I am the proud parent of a bright, creative, and unique daughter with learning disabilities. Like many children with high-incidence disabilities, my daughter outperforms in certain academic areas and underperforms in others. From kindergarten until 3rd grade, she relied on these skills and managed in a general education classroom with some extra services. She had caring, committed teachers, well versed in different learning styles. 

By the second week of 3rd grade, however, it became clear that she would have problems. The rapid implementation of Common Core Standards combined with an unsympathetic classroom teacher made her deteriorate—academically, emotionally and socially. The principal told me that an integrated co-teaching (ICT) class—with two teachers, one a special ed expert—did not exist for her grade. I tried to switch to a nearby public school with more services, but because of 2011’s special ed reform, I was told she now had to be served by her zoned school, and they were giving her all that they could. 

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It's the thick of college application season, and your child is diligently churning out common application essays while simultaneously studying for four or five advanced placement exams and researching scholarships, right?

Well, maybe not.

In households of high school seniors across New York City right now, (including my own) there's likely a good deal of procrastination—along with frustration and anxiety about the endless array of essays and electronic forms to fill out. Tasks include the dreaded and still over-complicated federal FAFSA, a federal form with 108 questions and 72 pages of instructions that determine financial aid—all guaranteed to take weeks off your life. (Here's a tip, though: For help, check out this how-to guide from the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School.)

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Ahh, it’s that time of year again. The pumpkins are out, and sunscreen and sandals have given way to light jackets and boots. There’s no denying it: gifted and talented testing is upon us.

Two years ago, I documented my elder son’s attempt to penetrate the exciting, if somewhat notorious world of gifted and talented testing in New York City. Several Pearson debacles and rejection letters later, our son ended up happy and thriving at a wonderful neighborhood school. And although the G&T testing experience taught me a great deal and yielded a few laughs, I secretly vowed then that unless my youngest son was clearly a savant—say, reciting Chaucer and analyzing Bayesian statistics—I’d spare him the hours seated with strangers asking him weird questions.

My husband disagrees. In his opinion, “Delta Force”—my sweet little powerhouse of a 4-year-old—gets the shaft in everything. He wears his brother's old shoes and gets less attention, so how dare we deny him this opportunity. "And besides," he explained, "I want to know how smart he is." 

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Middle school admissions season kicks into high gear this week for parents of 5th-graders. You can meet school representatives at evening district fairs beginning Tuesday, Sept. 30. Middle school directories for 2014-2015 are online and hard copies are available at elementary schools.

Now is the time to sign up for school tours and open houses! The Department of Education website lists some open house dates here. If you don't see the school you want to visit listed, check its website or call the school to find out. In some popular schools, especially in Manhattan where there is active school choice, many tours are already fully booked. If you're shut out, try contacting the parent coordinator to see if additional tours will be added. Be sure to ask about admissions requirements when you visit schools. The directory listings are not always specific.

In addition to fairs, some districts hold informational nights where principals talk about their schools. Check with your district's family advocate to see if one is scheduled. (You can find their names and contact information on our district pages.) So far we've heard about forums in District 15 on Oct. 16District 3 on Oct. 16 and District 1 on Oct. 29. District 21 is offering a middle school admissions workshop on Oct. 22

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Wednesday, 24 September 2014 12:33

Top ten myths about applying to high schools

Applying to high school in New York City is a confusing process. Here's a summary of our Sept. 23 panel discussion busting the myths. You can also view the entire discussion on video at the bottom of this page.

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Q: My neighbor's daughter is a first-year student at a large public university, and it seems that most of her instructors are graduate students. She has met few actual professors. Now we are starting to look at colleges for our son. I want him to be taught by experienced professors—but does that mean he must attend only a private college? Those schools are so much more expensive!

A: It all depends upon the school. Part of the answer is in the vocabulary you use: university and college. A university has an undergraduate program and also graduate programs. It is very common for experienced graduate students to teach introductory classes in many departments. More advanced courses should be taught by full-time, permanent members of the faculty. But schools should not use graduate students or other part-time faculty to teach a majority of classes. You will have to do some serious research to learn if this is the case.

It may shock you to learn that private undergraduate colleges do something similar, even though they do not have their own graduate schools. But there may be a nearby university whose graduate students they can employ, or other qualified individuals they can hire at salaries much, much lower than those of full-time professors. So paying the higher tuition and fees for a private college is no guarantee that your son will be taught by professors. Your tuition dollars will be used instead to subsidize the school's other projects.

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This weekend, Sept. 20 and 21, is the Department of Education's gigantic citywide high school fair from 10 am to 3 pm at Brooklyn Technical High School. Prepare for a hectic day, where you will meet teachers, students and administrators and find out about their schools.

You can attend information sessions several times during the day, led by staff from the Education Department's enrollment office. This will be helpful especially if you're a newbie to the process (and it will give you a place to sit down and take a breather.)

Here's the schedule provided by the DOE:

High school admissions basics at 10:30 am and 12:30 pm 
Auditioning for arts schools and programs at 2 pm 

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Clara Hemphill, Insideschools staff and a panel of experts discussed common mistakes that students and parents make when applying to high school and provide tips on how to make better choices. Watch the live-stream here.

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(Note: Post updated on Sept. 17, 2014)

Mayor Bill de Blasio has hinted that his administration will change the admissions procedures sometime in the future—not this year—at the five specialized high schools established during the Bloomberg administration, which are not governed by state law: Brooklyn Latin; High School of American Studies at Lehman College; High School for Math, Science and Engineering at City College; Queens High School for the Sciences at York College; and Staten Island Tech.

The changes would address concerns that declining numbers of black and Latino students are accepted at the elite specialized schools that use the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) as the sole criterion for admission.

No changes are planned for this year, and the SHSAT given on Oct. 25 and 26 will be basically the same as it's always been. 

Even in the future, it's not likely that the SHSAT will be eliminated for the three older, exam-based specialized schoolsStuyvesant, Brooklyn Tech and Bronx Science—because that would require action in Albany. Some legislators have introduced bills to change the 1971 law that establishes the exam as the only admission criterion for these three schools, but the chance of passage appears slim. However, it looks likely that the test itself will change. The city's Department of Education has issued a request for proposals "to provide a standardized testing program which is designed to select students for admission into the specialized high schools." The new test would come into effect in 2015 and proposals are due by Oct. 23, 2014. There is a pre-proposal conference on Sept.29, 2014, at 10:30 am at 131 Livingston Street, Room 610 in Brooklyn.

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School starts on Sept. 4 and for high school juniors and seniors, this means it's also time to start thinking about college. Here's my advice on what to focus on as you look ahead to college.

Juniors: The most important thing you can do for yourself this year is to concentrate on your studies. Take the most challenging courses you can, and strive to do well. If you are involved in some extra-curricular activities you enjoy, stick with them. If you have not become involved yet – join something! This does not have to be at your high school; it can also be in your community. You will look (and feel!) more balanced if you do something besides study. But don't obsess about college applications yet – most high schools do not begin college programs until the spring of junior year. One more thing: READ. I cannot stress more emphatically that students who read widely and constantly fare much better, in the college process and overall, than students who read little.

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