Fall Education 2017

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The range of educational choices is staggering, the sheer diversity of options unparalleled. Nothing on the planet can match the pedagogical menus offered to the vast learning communities of Manhattan. Consider that a child might enroll in the Finger Painted Hands Preschool on West 83rd Street and learn by "playing, exploring, making mistakes, getting messy" and "leaving handprints all over the Upper West Side!" Then flash forward two or three decades: That same student might now venture across the park to the biomedical research laboratories of Rockefeller University on York Avenue to study with the five Nobel Prize laureates on its faculty.



By Douglas Feiden

The range of educational choices is staggering, the sheer diversity of options unparalleled. Nothing on the planet can match the pedagogical menus offered to the vast learning communities of Manhattan. Consider that a child might enroll in the Finger Painted Hands Preschool on West 83rd Street and learn by "playing, exploring, making mistakes, getting messy" and "leaving handprints all over the Upper West Side!" Then flash forward two or three decades: That same student might now venture across the park to the biomedical research laboratories of Rockefeller University on York Avenue to study with the five Nobel Prize laureates on its faculty.

Pick a topic from A to Z. Our universities have it covered. The ancient Greek tragedian Aeschylus? Try the classics department at New York University. The Iranian religious prophet Zoroaster? Go to the Center for Iranian Studies at Columbia University.

Pick a topic from A to Z. Our universities have it covered. The ancient Greek tragedian Aeschylus? Try the classics department at New York University. The Iranian religious prophet Zoroaster? Go to the Center for Iranian Studies at Columbia University.

But let's not sugarcoat the shortcomings, even the horrors, of the city's educational system. Before you can achieve erudition and scholarship and vault to professional heights, you have to learn to read and write. A bit of civility helps, too. It can be strikingly absent from the classroom. And yes, that makes it awfully tough to pick up basic literary and arithmetical skills.

The Urban Assembly School for Green Careers' garden at West 84th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. Photo courtesy of UAGC

City Hall boasts that college readiness rates for city students climbed in 2016. True. It inched up a bit. But the boast is hollow: Now, just 37.2 percent of students meet the City University of New York standards for incoming college freshmen.

High school graduation rates also rose last year, hitting a record 72.5 percent, up from 70.5 percent in 2015. Naturally, that's great news. But it's not as great as it sounds:

An analysis in September 2016 by Comptroller Scott Stringer's office found that the growth was driven largely by gains at the city's highest performing schools.

High schools in the best performing quintile saw graduation rates climb to an impressive 97 percent, up from 93 percent the year before. For schools in the lowest performing quintile, however, rates plummeted to an abysmal 50 percent, Stringer's auditors found.

Still, opportunities abound. Offerings are unmatched. As the largest school district in America, the city's Department of Education serves 1.1 million students in more than 1,800 schools. That includes 400 high schools offering some 700-plus specialized programs, of which 109 high schools are in Manhattan, which itself boasts 151 programs with more on the way.

To name a few, in alphabetical order, the program offerings include studies in architecture, business, communications, computer science and technology, culinary arts, engineering, environmental science, film and video, health and hospitality.

To name a few more, specialized programs for Manhattan students include travel and tourism, humanities, law and government, performing arts, science and math, teaching, visuals arts and design, the list goes on and on. Interested in the interplay of food and finance? Take a look at the Food and Finance High School at 525 West 50th St. Know a young woman who wants to lead the city, state or nation? Enroll her in the Young Women's Leadership School at 105 East 106th St.

Want to communicate with the deaf? Try the American Sign Language and English Secondary School at 223 East 23rd St. Eager to explore what makes a global citizen? Keen to engage with the environment? Consider the Global Learning Collaborative or the Urban Assembly School for Green Careers respectively. They share a building at 145 West 84th St. And when it comes to artistic and creative talent, look no further than the Talent Unlimited High School, at 317 East 67th St., which celebrates the bond between the performing and liberal arts, or the Professional Performing Arts High School, 328 West 48th St., which will train you in tap dancing, ballet, acting and musical theater.

Other options include Manhattan's 52 charter schools, many with long waiting lists, from the John V. Lindsay Wildcat Academy Charter School at 17 Battery Place to the multiple Success Academy Charter Schools, which can be found from Union Square to West 49th Street to Harlem.

