The writer F. Scott Fitzgerald made his way to our dinner table earlier this summer, during a casual chat about the most essential books to read before entering college. We had plenty of recent New York City public high school graduates ticking off their suggestions.
Among them: Bronte's Jane Eyre, Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Orwell's 1984, Huxley's Brave New World, Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, Heller's Catch-22, Dickens' Great Expectations, James' Washington Square, Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Yet it soon became apparent that many of the "Must Reads" hadn't made their way into classrooms, much to my dismay. I pictured a fictional Fitzgerald looking at my younger son in amazement when he acknowledged he'd graduated from high school having never been assigned the author's masterpiece, The Great Gatsby.
Algebra is a gateway course—the foundation for higher-level math and a critical hurdle that New York students must clear in order to graduate. Eighth- and 9th-graders who do well in it are steered to more advanced courses that prepare them for college and good jobs. Yet in New York City, nearly half of all students fail the Algebra Regents exam on the first try, and thousands end up re-taking the exam multiple times, caught in what educators call the "algebra whirlpool."
A new policy brief, the third in a series on math and science education by Insideschools and the Center for New York City Affairs, examines factors that fuel the algebra whirlpool. It also highlights what some schools are doing to help struggling students who lack the mathematics foundation to master algebra by 9th grade pass the course and move on to higher-level math.
Reporters from Insideschools visited more than 100 middle and high schools and found that with the rollout of the Common Core standards, many educators have been thinking about new ways to teach algebra and to structure class time so students fully understand the material. We also found that there is heightened attention in school to getting algebra instruction right, given the importance that higher–level math plays in college readiness and careers.
The New York City Department of Education (DOE) just wrapped up their summer-time series of high school admissions workshops, including several that focused on the city's nine specialized high schools. Bronx Science, Brooklyn Latin, Brooklyn Tech, High School for American Studies, High School for Math, Science and Engineering, LaGuardia, Queens High School for the Sciences, Staten Island Tech, and Stuyvesant. Didn’t make it to a workshop? Don’t worry. You can find a recap of the July high school information sessions here, and there will be plenty of opportunities to learn about the specialized high schools in the fall at open houses and at the city- and borough-wide high school fairs.
Meanwhile here's a heads-up on what you can be doing this summer to prepare.
If you’re interested in attending one of the eight, test-in specialized high schools, you'll need to take the SHSAT (Specialized High School Admissions Test). You’ll also need to study for the SHSAT and if you haven’t done so already, summer is a great time to prep for the exam.
LaGuardia is the only specialized high school that does not require students to take the SHSAT. Instead, students are admitted based on an audition (and portfolio if applying to the art studio) as well as their middle school grades, state test scores and attendance records. Just like taking the SHSAT, students need to prepare for auditions. You can learn more about LaGuardia's audition process on the school's website. This year for the first time a dozen arts schools, including LaGuardia, have common audition components, so you don't have to prepare different auditions for each school. Check page 15 of the high school directory for the participating schools.
When Insideschools staff visits a high school we like to hear about students' hopes for the future. Some say they like animals and want to become veterinarians. Others may like to design and build things and want to become architects or electricians. But these and many other occupations are closed to students who don't take chemistry, physics or advanced mathematics in high school.
A new policy brief by Insideschools and the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School examines the importance of a college-prep curriculum in math and science—algebra 2, physics and chemistry—and how many high school students have access to it across the city. The results are sobering: More than 150 of New York City's public high schools—or 39 percent—do not offer a standard college-prep curriculum in math and science; more than 200 schools do not offer a single Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate class in math or science.
When I describe my personality as a parent, I like to say I'm half hippie, half Type-A. The way I approach summer is a prime example. I want my kids at one with nature, bare feet in the dirt and a Hudson River breeze in their hair, while organic popsicles melt on their faces. But, school is never far from my mind. I want my boys to have fun, but I don't want two months of unabashed play to undo all the hard work they accomplished this past year. During the course of 1st grade, Noodle jumped nine reading levels. Studies show that many kids regress over the summer if they don't read. My Type-A side cannot bear the thought.
In June, when Noodle's teacher mentioned the New York Public Library's superhero-themed Summer Reading Challenge, I thought it sounded too good to be true, better suited for a docile child who likes to sit and color all day. "He'll never do it," I thought of my strong-willed, soccer-obsessed kid. Still, I decided to give it a shot. Turns out it was the best decision I ever made (in June, at least).
If you've just finished 7th grade, it's time to be thinking about high school!
In addition to a summer reading list for 8th grade, you've got another hefty tome to read over the summer: the 2016 high school directory. At 650 pages, this year's directory, is bigger than ever. It's also online.
Take the time to look through the opening pages which detail the timeline, different admissions methods, types of high schools and factors to consider as you select a high school. If you want more explanation, and an opportunity to ask questions from the folks who make the rules, the Department of Education is offering high school admissions workshops in every borough beginning next week. Enrollment officials will provide an introduction to the high school admissions process including the different the types of programs offered, and give tips on how to fill out your application.
At one particularly awful moment during my older son's awkward second year in middle school, the principal turned to me as I sat in her office:
"No one goes through middle school unscathed," she said, with empathy.
I tried to laugh, appreciating her sensitivity, but it didn't seem at all funny. In the space of a few months, my formerly angelic child had lost all of his so-called "friends," struck his gym teacher in the head with a ball (accidentally, he insisted, although the teacher begged to differ) and harbored a locker that smelled so foul it should have been condemned.
He'd discovered that cool (read: expensive) sneakers matter, and learned with dismay that most of the girls in his class seemed at least a foot taller. And of course, I wasn't allowed anywhere near the school; we had to designate a meeting place a few blocks away.
That's middle school for you. Middle school hurts, but middle school matters. I had gone to see the principal under the mistaken impression that we were going to have a conversation about math and science. (Tip: When choosing a middle school, find out what math and science courses they offer, including the 8th-grade algebra Regents, or your child could start high school behind in key areas.)
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?
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.
Eighth- and 9th-graders who applied to high school last fall but were not matched to any school, or who wanted to apply to a different school in a second round of applications, learned the results of their new application this week, the Department of Education said.
In the first round of admissions, about 8 percent of 8th-graders applying for 9th grade got no match, forcing them into a second round. Other students chose to re-apply to different schools that still had open seats in March.
Students who are unhappy with their high school assignment, or whose circumstances have changed since they applied, now have the option to appeal and try for a different school. Appeal forms are available from school guidance counselors now and are due back on Wednesday, May 20.
Will an appeal be successful? It depends on the reason. See our advice on how to appeal. And, for a look at the number of appeals granted in recent years, and which type of appeals were most commonly approved between 2011–2013, read "Kids win one-quarter of high school appeals."