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It's crunch time for pre-kindergarten. In just a couple of weeks, the city will open 2,000 new, full-day classrooms in schools and community centers across the five boroughs. If the city gets it right, the pre-k expansion could set a national standard for universal, high-quality instruction for 4-year-olds. Unfortunately, it could also be the cause of death for programs serving those 4-year-olds' younger siblings.
Though it has stood alone in the political spotlight this year, universal pre-k is not New York City's only early education program. For decades, the city has held contracts with hundreds of childcare providers—ranging from home-based daycares to nationally accredited preschools—to care for low-income kids from 6 weeks through 4 years old. In its current iteration, the subsidized childcare system has the capacity to serve 37,000 children.
National studies show that early childhood programs are critical for kids. The care a child receives while she's an infant or toddler—long before she's old enough to go to school—can impact the way her brain grows, potentially changing the trajectory of the rest of her life.
Bill de Blasio had been mayor for less than four months when the city's elementary and middle school students took standardized tests this past April. And, according to numbers released on Thursday, more than 68 percent of students who took the tests this year failed to meet state standards in English; 64 percent fell short in math.
Still, the scores are somewhat higher than they were when de Blasio's predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, announced test results a year ago. To announce this year's numbers, de Blasio along with Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña held an ebullient press conference on Thursday, predicting that the administration's reforms would propel students towards bigger gains in the year ahead.
De Blasio made the announcement outside the Brooklyn Brownstone School in Bedford-Stuyvesant, which, he said, saw the percentage of its students scoring proficient—generally regarded as a level 3 or 4 score—on the English test rise from 27.5 in 2013 to 44.1 percent in 2014. The number of students meeting state standards in math also increased substantially.
Standing with school principal Nakia Haskins, de Blasio said Brooklyn Brownstone developed a program aimed at having students "think analytically—not just take a test ... This is a deeper approach."
"This school is a trendsetter for things that are starting to happen citywide," de Blasio said. In particular, he cited improved teacher support and training. "You can see the difference it’s making when our teachers are supported in their efforts to help students get to the root of things."
De Blasio readily conceded many students still fall short on that measure. But he said he hopes the types of programs in effect at Brooklyn Brownstone, along with more professional development for teachers, the expansion of pre-k, increasing the number of afterschool programs for middle school students and creating community schools offering a variety of services and supports to students and their families would improve academic performance across the city.
"Test scores are one indicator of progress," de Blasio said, "but tests like this are only one measure. And I'll say this when scores are good and when they're not so good."
Certainly the tests will have less clout than they once did. Indications are that the city's progress reports for individual schools will put less emphasis on test scores. The state has barred selective middle and high schools from using the scores as the sole means for determining which students they admit. In response, the Department of Education has committees working on new admissions procedures, which are expected to issue reports by the end of September, Fariña said.
Education department officials at the press conference said students will be able to access their scores the last week in August.
In light of persistently low scores among many black and Hispanic students, particularly boys, Fariña said the department would create more single-sex schools, such as a new branch of the Eagle Academy for Young Men slated to open on Staten Island, and would improve guidance services. She said an emphasis on technology, while beneficial to all students, might particularly help these low-scoring boys.
Fariña said she was encouraged by the decline in the number of students scoring at Level 1, meaning the student is "well below proficient." In 2014, 34.7 percent of children were at level 1, compared to 36.4 percent in 2013. In math, the percentage dropped to 33.9 percent from 36.8 percent. Students with a level 2 are considered approaching proficiency and are thought to be on track to graduating high school, though perhaps not to being "college and career ready."
While the sharp drop in test scores last year—the first year that the tests reflected the new Common Core standards—spurred opposition to the Common Core, de Blasio expressed strong support for the standards. "This is a new standard and a higher standard and the right standard," he said.
New York City students did slightly better on state standardized test this spring than they did in 2013, but about two-thirds of test-takers in grades 3–8 still failed to meet state standards on either the English language arts (ELA) or math tests, according to figures released by the state education department today.
In New York City, 34.5 percent of students met or exceeded state standards as measured by the math test, up from 30.1 percent last year. For the state as a whole, 35.8 percent passed the math test, compared to 31.2 in 2013.
ELA scores for the state remained largely flat, with pass rates—the number of children getting a level 3 or 4—increasing by a tenth of a percentage point, from 31.3 percent to 31.4 percent. New York City students, while still scoring below the statewide average, saw a greater increase in English scores, as 29.4 percent scored a level 3 or 4 as compared with 27.4 percent in 2013.
Newcomers to New York City, who are entering 9th or 10th grade in September, must register by Tuesday, August 19, if they want to take the summer exam for admission to one of the selective specialized high schools, or to audition for the arts school, LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and the Performing Arts. Families may register and pick up an admissions ticket for the test and audition at any Department of Education Enrollment Office.
Eligible students are those who are entering 9th or 10th grade for the first time, moved to New York City after Nov. 1, 2013 and did not take the specialized high school exam (SHSAT) or audition for LaGuardia last fall.
