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August 20, 2014
High school admissions interviews perpetuate inequality, but they don't have to
Middle schools need to do everything possible to help students who come from low-income backgrounds prepare for high school admissions interviews, knowing they’ll be competing against students from middle- and upper-class backgrounds who often have more experience with high-stakes interviews.
March 21, 2014
I navigate high school admissions for my job, and it’s still confusing
A middle school guidance counselor explains how gaps in understanding and resources diminish the power of the high school admissions process.
March 12, 2014
Stressful admissions process ends with sigh of relief for some students
Students whom Chalkbeat met early in the high school admissions process said they were happy with their placements this week. But several said they felt for their classmates who did not get in anywhere.
April 10, 2013
Amid specter of lower scores, Explore Empower peps for tests
Mock test exams were scattered across the floor with the number four on them– the highest a student can score on the state exam. The papers were used as a prop in one of the pep rally performances. A group of young girls dressed in gray pleated skirts and bright blue t-shirts ran to the side of the gym and turned to face some boys who were also getting into position. The girls waited for their cue and then loudly chanted, "Boom! Watch me rock that test!" They shouted the phrase over and over while pretending to push the boys, who represented the test, to the other side of the gym.
May 16, 2012
High-needs enrollment targets could challenge some charters
A screenshot from the state's proposed enrollment targets calculator. It shows the range of target enrollments for a school enrolling 150 students in Brooklyn's District 15. The state is preparing to take a step forward in implementing a two-year-old clause in its charter school law that requires the schools to serve their fair share of high-needs students. When legislators revised the charter school law in 2010, their main objective was to increase the number of charters allowed. But they also added a requirement that charter schools enroll “comparable” numbers of students with disabilities and English language learners, populations that the schools typically under-enroll. What comparability would mean has never been clear — until now. Last week, the state unveiled a proposed methodology for calculating enrollment targets, and it intends to finalize the algorithm at next month’s meeting of SUNY’s Board of Trustees, which oversees charter schools. The targets would vary from school to school and be determined based on the overall ratio of high-needs students in each district. The proposal includes a calculator that determines enrollment targets for any school based on its location, the grades it serves, and the size of its student body. Under the proposed methodology, a charter school with 400 students in grades five through eight in Upper Manhattan’s District 6, for example, would have to enroll 98 percent students who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, 15 percent students with disabilities, and 44 percent ELLs. In District 2, which has more affluent families and fewer immigrants, a similar school would be expected to enroll 64 percent poor students and 13.4 percent ELLs. But it would still need to have 15 percent of students with special needs.
August 16, 2011
Bridge-building no metaphor at engineering-themed high school
Ninth-grader Ikiya Devonish prepares to load weight onto her group's bridge, with the help of City Tech Professor Anthony Cioffi. Many schools have summer "bridge" programs to bring new students up to speed. City Polytechnic High School of Engineering, Architecture, and Technology has ninth-graders build actual bridges. The two-year-old school's summer orientation program includes a bridge-building competition where incoming freshmen can showcase their newly acquired engineering skills. The orientation kicks off an intensive program that condenses all of high school plus a taste of college into three years. That's a steep challenge for many students at the Downtown Brooklyn school, which admits students without considering their grades or test scores. But school officials say about three-quarters of the small school's first entering class is on track to spend a fourth year studying full-time at the New York City College of Technology, the high school's partner, free of charge. Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott attended this year's competition today, offering congratulations and consolations as students pushed their popsicle-stick bridges to the breaking point. Tension mounted as students, teachers, and supporters watched to see whether any bridges would bear more than last year's record 109 pounds. One bridge did: The winning team, Building Fanatics, loaded 114 pounds of geometry textbooks onto their structure before it collapsed. Stephon Stevens, a ninth-grader who came to City Poly from Explore Charter School, said the team guessed that moving popsicle sticks from the bottom to the top of the bridge design would make it stronger. Four of every five students at City Poly are boys, in keeping with a trend that cuts across many of the city's career and technical education schools.
July 20, 2011
After early win, PS 9 parents lose bid to keep charter school out
A legal challenge that prompted city education officials to rewrite all of its co-location plans was denied today. Well before the co-location was approved in February, parents at Brooklyn's PS 9 had battled against the city's plan to move Brooklyn East Collegiate Charter School into the building. In April, then-State Education Commissioner David Steiner halted the co-location plan, agreeing with the parents that the city Department of Education's space-sharing plan had many flaws. After the city revised the plan — along with all of the other co-location plans that had the same problems — parents appealed again. Today, state officials rejected that appeal, clearing the way for Brooklyn East Collegiate to take over classrooms and some shared space in the Prospect Heights building this fall. The decision comes as a blow not just to PS 9 parents but to others across the city who are trying to prevent co-location plans from moving forward. Steiner's April ruling on PS 9, which has come to be known as the Espinet decision, emboldened groups of people at other schools facing co-locations this fall to file their own appeals with the state. In recent weeks, State Commissioner of Education John King dismissed two other appeals, allowing site plans for Coney Island Preparatory Charter School and Explore Charter School to move forward. Today's decision did not come from King, but from his deputy, Valerie Grey.
