You all must have heard by now, that is having financial difficulties. If you are the parent of a school aged child you know how much they are worth. If you are the parent of an infant or toddler, trust me, New York City is a much tougher place without them. I like to refer to them as the "consumer reports" of NYC public schools but they are so much more; friendly reminders, an active forum, and accurate almost immediate updates on anything school related.

It is very easy to donate.
You can go to their "donate" page
or you can give through paypal.
Please send them a little something for all the good they do everyday. Many people have suggested that they charge a fee. A big part of their mission is to provide accurate, easy to use advice for all parents, including the ones that may not have the funds to pay for it. Please do what you can.

Elementary School Book Giveaway

Fabulous Parenting Blogger, Karen, over at A Child Grows in Brooklyn is doing some great giveaways. In return for your personal mini reviews of whatever service she is highlighting, she gives you a chance at a wonderful prize.

So if you love your Elementary School and want them to win $100. in free books from Usborne Books. Nominate the school you love. Give the neighborhood and PS number (the DOE recycles and uses numbers over again in different boroughs) It must be a NYC school. Tell why they deserve such a windfall. All entries must be submitted by Jan. 19, 2009. She picks the entry out of a hat. Good luck to all, and may the emailng begin!

Is This Public School Any Good?

This is an essay that I wrote for the new issue of the most excellent blogazine Hipslopemama. Check out the new issue this weekend, and come to the Family Fair they are sponsoring with BAX on Sat. Sept. 27 from 11:30-4:30.

When you google your zoned elementary school, a lot of different sites will pop up;,, maybe the school’s website or the DOE’s website. Who do you believe and how do you decide whether to trust your darling to a school that gets a 4 out of 10 or a “D” and is considered a “noteworthy” school elsewhere?

Everyone is always asking me how I feel about “Great Schools”. Any information is a valuable resource as long as you really understand what it is telling you. “Great Schools” score is tabulated from the standardized test scores released by the DOE and the State. There needs to be some standard by which to measure a school, but if they live and die by teaching to the test will they give your child the type of quality education that she deserves? We could argue all day about the validity of test scores. The reality is that even a parent that is skeptical of their value has a hard time ignoring them when they are so seemingly irrefutable. Parents that write into the site can also use a star rating system for other aspects of the school’s environment and they can list comments. Sometimes parents are specific enough to give me a picture of the school, and sometimes it is just too vague. In many cases the “Great Schools” rating is low and the parents comments rate the school very high. That is just a good indication that you need to dig deeper.

The DOE (NYC Dept. of Education) has been doing school Progress Reports (the school letter grades) for two years now. You may have already heard the startling news that the highly popular PS 8 in Brooklyn Heights has received an F. Is it a case of the “Emperor’s New Clothes”? Has the wishful thinking of Brooklyn Heights parents clouded their judgment and the DOE is exposing a failing school despite the great press the principal has been getting? The grading system was put in place to help parents easily understand the progress that a school is making as well as help the DOE identify schools that are in trouble. Ever since it was instituted it has been under attack by parents and educators for being a flawed assessment and opaque to parents.

The Progress Reports group the schools into cohorts based on need (how many children get free school lunch and other demographic breakdowns) and uses these groupings to compare schools. There may be a problem in a school like PS 8 that has had a drastic shift in population in the last couple of years. The lower grades with a high population of middle and upper income children are not tested (and the DOE says they were considered when assigning its cohort) but the more challenged upper grades were the ones that were tested for proficiency. So the school is judged against other schools with high populations of school ready, upper income children, but the tests were given to the upper grades which have a much more diverse and challenged population.

The DOE uses three things to judge each school; the environment, the student’s test score performance and the progress made by the most challenged students to progress toward proficiency. The environment score is created by assessing surveys from parents, staff and students. Some experts have questioned the validity of this method as an unbiased measure. The proficiency part of the grade comes from the test scores. The third part, the progress of its most challenged students, counts for over 50% of the school’s grade. One argument made by the DOE is this measure is looking at each individual child’s progress from year to year. The problem is that the tests are on different skills and a different curriculum. It is difficult to charge change in proficiency when the test is on completely different skills. I did great in algebra but not so hot in calculus. I am not going to blame my high school principal for that one. As the weeks wear on we will hear a lot of experts weigh in. I am not being an apologist for PS 8. I just don’t like the letter grade as a helpful guide for parents, period. It seems to be an unbiased measure, but with all the DOE’s good intentions it is just too blunt an instrument for me to use.

