Archive | Education

New York’s Public Schools Struggle to Reduce Student Suspensions

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HOST INTRO: When you think of school suspensions, you think of a student who is removed from school for a few days for bad behavior. But education advocates say too many suspensions cause a snowball effect – a student goes from suspension to arrest to eventual incarceration. So schools are now looking for ways to reduce suspensions while maintaining order in the classroom. Aparna Alluri reports.

By the time he was 10 years old Rodney Summers had been suspended from school seven times.

SUMMERS: For fighting, kicking teacher’s doors, not going to class, when there’s movie time in the auditorium, disrupting the movie like going on the stage and stuff (00.11)

Rodney was getting suspended so often, he was falling behind in class. He was in the fourth grade but he could barely read. And he would act up in class.

RODNEY: They would still make me read so I would have to act a certain way, take a pick at another person. (00.05)

Things got so bad he went to live with his aunt, Ronnette Summers. She wasn’t working at the time and offered to help him with schoolwork. But the suspensions continued.

SUMMERS: And the further he fell behind, the worse the behavior got. So eventually I found another school for him which I felt like was a better fit (00.05)

Summers pulled Rodney out of their local public school and enrolled him in a charter school. There, Rodney was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, which often causes problems with concentration and mood swings. Summers doesn’t excuse Rodney’s behavior, but she says the public school could have done more to help him.

SUMMERS: There’s other ways to try to get to the root of exactly what is going on with a student (00.07)

Rodney’s situation is quite typical. In the school year 2011-2012, New York City’s public schools handed out nearly 70, 000 suspensions – a disproporationate number going to black students and those with disorders such as ADHD. After more than a decade of increased suspensions, the numbers have started to drop. That’s due to changes to the discipline code; schools are encouraged to use suspensions as a last resort.

MARC EPSTEIN: So you have to ask what are the rights of the other children in the classroom?

Marc Epstein taught at Jamaica High School in Queens for 18 years. He says it’s unfair that he can’t suspend students for disrupting a class.

For example, if students are late to class, teachers are cannot ask them to stay out. Instead they must report it to the principal and then contact the parents.

MARC EPSTEIN: So you’ll have students just wandering into a classroom at any time. The burden has really shifted to the teacher rather than responsibility being placed on the student.

That is, principals and teachers are being asked to provide more counseling and individual attention. Advocates believe that these alternative solutions will keep students in school in the long run.

Judith Kaye is a former chief judge for the state of New York. She now heads an independent task force focused on keeping students in the classroom and out of the courtroom.

JUDITH KAYE: When they have problems that are left unaddressed, and they are separated from schools, they are headed in the direction of long-term incarceration (00.14)

She says schools should definitely discipline students. Except they need to be more….. thoughtful about it.

KAYE: We don’t need to do it so abusively and destructively and particularly disproportionately for certain racial and other communities (00.10)

As for Rodney Summers, the boy who was suspended so many times he fell behind, he’s now in the 7th grade. He is reading and he hasn’t been suspended in 3 years. He says that’s because the teachers know how to help him.

RODNEY: Like if I am mad or something, they let me call my aunt. They pull me to the side and ask me if I need to talk about anything or need anything from anyone (00.11)

If Rodney gets angry now, he just sticks his hand in the air and his teacher lets him step out of the classroom so he can calm down.

He says these changes are the reason he no longer acts up in school. But experts say it will take a lot of work to do the same in larger, overcrowded public schools.

Aparna Alluri, Columbia Radio News

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Female Wrestlers At New York Public School Get Own League

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After years of fighting for equality on the mat, female wrestlers at public high schools
across New York City are now in a league of their own. Jessica Gould reports …

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More Counseling for Students in Sandy-Damaged Areas

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HOST: More than four months after Hurricane Sandy, students in storm- damaged areas are still struggling to return to their academic routines. Now the school system is committing more than 2 million dollars to offer academic enrichment to students who fell behind. Jessica Gould reports.

Gladys Munez watches as construction workers replace the walls in her Red Hook apartment. Most of her belongings lie in a heap in the middle of her living room. It’s a mess. But she worries that’s nothing compared to the chaos in her son Jonathan’s head.

MUNEZ: I think what affected him was the darkness. Not having heat. One night he’s sitting in the chair he said Mommy I feel like I’m driving crazy. When are we going to get heat? When are we going to get light? I said no it’s going to take time. It’s going to come.

For thirteen days after the storm, Munez and her sixteen-year-old son sat in their public housing apartment, surrounded by darkness, wrapped in blankets — waiting out the cold. It was a month before Jonathan Munez made it back to school. And he’s still trying to catch up.

JONATHAN: Like everybody was ahead I didn’t know what to do in class because I was stuck behind because of the hurricane. A lot of my classes I’ve been getting 50s and stuff.

In other words, Jonathan is failing. Badly. And he’s not the only one. At a hearing in February, educators told city council members that many students saw their grades sink after the storm. Santos Crespo is president of the union that represents school counselors.

CRESPO: Buildings can be repaired and in some cases replaced. … But the damage that I’m talking about is the post-traumatic stress that many of the children in those areas are going through.

Crespo praised the city for investing in school buildings after the storm. But he said it’s time to invest in students and their schoolwork.

CRESPO: Whenever there’s a severe rain storm the children for lack of a better word freak out. Obviously, they’re not learning ready.

Crespo called on the city to provide tutoring for students. And later that day, the city announced it would do just that – spending an additional $2 million on “academic enrichment” for students affected by the storm. The money will go to 39 of the hardest hit schools in the next few weeks.

Studies show that students who fall behind during disasters often stay behind for years to come. Lisa Jaycox is a behavioral scientist at the RAND Corporation. She researched the impact of Hurricane Katrina on students back in 2005. And she says New Yorkers can expect students to struggle for a long time if no one intervenes now.

JAYCOX: They may do worse this year and then not get into the classes they want next year. This really has the possibility of pushing them off their trajectory.

NARR: Gladys Munez says she’s not going to let it get to that point with her son. His school won’t be getting any additional funding from the city because it wasn’t directly affected by the storm. And she plans to keep lobbying officials until Jonathan gets the services he needs.

MUNEZ: Now we’re planning to have tutoring. And maybe summer school. And see how we can push him more.

