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Algebra is a gateway course—the foundation for higher-level math and a critical hurdle that New York students must clear in order to graduate. Eighth- and 9th-graders who do well in it are steered to more advanced courses that prepare them for college and good jobs. Yet in New York City, nearly half of all students fail the Algebra Regents exam on the first try, and thousands end up re-taking the exam multiple times, caught in what educators call the "algebra whirlpool."
A new policy brief, the third in a series on math and science education by Insideschools and the Center for New York City Affairs, examines factors that fuel the algebra whirlpool. It also highlights what some schools are doing to help struggling students who lack the mathematics foundation to master algebra by 9th grade pass the course and move on to higher-level math.
Reporters from Insideschools visited more than 100 middle and high schools and found that with the rollout of the Common Core standards, many educators have been thinking about new ways to teach algebra and to structure class time so students fully understand the material. We also found that there is heightened attention in school to getting algebra instruction right, given the importance that higher–level math plays in college readiness and careers.
Applying to high school in New York City can be a full-time job for 8th-graders and their families. Students who don't have an adult to help them have an even harder time navigating the system—and making the most of their options. Now, in two city neighborhoods, an innovative Department of Education program trains students to help each other through the process.
Modeled after a successful high school college access program, the Middle School Success Centers began as a pilot program on the Lower East Side and in Cypress Hills in late 2013, targeting neighborhoods where students could really use the help.
At IS 171 in Cypress Hills, counselors from the Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation offer intensive high school choice counseling and training for youth leaders in one of the poorest communities in the city. The middle school youth leaders are trained in a summer program and commit to working with their fellow students during lunch hour and after school to help them understand the admissions process and make good choices on their high school applications. They apply for the job and are paid $50 per month.
The New York City Department of Education (DOE) just wrapped up their summer-time series of high school admissions workshops, including several that focused on the city's nine specialized high schools. Bronx Science, Brooklyn Latin, Brooklyn Tech, High School for American Studies, High School for Math, Science and Engineering, LaGuardia, Queens High School for the Sciences, Staten Island Tech, and Stuyvesant. Didn’t make it to a workshop? Don’t worry. You can find a recap of the July high school information sessions here, and there will be plenty of opportunities to learn about the specialized high schools in the fall at open houses and at the city- and borough-wide high school fairs.
Meanwhile here's a heads-up on what you can be doing this summer to prepare.
If you’re interested in attending one of the eight, test-in specialized high schools, you'll need to take the SHSAT (Specialized High School Admissions Test). You’ll also need to study for the SHSAT and if you haven’t done so already, summer is a great time to prep for the exam.
LaGuardia is the only specialized high school that does not require students to take the SHSAT. Instead, students are admitted based on an audition (and portfolio if applying to the art studio) as well as their middle school grades, state test scores and attendance records. Just like taking the SHSAT, students need to prepare for auditions. You can learn more about LaGuardia's audition process on the school's website. This year for the first time a dozen arts schools, including LaGuardia, have common audition components, so you don't have to prepare different auditions for each school. Check page 15 of the high school directory for the participating schools.
When Insideschools staff visits a high school we like to hear about students' hopes for the future. Some say they like animals and want to become veterinarians. Others may like to design and build things and want to become architects or electricians. But these and many other occupations are closed to students who don't take chemistry, physics or advanced mathematics in high school.
A new policy brief by Insideschools and the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School examines the importance of a college-prep curriculum in math and science—algebra 2, physics and chemistry—and how many high school students have access to it across the city. The results are sobering: More than 150 of New York City's public high schools—or 39 percent—do not offer a standard college-prep curriculum in math and science; more than 200 schools do not offer a single Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate class in math or science.
When I describe my personality as a parent, I like to say I'm half hippie, half Type-A. The way I approach summer is a prime example. I want my kids at one with nature, bare feet in the dirt and a Hudson River breeze in their hair, while organic popsicles melt on their faces. But, school is never far from my mind. I want my boys to have fun, but I don't want two months of unabashed play to undo all the hard work they accomplished this past year. During the course of 1st grade, Noodle jumped nine reading levels. Studies show that many kids regress over the summer if they don't read. My Type-A side cannot bear the thought.
In June, when Noodle's teacher mentioned the New York Public Library's superhero-themed Summer Reading Challenge, I thought it sounded too good to be true, better suited for a docile child who likes to sit and color all day. "He'll never do it," I thought of my strong-willed, soccer-obsessed kid. Still, I decided to give it a shot. Turns out it was the best decision I ever made (in June, at least).
