<![CDATA[NBC New York - Education Nation]]> Copyright 2014 http://www.nbcnewyork.com/feature/education-nation http://media.nbcbayarea.com/designimages/4NY_Horizontal.jpg NBC New York http://www.nbcnewyork.com en-us Tue, 02 Sep 2014 02:45:26 -0400 Tue, 02 Sep 2014 02:45:26 -0400 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Education Nation: Helping Girls Break into Male-Dominated Fields]]> Mon, 07 Oct 2013 20:40:40 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/girls+math+education+nation.jpg NBC's fourth annual Education Summit is underway in Midtown and we're looking at a new trend turning up on store shelves, aimed at getting young girls interested in subjects that could help them break into male-dominated fields. Ida Siegal reports.]]> <![CDATA[New School Standards Start to Take Effect ]]> Mon, 07 Oct 2013 15:49:18 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Common-Core-Generic-2013_2.jpg

Students, teachers and parents across the country are feeling the effects of new, more rigorous standards that are working their way into the nation's classrooms.

Freshmen in Pennsylvania are preparing to take new tests that they will have to pass before graduating their senior year. Los Angeles pupils are toting around school-issued iPads in addition to notebooks and pens. Parents in the San Diego area are getting schooled on their students' new grading system and harder homework. Math lessons in schools in many states are looking beyond the equation's answer to how the problem was solved, while nonfiction texts are joining the novels that dominate English class reading lists.

The changes are part of a multi-year transition to the Common Core State Standards for English and math, a set of benchmarks for students from kindergarten to the 12th grade that have been adopted by 45 states and Washington, D.C. Proponents say the goal of the voluntary standards, which were developed by associations representing state governors and school officers, is to move the educational system's focus from rote memorization to critical thinking and problem-solving skills essential for success in the 21st Century economy.

“We’ve shifted from teachers thinking they need to cover xyz; it’s less about coverage and its more about student learning,” Michele Puhlick, executive director of curriculum and instruction at Hartford Public Schools. “The focus is now what’s the evidence? What are students learning? How can they prove they’re learning it?”

With the target date for full implementation just a school year away, many states and schools are ramping up efforts to incorporate Common Core-aligned learning into their classrooms.

While nearly two-thirds of the states planning to adopt the revised standards were set to do so by this school year, according to the Pew Chartable Trusts' Stateline project, gauging the overall initial impact of Common Core and readiness for the change across the country is difficult because it is up to states and school districts to set curriculum and decide how to go about the implementation.

Close to 40 percent of teachers surveyed by one major teachers union earlier this year said they were concerned that their schools weren't prepared enough for the full transition, Stateline reported. But some observers say progress has started to pick up. 

“I think the states got off to a bit of a sluggish start, but have made big gains,” said Lisa Towne, who tracks Common Core and other education initiatives for Education First. “About a year or so out to when the rubber really meets the road… I think it’s starting to sink in and you’re staring to see it really making its way into classrooms.”

The transition hasn't been without hiccups or controversy. Reports by think tanks like The Brookings Institution have questioned whether the new standards and tests will actually do anything to accelerate student achievement. Poor scores from students in New York and Kentucky who took versions of the new, more difficult tests that will be used to measure students under the revised standards fueled criticism that the assessment approach is flawed and too tough.

The process of phasing in the standards and preparing for those tests has also proved to be a challenge that requires revamped curriculums, intensive teacher training and, in some cases, technological upgrades.

“The entire shift over affects every aspect of what we do,” said Puhlick, whose district started incorporating lessons and tests based on the revised standard soon after Connecticut signed onto Common Core in 2010.

Puhlick said Hartford schools have updated curriculum goals and tweaked the format and content of the state's current standardized tests in recent years in hopes that students will feel less of a shock in a planned trial run of the new assessments next spring.

“Certainly it is new for them to be asked to do these kinds of activities and to be accountable for their own learning, but the students are rising to the occasion; they find this kind of learning much more engaging,” she said. “Instead of being the quiet student in the corner that barely raises their hand, now they’re having to be actively involved in their learning.”