NARR: Her son Jonathan may be ready for that push now. He just started counseling through a state-sponsored program. And he says he’s beginning to feel better. He used to love basketball, but he hadn’t played since the storm. Until this week.

JONATHAN: I went to play basketball a day ago and going there it made me feel good about myself to see my friends and stuff.

NARR: He just hopes he can carry that same can-do spirit from the basketball court to the classroom.

Jessica Gould, Columbia Radio News

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Read Across America Day Helps Kids Get Away

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Dr. Seuss would have turned 109 years old this year. Today more than 250 Manhattan school children went on a field trip to the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue to celebrate his work. The National Education Association sponsors the annual Read Across America Day as part of a nationwide literacy campaign. Sonia Paul reports.

First and second graders in New York became Dr. Seuss impersonators today at the library. As they wear the beloved Cat in the Hat’s famous red and white striped hats and wait for readings from Dr. Seuss books to begin, teachers and students talk about their favorite Dr. Seuss books.


What do you think about the Cat in the Hat, Isaiah?

I think about the Cat in the Hat, that, it’s like, fun, funny, and

It’s fun, yeah, and what else?

And like, awesome. Because you get to – you get to see Thing One and Thing Two. (0:23)

Characters like Thing 1 and Thing 2 came to life. They were walking around and talking with students like Isaiah during the event. The National Education Association uses the writer’s magnetic attraction as a way to get children excited about reading. Kids can’t get enough of his books, or his characters. Isaiah and his classmates got into a heated conversation with Thing 1 from the Cat in the Hat.


You guys are going to have so much fun today!

What’s your real name?

My real name is Thing 1!

But your real name is not the Cat in the Hat.

How do you know?!

Are you the real Thing 1?

Look at my blue locks! Don’t you like my hair? It’s always like this! (0:22)

Actors Uma Thurman and Jake T. Austin were on call to read The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham. But eight-year-old Isaiah kept squirming during the readings. He wasn’t paying attention like the other kids from P.S. 51, the school he’s here with today. But he’s also not a typical P.S. 51 student.


I live in Times Square. I live in a hotel.

Wait, you live in a hotel? (0:05)

Isaiah and his family are originally from Far Rockaway. They’ve been living at the DoubleTree Hotel in Times Square since Hurricane Sandy. And Isaiah has been attending P.S. 51 while his family is in transition.


Tell my mom I like green eggs – green eggs and ham. My mom is over there. (0:06)

Tonia Davis sits at the sidelines listening to “The Cat in the Hat” and “Green Eggs and Ham” alongside the children. Today is the first time Tonia has ever participated in Read Across America. It has added significance for her because events like these are part of her plan to bring normalcy back to her family.


We’re stable, you know, I’m trying to spend most of my time, most of my free time, participating in school events, stuff like that. (0:07)

Tonia is especially glad Read Across America Day took her son and his classmates out of school and into a New York landmark.


I love it, I’m glad I came here, you know, to participate. As I was growing up, I went to performing arts school, and I experienced going to different museums and stuff like that. And I like to see that with my children, and also the kids they grow up with. (0:20)

For Tonia, Read Across America and Dr. Seuss’s birthday are not just ways to get kids to read. It’s part of a bigger way to escape troubles and become immersed in New York City’s culture. Sonia Paul, Columbia Radio News.

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Critics Attack Costs of Obama’s Pre-K Expansion

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HOST: In his State of the Union address last week, President Obama said one of his priorities is the expansion of pre-kindergarten education. New York state made a similar pledge fifteen years ago. But as my co-host Jessica Gould reports, parents here have discovered that passing legislation is only the first step.


N1: Soni Sangha didn’t think arithmetic would be a big part of her son’s pre-K experience. But as he neared his fourth birthday, she immediately started doing calculations.

A1: Private school in our neighborhood is pretty expensive. Those cost upwards of $20,000 easily, and it’s probably $25,000. It was the choice between sending our child to private pre-school for that year, or saving for college.

N2: So Sangha and her husband decided on public pre-school. But in stroller-saturated Park Slope, there was a lot of competition for relatively few slots.

A2: I think when we applied, we were one of 400 people applying to the same schools. So the odds are just not stacked in your favor. We were hoping that we would get into a school, but of course, we didn’t get in.

N3: In last week’s State of the Union address, President Obama pledged to make high-quality pre-K available to every child in America.

A3: Study after study shows that the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road.

N4: Specifically, his plan would distribute dollars to states based their share of four-year olds from low- and moderate-income families so that schools and other providers could expand their offerings.

Betty Holcomb, policy director at the Center for Children’s Initiatives says it’s an important plan, supported by decades of studies.

A4: The research shows going all the way back that the graduates of early childhood programs graduate from high school, go on to college, and even have higher earnings into their 40s.

N5: So she says funding early education will eventually pay for itself.

A5: Our argument about that is that it’s really clear if you invest early you’re going to save the school system a lot of money later.

N6: The argument is familiar in New York, which was one of the first states to set a goal for universal pre-K back in 1997. Since then, funding for early education has more than doubled, but pre-k is expensive, and many parents like Sangha are still scrambling for slots.

A6: I think it’s a great sentiment. But saying it and doing it are two entirely different things.

N7: Kay Hymnowitz of the conservative-leaning Manhattan Institute says that’s the trouble with Obama’s plan: Expanding early education is a great idea. Getting it done — that’s the hard part.

A7: My first thought was good luck trying to bring this up to scale.

N8: The first obstacle, she says, is money.

A8: Consider that we have deficits as far as the eye can see. States are going to have to cut back in all kinds of areas.

N9: And she says the promise of economic returns down the pike isn’t going to help balance state budgets now.

A9: Because you have to put the dollars in up front. The pay off won’t come until many decades down the  line. This is a difficult time to take on what is a very big experiment.

N10: Instead of universal pre-K, she recommends starting with smaller programs to figure out what works best before trying to replicate them on a national scale.

A10: The best programs we’ve had have been very, very small. Expertly designed. Reviewed. With fabulous teachers who were highly skilled.

N11: As for, Sangha, she ultimately teamed up with fellow parents to create a pre-k co-op. But as she prepares to send her second son to pre-k, she says the same challenges still exist.

A11: In my neighborhood this is the conversation people have year after year after year.

N12: And it may be up to the next generation to figure it out.

