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It appears that many New York City public school principals have a great deal to say about this spring's standardized English tests for grades 3–8.

Only they can't, because they are under a gag order.

I wish we could at least informally do the same for students—and parents.

No matter how you feel about standardized testing, I am convinced that it is both bad form and harmful to talk about test scores.

Full-day pre-k not full enough for some parents

Written by DNAinfo Monday, 05 May 2014 14:49

(This story first appeared on DNAInfo.com.)

Mayor Bill de Blasio has promoted his pre-K expansion as a way to help working families — but programs that last only about six hours a day aren't long enough for many New Yorkers, parents and advocates said.

Although the thousands of new public school pre-K seats being created this year are called "full-day," they run on a typical school day schedule, from about 8 a.m. to 2:20 p.m., with summers and vacations off.

That's why many low-income families have been turning to the 350 community-based organizations that provide pre-K classes that last 10 hours per day and run year-round. As part of city's Early Learn program, these organizations offer low-cost pre-K seats using federal, state and city funding.

However, the thousands of new pre-K seats de Blasio plans to create over the next two years at community-based organizations will only have enough funding to cover the school day schedule of about six hours a day, 10 months per year, officials said — raising concerns that they will not adequately serve some of the families de Blasio had pledged to help.

Waitlisted for kindergarten? Here's what to do

Written by DNAinfo Monday, 28 April 2014 16:18

(This story first appeared on DNAInfo.com. Insideschools added a few clarifications based on our reporting.)

Astoria resident Janet Piechota filled out kindergarten applications earlier this year, she hoped to win a spot for her daughter at P.S. 85, which has strong music programs and other enrichment classes.

She was frustrated last week to discover that not only had her daughter Daniela not gotten into P.S. 85 — she hadn't gotten into any of the top four schools Piechota had selected, after she researched everything from the schools' dual-language classes to reviews of their parent coordinators.

Daniela was admitted to her zoned school, P.S. 234, which is well-regarded but was her mother's last choice because it appeared to her to lack some of the enrichment activities available at other nearby programs.

"I was disappointed," said Piechota. "It was a time-consuming process, to go through all these schools in advance."

Poetry is bite-sized, why aren't books?

Written by Lydie Raschka Monday, 28 April 2014 12:18

(This article by Lydie Raschka, Insideschools writer and school reviewer, appears in the April 22, 2014 online edition of Education Week.)

Recently I spent 10 weeks as a classroom teacher again, after a long hiatus. One night, I stayed late at school to prepare the shelves for our cross-genre reading unit. My six-year-olds were going to hunt through baskets of books to find fiction, nonfiction, and poetry related to a topic of interest to them. I ransacked the shelves and filled the baskets with books about math for a boy in my class named Evan, about U.S. presidents for Deana, and old-fashioned automobiles for Eliana.

Over the course of the week each child would pick a topic and read for information about it from different genres, so I'd spend prep time making it easier for them to get the books they needed. But when it came to poetry, I hunted around and was pulled up short. All the poetry books were unwieldy and hard to categorize by topic. They were also oddly shaped: I had to place them between our book baskets because they were too big, too fat, and too wide to go inside. One of the metal bookends I was using bent and the books clattered to the floor like the dominoes the children set up in snaking rows around a table at indoor recess.

Take a perennial favorite, Shel Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends. Because poetry lends itself to being read aloud, most teachers of young children (myself included) keep a copy of this beloved book on a shelf by the daily schedule, cover faced out, or tucked into a larger basket of read-aloud books on the rug where the class gathers for morning meeting.

Unfortunately, at 176 pages, Where the Sidewalk Ends is a heavy book, so for the most part it remains in the hands—and the power—of the adult. I'm not saying the kids in my class couldn't or didn't browse through it on their own but they were generally less inclined to pick up this book and other classroom poetry books because they were big and occupied a separate space.

Read the rest of the article at Education Week.

Time to decide! Choosing between 2 colleges

Written by Dr. Jane S. Gabin Thursday, 24 April 2014 12:24

Ask the College Counselor!

Q: I can't decide where I should enroll in college. I was accepted by four schools, have decided against two of them, but now I can't decide between the other two. They are both great schools. I have visited them, but don't have enough time to go back for a second visit. Can I send enrollment deposits to both places and then make my final decision later?

A: No – May 1 is the universal enrollment deadline in the US. It is against the professional ethics set out by the National Association of College Admissions Counselors (NACAC) for students to enroll at more than one college or university. High schools are bound by these rules, too, so they are not allowed to send more than one final transcript for a student. Without this final transcript in hand, a college will not officially enroll a student. So even if you attempt to double-deposit, you will not be able to double-enroll.

Long kindergarten waitlists persist at 5 schools

Written by Pamela Wheaton Wednesday, 23 April 2014 16:00

Five elementary schools have waitlists of more than 50 zoned children after the first round of kindergarten admissions and a few schools have more than doubled their waitlists from this time last year, according to a list issued by the Department of Education today. Although the number of schools that cannot accommodate all their zoned students has shrunk nearly in half since 2012 -- from 125 in 2012 to 63 this year -- overcrowding persists in some neighborhoods.

