About

About Us

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 Booth Ferris Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Tortora-Sillcox Family Foundation, the David L. Klein Jr. Foundation, and the New York Community Trust. We are also supported by reader donations and advertising revenue.

InsideSchools was founded in 2002 by the nonprofit organization Advocates for Children before moving to the Center for New York City Affairs in 2010.

Our paid staff is small. We welcome volunteers. Write us at contact@insideschools.org 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 “performance.”)

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 sometimes. 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.

Who we are

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Clara Hemphill, founder and editor

Clara leads the Center for New York City Affair's policy work on economic segregation of the city's schools, examining why there are schools with high concentrations of poverty even in mixed income neighborhoods. The New York Times called her three books designed to help parents choose good public elementary, middle and high schools for their children "the most definitive guides" to the city's schools. New York magazine called her one of the 200 most "influential" New Yorkers for her work "empowering parents." As a reporter and editorial writer for New York Newsday, she shared the Pulitzer Prize for local reporting. New York magazine called her writing on the homeless "worthy of Dickens." She was a foreign correspondent for the Associated Press and a producer for CBS News based in Rome. Clara lives in Manhattan with her husband, Robert Snyder. Their two children, now grown, attended New York City public schools from kindergarten through high school.

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Pamela Wheaton, managing editor

Pam is one of the founding members of InsideSchools. She edits the blog, reviews schools, leads workshops about school choice and New York City public schools, and oversees editorial content. She collaborated with Clara Hemphill on a series of books about New York City's best public schools. Pam's background is in journalism: She 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.

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Laura Zingmond, senior editor

Laura reviews schools, writes for the Insideschools blog, advises parents on school choice, and contributes to policy research for Insideschools and the Center. She has visited hundreds of schools across the city and led the research on middle and high schools for a multi-year project evaluating science and math instruction. Previously, Laura worked as an attorney and administrative law judge. From 2014 to 2016, she served as Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer's appointee to the New York City Panel for Educational Policy. Laura is a lifelong New Yorker and her two children are the fourth generation in her family to have attended the city's public schools.

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Lydie Raschka, reporter

Lydie reviews schools and writes for the Insideschools blog. She is a graduate of Bank Street College and is interested in education in all its forms. With Clara Hemphill, she co-authored a 2015 report called "Conquering Teachers' Math Anxiety." Lydie is a former public school teacher (grades 1–3) and continues to work as a Montessori teacher-trainer during the summers. Her son attended public school in Manhattan. As a teacher, parent, writer and consultant she has been inside hundreds of New York City schools.

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Nicole Mader, senior research fellow

Nicole manages the statistical data on InsideSchools and contributes research, analysis and data visualization to the Center for New York City Affair's k–12 education policy research projects. Before coming to InsideSchools, she taught high school social studies for six years at Samuel Gompers CTE High School in the South Bronx and Lyons Community School in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. She holds a master's in secondary social studies education from Fordham University and a bachelor's in political science from Davidson College. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate in public and urban policy at The Milano School of International Affairs, Management, and Urban Policy at The New School, where her focus is on the potential for integrated student supports to reduce the impact of poverty on educational outcomes in New York City public schools.

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Seaira Christian-Daniels, project coordinator

Seaira supports all aspects of InsideSchools operations, from website updates to visiting and writing about New York City public schools. She is currently a master’s degree candidate in International Affairs at The New School, specializing in International Development. Prior to joining InsideSchools, Seaira worked in the Fellowships and Grants Department at the American Association of University Women (AAUW) in Washington, D.C. and led study abroad trips for college students in Costa Rica and Ecuador. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Spanish from Ohio University’s Honors Tutorial College.

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Aimee Sabo, reporter and editor

Aimee writes and edits content for InsideSchools. She has visited elementary, middle, and high schools throughout the city and continues to be inspired by the dedication and creativity of the students, parents and educators she meets. Before joining InsideSchools, she served on the Board of the Lungevity Foundation, raising much-needed funds for research in lung cancer. A graduate of Stanford University, Aimee got her start in publishing at Time Out New York magazine, and is a proud mom to two boys who attend New York City public school. She enjoys drawing on her varied background to inform her work at the Center where she hopes to be a voice for positive change in education and human rights.

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Gail Robinson, reporter

Gail has been visiting schools and contributing write-ups and blog posts to InsideSchools since 2012. An independent writer on education and other policy issues and an adjunct professor of journalism at Baruch College/CUNY, Gail was editor-in-chief of Gotham Gazette and has covered politics and environmental issues. Her article on Brooklyn's John Dewey High School won a first prize for education reporting from the Education Writers Association. Gail's two children attended New York City public schools.

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Jacqueline Wayans, consultant

Jacquie was the outreach and event coordinator, and on-camera voice of InsideSchools, where she worked for more than 10 years. She is a co-author of the New York City’s Best Public Schools guides, having visited more than 350 city schools. Most important, she is the mom of three children who've all successfully completed their education in New York City public schools. Her passion is to inform low-income and minority communities about all of the options available to them.

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Mahalia Watson, reporter

Mahalia visits schools, writes reviews, and contributes to reporting for InsideSchools. She is passionate about increasing awareness of schools that serve their communities well, despite conventional belief about their performance based on test scores. She is the founder of Let's Talk Schools, which produces events and provides services that inform and educate parents and families so that they can make good-fit education choices from pre-kindergarten through high school. She has been a project manager and producer in print and broadcast production for more than 15 years. Her son attends public school in Manhattan.

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