Educating teachers about the new standards and how to help students meet them has been a major component of the launch of Common Core.

In one San Diego-area district, an “intense” two-plus year effort to promote the transition includes 32 hours of professional development for instructors this year, said Maria Castilleja, executive director of curriculum and instruction at Sweetwater Union High School District.

“You have to transform the role of the teacher from one of being the director, directing the instruction, to one of being a facilitator,” Castilleja said.

That training, which includes ideas for lessons that promote interactive learning, is supplemented with another 16 hours of instruction on how the shift impacts students who have disabilities or use English as a second language.

Classroom tools and materials are changing along with the teaching style. Students in Castilleja's districts will see their nine-year-old textbooks replaced with digital versions aligned with Common Core Standards in the spring. All seventh and eighth graders were given iPads, a move aimed at giving them the technical know-how to meet the goal of being career ready upon graduation.

Castilleja says she has seen very few issues arise from the iPad program, but that hasn't been the case in all areas. NBC Los Angeles recently reported that savvy students in local schools have hacked their school-issued tablets to allow them to play games that were supposed to be prohibited on what were intended to be study tools.

Access to traditional materials that support Common Core has also been a problem in at least one state. Schools across New York City have been scrambling to assemble old textbooks or print class materials because of issues with the delivery of new textbooks ordered to teach to the revised standards, according to The New York Times. 

Scrutiny of the new standards and the tests that will accompany them is likely to increase in the next year, as more schools move toward instituting either one of two assessment models aligned to Common Core or their own tests. Some states, like Pennsylvania, are pushing to make the tests on math, literacy and other subjects requirements for graduation. That proposal for the state's Common Core-aligned Keystone Exams, approved last month by the state board of education, would apply to the current freshmen class set to graduate in 2017.

Lackluster test performance in Kentucky and New York, where the percetage of students deemed proficient dropped by double digits, have upset parents and worried teachers and administrators in states planning to evaluate school and personnel based on scores. Those concerns have sparked protests and prompted some parents to pull their children out of testing or public school altogether.

Education officials have attempted to assuage those fears, emphasizing the benefits of raising expectations for students. New York Commissioner of Education John B. King, Jr. described the tests in an August letter to parents as “a new beginning and starting point that will provide better, clearer information to parents, teachers and principals about what our children know and are able to do."

“I want to make it very clear that the change in test scores (including, possibly, one in your child's score) does not mean that your students are learning less or that teachers and schools are performing worse than last year,” King wrote.

But critics say the approach is fundamentally flawed. Robert Schaeffer, a spokesman for The National Center for Fair & Open Testing, blasted the assessments as “more of the same failed strategy” that hasn't led to higher performance in the past.

“It is still based on the flawed theory that raising the bar and testing to it will improve schools magically,” he said.

Common Core also continues to face opposition from conservatives who see the initiative as the federal government overreaching on education decisions, an argument that stems in part from the Obama administration's decision to make Common Core adoption a factor in awarding federal Race to the Top school grants.

Those concerns of “federal intrusion” were cited in Florida Gov. Rick Scott's recent call to review the standards and drop out of one consortium of states developing a shared testing model. The move has driven speculation that the state will delay implementation or eventually join Texas and other states that have opted out of Common Core altogether.

Despite the setbacks and criticism, supporters in states where the standards are being put in place say they're already seeing a difference. Christina Robinson praises the new benchmarks for leading to a “broader application of student learning” at the southwestern Illinois high school where she teaches English Language Arts.

“I think it’s increasing both college and career readiness because it gives  students, especially with the focus on informational text, more opportunities to apply what they’re learning in real-world situations and various content areas,” Robinson, who works at Nashville Community High School, said in a press release issued by the Illinois State Board of Education. “It’s not only about writing in English class but writing is important in shop class, it’s important in science class.”

