Wednesday, 01 August 2012 12:00

How to help the transition to 9th grade

My son's transition from The Urban Assembly Academy of Arts and Letters to Bard High School Early College was rough on us both. The homework grew exponentially from an hour a night to four-plus hours a night. Subject materials moved so fast it made him dizzy – and me desperate to help him.

Math was the subject he struggled with most, as his stellar A+ grades dipped to a solid C. The math learning gap was huge between 8th and 9th grade, with terms like the Latus Rectum likely to befuddle many parents. We knew he needed outside help by the third week of 9th grade.

Learning how to help was a process. We went to our neighborhood math guru, a friend and professor of math sciences at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, to break down mathematical terms into simple speech. We set up a schedule for my son to go to his school's math lab for help. We procured a tutor. But knowing how to utilize a tutor was also a learning experience.

Published in News and views
Wednesday, 18 July 2012 12:07

Collect backpacks for homeless kids

Drugstores and variety stores have already started displaying school supplies for September.  To help those families that cannot afford to buy supplies, Volunteers of America is launching its annual Operation Backpack, to collect backpacks and stuff them with school supplies for students who are homeless or live in domestic violence shelters.

Last year, 8,000 backpacks were collected and filled with requested school supplies and distributed to children.

Want to participate? The website lists ways that people can help:

For the month of July, you may drop off backpacks and school supplies at any Duane Reade store as well as other locations, including the offices of several City Council members.

In July and August corporations and other organizations are holding drives to collect items. In August, volunteers will be sorting supplies at a huge space in midtown.

You can host a drive at your office, community organization or place of worship, or you can purchase supplies from a wishlist online. Items may be shipped to: Volunteers of America, Attn: Kristin Kelly-Jangraw, 340 West 85th Street | New York, NY 10025.

Published in News and views
Wednesday, 11 July 2012 13:05

State wants input on teaching ELLs

Do you have any ideas about the most effective ways to identify and teach children who speak limited or no English? If so, the New York State Education Department would like to hear from you as it revises state regulations which define how schools offer services and English language instruction to children. The goal is to improve instruction and educational outcomes for new immigrants and other children with limited English proficiency.

From now until July 30, parents, teachers and school administrators are invited to take an online survey. Topics include: how English Language Learners (known as ELLs) are identified, or misidentified; how students exit the ELL program; parent involvement and choice in the type of program their child attends,  high school graduation requirements and others.

Click here to take the survey. It will take about a half-hour to complete.

Published in News and views

No graduation ceremony was held when my daughter’s class finished 1st grade, so I was not invited to give the commencement address. But if I had been the featured speaker, I would have said something like this:

Thank you, Chancellor Walcott, for that kind introduction. Parents, principals, teachers, classmates, janitors, Mayor Bloomberg, thank you all for coming today. Most of all, to you graduating 1st-graders: Congratulations! Job well done! Most of you probably recognize me, because I’m the father of — yes, that’s right! But let’s not shout. Always raise your hands, because — OK, that was a mistake, because now all of your hands are up. Instead, let’s put on our listening ears, sit down, and let me say something really important.

The completion of 1st grade is truly a historic moment in your academic career. When you look back, you’ll realize that kindergarten, which seemed seriously important only last year, was just a warm-up for the grade you just completed. In kindergarten, teachers had to reinforce basic ideas such as “Share” and “Take turns” and “No ankle biting” and “Don’t laugh when another kid burps loudly in class.” First grade marked the start of REAL education — as I’m sure you realize, because you faced homework every weeknight. You learned to read and write. You learned basic addition. And you learned that, if a kid actually does burp loudly in class, it is OK to think it is funny so long as you don’t actually laugh out loud. These lessons will serve you well in the future.

Published in News and views
Thursday, 28 June 2012 14:45

Insideschools presents Inside Stats

Many New York City schools call themselves "college prep" schools yet a surprising number of high schools don't offer the courses needed to prepare students for college. Unfortunately many students often don't find that out until after they are enrolled. It's not easy for parents and students to find out which schools offer college track courses such as chemistry, physics or pre-calculus. Course offerings are not listed in the high school directory or on a school's Progress Report.

Insideschools and the Center for New York City Affairs are developing a new high school score card (PDF) called Inside Stats. Clara Hemphill presented the proposed scorecard at June 28 forum at the New School. Inside Stats will mine existing Education Department data, from school Progress Reports and Learning Environment Surveys, to offer a more complete picture of high schools.

Philissa Cramer at GothamSchools has a thorough recap of the event. You can watch the panel discussion below and hop over to ustream.tv for Hemphill's presentation. 

We live-tweeted highlights from @insideschools under #NYCschools.

We plan to continue to tweak the score card so please give us your feedback in comments. What other data would you like to see?

Published in News and views
Wednesday, 27 June 2012 12:04

Moms piloted successful compost program

Five Manhattan moms started composting programs in their schools' cafeterias this year that saved 450 pounds of food waste from landfills daily and reduced the volume of cafeteria garbage by 85% in eight schools over four months.

The parents, members of the District 3 Green Schools Group, were part of a pilot program designed to test the viability of separating and composting food waste – including meat and dairy, kitchen scraps, and sugar cane food service trays.

"We were upset that we were paying for sugar cane compostable trays and they were being thrown in the garbage," said Emily Fano, a parent at PS 166, one of the eight participating schools in four buildings.

Published in News and views
Thursday, 21 June 2012 11:28

Too few NYC grads ready for college

More students than ever are graduating high school in New York City. And many more are applying to—and attending—college. Yet very few of these young people ever complete a college degree. The number of graduates enrolling in CUNY surged to 25,600 in 2009 from 16,200 in 2002, a jump of 57 percent. But as enrollment has spiked, graduation raties at CUNY's community colleges has declined.

