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by Clara Hemphill and Halley Potter

This op ed was originally published in the New York Times on June 12, 2015.

The mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio, campaigned on a promise to provide free universal pre-k classes to more than 70,000 4-year-olds. The city is now poised to meet this ambitious goal.

"This is a proud moment for us all," Mr. de Blasio said earlier this week. " 'Pre-K for All' is the centerpiece of our agenda to confront inequality in our city."

Mr. de Blasio is right to be proud, but more must be done to ensure that pre-k classrooms deliver the results the mayor wants. Unfortunately, in cobbling together different funding sources and different types of preschools, the city has unintentionally reinforced barriers that keep rich and poor children apart, even in economically mixed neighborhoods.

Pre-k offers are out; now comes the next round

Written by Aimee Sabo Thursday, 11 June 2015 12:25

“I learn so much that I can’t even stop,” says a giddy 4-year-old in a promotional video just released by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office. “There are no monsters here. It’s not scary,” explains another. “Maybe if you try school, you might like it.”

This year, more NYC families than ever before seem willing to try pre-kindergarten, and, for the first time, they are guaranteed a seat in a full-day program. About 70,000 children will attend free, universal pre-kindergarten this fall, a majority at their parents’ top choice program. The city reported that 70 percent of families received pre-k offers to their first choice school, and 82 percent got one of their top three. Many families are willing to travel, with 16 percent choosing a site outside their district as their first choice. Early childhood centers and public school programs seemed equally sought-after: Half the applicants listed an early childhood center first on their application; the other half listed a public school, according to the Department of Education

If you’re a policymaker, things are looking pretty good. Larger issues aside—like increasing and measuring diversity, say, or creating permanent and suitable pre-k spaces—the improvement in enrollment numbers seems like the just reward of this year’s more streamlined registration process and the DOE’s massive outreach effort. But what if you’re one of the families whom the stats didn’t favor?

by Emily Frost

UPPER WEST SIDE — Local education leaders are looking to combat school overcrowding and increase classroom diversity by creating a "super zone" — in which students from one part of the district would have a choice of three schools to attend instead of one.

Elementary school students in District 3 are assigned to a school based on where they live, a geographic designation known as their school zone. Each zone typically has only one corresponding school.

Community Education Council 3 leaders, who have ultimate control over zoning lines, are considering shaking up that structure in the southern section of the district, which is experiencing overcrowding and what some have deemed racial segregation.

Two inquiries came in this week from parents wanting to know how the type of high school their children attend will affect their college admissions. The scenarios are different but the answer is pretty much the same, so I'm answering them together.

1. How important is the choice of high school on college options? We have been happy that our children are doing well in middle school and even happier that they are enjoying it so much. This school will transition into a grade 6–12 next year. But we have heard that, coming out of a new school without an established reputation, they will be seen as less appealing to colleges. Many, if not most, parents around us are in a frenzy preparing for the specialized high schools exam, saying that one of these schools is the only pathway to the best college opportunity.

2. My daughter is a happy freshman at one of the specialized high schools. Her grades are in the low 90s in the humanities and in the 80s in math/science. But at her high school, 92 is like the edge of a cliff: 92 and up means you get to do electives, APs, and have a range of college options. Below 92, you do not. It really seems that binary. Ironically, it seems that her chances at a future with choices would be higher elsewhere. Should we seek to transfer out?

Sixty-six percent of eligible students who applied to G&T (gifted and talented) programs in 2015 received offers today, up from 2014 when 60 percent of applicants received offers. Fewer students applied this year: 7,242 students in grades k–3 applied for a spot, a decrease from 8,010 applications last year.

Incoming kindergartners—the first entry point for gifted programs—had the best chance of gaining a seat: nearly 80 percent of the applicants received an offer, as compared to only 36 percent of 3rd-graders.

As in previous years, admission to one of the five citywide G&T programs eludes most eligible students. While more than 1,500 kindergarten test-takers scored high enough—97th percentile or better—to qualify for a citywide seat, there are only about 325 slots. Most offers go to children who score in the 99th percentile, or to eligible siblings of current citywide G&T students. The DOE has not yet released figures for how many were offered a citywide G&T seat this year, but last year roughly 300 earned a spot. 

Metal detectors: To have or not to have?