Jessica Gould, Columbia Radio News

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When Playtime Noise Annoys

The Ascension School on West 107th Street (Photo/Leanna Orr)

A leafy little block of west 107th street is pretty quiet 22 hours day of the day.

But around noon on school days, weather permitting, the street closes to traffic and opens to children on recess.

It’s all over in a couple of hours, but some block residents say the students’ playtime is no fun for them.

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HOST: A leafy little block of west 107th street is pretty quiet 22 hours day the day. But around noon on school days, weather permitting, the street closes to traffic and opens to children on recess. It’s all over in a couple of hours, but some block residents say the students’ playtime is no fun for them. Leanna Orr reports.

NARR: The Traffic barriers were put up just after 11 am on a sunny day earlier this week. Safe from traffic, the kids come out to play.

SOUND: Bring up rapidly so it if full by the word “play”. warm under transition from quiet ambi to kids playing uphold 2 seconds, fade under

NARR: The kids are sixth graders from the Catholic Catholic Ascension School. They are neatly dressed in white and navy uniforms. Ten minutes are already up, and two teachers hustle the students into a line, back inside. It’s peaceful for a moment, and then the sixth graders file out… Seventh graders are next  [describe the play, then lining up and being replaced by another group. Keep the noise hot. Describe how close Rosen’s house is before transioning to her complaint. But why start with a complaint about another person’s inconvenience instead of her a complaint about noise?] …and residents a half block walk from their doors

ROSEN: It’s been so loud that you can hardly hear yourself think.

NARR: The play street has become contentious ground. Carol Rosen’s third floor apartment faces the stained glass windows of the Ascension Church across the street. She wants recess to happen elsewhere—anywhere other than right below her window.

ROSEN: My work involves writing and I need peace and quiet when I’m able to write. And some of my work involves being on Skype and if the kids are out at the time I can’t hear the other party.

NARR: For Rosen and other outspoken neighbors noise isn’t the only issue. Rosen’s neighbor Samantha Burden says the barriers block out trucks and trap in cars.

BURDEN: Deliveries can’t come down the block until one o’clock. And there’s also alternate side of the street, which means we have to move it by 11:30, and they close it at 10:30 until 1:00.

NARR: Burden says she knows she is labeled as anti-children by her pro-play street neighbors. But she insists she is  looking out for the students, too.

BURDEN: There’s no need for them to play in the middle of the street, where there’s dead rats that we see all the time.

NARR: Connie Sanchez used to be a teacher at Ascension School

SANCHEZ: and actually we have a petition, and we had close to 1,000 people sign the petition saying that it didn’t bother them.

NARR: To Connie Sanchez, the conflict involves more than noisy children.

SANCHEZ: The people who complain about the children also complain about the church, and the fact that they have masses and funerals. So, the church and the school can’t disappear.

NARR: Ascension School’s principal Chris McMahon takes a diplomatic approach to the two-year squabble.

MCMAHON: It’s those little inconveniences that have been piling up for a while. And we do understand the residents’ frustrations, and we’re doing everything we can to try and alleviate those stresses.

NARR: Now, something even louder and messier than noisy kids is coming to the block. Construction on a new building begins in a few weeks, and 107th street will have to remain open all day for work vehicles. That means no more play street for the time being. Rosen is grateful for the respite, even if she’s not getting a quiet street in the bargain.

ROSEN: I’m not looking forward to the construction noise. It may be one problem replaced with another. But I can’t speak to that now because it hasn’t happened yet.

NARR: It probably won’t make the block any quieter or student-safe, but it just might bring peace among the neighbors.

Leanna Orr, Columbia Radio News.

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New Graduates Face A Grueling Job Search

Students graduating in Philadelphia earlier this month (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Thousands of college students will walk the stage this month at graduations across the country. And the majority of them will be looking for a job.

But if the past few years are any indication, they could be in for an unpleasant surprise!

Researchers at Rutgers University surveyed graduates from the past 6 years and found that only 50 percent of them are working full time.

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Two Schools Saved from Closure

Guidance Counselors Andrew and Millie Martir met at Bushwick Cummunity and now work there. Photo by Mackenzie Issler/Columbia Radio News

New York City’s Panel for Education Policy voted last night to close and overhaul 24 public schools.Until yesterday, the Bushwick Community High School was on its list. But at the eleventh hour, the education department decided to keep the school open, along with one other.

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(Bed of street noise ambi under whole piece, faded in and out between narrations and actualities)

Teacher Ellie Weiss, her colleagues and students have been bracing for the worse since the pending closure was announced in January. But, on Thursday morning, they were able to take a deep breath.

Weiss: We all cried, we were crying off and on all morning.

Weiss says when the principal made the announcement over the loudspeaker, cheers filled the classrooms and hallways.

Teacher Tabari Bomani was overcome as well.

Bomani: It was really a spiritual, emotional, beautiful moment.

Bushwick Community is a transfer high school of about 350 students, which means it’s for those who are behind or have dropped out.

It’s also on what the state calls it persistently lowest achieving schools list.

In a statement, New York City’s Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said Bushwick Community and Queen’s Grover Cleveland high schools were spared because they have done well on their progress reports and look to be showing continued improvement.

Bushwick Community teachers agree and argue that the metrics that gauge performance are unfair to the school … because it specifically caters to some of the city’s most vulnerable and struggling students.

Martir: I was throwing away my high school career.

That’s Andrew Martir, who came to Bushwick in 1995. He only had nine credits toward graduation, even though he had been in high school for three years.

He graduated a year later and went on to SUNY Purchase.

His life has come full circle. He’s now a guidance counselor at Bushwick, along with his wife, who he met when they were both students here.

Martir: Seventeen years later, we now have a beautiful family, three kids, we are working with colleagues who saved our lives, in a building that saved our lives and we helping change the lives of students in this community   … the community we were born in raised in.

Outside the school’s entrance, Martir stops to talk to 20-year-old student Allen Lloyd, who Martir describes as modest and hardworking. Lloyd says he can always depend on Martir.

Lloyd: I appreciate him and I don’t think there is any words or anything I could do for him to show my appreciation
Martir: No, You can, you can get a degree (laughing)

Lloyd: That’s better, that’s good, that’s priceless …

Lloyd is graduating in June and plans to go to college … he wants to study entertainment law or politics. And, he says he’s relieved to be moving on.