An upcoming report from our parent organization, the Center for New York City Affairs, presented at a forum today at the New School, shows how the city's public schools are preparing more and more teens for high school graduation—but not for success in college and the living-wage workplace.

Keynote speaker David Conley, director of the Center for Educational Policy Research and University of Oregon professor, said that test scores and knowledge of subject matter are not the only indicators for success in college. The ability to show up on time, follow directions, organize your time and know how to ask for help and be persistent are just as important. (Download Conley's presentation here.)

Conley joined Sheena Wright, president of Abyssian Development Corporation; DOE deputy chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky; CUNY's director of admissions, Richard Alvarez; and Fernando Carlo director of Urban Youth Collaborative's Sistas & Brothas United for the forum, Creating College Ready Communities: Preparing NYC's Precarious New Generation of College Students, moderated by Meredith Kolodner of Insideschools.

There is a chasm between what students want to achieve and what they are prepared for. For every 100 middle school students, 93 say they want a college degree, according to Conley. Of these, 70 will graduate high school, 44 will enroll in college and only 26 will get a degree of any kind within six years of enrolling. The numbers for city students are even more discouraging.

Most city high school students have high aspirations, and want to become professionals, yet too many don't realize that their grades in 9th and 10th grade count for college admissions, said Andrew White, director of the Center in his introduction (download the presentation he gave here).

We also live-tweeted highlights from @insideschools under #collegeready.

Read accounts of the event written by Philissa Cramer on GothamSchools and Peter Goodman of ed in the apple.

Watch our livestream of the discussion. And, to keep the conversation going, please share your thoughts about what our high schools, community groups and parent organizations can do to help make sure the city's graduates are prepared for college.

Published in News and views

Nothing dulls the luster of my club's reading room quite like a spot of bad news. So it was no surprise that, upon spying the recent Times article about “The $1 million PTA,” and seeing my youngling’s venerable institution mentioned prominently, I spat out the afternoon’s gin & tonic and summoned my manservant.

“Jeeves!” I bellowed, and in an instant that reliable fellow was at my elbow. “Remind me how one obtains a retraction from New York newspaper czars. Do I post a letter, or is it mandatory to storm the editorial offices, smoke oozing from my nostrils? Have you read this inflammatory bit of yellow journalism?”

“Indeed I have, sir,” Jeeves replied. “The piece was rather informative regarding the large sums some parents raise for their children's schools. I am sorry to learn it distressed you.”

Published in News and views
Wednesday, 16 May 2012 16:38

Talent show trumps standardized tests

I'm happy to report that what loomed large for my son at school a few weeks ago had nothing to do with the mandatory standardized 3rd grade ELA and math tests, and everything to do with LearningSpring's annual talent show.

To our relief, the tests were given the appropriately small amount of attention they deserve. They don't drive the school curriculum, and their results will be refreshingly meaningless. We already know that my son is academically well-below grade level. He will get practice taking tests—not a bad thing—and no teacher will be fired because he didn't score high enough. But I understand that our school's common sense attitude is atypical in NYC public schools, and I support and admire Anne Stone and Jeff Nichols for taking a stance against these tests that take so much away from and contribute so little to our kids' education.

What Brooks got out of the talent show cannot be measured by a test. He shared his love of music with the whole student body, and he experienced the teamwork of the school coming together to create a performance for their friends and families. Although the teachers and therapists were guiding them, we knew from the way Brooks had talked about rehearsals that this was their show. And from the moment the two upper grade masters of ceremonies warmly welcomed the parents, my husband and I became enchanted.

Published in News and views
Wednesday, 09 May 2012 15:34

More tests, more boycotts

Fed up with multiple errors on state exams (including loudmouthed pineapples), some parents are planning to boycott "field tests" next week that will be used to design future exams. 

Students at more than 1,500 public and parochial schools in the city are among students at more than 4,000 schools statewide who will sit for the exams. The results will not be used to measure student achievement or evaluate schools, city officials said.

Organizers have launched a statewide campaign and are urging other parents to have their children abstain from the tests as well, providing sample letters and a fact sheet.

"Field test" questions were embedded in the math and reading exams students took last month, which was part of the reason the exams were longer.

Although this is not the first time stand-alone field tests have been administered and the exams will only take up a period or two for one day, some parents say they are in no mood to have their children "help" design future tests.

“I was very upset to learn that the DOE has mandated that our children take these field tests,” said Patricia Velotta, who has notified her son’s school that she doesn’t want her eighth grader taking the planned field test in June. “When I heard yesterday, after the relief of the ELA and math tests being over, that now they want to subject our kids to another week of field testing, I felt exasperated. Our children have had enough.”

The Pearson company's $32 million contract to create the new and improved exams has also rankled parents, who have seen school budgets slashed for several years in a row.

PS 321, PS 107 and PS 261, all in brownstone Brooklyn, are test sites and home to parents who have been vociferously opposed to the rising stakes of standardized exams. But the exams will be given in all corners of the city. Third graders at the elite Manhattan school Anderson will be quizzed on math. Sixth and seventh graders at JHS 125 in the Soundview section of the Bronx will take the reading field test. At PS 207 in Howard Beach, 4th graders will sit for the science exam.

The science field tests will be given between May 14 and 18. Students will take the English and math field tests between June 5 and 8.

For more information about the boycott, parents can email info@parentvoicesny.org or info@timeoutfromtesting.org.

Published in News and views