Once again, Pioneer Academy, PS 307 in Corona, Queens has the longest waitlist in the city, with 126 waitlisted zoned five-year-olds, as compared to 167 last year and 109 in 2012. PS 307, where nearly one-third of the students are new immigrants, was opened in 2008 to alleviate overcrowding in District 24.

On Manhattan's Upper West Side PS 199 has about 100 zoned students on its waitlist, up from 39 last year. PS/IS 276, one of a bevy of new downtown Manhattan schools opened over the past 10 years, has a waitlist of 52 students.

In the Bronx, gigantic PS/IS 71 has 50 kindergartners waitlisted; high-performing PS 7 in Marble Hill has 59 students on the waitlist.

Kindergarten Connect: 71% get 1st choice

Written by Pamela Wheaton Monday, 21 April 2014 12:16

Some 71 percent of the families who applied to kindergarten this year via a new online application system were assigned to the school they ranked first on their application, the city announced today. Another 12 percent got either their second or third choice, the Department of Education said.

Nearly 11 percent -- 7,238 students -- did not get any of their choices and were assigned to schools they didn't apply to; in some cases their zoned school; in others another school in their district. Last year students who weren't accepted at any schools they applied to weren't given an alternate placement until June.

The DOE inaugurated its new "Kindergarten Connect" system in January and, for the first time, families applied to kindergarten online, on the phone or at a DOE enrollment office, rather than submitting separate applications to each school. Instead of being potentially matched to more than one school, this year applicants were given one match. Letters were sent home today to the 67,000 families who applied by the Feb. 20 deadline. Families who have not yet applied, or who have moved since they submitted their application, now may visit the schools in person to apply. All children who turn five years old in 2014 are guaranteed a spot in kindergarten.

63 schools have waitlists for zoned students

The new application allowed families to apply to 20 schools or programs. The DOE said the "streamlined application" helped reduced waitlists at crowded zoned neighborhood schools. Waitlists — a perennial problem at very popular and over-crowded schools — were decreased, by nearly half since 2012, according to DOE data. A still significant number of 63 schools have waitlists for zoned students, down from 125 schools two years ago and 105 schools last year.

Our guide to pre-kindergarten

Written by Clara Hemphill Thursday, 17 April 2014 11:00

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced earlier this month that the city will add more than 4,200 new full-day pre-k seats at 140 public schools in September. The staff of Insideschools has developed this guide to help you find a high-quality pre-kindergarten program for your child.

We created an interactive map that illustrates where the pre-k programs are located around the city. It shows how many seats are available this year, and how many applicants each school had last year.

We also posted our recommendations for schools in Manhattan and the Bronx, for Brooklyn, and for Queens and Staten Island. (To see the full pre-k directory, including new programs opening in the fall, click here to download the PDF.)

These lists only include pre-kindergarten programs that are housed in ordinary public schools. That's because the deadline for applying for these programs is April 23. The city is also developing thousands of new pre-kindergarten seats in community based organizations, child care centers, libraries and public housing projects — not included here. When the city publishes a list of those programs, we'll let you know.

We recommend that you apply online to the pre-kindergarten programs based in schools. If you miss the April 23rd deadline, there will be other chances to apply, but the most popular programs fill up fast. If you need help on the telephone, we recommend you call the Center for Children's Initiatives, a referral and information service that's a great resource for parents: 212-929-6911. You can also use their website.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the new seats are in schools that have extra room — not in the overcrowded or super-popular schools that can barely fit all the kindergarten students who live in their attendance zones. Parents on the Upper West Side in Manhattan or in much of Brownstone Brooklyn face tough odds if they apply to a lottery for pre-k at their neighborhood schools. Some schools have no pre-kindergarten at all.

Our pre-k picks: Queens & Staten Island

Written by Lydie Raschka Wednesday, 16 April 2014 19:17

Queens will have more than 1,500 new pre-k seats this fall. Unfortunately, most are clustered in the southeast and other areas of Queens where there’s little demand — rather than in the very overcrowded northeast section. 

QUEENS

Corona, Glendale and Elmhurst

There are 90 new full-day pre-k seats opening up in District 24, a densely populated section of Queens that is home to many immigrants, but it won’t be enough to satisfy demand. Overcrowding persists despite the opening of several new schools in recent years. One possibility: The Children’s Lab School, a new school opening in the fall, will offer two full-day pre-k classes.

Flushing and Whitestone

District 25 has many well-regarded, neighborhood schools — but the competition for full day pre-k is fierce. Three wildly popular early childhood schools — PS 130, PS 242 and the Active Learning Elementary School--receive several hundred applications each. PS 169 is another good pre-k pick if you can manage to get your child in. It will offer two full-day pre-k classes for a total of 36 seats, although last year the school received almost 300 applications. Your best bet: PS 201 is adding two additional classes for a total of four. Our reviewer called the school “charming” and the Department of Education rated it “well-developed,” the highest rating.

