by Sharon McCann-Doyle
My 3rd grade daughter still cries at Disney movies and is afraid to see Matilda on Broadway. So I was dismayed to discover that her school's reading list includes "Behind Rebel Lines", by Seymor Reit, part of the city's new reading curriculum called ReadyGen. It's a terrific book for middle-school students but completely inappropriate for 8-year-olds.
"Behind Rebel Lines" is a compelling story about Emma Edmonds, a woman who, disguised as a man, becomes a Civil War spy. The 127-page book explores issues of war, feminism and race and is full of emotional and historical complexity. The language is dense and the vocabulary is very advanced. But more troubling to me are the content and context.
At one point, Emma's friend and potential love interest is shot through the neck by a musket—a scary, violent scene. At another, Emma dresses as a slave to go behind enemy lines in scenes that introduce minstrels, black face, and the use of racial slurs. The vernacular reflects the era and social status of the book's characters. For example when introducing herself, disguised as a male slave, Emma says "Mah name Cuff, suh. Lookin' fo' Mistuh Prahvit Thompson. Ah b'lieve he wuk here?"
I am concerned about the new kindergarten admissions process in regard to my young child. He has a late December birthday. I know I don't have to send him to kindergarten but what if he is not ready for first grade in the year he turns 6?
December child's mom
Dear December child's mom:
I know that there are lots of parents who are concerned that their children are too young to start kindergarten -- especially those who will still be four years old for the first three months of school.
Gifted & Talented seats remain open on the Upper West Side -- and elsewhere in the city -- but parents of qualified children who want the seats say they can't enroll.
Last month, we reported that despite the extreme demand for G&T seats this year and the high number of qualifying students, some programs remained under-enrolled a few days before the DOE's Oct 31 deadline for closing school registers. Now, a month later, vacant G&T spots sit unclaimed at both PS 165 and PS 163 on the Upper West Side, according to City Council Member Gail Brewer's office.
Frustrated parent Karen Alicea-Dunn can't get her son -- who scored in the 96th percentile on the exam -- into PS 163's kindergarten G&T program.
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.