Allen: It makes like a big weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I have been in high school for a long time, I should have made a career out of it. (Laughing)

Teacher Tabari Bomani knows there is still work to be done. He says after the closure announcement, some students stopped showing up to school.

Bomani: Over the next couple of weeks we are going to jump in our cars, we are going to go to the houses of students who have been missing and tell them:I don’t know if you heard the news, we are still here, we love you, this is about you.”

Bomani has worked at the school for 23 years and says he’ll do whatever he can to keep the school open.

Mackenzie Issler, Columbia Radio News.

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State Testing Faces Critique

Peg Tyre book examines how to assess schools and teachers, beyond test scores.

It’s testing season at New York’s public schools, and a series of confusion questions on New York State’s end of grades tests for 8th graders have aroused criticism from both teachers and parents alike.  Peg Tyre is an education analyst and best selling author of two books on the education system.  She joined Russ Finklestein earlier today to discuss these issues.

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Brooklyn Chess Team Prepares for Nationals

The four boys that are representing P.S. 335 at Nationals have only been playing for two years, but are well versed in strategy. Photo by Jackie Mader/Columbia Radio News.

Each year, the National Elementary Scholastic Chess tournament attracts students from across the nation–this year, to Nashville, Tennessee. The young chess players dream of becoming grandmasters, winning trophies, and earning some of the 20,000 dollars in scholarship money that’s on the table. This year, PS 335, an elementary school in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, has qualified for the national championships for the first time. Jackie Mader visits the chess team as they prepare for their debut.

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Anchor Intro:Each year, the National Elementary Scholastic Chess tournament attracts students from across the nation–this year, to Nashville, Tennessee. The young chess players dream of becoming grandmasters, winning trophies, and earning some of the 20,000 dollars in scholarship money that’s on the table. This year, PS 335, an elementary school in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, has qualified for the national championships for the first time. Jackie Mader visits the chess team as they prepare for their debut.Tyriq and Jordan are sitting on the floor of their fifth grade classroom, setting up their chess board for an afternoon game.

SOUND: (Sounds of setting up the board).

TYRIQ: White is right here. This is the king that you have to protect, which is the most important piece.

JORDAN: These are knights

(11 seconds)


The 11 year olds play on the same team, but on this Monday afternoon, Jordan is thinking about how he will defeat his teammate.


JORDAN: I moved my pawn right here so I could attack his knight because the knight is more important than the pawn. (7)

Tyriq has his own strategy.


TYRIQ: I moved right here so I could protect my knight and attack these two and have more attackers than defenders. (9)

In a few swift moves, Tyriq captures three of Jordan’s pawns, and a rook. Jordan comes back with a surprise attack.


JORDAN: Check! (2)

Tyriq carefully examines board.


MADER: What are you thinking right now?

TYRIQ: to protect my king (6)

A few moves later, Tyriq corners Jordan’s king: It’s checkmate. The two boys shake hands and reset their board. Tyriq says he likes the competition.


TYRIQ: My rival is Jordan because he makes me play hard and he helps me get better and every time I play him, we have a fun game. (12)


Two other members of the team are hunched over their chessboards a few feet away.


Sounds: Pieces clinking together on the chessboard. “I’m going to get you in check!”(6)

The team of four has less than 20 days before heading to Nashville.


MADER: What’s the farthest away you’ve traveled?

TYRIQ: The farthest we ever traveled was Chinatown…We went to central    park for a tournament before. No, but Chinatown was farther. (13)


These kids are part of a program called Chess in the Schools. The program aims to empower kids in 51 low income schools across the city. P.S. 335 is one of Crown Heights poorest schools. It has a 95 percent poverty rate. To these boys, Tennessee is a world away.


TYRIQ: we’ll be staying in a hotel..with a pool. I hope we have a Jacuzzi in our room, me and angel. I think there’s be a place where we can play table tennis. I hope there’s laser tag and video games in our room. (16)

Jordan has never been on an airplane before.


JORDAN: People have said that when you’re on an airplane, and you look down, people look like ants, and I want to look down to see. (10)

Meghan Dunn is a teacher at 335 and the faculty adviser for the team. She raised the 3000 dollars needed for the trip by sending out donor letters and creating a website. She says the boys have bonded over chess.


DUNN: A lot of the kids around here don’t really have the chance to play on sports teams or be a part of a team. So this is a great opportunity for them to be on a team, and work together. (9)

Dunn says the boys have made more friends and are also more motivated in school. Tyriq’s parents, Leah and Thomas Holland, are happy that their son found an activity he likes. Before the chess team, they tried to put Tyriq in Football, but he didn’t like running.


TIMOTHY: Then when he started doing chess, we were like ‘yeah ok, do your best.’ Then he started crying when he was losing, its like. ‘I hope he don’t, I really thought he might quit’ but he stuck to it (12)

Leah Holland says being part of a team has brought Tyriq out of his shell and made him more outgoing. She also said he has learned patience.


LEAH: He knows how to keep his cool a little more. As far as the competition and learning how to compete and be let down, he knows he can’t win every game. But to learn from losing, actually. (11)

A two year study of elementary chess players in the city found that reading levels improve more for chess players than for kids who don’t play chess. A Texas study even found that the game improves standardized test scores. Meghan Dunn says that the benefits go beyond academics.


DUNN: we also want them to walk away with the skill of knowing that I can set a goal and I can reach that goal. Because at the end of the day, that skill is going to be worth more to them in life than just what their score is on a test. (10)


The team will face heavy competition in Nashville. There will be 2100 players competing. Many of their opponents take private lessons or have a coach at their school four times a week. But the boys say they’re ready for the challenge, and have set their sights on winning.


JORDAN: I think we’re gonna do good and have a fun time and we’re gonna win a lot as a team and get as most points as possible. (8)

Jackie Mader, Columbia Radio News.


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Suspension Rates are up, and Schools are Rethinking Discipline

Carl Carpenter prepares for his 5th grade class to arrive at P.S. 325.

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Host Intro:  Recently released data shows an astounding 73,000 suspensions in New York City last year. Suspension rates are on the rise across the nation and African-American students are three times as likely to be suspended as their white peers. Some teachers say that suspensions are overused, and studies show they have long-term effects. Jackie Mader reports that the new data is pushing schools to think differently about their discipline policies.

