Posts tagged ‘New York City’

March 29, 2013

NYC data suggests top colleges would be 50% Asian if not for holistic admissions

by Grace

New York City high school admissions data suggest that top colleges might be 50% Asian if not for holistic admission policies.

Admission numbers for New York City’s top test high schools were recently released, showing that 50% of students admitted were Asian American.  Admission to these schools is determined solely by test scores.


Top universities use a holistic admissions system, aiming for racially diverse student bodies.


HT Powerline

September 28, 2012

Revolutionary writing instruction that is ‘an old idea done better’

by Grace

Here’s another case of everything old is new again.  A New York City school finds that returning to fundamentals like explicit grammar instruction and formulaic writing has succeeded in turning around the dismal performance of high poverty students.  No iPads were required.

The problems at New Dorp High School were similar to many that afflict other lower-income public schools.

… students from poor and working-class families. In 2006, 82 percent of freshmen entered the school reading below grade level. Students routinely scored poorly on the English and history Regents exams….

Students’ inability to translate thoughts into coherent, well-argued sentences, paragraphs, and essays was severely impeding intellectual growth in many subjects….

… the students’ sentences were short and disjointed.

… These 14- and 15-year-olds didn’t know how to use some basic parts of speech. With such grammatical gaps, it was a wonder they learned as much as they did. “Yes, they could read simple sentences,” but works like the Gettysburg Address were beyond them—not because they were too lazy to look up words they didn’t know, but because “they were missing a crucial understanding of how language works.

This writing skills problem is widespread.

According to the Nation’s Report Card, in 2007, the latest year for which this data is available, only 1 percent of all 12th-graders nationwide could write a sophisticated, well-­organized essay. Other research has shown that 70 to 75 percent of students in grades four through 12 write poorly. … for decades, achievement rates in writing have remained low.

There appears to be a massive failure in learning writing skills.  What type of writing instruction is used in most public schools?

… elementary-­school students … today mostly learn writing by constructing personal narratives, memoirs, and small works of fiction …

… pedagogical pendulum that has swung too far, favoring self-­expression and emotion over lucid communication….

For most of the 1990s, elementary- and middle-­school children kept journals in which they wrote personal narratives, poetry, and memoirs and engaged in “peer editing,” without much attention to formal composition….

The explicit instruction of previous times has morphed into discovery learning, where students are encouraged to figure it out themselves, to “construct” their own learning.  Being creative has become more important than following formal rules.

… Fifty years ago, elementary-school teachers taught the general rules of spelling and the structure of sentences. Later instruction focused on building solid paragraphs into full-blown essays….  About 25 years ago, in an effort to enliven instruction and get more kids writing, schools of education began promoting a different approach. The popular thinking was that writing should be “caught, not taught,” explains Steven Graham, a professor of education instruction at Arizona State University. Roughly, it was supposed to work like this: Give students interesting creative-writing assignments; put that writing in a fun, social context in which kids share their work. Kids, the theory goes, will “catch” what they need in order to be successful writers. Formal lessons in grammar, sentence structure, and essay-writing took a back seat to creative expression.

Low-income students have particularly suffered from the current approach.

The catch method works for some kids, to a point… Kids who come from poverty, who had weak early instruction, or who have learning difficulties, he explains, “can’t catch anywhere near what they need” to write an essay….

New Dorp High School tried something different.

Education schools don’t spend much time on how to teach writing, so it’s not surprising that New Dorp teachers were unaware of their own teaching failures.  They blamed the students’ poor performance on poverty, low intelligence, or laziness.  The school tried ‘innovative’ methods, like small learning communities and special after-school programs.  Nothing worked, until they carefully explored the missing skills and took specific steps to address the gaps.  Deirdre DeAngelis, the school principal, learned of the acclaimed writing program used by principal Judith Hochman of the Windward School, a private school for learning disabled children.

The way Catholic schools used to teach, using explicit instruction and a writing “formula”

The Hochman Program, as it is sometimes called, would not be un­familiar to nuns who taught in Catholic schools circa 1950. Children do not have to “catch” a single thing. They are explicitly taught how to turn ideas into simple sentences, and how to construct complex sentences from simple ones… It is, at least initially, a rigid, unswerving formula. “I prefer recipe,” Hochman says, “but formula? Yes! Okay!”

… “The thing is, kids need a formula, at least at first, because what we are asking them to do is very difficult. So God, let’s stop acting like they should just know how to do it. Give them a formula! Later, when they understand the rules of good writing, they can figure out how to break them.”

… Teachers stopped giving fluffy assignments such as “Write a postcard to a friend describing life in the trenches of World War I” and instead demanded that students fashion an expository essay describing three major causes of the conflict.

The successful results of the back-to-basics (revolutionary) writing program at New Dorp

… This spring, the graduation rate is expected to hit 80 percent, a staggering improvement over the 63 percent figure that prevailed before the Writing Revolution began.

… newfound ability to write solid, logically ordered paragraphs about what she’s learned, citing examples and using transitions between ideas.

