Why My Fifth-Grade Daughter Opted Into This Year’s State Tests

By Damian Gaillard, parent of a fifth-grader who attends public school in Harlem, N.Y.

I think we all remember what it was like to be in school and wanting to be with the “cool kids.” It used to be that meant wearing the latest sneakers or a cool pair of jeans, but in wealthy suburban school districts over the past couple of years, the latest trend is keeping your children home during annual school testing. The problem is that, unlike a pair of new Air Jordans, this so-called opt-out movement will end up hurting kids living in high-need areas. That’s because opting out of state tests scales back accountability and makes it harder to spotlight failing schools. The movement reached a fever pitch in New York a couple of years ago, but I’m happy to report that the tide is turning, and it’s becoming “cool” again to say yes to the state tests.

When my daughter took the state reading exam a few weeks ago, she joined hundreds of thousands of students in grades 3 through 8 who participated in the test. In fact, in 74 percent of the 206 New York districts, opt-out rates have decreased or remained flat compared with last year. That’s no surprise in my neighborhood, because parents living in Harlem depend on these assessments to spotlight schools that are failing and to hold the system accountable.

Read the full oped in The 74.


New Yorkers Opt In

By Jean Holybrice, Public school parent, Fort Greene, New York

If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it. That’s a rule many live by, but it rings especially true in our schools.

That’s why this week, my family is joining hundreds of thousands of others across New York State in saying yes to the test. My son, along with so many of his peers, are opting-in and taking the English Language Arts state assessments this week because I know how critical these exams are for measuring gains and gaps in our schools.

Read the full oped on Medium.


StudentsFirstNY and Assembly Member Marcos Crespo Host Panel: "Creating Great School Choices for All Kids"

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(Albany, NY) At the 2017 NY State Association of Black & Puerto Rican Legislators' Annual Conference, StudentsFirstNY teamed up with Assembly Member Marcos Crespo (D-Bronx) to host a panel discussion on how to offer parents great school choices for their children, particularly those living in communities of color. The panel was moderated by NYCAN Executive Director Derrell Bradford and featured elected officials and a diverse panel of education advocates, including:

  • Assembly Member Marcos Crespo, D-Bronx (Co-Sponsor of Panel)

  • Senator Marisol Alcantara, D-Manhattan

  • Senator Kevin Parker, D-Brooklyn

  • Assembly Member Michaelle Solages, D-Long Island

  • Assembly Member Victor Pichardo, D-Bronx

  • Assembly Member Nick Perry, D-Brooklyn

  • Assembly Member Robert Rodriguez, D-East Harlem

  • Dr. Jere Hochman, Deputy Education Secretary to Governor Cuomo

  • Tenicka Boyd, Senior Director of Organizing for StudentsFirstNY

  • Charlie King, NYC Co-Chairman of Mercury Public Affairs

  • Au Hogan, Queens Parent and Grandparent and Associate Director of Life Camp

  • Charlene Corbett, a community resource coordinator for community schools P.S. 335 and M.S. 584 in Brooklyn

To view the full the highlights of this robust discussion, click here.


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Why I’m Taking My Child Out of Our Renewal School

By Lucy Garner, a parent at Wadleigh Secondary School for the Performing & Visual Arts in Harlem.

When I found out my child would be attending Wadleigh Secondary School for the Performing & Visual Arts, one of New York City’s “Renewal Schools,” I was hopeful. I went to Wadleigh when I was a girl; I knew it was struggling, but I thought the new focus and resources that came with the Renewal program meant it could only get better. Unfortunately, even with the new label, the school keeps failing its students.

When he announced Renewal Schools in November 2014, Mayor Bill de Blasio made them sound as if they were at the very center of his education platform. He promised that the program would turn around chronically struggling schools.

Read the full oped in The 74.


What I Hope to Tell Chancellor Fariña

By Bernide Choute, public school parent from Jamaica, Queens

New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina will be holding a town hall in Queens this week to hear directly from the community. I hope that she’s really willing to listen, because she’ll be getting an earful from the parents in my neighborhood. We are not satisfied with the quality of our schools and we are fed up with City Hall for blocking school choice.