The impacts of Common Core both on student readiness and classroom experiences will only continue to grow as the standards fully take effect. Successful implementation of the benchmarks, Towne says, will likely “require a rethinking of resources and a rethinking of structure” that could drastically change the nation's approach to education.

“The U.S. Curriculum has often been criticized for being an inch deep and a mile wide,” she said. “The Common Core State Standards suggest a very different approach which emphasizes depth of understanding and application and fewer topics spread over a sequence of grades... eventually the way time is used in schools is going to look quite different.”

<![CDATA[NYC Hikes Price of School Lunch]]> Fri, 04 Oct 2013 11:04:06 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/school_lunch_generic.jpg

The price of New York City school lunch is going up on Monday from $1.50 to $1.75, the first increase in 10 years.

The city Department of Education said the nearly 17 percent hike is needed because of higher costs for labor and food.

The DOE serves more than 620,000 lunches and 205,000 breakfasts each day in the school system of 1.1 million students. Breakfasts are free.

This year, children deemed eligible for a reduced-price lunch will now be able to get lunch free instead, the city said.

<![CDATA[Connecticut Town Might Have to Close All Public Schools]]> Thu, 03 Oct 2013 16:25:46 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/160*120/classroom_lock_generic.jpg

The northwestern Connecticut town of Winchester is asking the state for help with a financial crisis it fears might shut down all three of the community's public schools in December.

The superintendent told the state board of education that the district cannot make its payroll.

Part of the problem is the disappearance of millions of dollars in town funds. Last year, state police arrested Henry Centrella Jr., the town’s former finance director, on several larceny charges after a town audit revealed that $2 million was unaccounted for between January 2008 and November 2012.

Local school officials have gone to the state to ask for an advance in state funding, but it might not be possible for legal reasons.

In August, Supt. Thomas Danehy wrote to the town and state officials, painting a dire picture of the financial situation for the schools. He wrote that the town had hundreds of thousands of dollars in overdue bills and that utilities might be shut off because of nonpayment.

The town does have insurance, but it has only received payment on one policy, so the Winchester does not have the funds to bail out the school district, town officials said.

"We have limited funds available because of the former finance director, but I'm confident that we'll be able to get through it," Town Manager Dale Martin said.

In September, the local school board asked the state to investigate whether the town was meeting its obligations to educate students of the town, according to the Register Citizen.

That issue was brought up on Wednesday at the state board of education and the members voted to investigate the local board of education and town funds, according to the Citizen.

Town officials are also considering a tax to cover the costs, but Martin said he's trying to avoid that by calling banks and asking for a loan.

Centrella, who has not entered a plea, according to online court records, is due in court on October 8.

<![CDATA[Wisconsin Official Defends Common Core Standards ]]> Thu, 03 Oct 2013 15:00:11 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/classroom5.jpg

Wisconsin's schools superintendent is defending the state's Common Core academic standards in front of a pair of Republican committees.

Tony Evers told the Senate and Assembly committees reviewing the standards that the requirements are rigorous and clear. He says they allow teachers to go deeper, prepare students for college and help students meet employers' expectations.

He called the standards a serious step forward for the state.

Wisconsin was one of the first states to adopt the voluntary national standards. Conservatives, though, fear the standards trump local control and the federal government is using them to gather students' personal information.

Tea party members sent lawmakers a letter calling for an investigation into the standards. The Republican-controlled Legislature responded by creating Senate and Assembly study committees. Republican Gov. Scott Walker says he wants tougher standards than Common Core. 

<![CDATA[Maryland, Facebook Launch Pilot Program Against Cyberbullying]]> Thu, 03 Oct 2013 14:00:09 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/mesquite_bullying.jpg

Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler is announcing a new initiative against cyberbullying in a partnership with Facebook.

Gansler made the announcement Thursday. The initiative will give educators a direct connection to address issues of online bullying in their school systems.

Facebook outlined the pilot project, which is being described as the first of its kind in the country, at the Maryland Association of Boards of Education fall conference.

