Pamela Wheaton

Pamela Wheaton

Pamela Wheaton has been on staff at Insideschools since 2002, serving as deputy director, project director and managing editor. She edits the blog, reviews schools and leads workshops about school choice. She collaborated with Hemphill on a series of guides to New York City’s best public schools. 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.
Monday, 21 April 2014 12:16

Kindergarten Connect: 71% get 1st choice

Some 71 percent of the families who applied to kindergarten this year via a new online application system were assigned to the school they ranked first on their application, the city announced today. Another 12 percent got either their second or third choice, the Department of Education said.

Nearly 11 percent -- 7,238 students -- did not get any of their choices and were assigned to schools they didn't apply to; in some cases their zoned school; in others another school in their district. Last year students who weren't accepted at any schools they applied to weren't given an alternate placement until June.

The DOE inaugurated its new "Kindergarten Connect" system in January and, for the first time, families applied to kindergarten online, on the phone or at a DOE enrollment office, rather than submitting separate applications to each school. Instead of being potentially matched to more than one school, this year applicants were given one match. Letters were sent home today to the 67,000 families who applied by the Feb. 20 deadline. Families who have not yet applied, or who have moved since they submitted their application, now may visit the schools in person to apply. All children who turn five years old in 2014 are guaranteed a spot in kindergarten.

63 schools have waitlists for zoned students

The new application allowed families to apply to 20 schools or programs. The DOE said the "streamlined application" helped reduced waitlists at crowded zoned neighborhood schools. Waitlists — a perennial problem at very popular and over-crowded schools — were decreased, by nearly half since 2012, according to DOE data. A still significant number of 63 schools have waitlists for zoned students, down from 125 schools two years ago and 105 schools last year.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014 16:23

Our pre-k picks for Brooklyn

Brooklyn is the city's largest borough and the one with most schools. Pre-kindergarten choices are as varied as the borough. In some areas of brownstone Brooklyn, pre-k programs don't meet the demand. Even parents who list 12 schools on their application will be disappointed. In other areas—such as Fort Greene or Bedford Stuyvesant—parents have more options.

Don't be afraid to look at historically low-performing schools: in some cases pre-kindergarten programs are excellent and expanding, even if the school as a whole has a long way to go. Further out in Brooklyn, half-day programs can be the norm, especially in Districts 21 and 22. We haven't found much to recommend in central Brooklyn, where school environment surveys reflect a discontent with the tone of the buildings. We advise you to take a look and let us know what you find.

Wednesday, 09 April 2014 14:14

City takes high stakes out of testing

The city has taken a big step to scale back on anxiety over state tests. A new promotion policy takes the high-stakes out of testing for grades 3-8, at least when it comes to determining who gets promoted to the next grade and who must attend summer school.

The Department of Education announced the new policy today, which, if approved by the Panel for Educational Policy in May, will mean that a student cannot be held back simply because of a low score (Level 1) on the state reading or math exam. Instead, "multiple measures" will be used to determine promotion, including report card grades and schoolwork as well as test scores.  

"We have listened and worked closely with families, teachers and principals to establish a new promotion policy that complies with State law and empowers educators, takes the temperature down around testing, and keeps rigorous standards in place," said schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña in a statement.

Nearly one-third of the 14,600 rising kindergartners who sat for Gifted & Talented assessments in January and February found out today that they qualified for one of the city's district or citywide G&T programs. That's  about six percent fewer than qualified in 2013, according to Department of Education data released Friday afternoon. The number of children who scored in the 99th percentile--the score usually necessary for a chance at entry into one of the five coveted citywide G&T--programs also fell, from more than 1,450 last year to about 950 this year.

Even with the lower number of qualifiers, there are still three times as many top-scoring tykes than there are seats in the five most selective citywide programs which have only about 300 seats for incoming kindergartners. Further decreasing the odds of entry, qualifying siblings of current students get first dibs at those seats.

The gap in student performance between richest and poorest districts remains wide but there were gains in Harlem and Washington Heights. In Districts 4 (East Harlem), 5 (Harlem) and 6 (Washington Heights and Inwood) nearly twice as many students scored in the top percentile than did last year.

Parents were notified of their child's score today along with an application listing their progam options. Families who do not get their results by Monday, April 7, should call the DOE at 718-935-2009. Families have until April 21 to apply one of the gifted programs, but since schools are closed for spring vacation from April 14-22, parents have only next week to visit schools.  A list of open houses is posted on the DOE's website here. Letters of acceptance for regular, non-gifted, kindergarten programs will be sent during the spring break. G&T applicants won't find out until May 26 if they have been offered a spot.

Wednesday, 02 April 2014 12:55

City creates 4,200 new full-day pre-k seats

Some highly sought-after schools that lacked pre-kindergarten programs will now have them. Mayor Bill de Blasio announced today the city will add more than 4,200 new full-day pre-k seats at 140 public schools in September, thanks to $300 million in funding from the state that was approved over the weekend.

There are three new programs in popular midtown Manhattan schools: Midtown West, PS 116 and PS 40. In Chinatown, PS 130 is offering a full day instead of a half-day program, and PS 124 will house three classes. In Brooklyn's District 15, the new Maurice Sendak Community School will have 66 seats, up from the 30 originally planned. PS 15 in Red Hook is offering 84 slots. PS 20 in Fort Greene will have two classes, instead of one.

