New York City’s Education Funders Research Initiative asked our parent organization, the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School, to identify key priorities for education reform under Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio. On Thursday, the Center for New York City Affairs released the results: a new report called "Building Blocks for Better Schools: How the Next Mayor can Prepare New York's Students for College and Careers," co-authored by Insideschools founder Clara Hemphill. The paper analyzes the successes and failures of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s education initiatives—and proposes six key areas on which the next administration should focus attention and resources.
A top priority: Make sure young children can read. This is a first, crucial building block for school reform efforts.
Other priorities include:
- Use the Common Core to build a true, skills-based college preparatory curriculum.
- Revise the accountability system to use a wider range of measures, and to be more responsive to schools and families.
- Keep principals' control of hiring, budgets and curriculum—but provide them greater supervision and support.
- Strengthen neighborhood schools and create new structures to connect all schools—neighborhood, magnet and charters alike—within given geographic areas.
- Build early and ongoing support for college and career guidance.
This information just in from our friends at Advocates for Children:
"The NYC DOE's Office of Innovation is interviewing parents regarding their experience with the DOE's busing system for students receiving special education services in NYC. The purpose of these interviews is a collaboration between parents, the Office of Pupil Transportation (OPT) and the Division of Students with Disabilities to improve the special education busing experience for children.
Interviews will take place on Wednesday, November 20th between 4:30 & 6:00 PM at 10 Jay Street in Dumbo, Brooklyn. Interviews will last approximately 30 minutes and parent names will be kept confidential so people can feel comfortable speaking candidly.
No RSVP is needed. Just come to share your experiences."
There have been the usual horror stories this year, of children spending hours on the bus and buses that never arrived. Some buses even dropped off children at the wrong stop. If you have a tale to tell, here is your chance to tell it.
It seems like only yesterday that I was worrying myself sick about how my four-year-old son with special needs would make the leap from preschool to kindergarten. (For the record, he’s five now and doing fabulously!) For any child, the move to “big kid school” is a huge transition for the whole family, but for those of us whose children will be receiving special services, the process is fraught with that much more paperwork, research and worry.
Your local kindergarten orientation meeting is a good place to start learning about how services transition from preschool to kindergarten. During the first three weeks of December, the Department of Education is hosting citywide meetings in all boroughs for families of students with disabilities entering kindergarten in September 2014. Here are a few meeting tips from someone who has been there:
Families will have just one month to use the new online system to apply to kindergarten for 2014, according to admissions dates posted by the Department of Education today. Parents of children born in 2009 may apply online, on the phone to a central DOE number or in person at an enrollment office between Jan. 13-Feb.14. Not only is the online admissions process, called Kindergarten Connect, a change from previous years, but the application period is earlier and shorter. Last year families applied in person at schools between Jan. 22- March 1.
The shift in timeline caught some elementary schools and parents off guard, according to DNAInfo which yesterday reported that many schools have scheduled tours and open houses in February and March, after applications are due. "If this hasn't been coordinated with school tours, how can you make an educated decision?" a parent said to DNAInfo.
Families may list up to 20 schools on the application and will be given one placement in April. All public schools will participate in the new admission system, even those that are unzoned. Admission priorities will remain the same as previous years, the DOE said, with zoned students given priority to their zoned school.
If your child is one of the 210,000 students in grades 3-8 who scored a Level 1 or 2 on last spring's state ELA or math exams, you should know that schools are offering families 30 minute one-on-one conferences with their child's teachers from now through January.
The $5 million Department of Education initiative was prompted by advocates from the Coalition of Educational Justice (CEJ), said Megan Hester, a community organizer with the Annenberg Institute for School Reform which works with CEJ.
Hester said that when scores came out last summer some CEJ parents wondered whether they should be alarmed at their child's low test scores and what they could be doing about it.
Given the frenzied competition for gifted and talented seats each year, it was surprising to find that, nearly two months into the school year, there are many empty spots. The Department of Education is reaching out to eligible children to try to fill them by Oct. 31 when registers close.
PS 165, on the Upper West Side had only 14 children enrolled in kindergarten G&T last week, in a class that should have 25 students; their 1st grade only had 10 students enrolled. PS 163, also in District 3, had openings as did PS 33 in District 2. Even the citywide gifted and talented school, NEST+M had some empty seats.
Last spring there were multiple snafus related to the scoring of exams. The testing company Pearson apologized twice for its errors, which were brought to the DOE's attention by parents. When the dust settled, thousands more students had qualified than there were seats available.
More than 13,000 four-year-olds took the tests for entrance into a kindergarten G&T program and about 40 percent of those tested scored high enough to qualify. Some 3,100 offers were made to students around the city for approximately 2,700 seats but apparently not enough of those students accepted the placements.
The kindergarten register at PS 165 was full on the first day of school, according to DJ Sheppard, the District 3 family advocate, but many students didn't show up. "We tell families 'if you're not going to take the seat please let us know' but not all do that," she said.
