by Jane Heaphy, executive director of Learning Leaders
Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio's goal of increasing parental involvement in schools is exciting! This is what we have been waiting to hear.
Families have a vital role to play in our schools' success. Research shows that parents who understand the school system and know how to support education at home can contribute hugely to a child's development. That's why Learning Leaders builds family-school relationships, provides interactive workshops and trains parents to volunteer in NYC public schools.
While there is increased recognition of family involvement as a key factor in children's success, more effort is needed to bring in parents. The city's recent education budget cuts and the introduction of Common Core Standards make this more important than ever. A renewed focus on families would help our students and I look forward to hearing the next chancellor's plans.
If you're a parent choosing a middle school, you want to know: Do the academics prepare kids for high school? Do the teachers recommend the school? Kids want to know: Does the school require uniforms? Are the other kids nice?
Now, just in time for this week's Dec. 13 application deadline, Insideschools has launched Insidestats for middle schools. Similar to Insidestats for high school, we have comprehensive data on 430 middle and secondary schools, including charter schools. You can see at a glance how big the classes are, whether kids think there are enough interesting programs and whether 8th graders take and pass Regents math and science exams.
A couple of years ago, we criticized the Department of Education's school Progress Reports for oversimplifying the strengths and weaknesses of each school with a single "A" to "F" grade. (Apparently Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio agrees with us, having said he'll do away with the simplistic letter grades.)
With Insidestats, we offer a more nuanced picture, because different schools are good at different things. Some schools take high-achieving kids and push them to ever greater heights. But others do a particularly good job with kids who need special education or English language instruction. Insidestats shows you the difference.
Take Mark Twain in Coney Island, which is open to students citywide. Everyone knows it's a terrific school that sends more graduates to specialized high schools than almost any other middle school. But maybe you didn't know that its students with special needs also fare better than the average city school. Or that 100 percent of the teachers say they recommend the school to parents. On the downside, students have to contend with larger-than-average class size.
Compare that with another popular citywide school: New Explorations into Science, Technology and Math (NEST). Class size here is lower, just about average for the city, but fewer teachers--82 percent --say they would recommend the school and only 28 percent think the principal is a good manager.
We hope Insidestats will help those of you still wondering which schools to rank on your middle school applications.
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.
High school applications are due on Dec. 2, the Monday after the Thanksgiving holiday, for 8th graders, and 9th graders who want to go to a different school next year.
Still undecided where to apply? Check out our new Insideschools mobile website on your smartphone. You can search by borough, subway line, middle school grades and/or keyword, sifting through hundreds of high schools to find the best matches.
Here are some tips for 8th graders and their families to mull over after the turkey is eaten.
Fifth graders applying to middle school should get their applications beginning Nov. 18 at their elementary schools, according to the chancellor's letter to principals this week.
Applications must be completed and returned to elementary school guidance counselors by Friday, Dec. 13. If you're applying to charter schools, those applications aren't due until April 1.
Still don't know what schools to apply to? Check your district's directory for a list of schools. Schools that are open to kids throughout the district, borough or city are listed in the back of each directory. Read our reviews on noteworthy middle schools.
And, be sure to visit the school before applying. There is a list of tours and open houses on the Department of Education's website. You can watch our videos for more information on how to apply and what to look for on a school tour.
The official high school directory is essential reading for 8th graders applying to high school in New York City. But, at 565 pages, the directory can be cumbersome, especially for kids already lugging pounds of textbooks.
Now, we've created a mobile site that will get this information to kids where they are most likely to use it--on their smartphones.
Our new iPhone/Android mobile website, http://insideschools.org/
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.
Last weekend, Oct. 26-27, thousands of 8th graders buzzing with the pressure of months (sometimes years) of preparation sat for the two-hour long specialized high school admissions test (SHSAT). Could this be the last year that entrance to a specialized high school hinges on one incredibly high-stakes exam?
If Bill de Blasio is mayor, that's a real possibility.
De Blasio, whose son attends Brooklyn Tech, told the NY Daily News that the high-stakes SHSAT should not be the only factor determining specialized high school admissions. “These schools are the academies for the next generation of leadership in all sectors of the city, and they have to reflect the city better,” de Blasio told the newspaper.
Confused about high school admissions? Do you still have questions about how to fill out the 12-school application? Insideschools covered those topics and more at our Oct. 9 high school admissions workshop.
Clara Hemphill and Jacquie Wayans of Insideschools were joined by Hussham Khan, the director of high school admissions at the Department of Education, Stanley Ng, parent member of the Citywide Council of High Schools; Liz Willen, of the Hechinger Institute and two high school students: Paul Michael Wayans, of Eagle Academy in the Bronx, and David Mascio, a junior at Stuyvesant High School.
Here are some takeaways from the conversation:
- Don't list a school you don't want to attend; however the more schools you list, the better your chances of acceptance. Choose at least six.
- You'll get more individual attention at a small school, but there will be fewer high level courses.
- District 2 priority means that those students get accepted before all other applicants. Most D2 schools fill with district students, says Kahn.
- Test out the commute to the school before applying, preferably at rush hour.
- Read the Learning Environment Survey. You can supplement some things, such as sports, but it's harder to change things like a bad principal or an unsafe environment.
- If you're not happy with the high school assignment, continue to advocate for your child, says Kahn.
- Stuyvesant students get 3 hours of homework nightly, on average; Eagle students between 1.5-2 hours.
- Not all schools allow all students access to AP courses. Make sure to ask.
If you missed the event, you can watch it on our YouTube channel.
After enrolling my daughter in middle school earlier this year, I wrote a piece about how difficult it can be to get your child into a good school if you should happen to arrive in the city around the start of the school year. My daughter ended up in a school that was far from our first choice: a "turnaround" school, once slated for closure.
As it turns out, our less-than-optimal enrollment experience is hardly unique in New York City.
A new report from Brown University shows that many of the 36,000 "late-enrolling" high school students are disproportionately being sent to the city's lowest performing schools.