Pamela Wheaton

Pamela Wheaton

Pamela Wheaton is one of the founding members of Insideschools. Since 2002 she has served as deputy director, project director and managing editor. She edits the blog, reviews schools, leads workshops about school choice and oversees editorial content. She collaborated with Clara Hemphill on a series of guides to New York City’s best public schools. Previously Wheaton was a producer of PBS television programs and a reporter and editor at the Buenos Aires Herald. Her two daughters graduated from New York City public schools.

This weekend, Sept. 26 and 27, is the Department of Education's gigantic citywide high school fair from 10 am to 3 pm at Brooklyn Technical High School. Prepare for a hectic, information-packed day.

You can attend information sessions about high school admissions, and applying to specialized high schools, led by staff from the education department's enrollment office. This will be helpful especially if this is your family's first time applying (and it will give you a place to sit down and take a breather.) Enrollment specialists will cover most of the same information that was presented in the summer workshops. You can find links to those here.

Most schools will have a table staffed by students, teachers, parent cordinators, guidance counselors and sometimes the principal. Each borough has a dedicated space between the 2nd and 7th floors. The nine specialized high schools are set up in the first floor gymnasium. That's always very crowded so be prepared!

Middle school admissions season kicks into high gear this month for parents of 5th-graders. You can meet school representatives at evening district fairs beginning Wednesday, Sept. 30. Middle school directories for 2015-2016 are online and hard copies are available at elementary schools.

Now is the time to sign up for school tours and open houses! Check school websites or call the school to find out when they are being held. In some popular schools, especially in Manhattan where there is active school choice, many tours are already fully booked. Don't despair. If you're shut out, try contacting the parent coordinator to see if additional tours will be added. In parts of Brooklyn, tours haven't even been set up yet at schools, but they should be by the end of September.

When you visit the schools, be sure to ask about admissions requirements. The directory listings are not always specific.

Tuesday, 08 September 2015 17:58

School's open! Still got questions?

School's open! For parents who still have questions—or who don't have a school assignment—here's where you can get help and find answers.

Your school district

Got a question about enrollment? Missing special ed or English language services? Contact your newly appointed family support coordinator. There is one for each of the city's 32 districts. Their job is to work with individual parents who have problems or concerns. It's a new position so we don't know how well it is working yet, but it's worth reaching out.

Family leadership coordinators replace the DFAs (district family advocates). Their job is to support PA/PTAs and SLTs (School Leadership Teams) and to lead district workshops and events. If you're wondering why your school's PTA isn't active, or have a question about how to get involved, talk to your district's leadership coordinator. Many of them are former DFAs and know their schools very well.

For more tips about the start of the school year, see the DOE's "Back to School Basics" here. Make sure to download a copy of the Parents' Bill of Rights. Your school should also be sending one home with your child.

Pre-kindergarten enrollment

With the massive expansion of universal pre-kindergarten this year, there are bound to be snafus. Some 51 programs closed before the start of the school year. If you were assigned to one of those, and need a new placement, call the pre-k outreach team at 212-637-8036 for help. If you never got a placement, or are new to the city, you can go to one of the Department of Education's new registration centers, contact the outreach team or call the DOE's enrollment helpline at 718-935-2009. You can also contact programs directly. (Sometimes you need several options!) Here's a list of schools that had available seats at the end of August. 

New York City students performed slightly better on state standardized tests in 2015 than they did in 2014, but about two-thirds of test-takers in grades 3–8 still failed to meet state standards on either the ELA (English language arts) or math tests, according to figures released by the state education department today. The so-called "opt-out" movement gained momentum this year with nearly 2 percent of eligible New York City students refusing to take the tests, the city said; statewide some 20 percent of 3rd–8th-graders sat them out. 

Math scores continue to be somewhat higher than ELA, with 35.2 percent of students meeting the standards—scoring a 3 or 4 on the Common Core–aligned exams, as compared to 34.2 percent last year. Only 30.4 percent of students passed the reading exam, up from 28.4 percent last year.

Parents can find their child's test scores on their NYC Schools parent account. If you don't yet have an account, you can contact your school, or local school district, to help you set it up. Scores for individual schools and districts are now posted on the Department of Education's website.

