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Wednesday: Joel Klein at Citywide Council on HS meeting

Written by Admin Wednesday, 13 June 2007 06:46

Chancellor Klein will be giving a presentation and answering questions from the public tonight at the monthly meeting of the Citywide Council on High Schools. If you're interested in issues facing high schools or in the upcoming reorganization, you might want to attend the meeting, which begins at 6:30 p.m. at Tweed (52 Chambers St., Manhattan). CCHS President David Bloomfield is a tireless champion of the city's students, so you can expect him to ask some pointed questions tonight.

Math scores are out; NYC students are doing better

Written by Admin Tuesday, 12 June 2007 12:02

The state released scores from the 2007 math exams today, and scores for New York City students seem to have jumped. About 65 percent of students in grades 3-8 scored at or above grade level on the state test, up from about 57 percent last year.

The New York Times reports that the city's scores were better than those of almost every other large school district and that they are closer than ever to the state average. Statewide, about 73 percent of students scored at or above grade level on the tests, up from 68 percent last year. The state's press release notes that scores for middle school students and students with disabilities jumped the most, and that the gap between scores for black and Hispanic students and white students narrowed somewhat. The Times suggests that the rise in test scores could be a result of students' growing familiarity with the test format and content, which changed last year, and teachers' familiarity with new state math standards.

Of course, what looks like a straightforward jump in test scores can sometimes be more complex when the numbers actually get crunched, as historian Diane Ravitch recently pointed out when she took a close look at this year's reading scores. So we're looking forward to seeing the numbers in more detail. For now, we're cautiously optimistic about the scores and proud of the city's students.

The following piece ran as a letter to the Insideschools mailbag last summer. A year later, the city's plan to move the schools in the building remains on the table, and the Save JREC coalition continues to fight against it.

The recent report that Hunter College wants to demolish the Julia Richman building and build a new bioscience center on its site is alarming and perplexing! Julia Richman Complex, as it is now known, is a model of how a dysfunctional high school can be transformed into a thriving educational center, both in sync with its community and at the same time avoiding either chauvinistic isolation or elitism. Kids go there because the building is safe and accessible and the schools are good. And some kids go to one of its units, the Ella Baker school, specifically because their parents work in the several medical institutions nearby. In fact, that is the express reason that the school was established. Now Hunter says it will exchange the site for a brand new “state of the art” high school to house the current Complex units – at 25th Street and First Avenue.

The prospect of an expanded Hunter College is literally and figuratively overshadowing the ongoing success of the complex and turning it into just one more piece of real estate. How many other venerable high school buildings, are ripe for takeover? How many neighborhoods would be saddled with another out-of-scale building casting its shadow – in this case over the extraordinarily popular St. Catherine’s Park?According to Elizabeth Rose, a neighborhood resident and parent of a student at nearby PS 183, it is misleading for the Department of Education to characterize the bargain with Hunter as a free exchange. She points out that Hunter is also a taxpayer funded institution. She makes two other points as well. Demographic projections show a big increase in District 2 school children by 2014. Why give up any building that could help accommodate the additional kids, and finally, the site at 25th Street would be much more appropriate for Hunter’s projected science facility: It would be just south of the City’s projected bioscience building just announced in the 07 budget.Larger issue involvedNYC is in midst of a huge experiment in transforming high school education. In a city with very little unused land, we are subdividing large school buildings into small units with the mission to establish new schools, each with a clear identity. Some of these groupings work well, others are struggling, still others are too new to tell. Many parents are wary. They are suspicious of the motivation (further segregation and achievement tracking) and wish their kids could have the kind of social and athletic experience that they remember or have seen so often in movies and TV. Shall we add to the community’s skepticism by holding a real estate bargaining chip over their heads?

Veteran city watchers are used to being outraged over real estate encroachments. For public school advocates, this latest development is compounded by top-down imposition. Like most of the initiatives that the Department of Education has implemented since the Bloomberg-Klein nexus began, the Hunter matter was negotiated without any consultation with the schools and parents involved. It was only when State Senator Liz Kruger tipped off Urban Academy’s leaders that the building was being eyed by others that they learned something of the plans. Evidently, talks had been going on since last November but there was no discussion with the school community until end of May. That only happened because the school persisted until the Department of Education sent a representative, Jamie Smarr, to meet with them. Yet the Department insists it would design a new building with the schools’ input. At this point, experience tells us to mistrust that promise.

By the way, many high school buildings are worthy of landmark status – they certainly play a key role in the history of the city and in the memories of their graduates. And they are important symbols in their neighborhoods. Who is keeping track of this little corner of city lore as we go boldly forth to new educational enterprises?

Insideschools bloggers of the past

Written by Admin Sunday, 10 June 2007 13:25

Philissa Cramer was a staff reporter at Insideschools for three years until June 2008. She was Insideschools’ founding blogger. See Philissa's posts.

Izzy was an 8th grader at a Manhattan middle school during the 2007-2008 school year, when she blogged about looking for a high school. See Izzy's posts.

Ben Lockwood was an Amherst College student who was a 2007 summer intern at Insideschools. See Ben's posts.

More reform on the way...

Written by Admin Friday, 08 June 2007 13:26

A new organization is throwing its weight behind the ever-growing movement of school reform. Democrats for Education Reform kicked off its first major event last Wednesday in Manhattan. The group, led by several successful Ivy League-educated businessmen, aims to "return the Democratic Party to its rightful place as a champion of children in America's public education systems."

Although DFER was immediately criticized by some, including representatives of various unions, as a group of condescending paternalists who lack real experience in education, the pro-reform crowd is no doubt glad to have them on board. DFER's priorities are in line with much of Bloomberg and Klein's familiar education goals: accountability, school choice, local control, and weighted student funding.

