How Did Getting into a Specialized High School in NYC Become a Lottery Where Almost Everyone Loses?

I was prompted to write this post in response to news I learned recently from the 14-year-old I mentor. I have mentored through Children of Promise NYC for over two years now. (On a side note please visit their site, it’s a wonderful organization and they are always looking for great people to get involved: http://www.cpnycy.org/ ) This is big year for my mentee, she is graduating from eighth grade and needs to decide which high school to attend. Her first choice was Brooklyn Technical High School, one of the specialized high schools in NYC so she took the SHSAT test in the Fall. There are nine specialized high schools in NYC total: (taken from http://www.wikipedia.org)

Entrance to any of the nine is EXTREMELY competitive, particularly for the top choices: Stuyvestant and Bronx Science. Not to mention that these top schools have become ridiculously crowded to boot! Brooklyn Tech alone has 5,000 students!

She did very well on the SHSAT but it was still not enough for a spot at any of the specialized high schools. Luckily, she was accepted to Cobble Hill High School and the High School at Pace and will be attending one of the two. I know both of these are great schools and she will flourish at either. Her experience is unfortunately by no means unique. Here is a link to a New York Times article about another eighth grade student who had the same experience: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/02/nyregion/eighth-grader-full-of-sports-knowledge-is-left-without-a-high-school.html?ref=education

At the end of the day, the total number of students applying for entry into these nine schools is 29,000!!! They are competing for a mere 6,106 spots!

This strikes me as grossly unfair! Why should so many students be denied entry to schools which continue to win national award after national award? These nine buildings can only hold a certain amount of students and they are all at capacity. What, then is the solution?

It is the solution the NYCDOE has struggled with since their inception, how can we make the level of education received in every high school in the five boroughs the same as in these nine schools? There is no easy answer and the bottom line is that it’s impossible for every single high school to perform at the same level, particularly when many have such a large percentage of special needs students. That being said, the majority can and should be performing at the same high level.

The answer is simple and so important that I will type only in caps: LIMIT CLASS SIZE TO MAX 15 STUDENTS PER A TEACHER!!!

Do this and I promise you test scores will rise, students will graduate actually adequately prepared for college, and teachers can and will be more effective. What is the flaw in this brilliant and seemingly simple solution? MONEY…it will cost the city A LOT of money to hire so many new teachers. This is something the city has not and is still not willing to do, even if it means our low performing schools stay that way.

I leave with you with one final question….Jamaica High School against very loud protests by parents, students, and teachers is closing and several small schools have already been opened in the building. Currently there are roughly 1000 students total in the entire building but there are five people earning principal salaries. Brooklyn Technical High School has 5000 students in the building and one person earning a principal salary. Yet, there has been a hiring freeze for new teachers since 2009….what is wrong with this picture?????

I look forward to your thoughts and thanks for reading!

Bloomberg is closing 25 public schools…what is wrong with this picture?????

Mayor Bloomberg and the NYC DOE in their infinite wisdom have placed 25 public schools on the chopping block! I know this is not supposed to be a political blog but on this issue I can find no middle ground. The bottom line is this: it is 110% wrong! I would also like to give due props to the NY1 news teams for their in-depth coverage on this important story. They have had a feature story each morning on all the schools. It’s a wonderful 180 from their policy of the past, when they dared not say anything negative about the Mayor.

In every single one of these stories, there has been outrage and noise made by students, parents, teachers, and principals, wholeheartedly against these forced closings! To even consider proceeding with these closures is absolute lunacy! If there is so much passion for a school that is more than enough reason to not close its’ doors! If people love a school, then it can be improved, and it should be saved. There should be no debate about this!

Let’s take one example to look at further: Jamaica High School‘s door will be closing soon despite many protests! Parents, students, and teachers tried to have a judge put a stop to the closure, but to no avail! So, what have they done with this beautiful building that is perfect for a school? They have made four of these “small schools.” So you ask what does that mean? It means that for max 1000 kids there are four people earning a full principals salary! Meanwhile, Francis Lewis High School, has 1500 students and only one principal! Please tell me what is wrong with this picture? Supposedly, the education system is broke and yet we have the money to pay for four principals!?!?!? It’s absolutely ludicrous!

You may ask, what kind of schools are being forced to shut their doors? How about a school that caters to pregnant teens or teens with babies? Where else will these children be able to turn for, where they can get an education and have free childcare? Where will these, mostly minority students end up? Several technical schools are also on the chopping block. The bottom line is that college is not for everyone and these technical schools offer a viable alternative.

The bottom line is that for once, Mayor Bloomberg and the NYC DOE need to put our children first! I implore you, please do not close even one of these schools!

How did I end up here? My Educational Journey..Bonus: How to Succeed in College and Earn As!!!!