January 13, 2011
In a first, new charter to absorb students leaving closing school
City officials are planning to replace a struggling Brooklyn elementary school with an unusual charter school next year — the first in the city to give admissions preference to students stuck in the closing school. If the citywide school board, known as the Panel for Educational Policy, votes to phase out P.S. 114 in Canarsie, Brooklyn starting next year, two new schools will open in the building. One will be a typical zoned elementary school for all students in District 18. The other will be Explore Charter School — the first charter school in the city that will give admissions preference to students at the low-performing school it replaces. When most New York City charter schools open, they typically give admissions preference to students who live in a certain district. These districts usually encompass several neighborhoods and a handful of public schools, allowing the charter to draw students from all over the region. But Explore plans to operate differently. Current kindergarten, first-grade, and second-grade students at P.S. 114 will be given preference in Explore's lottery, which means they have the best chance of getting one of 224 seats. If there's still room, second preference will go to students who are zoned for P.S. 114, but attend other schools (this is about half the students in the zone). After them, preference will go to students throughout District 18 who are attending schools that are being phased out for poor performance. "What's very different about this is we're saying to parents and kids in a school that's failing, here's an option that does not ask you to relocate or leave your community," said Morty Ballen, CEO of the Explore Schools network. "It's about you and your community; we're staying right here."
June 2, 2010
In a sea of applicants, a $500 bounty for top-tier teachers
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan with students, parents, and teachers from Explore Charter School during a visit to the school in February 2009 Explore Charter School CEO Morty Ballen has hundreds of teachers knocking at the doors of his Brooklyn charter schools, hoping to get a job. Yet to find the right person, Ballen has put out a bounty notice. For the past several years, Ballen has offered a $500 finder's fee to anyone who refers a candidate he ends up hiring at either of his two charter schools, Empower and Explore. With over 300 applicants for about two dozen vacancies this year, it may seem like an odd choice to pay people to find more teacher-hopefuls, but Ballen said it's a good way to discover "diamonds in the rough." "There are just not enough outstanding teachers who can meet the needs of kids we’re teaching," Ballen said. "Every year it’s a nail biter to get outstanding teachers who can do a great job." Most of the reward money has gone to teachers at his own schools who've suggested other teachers they know, he said. "The teachers who are most successful here know this community and one great source is the folks who are referred by members of the community because they know our culture," he said.
February 26, 2009
The theory behind one charter school's packed testing schedule
I recently reported about one mother's high marks for the amount of testing at her son's school, Explore Charter School in Brooklyn. Today I asked Morty Ballen, Explore's founding principal, exactly how often Explore students are tested. That depends on how testing is defined, Ballen answered. "There's a really big difference between test prep and getting information from assessments," he told me. Where tests, and test prep, are meant to judge students and teachers, assessments are used to generate information that teachers can use to improve their instruction, Ballen said. Explore prefers assessments. So how are Explore students assessed, and how often? In a variety of ways, and every day. Here's a summary of the school's testing regimen: Students complete tests and assignments that their teachers create on a daily basis. They also take interim assessments several times during the year to give their teachers information about their progress in math, science, and social studies. These tests are created by Explore's teachers.
February 20, 2009
In Park Slope and Flatbush, two moms and two views on testing
A recent poll found that while half of public school parents approve of Mayor Bloomberg’s takeover of the school, half do not. Two mothers…
February 19, 2009
Duncan: NYC reform initiatives a model for stimulus spending
Flanked by people who often find themselves arguing — Mayor Bloomberg, Chancellor Joel Klein, and teachers union leader Randi Weingarten — U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan today offered praise for them all. At a press conference this afternoon in Brooklyn, Duncan said all three New Yorkers have helped make the city an example for how school districts across the country could "remake public education" with their share of $100 billion in federal stimulus funds. Some of the stimulus money is meant to plug deep holes in states' education budgets. But Duncan said he wants states to use other funds allocated in the stimulus package to adopt accountability-oriented reforms along the lines of some recent New York City initiatives, such as the creation of a comprehensive data system, called ARIS, and the introduction of a program that gives some teachers bonuses based on their students' test scores. The city Department of Education said in a press release today that it might try to use some of its stimulus money to expand those initiatives. Those programs could be funded through Duncan's discretionary "Race to the Top Fund," through which the education secretary will give grants to states that want to try new approaches to helping students do better. "I fully expect New York City and New York State to put together a great proposal" for the funds, Duncan said. "In many ways, you are already setting the standard — including the pay-for-performance program here pioneered by the leadership right here in this city." Secretary of Education Arne Duncan with students, parents, and teachers from Brooklyn's Explore Charter School Duncan departed from his prepared remarks to compliment Bloomberg's "extraordinary courage" in taking control of the city's schools and to say that he has learned a lot from Klein, whom he called "a good, good friend of mine." Duncan also called Weingarten "a remarkable leader" and said he and President Barack Obama will work closely with her. "She is going to be a strong, strong voice for reform," Duncan said. Video of the lovefest is above. Even if they don't see a cent of the Race to the Top Fund, New York City's public schools and colleges are slated to receive about $1.9 billion through the federal stimulus act signed into law this week, Duncan said today. That money would prevent teacher layoffs, fill in some budget gaps, add new funds for poor students and children with special needs, and support preschool, technology, and job training programs. The city DOE's full press release is after the jump.
February 19, 2009
Arne Duncan will meet with mayor, then visit a Brooklyn charter
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is meeting with Mayor Bloomberg probably as I type to discuss how the federal stimulus package will help the New…
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