We are journalists, parents and public school advocates dedicated to improving schools for our own children and for every child in the city. We believe that engaged, informed parents can promote racially and economically integrated schools of the highest quality. Furthermore, we believe that excellent public education is crucial to the functioning of a democratic society.
We provide authoritative independent information about New York City's public schools. We want to tell you what's really going on, because test scores don't tell the whole story. We visit hundreds of schools each year and interview thousands of people—principals, teachers, students and parents. We observe what's happening in the classrooms, cafeterias, hallways and even the bathrooms.
InsideSchools is a project of the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School and is supported by grants from the Walton Family Foundation, Deutsche Bank Americas Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and the New York Community Trust. We are also supported by reader donations and advertising revenue. Former grantors include the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Tortora-Sillcox Family Foundation, the David L. Klein Foundation.
Our paid staff is small. We welcome volunteers. Write us at [email protected] if you would like to help.
How we evaluate schools
Our school reviews are based on both quantitative and qualitative information. Our school reviewers biographies are listed below; many of us have visited hundreds of schools.
For each school, we analyze Department of Education data including annual school surveys (which measure teacher, parent and student satisfaction); Quality Reviews (formal evaluations by trained educators); Comprehensive Educational Plans (annual plans written by school staff); as well as attendance, chronic absenteeism, test scores, teacher turnover, suspension rates, demographics, graduation rates and college-ready rates. We look at how a school compares to schools with similar demographics (a measure the city calls “impact”).
After reviewing the data, we schedule visits to see schools, usually for 3 to 6 hours while classes are in session. We sit in on classes and interview the principal, teachers, and sometimes parents and students. We look for well-equipped classrooms, a high level of engagement among the students, lively class discussions, good examples of student writing (posted on bulletin boards or collected in student notebooks), math instruction that balances conceptual understanding with drill, imaginative lessons and a well-rounded curriculum that includes art, music, science and social studies.
We ask and observe how teachers reach a range of pupils, how they challenge top students and offer support to students who are struggling. We ask and observe whether teachers handle discipline gently but effectively. We look for pleasant interactions between staff members and staff and students. We look for schools that welcome children and parents of different income levels and racial and ethnic groups.
We list as Staff Picks schools that do well on all or almost all these measures.
We list as Noteworthy schools that do well on some of these measures, including new schools (which may not yet have a full complement of grades or a graduating class) and schools we have not visited recently.
Noteworthy schools may have an innovative but untested approach to learning; a promising new leader who is implementing positive changes; an unusually warm and nurturing atmosphere but mediocre test scores; high test scores but punitive discipline; a staff that supports struggling students well but doesn’t offer options for high achievers; or a staff that offers options for high-achievers but doesn’t support students who need extra help.
Staff pick for special education includes programs were recommended by special education advocates, parents’ groups, university researchers and InsideSchools staffers. We looked for schools with high academic standards (reflected by better-than-average test scores among children with disabilities); that treat all children kindly; and that serve a substantial number of special needs students. This list is not exhaustive and we welcome additional suggestions.