Saturday, November 3, 2007

Gifted and Talented Policy at October Panel for Educational Policy Meeting

This month's PEP meeting was held on Staten Island. A special thanks to the D31 CEC who provided a warm welcome. Here are the highlights from my perspective as the Manhattan representative on the Panel:

Proposed Gifted and Talented Policy

The new G&T admissions policy was presented but not discussed. Highlights:
  • Request for testing forms available starting December 3rd
  • There will be two tests used to determine each child's score: the Bracken School Readiness Assessment (BSRA) and the Otis Lennon School Abilities Test (OLSAT). The OLSAT will count for 75% of the score and the BSRA for 25%.
  • There will be strict cutoff for the combined score. A child must fall in the 95% percentile nationally to be considered gifted.
  • All children at or above the cutoff score will be guaranteed a seat in a G&T program. Children not passing the cutoff will not be eligible for G&T programs.
  • The three citywide programs (NEST, TAG and Anderson) will have an additional onsite assessment.
Beyond these changes scheduled to take effect starting in December, the DOE is proposing for next year to test all Kindergarten students with the Bracken School Readiness Assessment (BSRA).

See the G&T proposal document (pdf) for more information including the proposed timeline.

Already I have heard many complaints from parents about the proposal, especially the following:
  • The standardized tests being used are correlated with socioeconomic status and may be heavily influenced by child's preparation in the home. It's not clear that the proposal brings us any closer the the stated goal of a more equitable system. See more on this viewpoint here.
  • Notifications of acceptance are given too late for parents who are also considering private or parochial school options. This late notification retards parental choice, supposedly one of the key elements of the Chancellor's reform program.
  • The implication of the plan is that some districts have too many G&T seats and these may need to be curtailed. While it is important to add capacity where it is needed, there is no good argument to close programs that are working. Based on last year's OLSAT results, DOE should have a sense of impact on each program but don't seem to be discussing it with principals.

DOE will take comments for a month, take them into consideration and release the final plan. Members of the public can submit comments through November 25 via e-mail (to, phone (call (212) 374-5219) or at a public hearing:
Manhattan: Monday, November 5, Fashion Industries HS (225 W 24th St.)
Staten Island: Tuesday, November 6, PS 58 (77 Marsh Ave.)
Queens: Thursday, November 8, John Adams HS (101-01 Rockaway Blvd.)
Bronx: Thursday, November 15, Evander Childs HS (800 E. Gun Hill Rd.)
Brooklyn: Monday, November 19, Brooklyn Technical HS (29 Fort Greene Pl.)
Speaker sign up is at 6:00 and hearings start at 6:30

School New York City Educational Construction Fund (ECF)

The ECF provides long term leases on city land to developers who then build both a commercial project and a school. It's a way for the city to get school capacity without capital funds.

Jamie Smarr presented the two current projects of the ECF, 1765 First Avenue (future site of East Side Middle School) and 250 East 57th Street (PS 59 and High School for Art & Design).

While the idea behind the ECF is fine, there just have not been enough projects to make a dent in the capacity needs of school system. The ECF has been in existence since 1967 and has built 18,000 seats, or roughly 450 a year. Against 1.1 million kids, that's not much. But even these seats are not necessarily incremental. For example, the 1765 First Avenue project is replacing a school that was closed earlier. I asked Jamie what was stopping us from doing more projects and he pointed to the need for developers to cooperate. I asked if he got support from the Mayor and Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff in reaching out to developers. He said he had the cooperation of the Chancellor.

Chancellor's Regulation A-655 (School Leadership Teams)

Martine Guerrier presented the proposed changes to the SLT regulations. Many parent leaders have expressed the concern that the changes to the regulations would weaken SLTs by giving the principal more influence than the current regulations allow, especially by placing the SLT task of creating the schools Comprehensive Educational Plan (CEP) behind the principal's responsibility to define the budget. For more information on this point, see testimony at the City Council hearings from myself, Jim Devor and Joan McKeever Thomas (here).

Martine and I had some back and forth on these issues. She said the final A-655 regulations are not yet ready.

Public Comment

There were many speakers at the Staten Island session who complained about poor treatment of special ed students - lost IEPs, poorly trained teachers, lack of programs and a tendency on the part of school staff to criminalize the behavior of special ed kids. There were several speakers who had accounts of police being called to deal with misbehaving students including one disturbing story of a very young girl who was threatened with arrest and handcuffing.

Peter Calendrella, 1st VP of the District 31 CEC made an impassioned plea for DOE to find ways to allow students to carry phones to and from school. Mr. Calendrella, who was formerly an Assistant District Attorney working with the Special Victims Unit, pointed to two recent cases where Staten Island students could not call police when they witnessed a crime in the immediate vicinity of their school.

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