In the Bronx, perennially popular Bronx New School will offer two full-day classes, not one and PS 23 in Fordham will have 48 seats. In Queens, new programs will open at PS 290 in Maspeth and PS 63 in Ozone Park and at two new schools that will open in the fall, PS 343 in Corona and PS 316 in South Ozone Park. PS 175 in Rego Park will also offer three classes. In Staten Island, 15 schools have either created new programs, added additional seats or are expanding half-day programs to full-day.

Tuesday, 01 April 2014 10:31

State: NYC must give space to charters

In New York City, a new siting process paves the way for more charter schools (via Chalkbeat New York)

The state budget bill’s expected passage includes several dramatic education policy shifts for the city, but perhaps none have been more fiercely debated than new provisions for providing new city charter schools with free or subsidized space. Now…

Thursday, 13 March 2014 11:39

District 2 schools get most applications

What are an 8th grader's odds of getting accepted by the most popular New York City high school? Less than two percent at tiny Baruch College High School, which got a whopping 7,238 applications for just 111 seats this year. For the fourth year in the row, Baruch, which has a 100 percent graduation rate and screens for student grades, test scores and attendance, tops the Department of Education's list of the 20 high school programs that received the most applications. (Some huge neighborhood schools in Queens and Brooklyn get far more total applicants but the DOE ranked the list of applications by programs, not schools.)

In a repeat of the past few years, second on the list with 5,779 applicants, was Pace High School in Chinatown, followed by Eleanor Roosevelt on the Upper East Side, with 5,740 applicants. What the top three have in common is that they are all small schools located in Manhattan's District 2.  

Unlike the other boroughs, there are no large zoned high schools in Manhattan. Instead, District 2 created a series of small and successful schools which have yet to be widely replicated around the city. Five of its screened schools give priority to district students and Manhattanites, all but shutting out applicants from elsewhere. Because there are few comparable schools in other boroughs, 8th graders citywide continue to apply, even though chances of acceptance are slim. According to a SchoolBook article this week, more than 78 percent of the students offered admissions to six District 2 schools last year came from the district. For Baruch and the New York City Lab School (number 18 on the list), about 95 percent of the students accepted in 2013 came from District 2 middle schools.

High school acceptance letters went out this week and 90 percent of 8th graders who applied got one of their choices. Of those, 84 percent got one of their top five choices. But, once again, 10 percent of the more than 77,000 applicants didn't get accepted anywhere.

If you were one of the the 7,452 8th graders who wasn't matched to a high school (or if you're unhappy with your match) it's time to consider one of the 10 new schools opening in the fall of 2014—or one of the established schools that still has space.

You can meet representatives from these schools at the second-round high school fair from 11 am to 2 pm this weekend, March 15 and 16 at the Martin Luther King Educational Campus at 66th and Amsterdam in Manhattan. You can also meet with guidance counselors at the fair to help consider your options.

You must submit a new application -- with up to 12 choices -- by March 21 and you'll hear in May where you've been assigned. If you are not matched with a school that you list in the Round 2 application, then the Department of Education will assign you to a school close to where you live. (If you were matched to a school in Round 1, submit a new application and then are matched to a different school in Round 2, you forfeit the seat offered to you in Round 1).

All 8th and 9th graders can apply in the second round, even those who didn't apply in the fall. That may be especially relevant to 9th graders who are hoping to transfer to a new school for 10th grade, but missed applying in the fall. All current 9th graders may apply for another school in the second round.

Tuesday, 04 March 2014 15:27

Apply by March 12 for new middle schools

Unhappy with your middle school choices? The Education Department announced 10 new middle schools are opening next September. New applications are going out this week to 5th graders. Families that are interested in applying must fill out and return the application by Wednesday, March 12. It won't affect the application you submitted in the fall as you can be accepted both at a new school and at a school you applied to in December.

While choosing a new school over an established one is risky, several of these new schools look like promising options. The Eagle Academy for Young Men is opening another school, this time in Staten Island, the first single sex school for that borough. PS 84, a popular neighborhood school in Williamsburg is adding on middle school grades. In Manhattan's crowded District 2, two new middle schools are opening, one that offers a selective program for high-achievers. The citywide gifted program in Queens will expand to include middle school called 30th Avenue Academy at a new site.

Most of the schools should be offering information sessions before the application deadline. Check out the Department of Education's new middle school directory for contact information.

Here's a brief rundown.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014 12:14

How to handle high school letter day March 10

by Joyce Szuflita

Sometime during the week of March 10 8th-graders will get a letter telling them where they have been accepted to high school.

Here's what normally happens: The kids at public schools are given sealed envelopes in school that hold the results of their SHSAT tests, whether they have been offered a seat at one of the specialized high schools and their match - if any - from their main 1-12 application. The kids are instructed to wait to open the letters when they get home. Yeah, right.

They are dismissed, and the second that they get outside the school building, they rip open the letters and there on the sidewalk in front of school, the full range of human emotion is played out in public; tragedy, euphoria, jealousy, hatred and deception all bathed in a river of tears.

High School Hustle columnist Liz Willen wrote about this several years ago -- in Choice and Crying Teens --  and the problem still persists. It is ugly and it is up to you to stop it. You must either convince your child NOT to open the letter in public (good luck) or you must be there to whisk them away to a safe place to celebrate or commiserate in private.