Jackie Mader: On a Monday afternoon at the Bronx Academy of Letters, Andrew Hara was trying to teach an African civilization lesson to a class of 9th graders, when a student’s cell phone started to vibrate in her backpack. This student had just returned from a suspension, and when Hara asked for her phone, she refused.

HARA: So an administrator comes in, tries to get her to step outside, “I ain’t f-ing going anywhere,” goes through it again. Hugely distracting as we’re trying to go through a history lesson.

Jackie Mader: It took the entire period, an administrator, a principal, and a public safety officer to remove the student from the class. Hara says the student’s response showed a discouraging mindset.

HARA: Her big issue was, ‘no, I’ve just been suspended for cutting class.’ Here I am in class trying to do my work and y’all want to suspend me again.

Jackie Mader: In the end, the student was allowed to stay in school. The school is trying to cut down on the number of kids who are suspended.

HARA: Now its more of like, coming up with creative ways with those individual students. We’ve tried different intervention plans, contracts, behavior plans…So we’re trying it all.

Jackie Mader: Bronx Academy’s flexible approach is the exception. In New York City, suspensions are up 130 percent since 2003. There are actually only a small number of offenses that actually require a suspension, like bringing a weapon to school or starting a fire. For less serious cases, Hara says that suspensions don’t always solve much.

HARA: Are they necessary sometimes? Personally, I think so. Are they necessary in the numbers we’re seeing? Probably not.

Jackie Mader: Julia Kaye is the director of an advocacy group which trains law students to represent suspended students at hearings. Kaye says school officials often ask for harsher punishments than offenses deserve.

KAYE: We had a case recently where a six year old student, six years old, was charged with biting a teacher’s toe,

Jackie Mader: Kaye says the school asked for a 30 day suspension.

KAYE: To respond like that to a young child is just horrifying.

Jackie Mader: Carl Carpenter’s fifth grade class at P.S. 325 in Morningside Heights, had a rough day yesterday.

AMB of CARPENTER: “Ok so how did yesterday go? Compared to how it should have been?

Jackie Mader: Bad, one of the kids responded. It had been a long day of testing, and the kids were tired.

AMB: (of kids) Carpenter:  But today is going to be better.

Jackie Mader: Carpenter has found that discussing behavior with students is more beneficial than resorting to suspensions. But one of his student was suspended earlier this year. He threatened a teacher.

CARPENTER: He responded to the suspension by throwing things around the class…He then cried uncontrollably and tried to reason with the teacher, but by that time it was obviously too late and he was sent home.

Jackie Mader: This student’s behavior hasn’t changed much since returning from the suspension. But Carpenter has tried to build a relationship with the student to understand where he is coming from.

CARPENTER: I think knowing that he has older siblings who have been in prison, dealing drugs, you know, you can understand where some of his behavior comes from

Jackie Mader: Studies show that long-term consequences of suspensions are devastating to kids. Legal services attorney Andy Artz says that suspension is part of a school to prison pipeline.

ARTZ: Students who are suspended are much more likely to drop out of school, much more likely to be arrested, much more likely to end up in the criminal justice system as adults.

Jackie Mader: Artz says that the majority of suspensions are at low-income schools and most of those suspended are African American or Latino. He says racism or stereotyping might be a factor in the disproportionate suspension rate for minorities. These schools are some of the toughest, and officials are attempting to tackle behavior.

ARTZ: In some ways the department of education has chosen to stress things like policing in schools over prioritizing guidance counseling.

Jackie Mader: For now, the hard line approach is still the policy of the Department of Education and suspension numbers may continue to increase. Jackie Mader, Columbia Radio News.

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Success Academy Sparks Controversy in Williamsburg

Success Academy posters have been repeatedly defaced in the Bedford Avenue subway station.

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HOST INTRO: Residents of the Williamsburg neighborhood in Brooklyn have  been contending with the effects of gentrification for more than a decade. Upscale restaurants have forced out mom and pop residents and poor residents worry that they’re getting priced out. Now gentrification may be coming to Williamsburg schools. A nonprofit charter school is slated to open in an existing public school building and that’s divided the community. Jackie Mader reports.

N1: Stand in East River state park and you get a really clear vision of what has happened to the Williamsburg waterfront.

AMB: Water lapping against the shoreline. Distant construction sounds.

N2: Fifteen years ago, this park was an abandoned former freight depot. Now you can see residential high rises stretching down to the Williamsburg Bridge. Median income in the neighborhood has shot up as the area has attracted more residents and businesses.  It has also attracted the interest of a charter school chain called Success Academy. The non-profit has launched an ad campaign in the neighborhood to let everyone know that it’s coming.

AMB: Subway: “The next L train is now arriving”

N2 The Bedford Avenue subway stop in Williamsburg is plastered with posters for the new school.  Opponents of Success Academy have placed stickers on top of the ads. One accuses the charter school chain of spending too much money on marketing. Another accuses the schools of enrolling too few students who speak English as a second language. And its those two issues- money and ethnicity- that are at the center of the fight over Success Academy in Williamsburg. Along the waterfront and north of Grand street, the neighborhood is primarily white and more affluent. South of there, it is primarily Latino and poorer. Opponents of the schools say their founder, former city council member, Eva Moskowitz, is ignoring the south side and targeting the north side for a specific reason.

DEVOR: Her business model cannot succeed, at this point, without an affluent parent body.

Jim Devor is a parent in Cobble Hill. He says Moskowitz targets affluent parents because they’re more likely to make donations to the non-profit that runs nine schools.

DEVOR: To the extent that her schools are successful is because, and to some degree they are, it is because there is substantially greater resources. Not necessarily coming from public funds, but coming from outside funds.

While Success Academy is targeting parents on the north side, it is actually going to be located in the south side. Latino residents in that area feel that the school has completely ignored their needs.  Esteban Duran is the chair of the education and youth committee for Community Board 1 in Williamsburg.

DURAN: What about the South side of the community which actually- is Spanish, speaks Spanish predominantly and where the school is located. They do any of the gathering of signatures there, they didn’t do any advertisements in Spanish until after the first hearing. Its not a public process.

Duran says that what the community actually needs, is another middle school. He’s also worried because the charter school is going to be located in an existing public school building. He thinks the charter school, with its greater resources, will crowd out the struggling public school.