Reading comprehension also improved.

As her understanding of the parts of speech grew, Monica’s reading comprehension improved dramatically. “Before, I could read, sure. But it was like a sea of words,” she says. “The more writing instruction I got, the more I understood which words were important.”

More schools should try this ‘”old” way of instruction.
The Hochman Program being used at New Dorp High School is writing instruction that offers direct and precise guidance incorporated into a systemic process, along with explicit grammar instruction and a strong focus on sentence  composition.  This is very similar to the Kerrigan method of Writing to the Point, a personal favorite of mine.  I strongly believe this type of instruction would benefit most types of students, offering better preparation for college or career than the fluffy free-for-all type of writing instruction now popular in many public schools.  Perhaps this New Dorp success story will help fuel a change with more schools following in their footsteps.

(Cross-posted at Kitchen Table Math)


June 22, 2012

New York high school graduation rates are up, but college readiness is down

by Grace

Statewide high school graduation rates in New York are up slightly, but a lower percentage of students are ready for college and career.

Aspirational performance measures (APM) are designed to assess college and career readiness by designating the percentage of students who “earned a score of 75 or greater on their English Regents examination and an 80 or better on a mathematics Regents exam (note: this aspirational measure is referred to as the “ELA/Math APM”)”.

In the Lower Hudson Valley where I live, graduation rates are higher than the statewide average, with 84% of students graduating on time.  Our local high school showed a slight upward trend in college and career readiness last year.

From the New York State Education June 11, 2012 press release:

“New York’s overall graduation rate has improved, but nearly a quarter of our students still don’t graduate after four years,” said Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch. “And too many of those students who do graduate aren’t ready for college and careers.

“These numbers make clear that we need to continue to pursue aggressive reforms in our schools including a new, richer curriculum and implementation of the new teacher evaluation law in districts across the state.”

“Our students are competing globally,” Commissioner John B. King, Jr. said. “That competition demands that we keep improving our graduation rates. But it also demands that we close the achievement gap and make sure students who do graduate are ready for college and careers. Next school year, we’ll be implementing the Common Core standards, which will help more students achieve college and career readiness.

“But another key is keeping students engaged. Whatever that engagement takes – advanced math and science, Career and Technical Education programs, or a humanities focused courseload – we need to make sure all our students are on a path that prepares them for college and careers after they graduate from high school.”

In New York City, only 20.7% of students met the ELA/Math APM.

* Graduation rates measure the cohort of students who completed high school in four years.  APMs are reported as a percentage of the cohort who “earned a score of 75 or greater on their English Regents examination and an 80 or better on a mathematics Regents exam (note: this aspirational measure is referred to as the “ELA/Math APM”)


Related:  High school graduation goals do not include getting students ready for college

March 15, 2012

Skyrocketing public pension costs are eroding educational opportunities for New York children

by Grace

Skyrocketing public pension costs, the single most burdensome state-imposed mandate, are slowly but surely eroding educational opportunities for the children of New York.

Our local school district’s pension costs have risen over 50% in the last two years.
During that same time, instructional salaries have increased only 6.9% and the entire budget only 6.0%. The actual dollar amount of additional pension costs has surpassed that of salary increases.  Meanwhile, most other expenses that affect students directly, including sports, music and instructional staff, have been cut to compensate for soaring pension costs.

This same scenario is being played out at public schools throughout the state.  At Pelham, a nearby school district, their pension costs have also increased 50% in the last two years.

Pelham schools’ budget plan cuts jobs, adds $2.3M; benefits blamed
… budget calls for $65,523,020 in spending, an increase of $2.3 million from the current year. The superintendent pinned much of that increase on ever-climbing health care and pension costs.


In New York City … pension costs now eat up one in every six tax dollars that city residents pay — and 12% of the entire city budget. That’s more than the operations of the Police, Fire and Sanitation departments combined.

Deficits Push N.Y. Cities and Counties to Desperation
Pension costs are a particular problem. The stock market collapse of 2008 decimated public pension fund investments, and municipalities are now being asked for greater contributions to make up for the losses. The impact has been drastic: Three percent of New York property tax collections were used to pay pension costs in 2001; by 2015, pension costs are expected to eat up 35 percent of property tax collections.

Our school district’s pension costs as a percentage of the total budget have grown from 5.1% to 7.2% over the last three years.  This is not a good trend.  If they continue to rise as expected, today’s relatively modest cuts to student services will be looked upon as the “good old days”.

Meanwhile, in their highly promoted mandate relief advocacy campaign our school leaders have chosen to ignore pensions.  Instead, they have highlighted those mandates that affect our students directly, like special education.  They make no mention of the pension mandate, which is the one having the most negative impact on our children.

Conveniently, pension costs were exempted from the state’s 2% property tax cap on property tax increases recently imposed on school districts.  This carve-out was a nice special treatment for teachers.

Wages and benefits outpacing inflation combined with reduced student services.  Is this the future for New York public education?

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