I’m the mother of one son at P.S. 354 in Jamaica. I grew up in the neighborhood and attended the same school. I’m concerned that the school is not doing right by him. Last year, only 15 percent of kids at the school were proficient in math and just 19 percent were proficient in English Language Arts. I’m super involved at school, but the school isn’t doing a good job with one-on-one engagement with students. It’s the type of school where good kids can fall through the cracks. It breaks your heart to see kids struggling with no hope.

Read the full oped on Medium.


The 8 Worst Districts for Middle School in NYC: Mayor de Blasio's Middle School Failure

New analysis by StudentsFirstNY has revealed eight community school districts where zero traditional middle schools meet basic standards. In all eight of these districts across NYC, not a single traditional middle school achieved the citywide middle school average proficiency in reading (37%) or math (32%) on the state tests. This means that nearly 73,000 NYC students living in these districts don’t have a quality middle school option.

Read the full report.

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Pity the kids trapped in schools the mayor is failing to fix

By Jenny Sedlis, Executive Director of StudentsFirstNY

The city’s Department of Education was forced this month to admit, in effect, that Mayor de Blasio’s signature education initiative, the “Renewal Schools” program, is flailing — with students fleeing in droves.

De Blasio & Co. were supposed to turn around these chronically struggling schools. But they’ve failed. And now, data released this month shows that enrollment has been dropping sharply — indeed, it’s been plummeting ever since the mayor announced the program with much fanfare two years ago.

Read the full oped in the New York Post.


All Families Deserve School Choice

By Nina Doster, the parent of 2 children, one of whom attends a charter school and one who attends a district school and a Parent Organizer for StudentsFirstNY

For too long, I’ve seen and heard how wealthy parents in New York City can pick and choose where to send their children to school. Unfortunately, parents in neighborhoods like mine in Southeast Queens don’t have the same sort of options. While our zoned schools chronically struggle to provide our kids with a top notch education, most of us can’t afford private or parochial schools. To make matters worse, the few charter schools in the area have long waiting lists. Parents like me are concerned about the state of our schools and we’re fed up with Mayor de Blasio for telling us to just sit quietly and wait for improvements that may never come.

When Mayor de Blasio came into office, he promised to address inequality in New York City. But when it comes to our kids’ education, it seems like Mayor de Blasio doesn’t think families living in struggling districts deserve a choice in where to send our kids to school. He won’t approve any more charters, even though parents are demanding them. Instead, the Mayor likes to argue that he’s making “changes,” but he doesn’t even promise any results for 10 years. That’s not nearly fast enough for kids who are trapped in struggling schools right now. He’s against charter schools for political reasons, but his political agenda isn’t helping kids in my neighborhood learn how to read or improve their math skills.

Read the full oped on Medium.


What does “Renewal” mean for Mayor de Blasio?

By Tenicka Boyd, the senior director of organizing at StudentsFirstNY and the parent of a public school student.

To hear Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña during their recent victory tour, you’d think New York City schools are amongst the best in the world.

The mayor claimed that “something really wonderful has happened,” that the city’s schools are “setting a standard of excellence” and that he was “just thrilled to see progress across the board.” But state test scores at so-called “Renewal Schools” – some of the city’s lowest performing schools – have grown just five points in reading. That sounds pretty good until you realize that the tests and testing conditions changed and that roughly 9 out of 10 students in these schools still failed. Math scores barely budged. It’s also concerning that the number of test takers at Renewal Schools this year was inexplicably down 10 percent from last year – did the city move students who were less likely to test well? Why is the mayor applauding such failure? Instead of a media tour to try to boost his sagging approval ratings, the mayor might want to try focusing on actually improving outcomes for kids. For the public school parents I work with every day, these minor improvements are nothing to celebrate.

Read the full oped in City & State.


Dissatisfied Parents, Weak Renewal Schools…NYC Has Some Work to Do For Students

By Jenny Sedlis, Executive Director of StudentsFirstNY

There is a hot debate raging in New York City and across the nation about how to effectively bring about urban school reform. Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Schools Chancellor Joel Klein pushed a bold agenda to transform education, increasing parent choice through charters and new small schools and phasing out low-performing schools.

Mayor Bill de Blasio favors an incremental approach that rejects these policies. His decisions are not rooted in evidence but rather in ideology, anecdotes, and political expediency.

Read the full oped in The 74.


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