DURAN: You’re gonna see a school that’s gonna get more resources and then a school that is left to die on the vine, and that’s the public school.

Supporters of Success Academy say that’s not likely to happen. Vanessa Bangser is principal of a Success Academy in the Bronx. She says that when a charter school and a public school operate side by side in a public building, good things can happen.

BANGSER: The bigger point is to go back- what was the root of charter schools? It was to provide choice and provide options but also innovate different ideas for schools and to partner with district schools to help improve all schools. So if we just share best practices and work together, definitely both schools can improve.

The four elementary schools in Williamsburg nearest to where the charter school will open could use improvement. Only 30 percent of their students are proficient in English. Success Academy teacher Jessica Johnson says the controversy more about what adults want than about what children need.

JOHNSON: if you don’t want to send your kid to Williamsburg success, fine then don’t. You have the option to send them wherever you want. I just really strongly believe in parent choice.

But Success Academy opponent Estaban Duran says that parents should be concerned if the new school is going to weaken the existing schools.

DURAN: The larger story here is really this interest of public property, public resources being given over to a public entity. That would be ok if there was actually community input. That’s the real issue here.

Success Academy will open in Williamsburg in August with room for nearly 200 kindergartens and first graders. Jackie Mader, Columbia Radio News.

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City Releases Teacher Ratings

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For three years, New York City evaluated its public school teachers with “value-added” ratings system. These ratings  were kept private from general public until now.  After much anticipation and controversy, the city released the individual ratings of about 18,000 teachers to the public, and response has been mixed.


The week long February school break came to an abrupt end today for a large group of New York City public school teachers. After much anticipation and controversy, the city released the individual ratings of about 18,000 teachers to the public.

The teacher data reports were released at noon today and show what is called a “value added” rating of fourth through eighth grade language arts and math teachers from three separate school years. A formula was used to calculate a score between 0 and 99 based on the predicted standardized test scores of students, the actual scores, and factors such as whether the student is economically disadvantaged or disabled. Teacher Tristan Schwartzman says that it makes sense to compare teachers at a school level, but the ratings should not be used to compare teachers in general. “Where a teacher teaches at a school where students come in already possessing the skills they need to pass an exam like that- their students all pass that exam, versus where my students, 40 percent is solid. I’m happy with forty percent,” he said.

Schwartzman has been teaching for six years at an alternative program for high school students who need to retake earlier grades or classes that they have failed. He isn’t planning on looking at his score if it is published, but he says there may be value to releasing the scores. “It really does reflect on our performance as teachers,” he said, adding, “basically all we’re doing is trying to push them through those exams .So it is of value to know how successful we are.”

Some teachers and activists question the value of the scores. Independent experts say that the relatively small sample size has created an enormous margin of error.  For example, a math teacher could have a 35-point discrepancy in their score. That means a rating of 60 could actually be as low as 25, or as high as 95. The scores are from 2007 to 2010 and the state has admitted that some scores were inflated or contained factual errors. The United Federation of Teachers tried unsuccessfully to block the release of the scores in 2010 but was overruled and lost an appeal with a state court last week. UFT President Michael Mulgrew said that the data should not be used against teachers. “When you are saying that this is a judgment of people, you have to say what is reliable and what is not and these scores are just wrong and misleading,” Mulgrew said.

Many parents responded to news of the release by posting comments on media website. Reactions were mostly against the release of the data, although some parents expressed interest in the information. Elizabeth Weiss is a clinical social worker with a daughter in 3rd grade at the Lower Lab School in Manhattan. She says she would probably be curious by the information, and thinks that there a lot of parents may want to see it. “I think a lot of New York City parents are obsessed with this sort of thing because it reflects on their children,” Weiss said.

Weiss says that she trusts her daughter’s current teachers and most likely won’t look up their data, but may be tempted when shopping for middle schools. She says that while she’s glad the information is out there, it should be looked at in context of the whole school and it doesn’t reflect all aspects of a teacher. “If for example teachers get poor ratings because of these scores- is that a direct reflection on them or a lack of support they’re getting from their school, or parents, or the city?” Weiss asked. She says the individual ratings won’t weight too much for her.

New York City stopped producing the ratings after 2010 and adopted a new evaluation system last week that includes test scores, but also classroom observations and other factors. In response to the city’s actions today, the UFT kicked of a newspaper advertising campaign featuring the slogan “This Is No Way to Rate a Teacher” above a complex mathematical formula intended to highlight what they say is a problematic way to rate teachers.

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Teachers Union and City Reach a Deal on Evaluations

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Governor Andrew Cuomo brokered a last minute deal between the United Federation of Teachers and the mayor’s office over the thorny issue of evaluating New York’s teachers.

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Education Panel Votes to Shutter 18 City Schools

At a public hearing last week, New York's education panel voted to close 18 schools. This makes 135 schools currently closed or slated for closure, including Jamaica High in Queens (pictured above) which was added to the list last year. Photo by JACKIE MADER

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The New York City’s Panel for Education Policy voted to close 18 schools last week. Nearly 2000 people turned out, many in protest of the closings, at a meeting that has become an annual event at the Brooklyn Technical High School.

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Debate over LIFO heats up as Bloomberg confirms teacher cuts

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Mayor Bloomberg presented his executive budget this morning. One of the biggest headlines is his plan to cut more than 42-hundred public school teachers.

He’s been threatening teacher layoffs since late last year. IF they come to pass, they’d be the first since the fiscal crisis in the 1970’s. And, it’ll be seniority – or lack of it – that dictates who gets the pink slips.

This policy, Last in First Out, known as LIFO, has been the law in New York State for more than five decades. At his press conference today, Bloomberg reiterated his stance against it.

“Last in first out is just not the way to run the school system,” he said. “Its an irrational way there are great teachers at all levels of seniority and have to make sure we keep the great ones.”

In the midst of a heated national debate about how to measure teacher merit, many politicians and educators say it’s time for LIFO to go.

It’s Wednesday afternoon at Columbia Secondary School in Harlem. Meg Swan is teaching social studies to a group of about 30 sixth graders.

They’re talking about globalization and she asks them where their stuff comes from.

