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There's been a lot of talk on the Upper West Side about "controlled choice" as a way to ease racial and economic segregation in the elementary schools. The idea, proposed by a group called District 3 Task Force for Education Equity, is to get rid of school attendance zones and assign children to schools according to a formula that takes into account parent preferences as well as family income.

The benefit is this: everyone, regardless of their address or income, would get a shot at some of the most popular elementary schools in the district that runs from 59th Street to 122nd Street. Controlled choice puts a thumb on the scale for low-income children who want to attend a middle class school (or middle class children who want to attend a high-poverty school).

But there is a crippling drawback: Controlled choice is, in essence, a form of rationing. By itself, it does nothing to improve the quality of schools—or to increase the number of schools to which parents willingly send their children.

Q: I am in 10th grade and starting to think about preparing for college admission. This year, some of my friends took the new SAT. But at this point I don’t know if I should prepare for the SAT or take the ACT. Which would look better for college?

A: To colleges, the SAT and the ACT “look” the same. Admissions offices do not care which test you take. It doesn’t matter. You should take the test with which you are more comfortable. Some students like the new SAT, while others do not. There is always going to be a difference of opinion.

The tests were created at two different times and by two different companies. And, these companies pretty much control the testing market. The tests are not perfect, and results are dependent on many factors including academic preparation, socioeconomics, and English fluency.

Got a 7th-grader at home? Relax. High school admissions season doesn't kick in until the fall, so you can spend the next few months preparing for, rather than stressing over, the process. Our advice:

Make sure your 7th grader keeps up with her work and gets to school on time every day. Many high schools look at grades and attendance from this year and there are still three months of school left before summer break.

Come to our high school admissions workshop for 7th grade families!

Join the staff of Insideschools for a presentation on Tuesday, April 19 from 6:30-8 pm at the New School in Manhattan. We’ll tell you what you need to know about high school admissions so that you're ready to hit the ground running in September. Topics covered will include:

The nuts and bolts of applying

Describing your options and how to narrow your list

Applying to screened, audition and specialized high schools

What to do when: spring, summer and fall

Registration is required. Learn more and sign up here.

Last month we wrote about some new options for rising middle schoolers unhappy with their current choices. Now there's a few more to consider: Five new charter programs—four middle schools and one high school—are opening in the 2016-17 school year.

Applying to a charter now won't hurt your chances of being accepted at a middle or high school you already applied to. It will only give you more choices, so look through the offerings, do your research and if you see something you like take the leap this week.  All charter schools applications are due April 1

Brooklyn Prospect Charter School, District 13

We wrote about this one last month, but it's worth repeating. The highly successful Brooklyn Prospect Charter School in District 15 has spawned a new middle school program, Brooklyn Prospect Charter—Clinton Hill Middle. Jackie DeLuca, the head of literacy instruction at Brooklyn Prospect's flagship school, will leave her position to become Clinton Hill Middle's founding principal. Construction on the school’s permanent facility is underway, but will not be completed for two years. Pending approval by the Panel for Educational Policy, Clinton Hill Middle will be temporarily housed in a public school building that is also home to Brooklyn High School for Leadership and Community ServiceBrooklyn Community High School of Communication, Arts and Media and P369, a program for students with disabilities. 

It seems like every day I read another account of persistent segregation in public schools. They point to one conclusion: No political system or bureaucrat is going to integrate our schools for us. In the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, the Bed-Stuy Parents Committee did not necessarily start out to solve that particular problem. Rather, beginning last year, a group of new parents simply got together to talk about what we perceived as a lack of acceptable public school options in our neighborhood. We started off angry about the state of our neighborhood schools, and we came to realize that we are just as responsible for them as anyone.

Our district—District 16—had the reputation of being one of the city's worst by several measures, and it lacked options such as gifted and talented or dual language programs. For decades, parents had been "trading up" to public and private alternatives in other neighborhoods, or to charter schools. Many of us were prepared to do the same—but, we wondered, was there another way?