Religiously oriented schools also abound. Catholic education in the Archdiocese of New York was launched in St. Peter's Parish in lower Manhattan in 1800.

Today, Catholic educators run a couple of dozen elementary schools and 13 high schools on the island, including Xavier High School, at 30 West 16th St., and Regis High School, at 55 East 84th St.

Meanwhile, Jewish students have long found an educational home at the Manhattan Day School, at 310 West 75th St., and Ramaz, which divides it campus between locations on East 85th Street and East 78th Street.

Bottom line: Yes, there are pitfalls. They can be very daunting. But there are glories, too. And there are grand opportunities for learning and scholarship and erudition and fulfillment and growth in the city's vast, complex, diverse — and every once in a while, embracing — educational system.

Photo: Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, via Wikimedia

Joy in Science

An educator's take on teaching science in the 21st Century

By Michael Garofalo

So far in 2017, scientists for the first time edited genes in human embryos to remove a disease-causing mutation, located seven planets 235 trillion miles from Earth that could potentially support life, and discovered 300,000 year-old fossils in Morocco that alter our understanding of the origins of Homo sapiens. For science educators, this era of rapid discovery across so many fields presents challenges about how to keep up with and make sense of the latest developments. But it also offers new opportunities to foster excitement in students.

Paula Cuello, a science teacher at an Upper East Side private school, often draws upon reports from science publications to help convey the real world relevance of classroom concepts. "If it's too abstract, then it's meaningless," she says. When students can explain what's going in in the world around them using what they've learned in school, she says, "That's when joy can come in."

Bringing joy into the classroom is among Cuello's chief objectives as an educator — she says that it's too often missing in schools, particularly when it comes to science. Being joyful means sometimes being willing to do some silly things in the service of learning — after all, she says, "they'll remember that stuff because it's fun" — and never taking herself too seriously. "If we lose joy and humility, we lose what makes us good scientists," says Cuello, who holds a doctorate in molecular biology and became a teacher after a career as a research scientist.

Cuello has found that humility is a trait often shared by good scientists and good teachers. Despite her expertise and experience, Cuello says it's not uncommon for students to ask insightful questions that she simply doesn't know the answers to. Rather than dreading these moments, she embraces them as opportunities. "Saying 'I don't know' is very powerful," she says, explaining that when teachers acknowledge the limits of their own understanding and then work together with students to discover answers, it creates a collegial atmosphere, building what she refers to as a "partnership in learning" between teacher and students.

Cuello believes that the skills students learn in the science classroom — learning how to read graphs and interpret data, distinguishing between sound research and questionable studies — are essential tools they'll need to become active, informed citizens, whether they go on to careers in science or not.

"Before, teachers were the font of knowledge, but now knowledge is everywhere and we need to teach students how to sift through it," Cuello says, adding, "You need to be able to tell the difference between good and bad science." Cuello, who teaches students at various levels, from fifth graders to high school seniors, says that she'll often spend time in class looking up and addressing common misconceptions about a topic as she introduces it, explaining to students, "These are the mistakes that some people make, but we're not going to make those same mistakes."

Cuello, who comes from a family of scientists and educators, stresses that memorizing facts is less important than developing thinking skills and curiosity. Too much memorization, she says, "makes people think that being a scientist isn't creative," when, in fact, scientists need the originality to think of approaches and ideas that others haven't. In practice, this approach includes letting students design their own experiments rather than simply following along with predesigned lab instructions from a book. "You can do an experiment really mindlessly and not get much out of it if you don't have to struggle through it," Cuello says. This iterative, experimental process is time consuming, but key in reinforcing concepts and the importance of a scientific mindset.

"It takes more time to let kids think," she says. "They come out with fewer facts, but they have the skills to teach themselves and evaluate sources." There are tradeoffs to this approach — students studying for the fact-intensive SAT subject tests have to put in extra work on their own, for example — but Cuello feels that the thinking skills students develop are more valuable in the long run.

"At the end of the day, what we're teaching in schools may change completely down the line," she says. "They need to have the skills and curiosity to teach themselves. It's on us as educators to make it joyful, interesting and relevant."