It's that time of year again for families of four- and five-year-olds interested in the Department of Education's much sought-after gifted and talented programs. Although last year's testing season was a bit rocky, with a new, harder test and much-publicized grading errors, this year the DOE promises few changes (and hopefully less drama). Admissions expert Robin Aronow of School Search NYC spoke with us and noted that the only major difference this year is that the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test (OLSAT) and the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test (NNAT2) now each count 50 percent toward the total G&T percentile score. (Last year the Naglieri was approximately 66 percent and the OLSAT 33 percent.) Aronow emphasized other key dates and procedures that families should keep in mind:
• November 8th is the deadline for completing the Request For Testing (RFT) online, but the sooner the better to get a desirable date, time and location. You will be offered options for test dates, times and locations during weekends in January. (If your child is also applying to Hunter College Elementary School, which has a separate application, remember to take Hunter's second round evaluation dates into consideration when selecting your DOE test date).
• Prospective kindergartners will be tested one-on-one and will point to answers; they do not need to bubble in answers. If applying for first grade and up, your child will be tested in small groups and will need to bubble in answers.
• Alternate language assessments are available in Arabic, Bengali, Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin), French, Haitian Creole, Korean, Russian, Spanish and Urdu. It is not permissible to alternate between languages during the test administration. As children do not answer any questions orally, test your child in the language he or she most understands when spoken by an adult. Please note that applicants already in a DOE program may only take the test in an alternate language if entitled to services in English as a Second Language.
• Scores in the 90th percentile or above qualify your child for a district G&T program, although seats are not guaranteed. Please note that children are compared to others whose birthdays are within three months of theirs. If your child is eligible, you will receive an application in early April due back by April 18, 2014.
• Scores in the 97th percentile or above qualify your child for a citywide program. In reality, your child will need to score in 99th percentile—and have a stroke of luck—to be offered a citywide placement or a highly desirable district placement. This is due to the high number of applicants scoring in the 99th percentile.
Middle school admissions season kicks into high gear this week for parents of 5th graders. You can meet school representatives at evening district fairs held between Oct. 8-17. Middle school directories for 2013-2014 are online and hard copies are being distributed by elementary schools. Clara Hemphill of Insideschools will be giving a free talk about middle school options on Thursday at New York University.
Now is the time to sign up for school tours and open houses! Check school websites, or call the school to find out about them. 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.
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.)
I am the parent of a child in pre-kindergarten and am newly elected to a PTA board in Brooklyn. Our zoned school is a lower performing and not highly sought after school in a district that is overcrowded because of what the other schools offer. I was hoping to work on improving parent involvement, increasing retention at the school and raising funds for enrichment programs at this school. Today we were told that because of decreased enrollment we are losing a teacher. For now I am focusing on the short term crisis of how to either gain 33 students or raise $125,000 in a few weeks. In the long run we need a parent coordinator (ours has been out since 1/2013), and ideas of how parents could work with the administration to make this a school where parents want to send their children. I would really appreciate any guidance on how to proceed!
Dear Pre-K parent,
You have three tasks -- maybe a dozen, but three to start with. You need to build up the school's reputation among parents of young children. You need to raise money. And you need to engage the administration in forging a new perspective. As you noted, these are long term projects -- you won't see results right away but in their pursuit, you will build up a strong stakeholder constituency. In fact, a strong constituency engaging parents, teacher and administrators, as well as the wider community is key to any kind of school improvement effort. See also what I wrote about ways to attract students to a zoned school in a previous column.
For more immediate results try posting a notice on neighborhood parent listservs to let parents know that seats are still available in your school. You can also post notices on supermarket bulletin boards and in local storefronts. I don't know if 33 kids will show up, but it's a start.
by Isabella Robertson
The recent post, Teachers Ask: "Is 3rd grade the new 7th grade?", suggests that there is a new mandate to require children to read books that are too hard for most of them to understand.
No such mandate exists. A key shift called for by the Common Core standards is to challenge kids to read more complex text. This does not mean read books that are too hard. It does mean kids need to grapple with academic vocabulary and complex language structures if they are to become proficient readers. The current practice of "meeting kids where they are," while well-intentioned, means that many kids never encounter words and language beyond conversational language and their own independent reading level. The challenge of the Common Core is to give children book experiences at their independent reading level and opportunities to experience more complex texts.
The post wonders whether a 2nd-grade teacher's decision to read Charlotte's Web is best for students at that grade level, citing the Scholastic website that lists the book as written at the 4th-grade level. The post does not note that a variety of factors go into determining whether a text is appropriate for a grade. While it's true we might not expect students to read Charlotte's Web independently until at least the 4th grade, it is also true that, when read aloud, many 2nd graders will be engaged by the story and the vivid characters. What you ask students to do with the text (independent, guided reading, etc.) and the types of supports you provide (read-alouds, close reading discussions, vocabulary instruction, etc.) factor heavily in determining what is appropriate to teach at each grade.