The Bed-Stuy Parents Committee is a group of about 250 neighborhood parents who are choosing to work together to help improve the district's schools where they hope to enroll their children. Shaila Dewan, one of the parent organizers, shared advice for those looking to do the same in other parts of the city.

Join parent listservs
We connected primarily on the parent Yahoo listservs in our neighborhood. We put up fliers before meetings—we would send out a link so people could print the fliers themselves and post them. We printed little business cards with our web address to hand out at playgrounds. We built a mailing list using MailChimp. We asked DNAinfo to do an article. Eventually, we found a surprising amount of traffic was driven by word of mouth.

Survey members to gather ideas
We came together without a specific agenda and we explored various options. We listened to what people wanted. One of our members conducted a large member survey and we browbeat people into filling it out until we had almost 90 completed—it's still invaluable to us.

Listen & learn from success stories
Our first few meetings were devoted to listening and learning. Speakers talked to us about subjects of interest, like progressive education. We identified PS 11 in Clinton Hill as a successful model for what we wanted to do in a similar gentrifying neighborhood and we had a panel discussion where PS 11 parents and administrators spoke. We invited the District 16 Community Education Council president and the district superintendent do a Q&A. We closely followed debates over rezoning in Dumbo and the Upper West Side.

Kindergarten letters went out today to the more than 69,000 families of 5-year-olds who applied by January 20 for admission to kindergarten in September, 2016. Seventy-one percent of the applicants got an offer from their first choice, similar to last year's 72 percent, according to the Department of Education. Another 13 percent received one of their top three choices. Families could apply to up to 12 schools using an online application.

About 10 percent of applicants—7,237 families—didn't receive offers to any of the schools listed on their application. Some received offers to their zoned school even though they didn't list it. In the three districts where there are no zoned schools, and in overcrowded areas where applicants were edged out of their zoned schools, students were offered slots in another district school.

Huge neighborhood schools in Queens topped the list of the 20 most sought-after high schools in 2016, according to data released by the Department of Education today. That's not surprising in a borough where most popular high schools are over-crowded and operating with staggered start times.

With 9,468 applications, Francis Lewis received the most applications. Second was Forest Hills High School with 8,375 applicants. Both schools have sizeable zoned programs, giving preference to students who live in the neighborhood, as well as offering themed programs open to anyone.

If you're a rising 9th- or 10-grader who wasn’t matched with a high school this week, here's what to do: You need to apply to schools with open seats during Round 2 of admissions. Applications are due March 18.

Get to the Round 2 fairs scheduled for next weekend, March 12 and 13, 11 am–2 pm at the Martin Luther King Jr. Educational Campus. Try to arrive early so you have plenty of time to meet with representatives from each school on your list.

Eighth-graders who are unhappy with their high school match may reapply during Round 2, but be aware that if you are accepted to another school you give up your first round match. Current 9th-graders who are offered a 10th-grade seat during Round 2 will have the option of remaining at their current school.

Where to start? Hundreds of schools have openings, but not all are worth considering. As you go through the Round 2 list, focus on the same factors that mattered to you when you applied last fall: How long is the commute? Do I prefer big or small? Are there any special programs or activities that I may enjoy? Will I be challenged?

Still not sure which schools you should consider? Let us help. We've combed through the list to identify our picks—schools that are proven best bets or seem promising. 

High school acceptance letters arrived Friday for the more than 75,000 8th-graders who submitted applications in December. Ninety-three percent of them went home knowing they were accepted by a high school; the remaining 7 percent came up empty-handed and must apply again, choosing from a list of schools that still have room. (See our picks here.)

The number of Black and Hispanic students accepted at the highly competitive specialized exam high schools dropped, prompting Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña to once again call for "strategies to foster diversity at these schools."

The city touted gains made by students with disabilities who were accepted in higher numbers than ever before by some of the most selective schools, not including the specialized high schools. 

Here's a rundown of the results.