Then there are the reviews at and Clara Hemphill’s excellent books. I am a completely unabashed supporter of the work that they are doing. The reviews are as objective and well written as a parent could hope for. You have to keep in mind though, that a school will try and put its best foot forward when Insideschools arrives to observe the program. They will undoubtedly be introducing them to the star teachers and highlighting the programs that they are proudest of. This doesn’t’ keep Insideschools from occasionally seeing troubling situations and reporting on them. The fact that there are also comments by students and parents is extremely helpful and often speaks specifically to concerns that prospective families have. Insideschools lists the test scores but within the larger picture of the school as a whole, where they should be.

I wish there were two sets of test scores every year. One set paid for by the DOE and one set paid for by the UFT (United Federation of Teachers). Now there would be some numbers that showed the true range of a school’s ability. Then parents could find the average and have a sense of how the school might really be performing. Finally, after you have scoured the Internet, the DOE and school websites for current reports, scores, reviews and parent opinions, it is your gut feelings about a school that really matter. Do you like what you see, how they treat you and answer your questions? Do you feel welcomed by the parent community as they pick up their children outside school at the end of the day? In a changing neighborhood, even a year can make a difference. The websites sometimes don’t tell the most up to date story of a school in transition. Only you can be the final judge.

Where have all of the "4"s gone?

Check out the interesting post by Eduwokette "Are New York City Schools Shortchanging High Achieving Students? The View from 2003-2008
Savvy New York City parents have long suspected that high achieving kids are losing out in the push to boost the achievement of the lowest performing students. But those suspicions are often cast aside by public officials as helicopter parent whining or muted class warfare."

So the big question is "why?". Is it that teaching to the test is blunting the high achievers initiative? Is so much emphasis being placed on teaching the at risk kids that the high achievers are left on their own? Have the families of high achievers just voted with their feet? Or is it just the general philosophy that smart kids will do whatever it takes to achieve, so their budgets can be slashed by 6%? ( Remember to call your City Council Person and say "NO!" to the budget cuts)

What do you think?

There is More Than One Path to Brilliance

Whoa! Wait until you see what Eduwonkette has to say about elite colleges and what happens to kids on the high end of the scale with "No Child Left Befind". She references Yale English Professor, William Deresiewicz and his essay in The American Scholar It makes sense in light of the current administration. And for everyone who is wondering if the Gifted Class is the right class. Put this NY Magazine article into the mix "How Not to Talk to Your Kids".

From Eduwonkette:
Elite Colleges, "1) Teach students to believe that people who didn’t go to an Ivy League or equivalent school weren’t worth talking to, regardless of their class."

"2) Inculcate a false sense of self-worth ('Getting to an elite college, being at an elite college, and going on from an elite college—all involve numerical rankings: SAT, GPA, GRE. You learn to think of yourself in terms of those numbers. They come to signify not only your fate, but your identity; not only your identity, but your value.')"

"3) Initiate the winners into a club that's almost impossible to get booted out of once you're in ('Here, too, college reflects the way things work in the adult world (unless it’s the other way around). For the elite, there’s always another extension—a bailout, a pardon, a stint in rehab—always plenty of contacts and special stipends—the country club, the conference, the year-end bonus, the dividend.')."

"But if you’re afraid to fail, you’re afraid to take risks, which begins to explain the final and most damning disadvantage of an elite education: that it is profoundly anti-intellectual. This will seem counterintuitive. Aren’t kids at elite schools the smartest ones around, at least in the narrow academic sense? Don’t they work harder than anyone else—indeed, harder than any previous generation? They are. They do. But being an intellectual is not the same as being smart. Being an intellectual means more than doing your homework."