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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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 or

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Wednesday, 02 May 2012 12:09

New book by Insideschools staffer

Jacqueline Wayans, assignment editor for and a co-author of New York City's Best Public School Guides, has a new book out -- this one for children.

If you were bright, talented and adored, would you trade it all in for the chance to be greater?

That is the question posed in Ambrose, a fantasy story of the snake in the Garden of Eden The book is designed to help young people understand that they are born with wonderful talents and abilities - but they must value these qualities or risk losing them.

The book that will appeal to many audiences: from parents who can read it to their pre-schoolers  to middle-schoolers who can think – and write about – the questions and quandaries it poses.

Published by Tate Publishing, Ambrose is available on You can like it on Facebook, too!

Jacqueline Wayans, assignment editor for and a co-author of New York City's Best Public School Guides, has a new book out -- this one for children.

If you were bright, talented and adored, would you trade it all in for the chance to be greater? 

That is the question posed in Ambrose, a fantasy story of the snake in the Garden of Eden The book is designed to help young people understand that they are born with wonderful talents and abilities  -  but they must value these attributes or risk losing them.

This is a book that will appeal to parents who can read it to their pre-schoolers, as well as to middle-schoolers who can think – and write about – the questions it poses.

Ambrose is available on You can like it on Facebook, too!

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My family's turn to provide afternoon snacks for my daughter’s 1st-grade class comes up next week, and I'm anxiously awaiting the backlash. When you make dietary choices for 23 New York City kids, only one of whom is yours, some other parent will often take exception.

It's easy to frame the classroom snack debate in broad terms such as cupcakes vs. carrot sticks. The prevalence of sugary cupcakes in elementary classrooms received so much attention that one school district banned them outright. But cupcakes are (forgive me for mixing food terms) a red herring. You don't give a kid a cupcake and kid yourself you're serving health food.

The problem occurs when the little kids are served food that appears healthy but is actually more dessert than snack.

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Tuesday, 03 April 2012 10:12

Ask Judy: My 9th-grader is floundering

Dear Judy,

Our son used to be an A student but now he is getting Ds and Cs. He is a freshman in high school. The teachers tell me he does not do his homework. Sometimes he does it but forgets to hand it in. We can't figure out why he is no longer interested in school and we are getting worried!

High school parent.

Dear High School Parent,

High school is a big change for kids and sometimes they can be thrown off course. There may be any number of reasons your son is doing poorly. He could be affected by the extra work load, by having to deal with many teachers and students (depending on the size of his school), by a teacher who made an offhand comment about his academic skills, or a fellow student who disparaged him.

Indeed, there may be a deeper problem. When kids change their habits so drastically, it can be a mask for behind the scenes worries – most likely trouble with other kids at school. He may be finding it hard to make friends, he may be the target of bullies. He may be hanging around with other discouraged kids. There is lots of talk about bullying these days and his school should have instituted programs and discussions that offer kids a confidential way to report their problems. If not, take steps to see that they do. I recently wrote about this.

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April is National Poetry Month. It's also the month many New York elementary schools hold benefit auctions to raise money. Inspired by both events, I composed a poem (much in the tradition of Robert Service, my late father's most beloved balladeer) designed to stir the soul of any parent who ever left a school auction carrying a heavy load after an evening of enthusiastic bidding. Feel free to carry this with you on Poem in Your Pocket Day on April 26.

I got an invitation from the folks at PS 3*
to attend the yearly auction and extend some charity.
I pictured a dry evening at a nondescript bazaar.
Then I beheld a lovely sight: the auction’s open bar!

Next morning, as I tried to soothe the pounding in my head,
I spied a formal document, and this is what it said:
“Your winning silent bids have helped our school an awful lot.
We thank you for your purchases. Now, this is what you bought:

A three-night stay at Ed’s Chalet located near Lake Placid.
A thorough urinalysis of your nucleic acid.
A week at camp. A neon lamp. A rug that’s Oriental.
A round-trip fare to anywhere that’s served by Continental.

An expert consultation to make closets clean and tidy.
A seven-course bonanza at a Bronx TGIFriday.
A wheel of cheese. Five DVDs. Fine wool from Colorado.
Some collard greens and Boston beans. A Spanish avocado.

A ruby ring. A turkey wing. An ancient Chinese bucket.
Some Danish clogs. A scarf from Prague. Two lobsters from Nantucket.
A travel guide. A lantern slide. A chance to see ‘The View.’
A bowler hat. A cricket bat. An outrigger canoe.

A cotton towel. A great horned owl. Fresh corn from Oklahoma.
A Rolex watch. Some homemade scotch. A test for melanoma.
A two-book set on etiquette called ‘What to Tip the Doormen.’
Four tickets plus a chartered bus to see ‘The Book of Mormon.’

A ball of twine. Australian wine. CDs by Justin Bieber.
A scholarly translation of the German ‘Ach du Lieber.’
Two tickets to a matinee that’s showing ‘Mama Mia.’
An in-home test in case you’re stressed that you have gonorrhea.”

My aching head filled up with dread as I read off my tally:
A ballet class. A highball glass. A postcard from Death Valley.
A novel signed by Gertrude Stein. A coat by London Fog.
A weekend at somebody’s house somewhere out near East Quogue.

“This now concludes your purchases,” I read with great relief.
But then I saw a second line, and stared in disbelief.
It seems I’d raised my paddle when they sought a contribution
for items meant to elevate this fine old institution.

I’d bought some new gymnastics mats. I’d bought some spelling books.
I’d paid for nonstick bakeware to be used by lunchroom cooks.
I’d started an endowment for the school’s new marching band.
When all was done, I guess I must have shelled out twenty grand.

“Oh well,” I said, and rubbed my head. “It all goes for the school.”
Then I beheld the final line, and felt like such a fool.
“Next year, we know we’ll see you at our benefit affair.
And we are cheered you volunteered to be the auction chair!”

* Not really. I just needed a number to rhyme with "charity."

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Thursday, 15 March 2012 20:57

Elementary Dad: Cameras to spy on kids?

In an effort to prevent the sexual abuse of children, my daughter’s elementary school now requires parents to wear little white nametags when we visit classrooms. I’m pleased to report that Operation Nametag has been a success: No charges of child abuse have been filed since it went into effect.

Well, no new charges. The school is still reeling from the arrest in February of a paraprofessional who has been charged with attempting to molest an 8-year-old boy. As the criminal case creeps through the legal system, parents at my daughter’s school are sad, fearful, confused and, above all, angry that the school can’t guarantee their children’s safety.

I personally don’t expect such a guarantee. I agree with Helen Keller, who wrote, “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it.” But Helen and I hold the minority view. Other parents are proposing a number of reforms that they insist will make my daughter’s school a safer place.

Sadly, many of the ideas are terrible.

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