The city's school kids should all be prepared well enough by the public schools to take part in the city's vibrant reading life. Photo: Bill Gunlocke

Urban Studies

In such a city of so many accomplishments, the schools, you'd think, would be one more

By Bill Gunlocke

The ad on the radio for one of the giant phone companies says "New Yorkers demand the very best." Once that notion seemed cool. I guess. Maybe in an old movie. Or in a full page ad in Life magazine with someone hailing a cab almost on their tip toes, and then, in your imagination, telling the cab to get someplace in a hurry. Now all you can think of are stockbrokers being demanding of the waitstaff in an overpriced restaurant where the brokers get to go all the time even though brokers don't work weekends or take work home with them. The city's rigged for them and their foreign counterparts who are also demanding of the waitstaff and love those restaurants too. It always has been rigged for them. Worse now.

You wish it was rigged for school kids. The ones in the public schools in the parts of town where it's tough to find a cab. You wonder why all the city's schools aren't excellent. With the rents people here pay, they should be as good as Palo Alto's schools. Better even, when you think about what New York has: Scholastic, The Times, Time Warner, Conde Nast, Broadway, Off-Broadway, great museum after great museum, Random House, Joan Didion, Spike Lee. How can all that written energy and creative ambition not enhance the city's schools? What's gone wrong?

Is New York a real bastion of liberalism in a Grace Paley way or is it a place where the refined educated class' most vivid liberal fantasy is to have a weekend getaway home designed by Maya Lin?

To make the schools better, maybe great, why not convince Columbia English majors to stay here and teach kids about books and reading? Convince Fordham English majors and NYU English majors. They could live in Brooklyn. It would solve two big problems. Where are English majors going to find a job that involves books and isn't behind a cash register at Strand? And where is the city going to find bright literate types to teach students in poor areas of town about how to decipher and be expressive in language? The city should go whole-hog on getting smart English majors to stay and teach here. You want teachers who have a passion for their subject. English majors are also socially and politically liberal. A city classroom would be a good fit for them.

The way it is now is not working. The poor kids can't read well. What chance do they have at a fulfilled future? There are many books on the poor parts of town. Crime stories galore. Drugs. Guns. Projects. There's a new book that has all that, but it's set not in a city, but in a tough town in Arkansas. Racially it's like a city ghetto. Michelle Kuo, a Taiwanese-American with a still-wet Ivy League degree, goes there to teach English. Her book is "Reading with Patrick." She's candid, determined, smart, sometimes disheartened. You think you already know the story. But you don't. She tells it better than the one you think you know with Jonathan Kozol and Michelle Pfeiffer as the leads. She's unflinching, you might say. You should read it.

It's the type of book, when they'd show Obama and his daughters buying books in a good independent bookstore on Martha's Vineyard, he'd have gotten.

Sometimes no matter how long you've lived here, you'll look up, at an avenue going north usually, and for a moment it looks impersonally impressive. Massive, in its one-right-after-another office buildings or apartment houses with their awnings pointed toward the busy street filled with cabs. You're like a tourist when you see the city that way. It's intimidating, alienating even. The endlessness of its commerce, the vastness of its wealthy living spaces. You would never think, as you look at it in one of those moments, that it would be a city with public schools not very good at all.

Street scene, Baruch College. Photo: Jeffrey Zeldman, via flickr

Civility in the classroom

What happens when college students show little respect for their classmates' points of view? A professor reflects on playing the heavy — and getting positive results

By Jon Friedman

As someone who spends a good deal of time teaching and conversing with college students, I've begun worrying about something we don't think enough about:

Is civility dead? (NO! I insist.)

It's a legitimate question and an important issue, bubbling up in our society and culture. Consider it a corollary to another hot-button item among civilized people who fret that Facebook and Twitter have effectively put out to pasture such antiquated obsessions as grammar, punctuation and spelling. (Feel free to smirk and shout: "Oh professor, those are so twentieth century!")

Civility has been on my mind a lot these days. I've presided over discussion-based classes over the past few semesters about such key societal concepts as leadership and diversity. The students were largely pre-med candidates and the courses were often given on a pass-fail basis. Therefore, the emphasis was on classroom discussions, not necessarily homework assignments or — gasp! — exams. I made it clear in the syllabus that I wanted these high achievers to speak up.