The gap in scores among ethnic groups remains large throughout the city and state. "Black and Hispanic students face a discouraging achievement gap," said State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia in a conference call with reporters. Similar to last year, more than 50 percent of white and Asian students in the city scored 3 or 4 on the English test, while only about 19 percent of black and Hispanic students did. In math, 67 percent of Asians passed, compared to 57 percent of whites, 24 percent of Hispanics and 19 percent of black students. [See the chart above].

Students with special needs and those learning to speak English fared the worst: Only 4 percent of English language learners passed the English test and 14 percent passed the math. Of the students with disabilities, nearly 7 percent scored a 3 or 4 on English and 11 percent on math, down slightly from last year.

For more coverage of the 2015 exams and the opt-out movement, see Chalkbeat New York. The DOE's press release about city scores is here.



Applying to high school in New York City can be a full-time job for 8th-graders and their families. Students who don't have an adult to help them have an even harder time navigating the system—and making the most of their options. Now, in two city neighborhoods, an innovative Department of Education program trains students to help each other through the process.

Modeled after a successful high school college access program, the Middle School Success Centers began as a pilot program on the Lower East Side and in Cypress Hills in late 2013, targeting neighborhoods where students could really use the help.

At IS 171 in Cypress Hills, counselors from the Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation offer intensive high school choice counseling and training for youth leaders in one of the poorest communities in the city. The middle school youth leaders are trained in a summer program and commit to working with their fellow students during lunch hour and after school to help them understand the admissions process and make good choices on their high school applications. They apply for the job and are paid $50 per month.

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.

Sixty-six percent of eligible students who applied to G&T (gifted and talented) programs in 2015 received offers today, up from 2014 when 60 percent of applicants received offers. Fewer students applied this year: 7,242 students in grades k–3 applied for a spot, a decrease from 8,010 applications last year.

Incoming kindergartners—the first entry point for gifted programs—had the best chance of gaining a seat: nearly 80 percent of the applicants received an offer, as compared to only 36 percent of 3rd-graders.

As in previous years, admission to one of the five citywide G&T programs eludes most eligible students. While more than 1,500 kindergarten test-takers scored high enough—97th percentile or better—to qualify for a citywide seat, there are only about 325 slots. Most offers go to children who score in the 99th percentile, or to eligible siblings of current citywide G&T students. The DOE has not yet released figures for how many were offered a citywide G&T seat this year, but last year roughly 300 earned a spot. 

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."

There were few surprises in today's release of the numbers of children who qualified for the city's elementary gifted and talented programs. Hundreds of kids qualified from Manhattan's districts 2 and 3, compared to only a dozen from District 7 in the South Bronx, according to statistics released Monday afternoon by the Department of Education. 

In total, 25 percent of the 36,413 test-takers entering kindergarten through 3rd grade were eligible for a district or citywide gifted program, just slightly below the 26 percent who were eligible last year. 

The number of incoming kindergartners who scored in the 99th percentile—the score usually necessary for a chance at entry into one of the five coveted citywide G&T schools—fell from 985 in 2014 to 689 in 2015. Children who score at or above the 90th percentile are eligible for a district G&T program; those who score between the 97 and 99th percentile are eligible for a citywide gifted school. But since there are only about 300 seats in the citywide programs, students who don't score in the top percentile have little chance of getting in.

The Department of Education released its list of 20 high schools that received the most applications this year, and Townsend Harris High School in Queens, with 5,540 applicants, was at the top. It was one of five high school programs that received more than 5,000 applications from 8th-graders in 2015.

Eleanor Roosevelt High School (ELRO), a small school that limits enrollment to Manhattan's District 2 students, was second most popular with 5,376 applicants. ELRO continues to get thousands of applications from students throughout the city even though those coming from outside of the district have little chance of getting accepted. 

Beacon High School, which moves to a new building in Hell's Kitchen in September, was number three, garnering 5,255 applications for 300 seats. Beacon, like some other popular and very selective schools, still has a few openings for students with special needs. Schools that screen applicants for test scores and grades have been charged with attracting and enrolling more students who require special education services for at least 20 percent of the school day. Many came up short in the first round of high school admissions

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