World maps cover the walls opposite the projector screen and windows. Posters taped to the chalkboard pose wide-ranging questions about the US addiction to oil and the pros and cons of globalization. The students are focused and excited. Swan says she loves teaching at Columbia Secondary School. She asks tough questions of the kids, and they’re up to the challenge.

But this may be the last year Meg Swan has that opportunity. In February, Mayor Bloomberg released a list of the schools that’d be hardest hit by his proposed layoffs. Columbia Secondary topped it. That’s because the school’s staff is young and state law dictates that the last teachers in are the first ones out. The school stands to lose 70 percent of its teachers: a crushing 14 teachers of the current 20.

“I’ve been teaching for six years,” says Swan, “but I am on the chopping block. Which is a little maddening.”

Columbia Secondary is a partnership between the New York city Department of Education and Columbia University. Unlike most public schools, it can select its students – the way charter and private schools do – but its teachers are unionized just like in public schools. Teachers in the union get tenure—and more protection from cuts—after three years of teaching. Swan’s been teaching for six years, but just two of those in city public schools. So she’s vulnerable, she says.

“When I look at both the proposed teacher layoffs coming up and the fact that I am four months pregnant I have to tell myself, “Take the long view, take the long view.”

Swan’s long view is that she’ll continue teaching. she knows that a system that might force her out now is one that will protect her down the road.

So, she’s pro-LIFO but not just for personal reasons: she’s seen principals fire good teachers out on personal bias, and believes that teachers get better over time.

But Maria Eder, Columbia Secondary’s parent coordinator, thinks accepting LIFO is a bad choice when students like her son lose good teachers.

When Eder learned about the proposed staffing cuts, she was:

“Just basically shocked, because it would means our school would unravel.”

Eder says the young staff is great, across the board. She says any layoff policy that doesn’t take merit into account harms kids. She’s not ready to let go of great teachers like Meg Swan without a fight.

“The point is to educate our children properl, says Eder. “The point isn’t to create a tremendous safety net for people who are not doing that. ”

LIFO is sparking debates like these across the country. Most states have LIFO laws on the books and with so many states struggling to balance their budgets, LIFO policies are getting a lot of attention. Illinois and Florida are the latest in a handful of states that have voted to repeal LIFO, and Georgia is on the way.

The U.S. Education secretary Arnie Duncan has spoken out against it. And Here in New York State, Governor Cuomo, Mayor Bloomberg, and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott oppose it. A QuinnaPEEEack poll released in March shows 80 percent of New Yorkers oppose LIFO.

But the powerful teachers’ union considers it a critical protection. Democrats have quashed three legislative attempts to end it in the last year alone.

Andy Rotherman is a an education consultant, who specializes in the history of education reform.

“This is power politics 101,” says Rotherman “Veteran teachers have more voice, they are more organized. Teachers, especially in their first few years of teaching, are not especially engaged in that kind of conversation.”

For Rotherham, there has to be an alternative.

“If we want schools to be good at teaching kids, why would we lay people off with no attention to how good they are at teaching kids,” he asked.

He says, its time to start moving to a merit–based system.

“In most professions, you make these decisions based on a blend of qualitative data and quantitative data. In education we’re gonna have to get comfortable with that, and because its not going to be perfect and because in some places frankly they’ll do it badly, is not a reason to keep in place a policy that demonstrably makes no sense.

Rotherham focuses on national issues, but Evan Stone follows New York education policy. He is the founder of Educators4Excellence, a group of pro-reform teachers. He liked the Senate’s most recent attempt to replace LIFO with a merit-based system.

“It had seven different pools or categories that if teachers fell into they would be laid off.” Sone continued, “so if you fell into all seven, you’d be laid off first and then six and then five working down.”

The proposed seven pools were based on traditional performance issues – teachers who chronically miss work, don’ t have current placements, and the small but significant number who’ve been declared ineffective by their principals. They would have been cut first.

With so many people speaking out against LIFO, the stalemate is frustrating for Stone.

“Can’t we chose these groups of teachers before just our newest teachers.”

But the teacher union’s top brass say the alternatives proposed just haven’t been tested.

Rob Weil is a director at the American Federation of Teachers.

“You can score political points by making really good zings that sound easy like “lets just make a pair of wings and fly to the moon.but….it becomes a little more difficult than just putting some feathers on some sticks.”

At the end of the day, Weil says LIFO makes sense because it protects what’s proven to make the best teachers.

“You wanna keep the teachers that are the most effective. and the most effective are the ones with the experience.”

At a May Day Rally outside City Hall, it’s a sea of acronyms. Hundreds of people are wearing baseball caps and tee shirts in support of their unions. United Federation of Teachers director Anthony Harmon speaks to the crowd.

“No more can we allow these attacks on our public school systems which attempt to pit senior teachers against newer teachers,” Hamon said.

Susan Epstein sports a UFT hat. She says she’s deeply suspicious of how layoffs would happen without the protection of LIFO.

“Everything I see indicates that there is an effort to get rid of teachers who are high on the salary scale regardless of the quality of their teaching.”

And, she says she’s seen this kind of discriminatory firing before.

” A whole lot of people who were satisfactory until their tenure came up all of a sudden became unsatisfactory at my school last year.”

For Epstein, if layoffs have to happen, LIFO is the only fair way to do it.

But for UFT President Mike Mulgrew, how cuts are done is beside the point.

“Any layoff hurts children,” says Mulgrew, “and if people wanna talk about how to lay people off, they wanna talk about how to hurt children, and I don’t want to have any part of it.”

Bloomberg’s new schools chancellor Dennis Walcott says he gets it.

“The only thing worse than having the lay off a teacher is having to lay off a great teacher.”

Dennis Walcott told the City Council’s Education Commission that LIFO is destructive a policy. It can’t go on, when it disproportionately impacts low income kids.

“There are three districts in the Bronx where 90 percent of students receive free or reduced price lunches that would be the three districts hit hardest citywide by layoffs done in accordance with the current LIFO law.”

Walcott promised to push the state government to repeal LIFO before teachers receive their pinkslips, expected by June 1st.

It’s unlikely that state government can pass an alternative to LIFO in time. But, Education consultant Andy Rotherham says LIFO’s days are numbered.

“People already realize what the political outcome of these events is gonna be. but that doesnt mean you don’t have to have all the fighting. LIFO is going away, but it doesn’t mean its not gonna be bloodly while we get there.”