Well, Professor Friedman, let me tell you: Be careful what you wish for!

Yes, indeed, the students laid it on the line in the classroom. The negative point was that they occasionally showed little respect for one another. I had to resort to playing the heavy and sending out a class-wide note reminding them that they had to show respect for their classmates' opposing views.

"I don't tolerate hazing or bullying or intimidation of any kind," I warned them. It worked. Things calmed down right away — until I had to send out a follow-up memo.

Well, I asked for it, right?

I haven't taken a poll but I'll suggest that discourse has grown more challenging since Donald Trump was elected president. Immigration and the proposed Muslim ban were the issues that most affected my students of all ethnicities during the spring semester, which coincided with the start of Trump's administration. Trump often gets blamed for the decline of civility, and not only because he has emerged as Twitter's 140-character poster boy. The chaos at Trump's campaign rallies frequently made its way to the television news programs.

And yet I say that civility is not dead, right?

I am cheered by a few snapshots that occurred in my classroom over the past year or so:

Snapshot #1 involves one of my brightest students, a graduate of an acclaimed New York City high school, whose family recently emigrated to the United States. She was quiet, almost withdrawn, in our first few classroom discussions about leadership and diversity. I made it a point to remind the students that I wanted them to speak up. That unleashed a floodgate in this young woman. She became energized and focused — and, happily, outspoken. After the end of the semester, she went so far as to send me an email to say thanks for encouraging her. The class had changed her life. (Next time you encounter me in Whole Foods, a New York Sports Club, Gristede's or on the platform of the F train, ask me to show you the email).

Snapshot #2: Two male students were arguing a fine point about Apple and Google in another class and things got heated. Again, I reminded the class to cool it. (I am a remnant of the 20th century, after all!) Before the start of the next class, I spied the two bellicose students out in the hallway shaking hands. They later became roommates. Finally, my favorite case of all: I was teaching a class not long after Trump announced his candidacy in 2015 and became the most sought after "get" interview on the planet, especially for the rabid television news networks. When I mentioned Trump's name, an exchange student scrunched up her face and asked in a shaky voice, "Who is Donald Trump?" Sadly, but inevitably, many kids in the class snickered, tittered and guffawed. She was mortified at her gaffe. After class, she almost tearfully pledged to drop the course at once. "Why?" I kidded. "Do you dislike me that much already?" She launched into a self-loathing diatribe about not knowing who Trump was. I told her not to drop the class. Instead, when I or a student said something she didn't understand, she should immediately raise her hand high and ask me to stop the class and explain the fine point to her. The upshot: She stuck with it and became the biggest chatterbox — and most popular student — in the classroom. She later went back home to resume her undergraduate studies and subsequently asked me to write a recommendation for her to get into the University of Southern California's business school.

No, civility is not dead.

It just needs a kick in the butt now and then.

Harvard Medical School Quadrangle. Photo: SBAmin, via Wikimedia Commons

After High School, Law School or Med School?

A high school senior's thoughts on parents who dictate their children's futures

By Oscar Kim Bauman

"So, how can my son apply directly to medical school?" says the man at the back of the auditorium. It's a question I've heard time and time again during the past year. The details vary, sometimes they ask about law school or business school rather than medical school, but the core message is always the same. At nearly every college I've visited, and even in my own social circles at my Upper East Side high school, I've found that with the college application process comes an upsetting trend of overbearing parents attempting to micromanage their children's futures into what they think is an ideal.

When it comes to applying to college, I've been incredibly fortunate with regard to the degree of personal freedom I've had. I've chosen my own dates to take the SATs and made my own decisions about where I want to apply, and what I want to major in. That's certainly not true for many of my peers. I've heard tell of kids who, since elementary school, have known they were going to be doctors, and when asked why, repeat the same points about job stability and practicality without a hint of passion. I realize that their parents had a much greater degree of control over their children in their formative years than mine did over me, and that's fine. I'm not about to engage in a debate over parenting methods, but there's a difference between making choices for children that impact them in the short term and deciding a child's future, giving a soon-to-be adult no say in the matter of how he or she will spend a good portion of the rest of their life.