The very evening of DFER's opening celebration, the school-reform crowd got some welcome news about elections in New Jersey: at least four of the six pro-reform candidates supported by DFER and Newark Mayor Cory Booker won in their primary elections against incumbent opponents. Check out the New York Sun's article for a bit more information.

Happy belated Brooklyn-Queens Day!

Written by Admin Friday, 08 June 2007 10:05

For most of us, yesterday was just another strange mid-week teacher workday. But you might be interested to know that the first Thursday in June is actually when the schools celebrate Brooklyn-Queens Day, formerly known as Anniversary Day. Anniversary Day was first celebrated in Brooklyn and Queens in 1829 as a commemoration of the first Sunday schools in those boroughs — students paraded to honor their Sunday School teachers. There was some tension between Brooklyn and Queens and the rest of the city over the day off when the boroughs were consolidated in 1898, but the holiday continued to be celebrated, even though fewer and fewer people seemed to know what it honored. Last year was the first time that students in all five boroughs got the day off -- and also the first time that teachers didn't, as a result of a clause in the 2005 UFT contract with the city.

Gothamist has a rundown of some of the history of Brooklyn-Queens Day, complete with links to articles in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle dating back to 1861.

The kindergarten enrollment debate

Written by Admin Friday, 08 June 2007 07:12

House Bill A03425 was the topic of a recent notice sent out by one of the area listserves. The bill would change the enrollment cut-off birth date for children entering kindergarten in the state of New York.

Currently, children enrolling in kindergarten are expected to begin attending in September of the year they turn five. Thus, any child with a birthday between the first day of school and December 31 will enter kindergarten as a four-year-old. This has raised opposition from some parents and policymakers, who contend that many four-year-olds just aren't mature enough for today's kindergarten. One such policymaker is Assemblyman Robert Barra, who proposed bill A03425 in January.

The bill would change the birth date cutoff from December 31 to September 1, ensuring that all entering kindergarteners would be at least five years old. Anyone whose fifth birthday falls after September 1 would be required to wait until the following year to enroll. Although the stated justification for A03425 says the new cutoff date is "more logical" since it coincides with the start of the school year, the roots of the kindergarten enrollment debate usually lie in disagreements over when children are ready for school.This debate, covered last Sunday in a thorough New York Times Magazine article, has two parts. The first deals with what the optimal absolute age for kindergarten enrollment-- e.g., whether four-year-olds are mature enough for kindergarten. The second part deals with the relative ages in a single kindergarten class. This is really a separate issue from the cut-off date question; any cutoff date will inherently result in kindergarteners who are up to a year apart. As discussed in the Times article, a key issue in the "relative ages" debate is the issue of "redshirting":

The term ["redshirting"], borrowed from sports, describes students held out for a year by their parents so that they will be older, or larger, or more mature, and thus better prepared to handle the increased pressures of kindergarten today.

Although redshirting is legal in New York, the education system in New York City strongly discourages, and sometimes prohibits, the practice. Thus children in New York City kindergartens are not usually more than one year apart, and thus the debate over relative ages is less important. Nevertheless, the debate about what the cut-off date should be is more intense.

Although A03425 seems unlikely to be passed this year (the end of the legislative session is fast-approaching and the bill has been before the Education Committee since January), we encourage you to contact Education Committee Chair Cathy Nolan or your local representative to voice your opinion on the matter. Given this bill's multi-year history and the Board of Regents' interest in mandatory, full-day pre-K (a topic for another blog entry), we think the kindergarten enrollment debate is far from over.

Also, tell us your comments, either below or in the Insideschools forum!

Summer reading

Written by Admin Friday, 08 June 2007 06:14

Last week the Times ran a humorous piece about the books that schools assign as summer reading. The author, essayist Joe Queenan, thinks most books students are assigned are kitschy and insubstantial or ponderous and boring, and he's skeptical that any of them help instill a love of reading in young people.

He writes:

Forty years after being pistol-whipped by Thomas Hardy, I am amazed that the summer reading list continues to exist. In a society that has dispensed with every other laudable cultural more, it bewilders me that students still allow adults to wreck their summer vacations by forcing them to feast on the passé cheekiness of “The Catcher in the Rye” or on mind-numbing kitsch like “The Alchemist.” I’m not saying it is necessarily a bad thing that schools require students to read books during the summer: culture, like vitamins, works best when imposed rather than selected. I am simply recording my amazement that in an age when urban high schools use weapons detectors to check for handguns, educators still make kids read “The Red Badge of Courage.”

Many high schools in the city require summer reading, and we've noticed mostly quality literature on reading lists. Unlike Queenan, we think kids can really benefit from reading "The Catcher in the Rye" and "To Kill a Mockingbird" (another object of his scorn). Of course, if kids don't complete their assigned reading, it doesn't really matter what is assigned.

What has been your family's experience with summer reading? Have your kids had to do it? How much teeth-pulling did it take to get the pages read -- or did the books sit around unopened all summer?


Written by Admin Thursday, 07 June 2007 07:37

Welcome to the official blog! We will be posting here regularly to help visitors sort out education news in New York, answer questions from parents, students, and educators, and generally supplement the information found on the rest of our site.

Meanwhile, please explore our site, check out the forums, and sign up for our biweekly alert. We'll keep you posted. And feel free to leave comments about what information you'd like to see covered here!

Toyota, GM and Arts & Letters

Written by Allison Gaines Pell Sunday, 29 November -0001 19:00

This weekend, I was listening to an episode