You'll need these documents to register: proof of residence, proof of birth, immunization records and a final 2014 report card.
The exam will be given on Aug. 26; the auditions for LaGuardia will be held on Aug. 28. But you must be registered and have an admissions ticket to be admitted to the test or audition. You should find out whether you are accepted before school starts on Sept. 4.
Entrance to the specialized high schools is highly competitive. Most successful applicants spend a good deal of time preparing. See the 2014-2015 Specialized High School Handbook for a sample test and audition guidelines.
If you're still uncertain what to do with your 4-year-old in September, you're in luck. There's still space available in many of the city's pre-kindergartens in schools and community organizations. To be eligible, your child must turn 4 by Dec. 31, 2014.
On Tuesdays in August, beginning today in Brooklyn, parents can meet with officials from the Department of Education's enrollment office at Brooklyn Borough Hall to find out how to enroll their 4-year-old in a pre-kindergarten for September. Enrollment officials have the list of schools and early childhood centers such as libraries, YMCAs or Head Starts that may still have openings. Community organizations enroll students on a rolling basis so enrollment numbers are changing throughout the summer.
The Brooklyn sessions are on Aug. 12, 19 and 26 from 4 to 7 pm in the lobby of Brooklyn Borough Hall at 209 Joralemon Street. We've asked the DOE whether there will be information and sign-up sessions in other boroughs but there is no centralized list. Many sessions are organized by legislators as part of the city's push to enroll children in 53,000 pre-kindergarten slots by September so contact your borough president's office or local council members or go to a DOE enrollment office for help.
From the moment they met him, the staff at School of the Future were concerned about Joseph.
The incoming sixth-grader had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, another behavioral disorder, and a learning disability, which became apparent last year when they interviewed him and reviewed his academic records.
The educators at the public school in Gramercy Park are known for their prowess at integrating students with disabilities into general-education classes, and at first they tried that approach with Joseph. They placed him in a mixed class with typical and disabled students headed by two teachers, gave him modified assignments, sent him to small-group reading sessions, and dispatched a seasoned special educator to work with him.
None of it was enough.
Summer is a perfect time for rising seniors to visit some colleges. You won't be alone – hosting summer visitors has been the norm at most U.S. colleges and universities for the past 20 years. The number of visitors will usually correlate with the size of the campus – the larger the school, the larger the information sessions and tour groups.
Most colleges will have a "visit us" feature on their website (usually in the Admissions section). If you have to reserve a place on a tour, you can do so online or by calling the Admissions office. If you show up without a reservation, will they let you visit? Of course! The whole point of the college visit – from their perspective -- is to inspire students to become applicants. You are a prospective customer so they will be happy to see you.
When I first found out in June that my son’s elementary school would be ending 30 minutes earlier this year and I would have to pick up two children at the same time, ten blocks apart, my first thought, of course, was, “Yes! Now I can harness those superpowers of time travel I always knew I possessed!” Actually, just one word came into my head, and it's unprintable here.
Apparently I’m not alone. According to The Daily News, about 450 schools will be changing their start and end times this year in order to comply with the new UFT contract. In a nutshell, the contract does two things as far as the school day is concerned: First, it elmininates 37.5 minutes each day that teachers were previously devoting to small-group work and tutoring for students who were behind. Second, it reapportions that time for professional development, parent communication, preparing lessons and all the other behind-the-scenes work that teachers must complete but never have time for.
There are 22,000 kids living in homeless and domestic violence shelters in NYC, according to Volunteers for America. In addition to the trauma and chaos of a transient life, imagine the feeling of arriving for the first day of school in September, seeing all your friends toting shiny, full backpacks ready to learn, and you have ... nothing.
In 2001, Volunteers of America–Greater New York launched Operation Backpack—a fundraising initiative aimed at providing our city's neediest children with the supplies they need to start the school year right. By filling thousands of backpacks with grade-specific supplies, Operation Backpack relieves stressed families of an impossible financial burden, and most important, they help kids living on the fringes get a fighting chance at a solid education.
There are many ways to get involved. Visit the Operation Backpack website for a list of grade-specific supplies and backpack drop-off locations throughout the city. You can also make a straightforward monetary donation to the project, buy supplies for the foundation's amazon wishlist or donate your time in person. It's a wonderful opportunity to do something real and tangible for NYC education, and to show a struggling child you believe in her.
Perhaps that technology camp you enrolled your nature-loving daughter in just wasn’t quite right, or maybe you’ve noticed your teenager spending too many summer days staring at the wall—or a screen. Luckily, there are still lots of free, engaging summer classes and programs in all five boroughs for kids of all ages. It’s not too late! And don't forget to check out our listing of free educational enrichment programs year-round.
NYC Parks—Free Outdoor Pools
Visit one of New York City's free outdoor pools. Through Sept. 1, NYC Parks’ outdoor pools are offering amenities including free summer swim programs for all ages and abilities and free, healthy summer meals provided by USDA through SchoolFood, a part of the NYC Department of Education for all children 18 years old and under. Download a flyer to find out more about the local pool in your school district. For more information, visit nyc.gov/parks.