Consider, for example, a parent who wants their child to become a doctor. There are obvious reasons that this career path has become a favorite of controlling parents. In the United States, at least, the health care industry is immensely lucrative, and a career as a doctor carries a certain prestige. But pushing your kid to be a doctor may not be a sure bet. As recent events have shown, the nature of our health care system can quickly change, and though it seems unlikely at the moment, a future move towards single-payer healthcare, already adopted by most other developed nations, would make a career as a doctor much less lucrative. In addition, speaking from a purely selfish point of view, I'd rather have a doctor who genuinely cares about my health than one who was pushed into their field and is only in it for the money.

So what overall point am I trying to make? While it pains me to see my peers pushed into careers chosen by their parents, I realize they all have their reasons, and it's hard to criticize people who, in their own way, just want the best for their kids. That being said, I yearn for the day that every teen approaching adulthood will be allowed to choose their own path in life, to succeed and fail pursuing their passions the way I have. Although the future certainly will include its fair share of doctors and lawyers, I'd greatly prefer if all of them are there by their own volition, rather than because of a decision foisted upon them at 17.

Principal Dimitres Pantelidis with a student. Photo courtesy of PS/IS 171

A school's 'secret formula'

The principal of PS/IS 171 in East Harlem says a practice of "systems and protocols" helps students succeed

By Dimitres Pantelidis

PS/IS 171 is a Pre-Kindergarten to Grade 8 public school located in East Harlem with an ethnically diverse population of 740 students, including 65% Hispanic, 27% African-American, 4% Asian, 3% Caucasian and 1% American Indian. According to New York City and State reports, students at 171 have demonstrated consistently high performance on yearly New York State ELA (English Language Arts), math, and science tests for the past ten years. Our eighth-grade students have the opportunity to take accelerated courses in mathematics, science and foreign languages, leading to acceptances at top-tier and competitive specialized high schools such as Bronx High School of Science, Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Tech and LaGuardia Performing Arts.

Knowing that a significant number of inner-city schools are struggling to support their students and meet proficiency goals, many educators who visit our school want to know exactly what "secret formula" the school follows to ensure that our students receive a high-quality education that results in meaningful learning and consistent levels of excellence in student performance. Teachers, students, parents and administration believe that the strong set of systems and protocols that govern the daily life of the 171 community provides the necessary structure to promote and maximize student learning in six key areas: Curriculum/Instruction, Assessment/Data Analysis, Teacher Teams, Teachers and Leadership Education, Behavior/Safety and Partnerships. The systems are intricately connected through the lens of student achievement.

Teachers at 171 work collaboratively in teams to develop and refine units of study across the grade levels. All units of study are based on state standards and the results of both formal and informal assessment of student work. Teachers discuss effective teaching strategies and monitor student progress using the Student Work Protocol, which provides the framework to understand and assess student learning. All lessons help build student understanding and application of new skills and concepts, including differentiated strategies to meet the individual needs of learners. The goal is always to engage students through discussion, higher-level questions and visual supports. To ensure consistency, there is a designated daily schedule for each grade level. Teachers emphasize close-reading strategies to build comprehension, and the "I.C.E." strategy to promote conceptual understanding in mathematics: students identify necessary Information, complete required Computation and offer an Explanation of the reasoning they used to solve the problem.

At 171, there is a school-wide Interim Assessment Cycle inspired by the work of Paul Bambrick-Santoyo, whose book, "Driven by Data: A Practical Guide to Improve Instruction" has been touted as a key framework for increasing student achievement. His suggestions have helped our school implement a culture focused on data and rigorous instruction. As part of our data focus, students in second through eighth grade are given interim assessments in English language arts and math four times a year. Prior to the assessments, teacher teams give students an understanding of the question types and specific components. After the tests, teachers organize the student data to determine patterns and trends in skill strengths, and come up with a strategy to provide feedback and next steps for instruction. Teacher teams discuss appropriate instructional initiatives and/or interventions to address student needs. Within each classroom, teachers utilize the assessment results to confer with students. At the end of each conference, students set goals which target specific skills they want to improve upon based on their test results.