Written by Ella Colley Tuesday, 19 May 2015 12:40

For many years metal detectors have been accepted as a fact of life for more than 100,000 New York City public school students. Now, some City Council members are questioning whether they are necessary—and taking first steps to have them removed.

"I don't believe we should have metal detectors in our schools," said Councilman Brad Lander, (D-Brooklyn) who has backed legislation that would require the Department of Education to report on the schools that have permanent metal detectors and those that are subject to random scans. "Telling our young people that we look to them as potential criminals in the schools that have metal detectors does more harm than good."

Lander hopes the bill, introduced by Vanessa Gibson (D-Bronx) and Corey Johnson (D-Manhattan), will encourage the Department of Education to clarify why some schools have metal detectors and others don't. He is also pressing the department to outline a clear policy on how schools can have metal detectors removed.

Apply for 4th- & 5th-grade G&T by May 22

Written by Aimee Sabo Monday, 18 May 2015 11:24

With all of the hoopla that accompanies G&T testing for rising kindergartners every spring, it’s easy to forget that there are opportunities for older elementary school students too. If you have a rising 4th- or 5th-grader who is ready for more of an academic challenge, this Friday, May 22 is the last day to apply for a gifted and talented program for fall 2015.

Unlike applications for the younger grades, the RFP (request for placement) for 4th- and 5th-graders must be made in person at a Family Welcome Center. There is no special test; instead a student’s eligibility is based on three main factors, all weighed equally:

1.         The 2015 NYS English language arts and math exam scores
2.         2015 report card grades
3.         A form, "Descriptors of Exceptional Characteristics,” filled out by the child’s teacher

After you submit an RFP for your child, the Department of Education will collect all the information including test scores, grades and teacher recommendations and will notify families of their child’s eligibility in late summer. Student’s who qualify will receive an application to submit, along with a list of all G&T programs with seats available for 4th- and 5th-graders. 

Q: Our daughter is being home-schooled, so we have a couple of questions about getting her ready for college. Are there AP programs available for home-schooled children or would college classes be an acceptable alternative? Is there a list of scholarships and grants that we can go through to help her financially? Last, are there specific curricula or electives that would aid her in her acceptance or transition into college?

A: Admissions officers ask the same questions about home-schooled students that they ask about students in traditional schools, that is:

1) Can this student handle the academic work at our college or university?
2) What might this student contribute to the life of our college or university?

UPK report asks: Where's the diversity?

Written by Aimee Sabo Wednesday, 13 May 2015 21:21

Mayor Bill de Blasio struck a chord with New Yorkers when he first spoke of universal pre-kindergarten as a means to end the “tale of two cities” that divides our highest and lowest wage earners. Classroom diversity was billed as an integral part of that vision, building on research that middle-class and low-income students in economically integrated classrooms see more academic and social gains. However, a lack of reliable data and the sense that pre-k remains just as economically divided as many elementary schools has led many critics to attack the city for not making good on that promise.

A new report by Halley Potter, a fellow at The Century Foundation—a non-partisan social policy research institute—takes an in-depth look at UPK’s progress, focusing specifically on the goal of classroom diversity and what we need to do to get there. 

"The de Blasio administration has pulled off a remarkable feat in expanding free, full-day universal pre-K to roughly 70,000 children by this fall, while also bringing much needed attention to the value of socioeconomic and racial diversity in preschool classrooms,” Potter wrote Insideschools via email. "But there's still much more that the administration can and should do to open opportunities for integrated universal pre-k classrooms, including collecting better demographic data and revising admissions preferences to support diversity."

Originally posted on Chalkbeat New York: "After city outreach, more parents participate in education council elections" by Patrick Wall on May 13, 2015.

The de Blasio administration asked parents to “raise their hand” — and they did.

The number of parents who participated in this year’s elections for local and citywide education advisory board seats surged this year following an outreach campaign that the administration called “Raise Your Hand for Our Kids,” officials said Tuesday.

Some 1,290 parents applied for unpaid spots on a citywide or community education council, a 77 percent increase over the number that ran in the previous election, in 2013. Nearly 2,300 parent-association leaders voted for candidates in this year’s election, a 60 percent rise above 2013’s turnout.

The number of candidates and voters was not evenly distributed among districts, and some council members said the small number of eligible voters per school and the councils’ limited advisory role keep more parents from participating. Still, they praised the administration for its efforts to draw more parents into the councils.