Geoff Decker

Here Are Some of the Biggest Challenges Facing NYC Public Schools

The needle is slowly moving to address challenges facing New York City’s neediest students, but incremental progress means that the biggest problems remain daunting, a data-packed report on the city school system shows.

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Report: 40 Per Cent of NYC High Schools Do Not Offer Advanced Math and Science Courses

You need chemistry to become a registered nurse or an emergency medical technician. You need physics to become an architect.

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New York Drops Controversial Test-Maker Pearson

New York is ditching Pearson as its test-maker after years of high-profile missteps, switching to a smaller vendor that will cost more but comes with less baggage, the State Education Department announced Thursday.

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Open Revolt: New York City's Test-Boycott Movement Is Small But Growing

As students wrapped up this [month’s] state English exams, advocates said more city parents than ever refused to let their children take the tests at schools with active “opt-out” movements, while other parents brought the boycott to schools that are new to the cause.

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Study Shows NYC Charter School Suspensions Far Outpace Public School Ones

Updated — New York City charter schools suspended students at almost three times the rate of traditional public schools during the 2011-12 school year, according to a Chalkbeat analysis, though some charter schools have since begun to reduce the use of suspensions for minor infractions.

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NYC Grants 12 of 24 Charter School Co-Location Requests

[New York City] plans to offer space in public school buildings to 10 Success Academy charter schools and two Icahn charter schools, but not to 12 other schools that requested it, officials said late Tuesday.

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Not in My Backyard: How New York Parents Derailed a Potential Charter School Co-Location

A group of M.S. 61 parents and alumni stormed into a Panel for Educational Policy meeting last week with a message for Chancellor Carmen Fariña: Don’t send another school into our building.

The parents knew M.S. 61’s building in Crown Heights was getting a close look as the city hunted for space for Launch Expeditionary Learning Charter School, one of four charter schools the city has committed to finding space for under a new state law. In matching M.S. 61 T-shirts, they told Fariña they wanted nothing to do it.

One week later, Fariña told them she had heard their concerns.

“We’re not going to put a charter school in this building,” Fariña announced to an auditorium full of parents Wednesday night before being drowned out by applause.

The decision underscores how seriously the new administration is taking the concerns of school communities, and signifies that the Department of Education is less willing than in years past to pick fights with district schools to accommodate charter schools. It also illustrates how tricky it will be for officials to come up with space-sharing arrangements for new charter schools that are now guaranteed access to city facilities (or city funding), since few schools are eager for the complications that come with sharing space.

While Fariña didn’t explain the city’s decision making process, she indicated that she had listened to the parents and teachers of M.S. 61, who called their lobbying effort a success. That culminated last week at Murry Bergtraum High School, where Fariña was meeting with the Panel for Educational Policy. At the meeting, the parents held signs, spoke of their school’s desire to expand, and declared their opposition to sharing space with Launch Expeditionary, which will add high-school grades in the 2015-16 year.

“We need to remain one school in one building in order to see our vision completed,” said Karone Playfair, M.S. 61’s parent association president.

M.S. 61 currently uses up just over 50 percent of its building, and last year’s enrollment of 777 students is the lowest it’s been in the last two decades, according to city data. But Playfair said that its enrollment is low because it has been capped by the Department of Education. (There were 810 applications for 203 spots open in M.S. 61’s three programs last year, according to data obtained by DNAinfo.)

The middle school, which includes a gifted and talented program, is made up entirely of students who qualify for free or reduced lunch and 98 percent of students are black or Hispanic. Sixteen percent of students were proficient on last year’s math tests and 19 percent were proficient on the English tests, both below district averages.

Shannon Burton, who is in his second year as principal, said he’s added courses and that he’s already seeing more demand for the school. On Wednesday, he said he had urged city officials to give the school time to add students and improve.

“Give us one more year,” Burton said. “I’ll be at the right numbers.”

Last week, a working group appointed by the mayor released a list of recommendations for the city to consider as it revamps its policies for co-locating schools, a practice that has often left schools fighting over access to common facilities like gyms and cafeterias. One of the group’s top recommendations was for the city to be more transparent with existing schools about possible co-location plans.

Playfair said that an education department official first informed the school that a co-location was possible on Oct. 7 as he toured the building with parents and the school leadership team. But the parents grew increasingly worried when they learned that the same official had visited the school unannounced on three subsequent occasions to view space in the basement.

“You can come in, but what are you doing sneaking around?” Burton said.

On Wednesday, district superintendent Clarence Ellis said he wasn’t sure why the city backed off its pursuit of the space, and Fariña did not stick around after the town hall to discuss the issue. School officials are now discussing how to use the extra building space for other purposes, he said.

“If the principal here can up his numbers, if he goes out and parents want to bring their kids here because neighbors are saying good things are happening here, I’m encouraging that,” Ellis said.

Fariña still faces the complicated task of accommodating the space needs of district and now some charter schools. At the meeting, she also offered perhaps her most ardent public defense of charter schools yet, along with a challenge to traditional public schools.

“As long as parents choose to send their kids to charter schools, because it is parent choice, there is always going to be a need for them,” Fariña said. “And I am not going to say what parents should choose to do. However, I will say that public schools need to be a little bit more competitive. I’m urging principals not to focus on what other people are doing, but what can I do to make this school the best school possible and how do I get the word out there.”

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NYC School Officials Agree That Kindergarten Through Second Grade Is Too Young for Standardized Tests

When it comes to getting rid of standardized testing in early grades, the city and the teachers union are on the same page — both want them eliminated from their teacher evaluation plans.

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Students at Elite High School Boycott Teacher Evaluation Tests

For some high-achievers at Stuyvesant High School, flunking their latest test is no big deal.

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Under Pressure, Charter Schools Nix Cash-for-Applicant Tactic

A city charter school network abruptly abandoned a recruiting effort [on Friday] that would have paid families cash rewards for bringing new students to its schools. The retraction happened two and a half hours after I reported the effort on Twitter [late last week].

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Would You Want to Be Graded on Your Co-Workers' Performance?

A Bronx performing arts school’s dance instructor will be judged on students’ English exam scores. Physical education teachers at a transfer school in Brooklyn are going to teach Olympic history lessons to prepare students for the history tests that will help determine their ratings. And teachers in Queens are putting the fate of their evaluations into a final exam that they don’t teach, but yields high pass rates.

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For Students in Foster Care, A Helping Hand in the High School Admissions Process

Most of the roughly 30,000 students and family members who passed through Brooklyn Technical High School last weekend had to traverse the Citywide High School Fair on their own.

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