Our pre-k picks: Manhattan & the Bronx

Written by Lydie Raschka Wednesday, 16 April 2014 17:39

Here are our recommendations for pre-kindergarten in the Bronx and Manhattan public schools, based on our school visits and the results of the city’s parent and teacher surveys. We didn’t include some very popular schools that receive hundreds of applications for a handful of seats. Instead, we tried to find some good schools that aren’t hopelessly oversubscribed.

MANHATTAN

Lower East Side

If you live on the Lower East Side, you’re in luck. Every school in District 1 has full day pre-kindergarten classes and all offer tours to prospective parents. There are no zoned schools in the district. Some of the schools are known for their progressive philosophy and high levels of parent involvement, including Earth School, Children's Workshop and East Village Community. The Neighborhood School shares a building with PS 63 William McKinley/STAR Academy, which is expanding its pre-k program from one to two classes. Shuang Wen has long been a top-scoring school serving primarily Asian families who want their children to be fluent in both English and Mandarin. Under new leadership, the school has become more welcoming to non-Asian children who want to learn Mandarin. Some schools have space for families outside the district.

Upper East Side, Midtown and downtown

District 2, a huge district that stretches from 96th Street on the East Side and 59th Street on the West Side all the way down to the Battery, has some of the best and most popular schools in the city. Unfortunately, there are far more applicants than spots in pre-kindergarten. A brand new school, PS 340 Sixth Avenue Elementary, in Chelsea, will offer two pre-k classes in the morning and two in the afternoon. If you’re looking for full day options popular Midtown West is opening its first pre-k class, PS 116 Mary Lindley Murray is opening two classes and PS 40 Augustus Saint-Gaudens is opening one. PS 126 and PS 1 Alfred Smith are terrific schools that sometimes have room for children outside their attendance zones.

Upper West Side and Harlem

District 3 covers the west side of Manhattan. Most of the schools on the Upper West Side have far more applicants than seats, but PS 191 sometimes has seats for children outside its attendance zone. In Harlem, we loved our visits to the Early Childhood Discovery and Design Magnet (with a hands-on engineering program and LEGO Lab) and PS 180 (which boasts a strong arts program).  We haven’t visited PS 76, but parent and teacher surveys say it has a friendly vibe and strong leadership.

East Harlem

East Harlem has long been a pioneer of innovation and school choice and is home to popular progressive schools such as Central Park East I, and Central Park East II, which receive hundreds of applicants for only 18 full day pre-k seats. Try a hidden gem like River East instead, which is opening a new pre-k class. We haven’t visited PS 102, PS 146 or PS 155 recently, but positive surveys of parents and teachers suggest they are worth considering.

Central Harlem

District 5 in Central Harlem has long had some of the lowest-performing schools in the city. However, there are a few bright spots: We loved our visit to Teachers College Community School (although competition for seats there is fierce.) Our recent visit to PS 200 suggests that it’s moving in the right direction. We haven’t visited PS 125 or PS 197 recently, but parent and teacher surveys are positive.

Washington Heights and Inwood

District 6 once had very overcrowded schools, but enrollment has declined in recent years as the neighborhoods of northern Manhattan have gentrified. Some of the most popular schools have far more applicants than seats. You may have a better chance at three schools we visited recently: Washington Heights Academy, Castle Bridge and PS 128.

BRONX

South Bronx

District 7 in the South Bronx has mostly low-performing schools, but we can recommend the pre-kindergarten at a few schools we that we have visited. PS 5 has strong leadership and a happy cohesive staff. PS 25 has an amazing science exploration center. PS 157 boasts a good arts program.

Soundview and Throgs Neck

In District 8, we enjoyed our visit to PS 152, which often takes kids from outside across its attendance zone. PS 69 and PS 304 are terrific schools but they are flooded with applicants. It doesn’t hurt to apply, but don’t get your hopes up. We haven’t visited PS 182 in quite a while, but parent and teachers surveys say it’s a safe school with strong leadership and solid academics.

Grand Concourse, Morrisania, Crotona Park

District 9 is on the western edge of the south Bronx and is home to Yankee Stadium and much of the revitalization in the south Bronx. Best bet here: PS 63, which our reviewer called “an oasis of calm.”

Riverdale, Wave Hill, Central Bronx

One of the most overcrowded districts in the city, District 10 is also the top-performing district in the Bronx. A few schools are adding new pre-kindergarten seats: Bronx New School and a new school opening on Webster Avenue called Bedford Park Elementary.

Northeast Bronx

District 11, covering the northeast Bronx including Pelham Parkway, Eastchester and Woodlawn, has space opening up at Linden Tree Elementary, a new small school that strives to be attentive to children’s different learning styles. PS 160 Walt Disney is one of the best bets for getting a spot in this area with three full day classes opening in the fall and good leadership, according to teacher surveys.

Crotona Park

District 12 is smack dab in the middle of the Bronx so it’s worth checking all the bordering districts to find borough-wide options. Bronx Little School is a safe, welcoming place with high-expectations, but over 200 families applied for 18 seats in 2013. Samara Community School is a new school opening in the fall hosting one full day pre-k.