I have spent much of my adult life in college. I completed the traditional track, finishing my BA in History Minor in African American Ethnic Studies from Adelphi University at the age of 21. I loved Adelphi so much, that I stayed on another two years to complete my Master’s in Secondary Social Studies Education in 2009. As you may or may not know, from 2009 until the present, has to be one of the worst times in history to try to land a job in the education system! So I bounced around, worked retail and a telephone sales job at a Manhattan IT school which I absolutely abhorred! So after endless resumes sent out, applications, and countless interviews. I started to search for another answer. I knew what I wanted, I want a career, I do not need to be rich but my husband and I would eventually like a family and a house one day and I would like to be able to afford both. (We are sick of paying the absolutely ridiculous rental rates in Brooklyn!) Equally important, I needed a job that would be intellectually stimulating, offer excitement, variety, and NOT be in a cubicle! I started to research which sectors of the economy were still hiring even in the recession.

A little research revealed, that the Health Care industry was one of the few sectors that had still shown significant growth in the past few years. I knew I was not ready for the seven year commitment required to complete an MD. So, I looked for another answer, I attended an information session about the Physician Assistant Program at Pace University. I was thrilled, it was a perfect fit and it would only take 27 months to complete! As I did not have any science courses yet under my belt, I did have a significant amount of prerequisites to complete before being eligible to even apply. So I came to a crossroad, I did not know what to do. I had already dedicated a significant amount of time and accrued significant student debt, that I had yet to pay, did it make sense to go back to school, for something entirely different? It was a huge dilemma for me but with the support of my husband and family, I decided to take the plunge!

I enrolled at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, mainly because of the affordable cost of the CUNY system and it is relatively close to our apartment. I was pretty terrified I had not taken any Biology or Chemistry courses in ten years….what if I was terrible at it?!?!?! I graduated with a 3.67 in my BA and 3.881 in my MA so I have always been an excellent student, but would I have the same success in science???? So it was with equal parts trepidation and excitement, that I found myself sitting in my first class at Medgar Evers College: Anatomy and Physiology, Part I. To my delight, I loved all my courses! It was A LOT of work but I was earning good grades! On a side note, I cannot more enthusiastically endorse Medgar Evers College, my experiences there have been absolutely amazing! All of my professors have been Ph.Ds and really know their topic area. Equally important, they always have an office door open for extra help and questions. I have also made some amazing new friends. If considering CUNY, please look into Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, you will not be disappointed, I can promise you that! At a total cost of $5000.00 per a year, you simply cannot go wrong!

The irony here is that all through high school if anyone asked, my career goals, I told them I was going to become a pediatrician! So it’s almost as if I have come full circle. If I have said it once, I have said it a million times: “Life makes its’ own plans…you never know how things will turn out!” I am optimistic though. My only worry now, is that I will complete all my prerequisites and not get into any programs! I have almost a 3.8 (all As but one C in a summer chemistry course is killing me!) If God forbid, I do not get in anywhere, these past two years will basically be for naught! So please, keep your fingers crossed for me!!!

So, now on to the second point of this post, my thoughts on succeeding in college. I was prompted to write this post after something my professor said in my Anatomy and Physiology course this past term. I had done really well on a test, that a majority of the class had failed, so to my embarrassment (I blush a bright red very easily!), Dr. Stoddart announced to the class: “study with Kirsten!” So, after class, another student came up to me and asked me how I studied and what advice I could offer. I looked at her and said verbatim “I read the book.” That is the key, there are no gimmicks to earning good grades, just read your textbook! I was, and still am shocked, at the number of college students who do not read the textbook for the course! I know texts are ridiculously expensive, especially for the sciences, but every college library has all the textbooks on reserve for students, so, there are no excuses! The other key, is do not attempt to study the night before the exam! College work requires constant effort, reading, notes, and practice problems! I have found the rule for every hour of class, you should be putting in about 2.5 hours of reading at home! Ideally, the night before an exam should be spent on a short review, a good dinner, and most importantly, a full night’s sleep! That’s it, the key to good grades, it is as simple at that!!!

I have found I have difficulty getting studying done in my apartment. Between my hubby, TV, and housework there’s just way too many distractions! I have to place myself into an environment where there is absolutely nothing else I could be doing, except eating books! For me, this is the library, find a place that works for you!. I have also found that I must listen to either classical music or instrumental jazz like Miles Davis or Charles Mingus to really concentrate. Flashcards have also been immeasurably helpful to me, as a commuter on the NYC Public Transit System, whether waiting on the train or bus, or sitting on one of the two, I always have time to study my flashcards. I usually make them myself, but for Anatomy and Physiology, I finally broke down and purchased a set last term from Barnes and Noble. There are from Mosebly and I have found them to be extremely useful. The only complaint I have is that they do not list functions, so I have taken to writing directly on the cards themselves. They were about $30.00 and well worth it! Find something that works for you. What study tools have been worthwhile for you?

Can anyone relate to my story? What study tips can you offer?

Best of luck and Happy Studying!!! 🙂

“Excellence is a better teacher than mediocrity. The lessons of the ordinary are everywhere. Truly profound and original insights are to be found only in studying the exemplary.” ~Warren G. Bennis