The final budget will be released on June 30th.

Alex Alper Columbia Radio News.

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Bloomberg Announces Budget (Cuts Included)

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Even before the budget was officially announced to the public, city council members expressed disappointment.

“This is a lot of pain that’s been inflicted by Albany and Washington,” said Lewis Fidler, Brooklyn (D). “It’s really not our doing.  We’re going to have to back peddle and fill a lot of holes they inflicted on us.”

A few minutes later, Mayor Bloomberg began his presentation ready for the criticism.

He says the city’s already used two-thirds of its reserve to fill in gaps and will spend the rest next year.

The hot button issue was teachers.

“I’m not trying to lay off teachers,” Bloomberg told the audience.

But he says that’s what will happen.  Some will leave through retirement.  But about 4,100 teachers will leave through the “last in, first out” policy which Bloomberg has said he doesn’t like.

After teachers, the Police department faces the largest cuts, nearly 200 million dollars.

Next comes the fire department, which stands to lose 94 million dollars in funding.

The mayor says he knows fire fighters will find it very tough.

“Two commissioners jobs are to keep bringing down crime and deaths by fire and response rates and to do it with less,” he said.

Bloomberg does stress his total confidence in the two departments.

But Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano is concerned.

There’s never a good time to close a fire co, never.” Cassano said after the announcement.  “If it’s twenty and we have to do that by July 1, those notices have to go out next week.”

Fire companies are different from stations.  Several companies can work out of the same station, but cutting twenty companies means 600 fire fighters.

Al Hagan is represents fire department lieutenants, captains and chiefs through the Uniformed Fire Officers Association.

He says the cuts could really hurt the public.

“Fire protection in the city of New York is like a cloth,” Hagan said in a phone interview. “And every company represents a thread in that cloth. When the thread count goes down, the entire fabric becomes weaker.”

Hagan has seen the city talk about cuts before.  Cuts have happened in the past. And at times the city councils stepped in to restore the funds.   But he doesn’t think that will happen this time.

He thinks the mayor is taking the wrong approach to balance the budget, as does James Parrot, a city government expert at the Fiscal Policy Institute.

Parrot says Bloomberg should also look at ways to increase the city’s income.

“There’s so much focus on cutting government and reducing the number of public sector workers at a time when unemployment is very high,” Parrot said Friday.

“Cutting government budgets is only going to make the economic situation worse.”

Parrot acknowledges the mayor faces similar problems seen in other cities across the nation.  A recession where funds are scares and cuts are becoming more common.

Bloomberg now has to convince the city council to pass his plan by July First.  The debate has already begun.

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More Incoming NY Community College Students Need Remedial Courses

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In Pat O’Mara’s basic algebra class at Borough of Manhattan Community College in Tribeca, students are trying to learn how to calculate the slope between two points.

O’Mara: So this is the X and Y coordinance of the first so it’s the x’s of 1 and y’s of 1, and the coordinance for the second one would be x’s of 2 and y’s of 2.

It’s a concept that the students should have learned in middle school. But they are learning it again because they failed the school’s entrance placement test.

Tasha Colorado from Fresh Meadow, Queens, is one of the students in O’Mara’s class. She is taking three remedial classes this semester, including math, reading and writing. That means she will not get any college credit even if she passes all her classes. She said she thought she was good at math.

“I thought I was… But I used a calculator. In college, you can’t use a calculator. So it kind of screwed me over,” said Colorado.

Colorado is part of the majority at BMCC. About 60 percent of all math classes offered there are remedial, and three-quarters of the all freshman at CUNY community colleges need at least one remedial class in math, reading or writing.

Last year CUNY spent 33 million dollars on remedial instruction in its 6 community colleges. That amount nearly doubled over the past 10 years.

Faulty say there are a few reasons for the increase. First more students are going back to college, after years in the workforce-which means they have not been in school for a while. O’Mara says she sees that in her class.

“They’ve probably been away for a couple of years. If you don’t keep up with any subject, you are kind of full. Then you are asked on one test to put all the right answers down, you’ve forgotten a few things only because you haven’t done it for a while,” said O’Mara.

Others students and faculty blame the increase on public high schools. Another student in O’Mara’s class, Frank Sanchez, was not surprised that he failed the placement test. He said he had bad math teachers in high school.

“I’ve always had trouble with math. And when I came into the school, I have a more of an understanding since I’ve had math ever, Sanchez said.

Sanchez graduated from New York City public high schools, like two-thirds of his classmates. Kathleen Offenholley coordinates adjunct math instructors at BMCC. She says the faculty spends a lot of time making up for the high schools’ shortcomings.

“New York has an enormous disparity of income. A lot of people live in very poor neighborhoods with not much resources for their schools. And I think a lot of my students come from that kind of backgrounds,” said Offenholley.

Another reason for the increase in remedial classes is the changing culture. Gay Brookes is the chairperson of the developmental skills department at BMCC.

“Many students don’t read very much. So they don’t have the fluency in their reading ability. So they look at a textbook and it’s got 250 pages of rather dense print, and they just don’t know how to approach it,” said Brookes.

Students don’t get college credits for remedial classes, or developmental courses as they are formally known. But the classes cost the same as credit-bearing courses. Low-income students’ tuition can be covered entirely by Pell grants. However, Republicans in the US House of Representatives are proposing to cut the grant funding by up to 15 percent. Dolores Perin from Columbia University’s Teachers College studies remediation at community colleges. She says that supporting remedial students benefits everyone.

“We as taxpayers have to think about tomorrow and not just today,” said Perin. “Think about the implications of supporting students with low skills because those are the workforce tomorrow. The workforce is aging out. We need to replace them.”

The long-term solution to reduce remediation is for high schools to prepare their students better. Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and a former governor of West Virginia, says high schools and colleges need to get on the same page when it comes to standards.

“Up until recently, our high schools and our community colleges and four-year institutions haven’t been communicating well enough about what it is that students need to be able to succeed in college or career,” said Wise.

The National Governors Association’s Center for Best Practice last year developed an initiative to help improve K to 12 education. So far more than 40 states have adopted it. In New York, CUNY is working with New York City Department of Education to align academic standards. In the meantime, the city’s high schools will be graded for their graduates’ college readiness.

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