Can you be a strong college applicant with just three years of high school? Two students in very different circumstances want to know.
Q: I live in Honduras, a country where only a few schools offer four years of high school. I attend a school that has only 10th and 11th grades. As an 11th-grader, I am currently a "senior" and am preparing to apply to Ivy League colleges and the best universities in the US. However, I am not sure if American colleges (especially the most selective ones) will recognize my diploma with only three years of high school. I am a straight A student with solid extra-curricular activities and test scores. Is this particular situation an obstacle to my applications? Or will I have to complete 12th grade in another school before applying?
Q: I attend a very large, overcrowded urban public high school in the U.S. I have taken good classes, including some honors courses, and have a GPA of 3.8 out of 4.0 at the end of my sophomore year. But high school really isn't pleasurable for me, and I am thinking of graduating early. Because four years of English are required for a diploma, I figure I can double up on English next year (which is my junior year). This way, I will meet all the minimum course requirements and can graduate a year early and start college a year earlier. Is this a good idea? Will missing a fourth year of high school count against me?
A: Both students have the same dilemma—should they apply to colleges with just three years of high school? If they meet the college or university's entrance requirements, can they apply? Yes. But will they be at a disadvantage? In the first case, perhaps; in the second, definitely!
Still looking for a pre-k spot as the July 10 Round 2 deadline looms? Try our new mobile pre-kindergarten search on your phone or mobile device! Many public schools, pre-k centers and early education centers still have room for this year's crop of 4-year-olds.
Visit Insideschools.org on your phone and you'll be prompted to visit the mobile site for pre-kindergarten. Type in your address and up pops your zoned school and whether it offers pre-k. You'll also see every pre-k option near your home or work, if you type in that address. Click through to read our reviews of public schools that offer pre-k.
Even if you already received a pre-k offer, you can take advantage of Round 2 which is comprised mainly of new programs that were not listed in Round 1. Like the first round, you can apply online, over the phone by calling 311 or in person at a Family Welcome Center.
If you've just finished 7th grade, it's time to be thinking about high school!
In addition to a summer reading list for 8th grade, you've got another hefty tome to read over the summer: the 2016 high school directory. At 650 pages, this year's directory, is bigger than ever. It's also online.
Take the time to look through the opening pages which detail the timeline, different admissions methods, types of high schools and factors to consider as you select a high school. If you want more explanation, and an opportunity to ask questions from the folks who make the rules, the Department of Education is offering high school admissions workshops in every borough beginning next week. Enrollment officials will provide an introduction to the high school admissions process including the different the types of programs offered, and give tips on how to fill out your application.
Q: I am a sophomore in high school. When it's time for me to apply to colleges, would it be important to list if I had a website? Is that something that could help my application? Also I enjoy writing short stories in my free time. What can I do to show the colleges my writing, if I do not have a portfolio?
A: You are asking two excellent questions. Let's start with the second: You should start to set up a writing portfolio now. Add a story each time you finish one, and also keep a list of ideas you get for stories. Please remember to back up your files—it's heartbreaking to lose creative writing!
As you explore your college options, look for those that have creative writing programs. Those colleges may require applicants to submit an online portfolio. While it is NOT a good idea to send unsolicited stories, poems or writing samples with an application, the common app does have a box at the bottom that says "use this space to tell us anything else you want us to know." There you could talk about your writing, and include a link to your portfolio. Know that unless it's a small school, and unless you are applying to a writing program, admissions officers may not read it.
At one particularly awful moment during my older son's awkward second year in middle school, the principal turned to me as I sat in her office:
"No one goes through middle school unscathed," she said, with empathy.
I tried to laugh, appreciating her sensitivity, but it didn't seem at all funny. In the space of a few months, my formerly angelic child had lost all of his so-called "friends," struck his gym teacher in the head with a ball (accidentally, he insisted, although the teacher begged to differ) and harbored a locker that smelled so foul it should have been condemned.
He'd discovered that cool (read: expensive) sneakers matter, and learned with dismay that most of the girls in his class seemed at least a foot taller. And of course, I wasn't allowed anywhere near the school; we had to designate a meeting place a few blocks away.
That's middle school for you. Middle school hurts, but middle school matters. I had gone to see the principal under the mistaken impression that we were going to have a conversation about math and science. (Tip: When choosing a middle school, find out what math and science courses they offer, including the 8th-grade algebra Regents, or your child could start high school behind in key areas.)