As shared in our goals for the 2017-2018 school year, "We will maintain highly effective, collaborative learning communities that engage in professional learning using school-wide coherent protocols and data to inform inquiry and make adjustments to instruction. We will also provide students with timely and effective feedback so that they are fully aware of next steps leading to high achievement." We believe that it is essential to help our students become independent life-long learners so that they are ready to meet the challenges and achieve success as they enter highly selective high schools, college and career. It gives me a great sense of pride to know that through our diligent efforts, our students can fulfill their dreams.

Admissions consultants say they can help students get in to the city's elite private schools, such as Trinity School on the Upper West Side, where the acceptance rate for kindergarteners was 8.2 percent one recent year. Photo: Jim.henderson via Wikimedia Commons

The Admissions Specialists

Education advisers on finding the right private school — and getting in

By Michael Garofalo

Parents navigating applications to private schools in New York City, where admissions rates can rival those of Ivy League universities, have long searched for ways to gain any competitive edge for their children, from investing in hours of tutoring to leveraging personal connections with trustees and parents of current students. Fierce competition to gain entrance to the city's elite private schools has spawned a sub-industry of admissions advisers offering various services aimed at increasing students' odds of getting in to their top choice.

Parents about to pay upwards of $40,000 annually on tuition are often willing to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to private consultants for help with the stressful and time-consuming process of applying to as many as a dozen schools. These consultants, who often boast of previous experience in admissions departments, coach parents and students on all aspects of the process — matching students with the right schools to apply to, nailing the interview, avoiding faux pas during tours and meetings, and editing admissions essays and even thank you notes. We spoke with three consultants to get their perspectives on the private school admissions landscape.

What should parents and applicants keep in mind as they navigate the application process?

Jennifer Brozost, co-founder of Private Education Advisory Service: "From the admissions person's perspective, you're not the enemy. They want to love you and they want you in their school, but they're also overwhelmed with so many applicants for so few spots. They're really looking for families that are the right fit for their schools. If you look at the numbers it seems very daunting, but the reality is that all those people that are applying are probably also applying to nine other schools. Yes, there are certain schools that are harder to get into than others, but it's not impossible. All schools are looking for great families who fit who they are and can add to their community."

How can families make themselves stand out?

Emily Glickman, president of Abacus Guide Educational Consulting: "Schools are looking for a diverse group of students and parents, and diversity is not just ethnic — it's also where parents live and what their jobs and experiences are. When I work with my clients, I try to help them identify what's really interesting about them and teach them how to trumpet that both in their essays and their interviews."

What do students need to know as they apply to middle schools and high schools?

Dana Haddad, founder and CEO of New York Admissions: "It's very important that applicants understand that there's a lot of work involved. We're very up front with them. I tell them what it's going to take and that we're going to help along the way, but you have to do the work. Parents can't write the essays for the kids."

How important are personal connections?

Emily Glickman: "I find that personal connections are more important at the kindergarten and lower school level. Once you get to middle school and high school, the balance shifts more toward the individual applicant's qualifications. I don't think judging one 4-year-old against another is a nice or accurate business to be in, but given that that is in fact what schools are doing, they do rely on what they think of the parents and who the parents know." Dana Haddad: "Families work their connections to maximize their chances, but it's not an end-all be-all, nor should it be — because if it's not the right fit for your child you're doing them a disservice. It's important to use connections if you have them, but it's important that you have connections at the right school for your child."

Do people sometimes have misconceptions about the work you do?

Jennifer Brozost: "We're really advocates for the family behind the scenes. We're not calling schools to get them in. Sometimes people will call us and say, 'We want to go to this school, do you have a connection there?' We don't work that way at all."

Who can benefit most from hiring an admissions consultant?

Jennifer Brozost: "For clients that know nothing about the process, a consultant can be hugely helpful because there are so many small nuances that get lost and mistakes that parents make. For example, thinking the school's philosophy is one thing when it's really not, and then bringing that up during an interview."

What should parents look for in an admissions consultant?

Dana Haddad: "You need to decide how much help you want. Ideally, you want a consultant that can be flexible and that's willing to work with a family on an hourly basis if they just have a few questions, or, if the family needs more support, that they're capable and ready to do that. To me, the most important thing is to find an educational consultant that you're comfortable with and that's willing to take the time to get to know you and your child. You also want someone who's familiar with the process."

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