NYC Students Blog
You'd think Post education reporter Yoav Gonen would know better. Last week, Gov. Paterson announced that his son, an MS 54 8th grader, will attend Beacon High School this fall. This weekend, the Post accused the selective Upper West Side school of giving special attention to Governor Paterson's son in the admissions process, noting that "acceptance letters haven't been mailed out yet — and student-school matches haven't even been made."
But 5,391 students have found out where they've been accepted — the 5,391 students whose scores on the specialized high school exam earned them spots in one of the city's seven specialized schools. In February, those students got to find out which non-specialized school was offering them a seat as well. If Governor Paterson's son wasn't among these students, then Gonen is right to suggest that he got special treatment in the admissions process. But most students at Alex Paterson's middle school do take the test, and many of them head on to Beacon, where Alex's older sister went. If Alex learned of his admission through normal channels in February, that would make Governor Paterson's disclosure not a "leak," as the Post claims it is, but a sigh of relief from a proud parent who has made it through a second bout of high school admissions.
The rest of the city's 8th graders will find out where they've been accepted sometime late this week.
I'm about to head down to City Hall for a briefing on next year's school budget and then to the Keep the Promises rally against the budget cuts. There's been so much information floating around in the last few weeks, not to mention the leadership shakeup in Albany, that it's hard to know what's really going on with the budget. But as each day brings more bad news about the economy, we can assume the school funding picture won't be ideal. I'll blog later on whether parents, teachers, students, and advocates turned out in the gloomy March weather for the long-planned mass rally -- but I hope they do. You still have time to make it to the rally, which starts at 4 p.m.
The city's new social promotion policy scares me. I keep imagining corridors filled with giant sneakers and puny 6th graders bumping into their bearded, muscular classmates who are repeating 8th grade.
It brings me back to our first tour of a middle school two years ago, when my then 5th grader had a funny reaction to the size of kids lurking in hallways.
"Mom," he whispered urgently. "I can't possibly go to this school. These are Middle School Giants!"
It happened that the 8th grade boys who spoke on that day's tour were particularly huge. Their voices had lost the high-pitched, pre-adolescent cadence. It seemed pretty intimidating.
But just imagine what middle schools are soon going to look like by the time my 5th grader graduates and the new social promotion policy takes hold. (Assuming he never bombs a major class or standardized test and gets left back, that is.) I predict huge improvements in the basketball teams.
The policy approved 11-1 by Mayor Bloomberg's rubber stamp education board ensures that untold numbers of 8th graders are going to repeat the grade. The panel's 11-1 vote came on Monday night as angry parents and protesters shouted "Shame on You," according to the New York Daily News.
In support of his new policy, Chancellor Joel Klein says it makes no sense to send students "wholly unprepared into a high school environment," and he's right.
But it also makes no sense to turn middle schools into the Land of the Giants.
What about focusing our energies on helping struggling kids long before they face a fourth middle school year?
At the Panel for Educational Policy last night, parents from the Coalition for Educational Justice did raise such a fight against the DOE's 8th grade promotion policy that the rest of the agenda had to be jettisoned. But as we all predicted, their protest had no affect. Even one of the two panel members who had threatened to vote against the policy found religion just before the meeting and voted to approve it instead. Apparently only Patrick Sullivan, the Manhattan borough president's representative on the panel, is ever allowed to vote "no." Would having its policies approved by a vote of 10-2 instead of 11-1 really undermine the DOE so much?
At 6 p.m. today, the Panel for Educational Policy will convene at Tweed to vote on the chancellor's proposed 8th grade promotion policy. Unlike many recent DOE policies, this one has met some real resistance on the path toward finalization.
The Sun reports that both the Manhattan and Bronx borough presidents have advised their appointees that they do not support the proposed policy. Last week, members of the Coalition for Educational Justice "stormed" Tweed and demanded to talk to Chancellor Klein about the policy, the Daily News reported, and I predict CEJ members, who vocally opposed the policy at the first public hearing in Manhattan last month, will keep tonight's meeting lively.
None of this opposition is likely to prevent the policy from being approved, of course. Panelists are sure to be mindful of the "Monday Night Massacre," which took place four years ago today when the panel was considering the 3rd grade retention policy. When it looked like three members of the panel planned to oppose the policy, the mayor and Staten Island borough president replaced them just before the vote. NYC Public School Parents Blog has more on the lessons (not) learned since that night. Since then, the PEP has never even threatened to reject a proposed DOE policy.