The project is designed to streamline reporting of cyberbullying that may not be resolved through Facebook's normal reporting process. Each school system will identify a point person for direct communications with Facebook.

If an issue is not resolved within 24 hours, educators will be able to contact their school system's designated point person to accelerate the report through the Educator Escalation Channel.

Photo Credit: Tammy Mutasa, NBC 5 Mesquite Reporter]]>
<![CDATA[Obama Administration: Colleges Should Seek Diversity]]> Fri, 27 Sep 2013 17:08:26 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/affirmative-action-protest.jpg

The Obama administration told colleges and universities Friday they can continue to use admissions to increase diversity among their students, even in the wake of a Supreme Court ruling that could potentially open the door to more challenges.

"Racially diverse educational environments help to prepare students to succeed in our increasingly diverse nation," the administration said in a letter to schools.

The Supreme Court ruled June 24 that schools should approve the use of race as a factor in admissions only after concluding "that no workable race-neutral alternatives would produce the educational benefits of diversity." The 7-1 decision, stemming from a case challenging the University of Texas admission plan, did not question the underpinnings of affirmative action.

Civil rights advocates celebrated that the door on affirmative action had not been slammed shut. But at the same time, the decision appeared to embolden challengers who feel they've been discriminated against.

In its Friday letter the administration said the court "preserved the well-established legal principle" that colleges and universities have a compelling interest in a diverse student body. It was signed by Catherine E. Lhamon, the Education Department's assistant secretary in the Office for Civil Rights, and Jocelyn Samuels, the Justice Department's acting assistant attorney general in the Civil Rights Division.

Lhamon said the administration hopes colleges and universities aren't making changes in admissions policies because of the ruling.

In an accompanying "questions and answers" paper, the administration said race can be considered as long as the admission programs can show that the criteria are narrowly tailored.

"I would hope that colleges and universities would undertake these programs in carefully structured ways that would avoid legal challenge, and we certainly are available to try to help them do that," Samuels said.

The high court ordered the appeals court to take another look at the case of Abigail Fisher, a white Texan who was not offered a spot at the university's flagship Austin campus in 2008. Fisher has since received her undergraduate degree from Louisiana State University.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Friday that a diverse enrollment, "promotes cross-racial understanding and dialogue, reduces racial isolation and helps to break down stereotypes." 

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis on "Won't Back Down"]]> Thu, 27 Sep 2012 17:09:43 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/maggieandviola.jpg Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis discuss the importance of education and why they made "Won't Back Down." NBC Latino's Nina Terrero has the story.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[NY's Graduation Rate Problem]]> Mon, 24 Sep 2012 20:21:17 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/graduation-rates.jpg

For African-American and Hispanic male students, New York has the worst four-year high school graduation rate in the country, according to a study by the Schott Foundation for Public Education.

In fact, the researchers say, a meager 37% of black and Hispanic boys are graduating for New York high schools in four years.

The number for male, white students is 78%, according to the foundation’s report titled, “The Urgency of Now.”

"I think this is just an enormous tragedy and it's happening under the nose of the people in the wealthiest city in the country," said Michael Holzman of the Schott Foundation.

NYC Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott says the city is working to improve graduation rates and his office points out that while the Schott study focuses on four-year graduation rates, many students do graduate in five or six years.

“Our commitment is to make sure that all students are graduating and graduating college and career ready,” said Walcott.

To help combat the problem, the Chancellor has created a special unit in the Department of Education to improve outcomes for black and Hispanic students.

Researchers in the unit are studying ways to keep a brush with the law from stopping an education, like it did with 22-year old David Echols.

“I loved school, I really did,” said Echols. “The reason why I left school was due to incarceration.”

He was arrested on drug charges as a teenager and dropped out of high school six years ago.

Echols is now in a program funded, in large part, by Mayor Michael Bloomberg using his own personal fortune.

“I won’t feel right until I obtain my GED and go to college,” said Echols.

Another factor that is disproportionately affecting black students, according to the study, is out-of-school suspensions.

“They suspended me for 90 days,” said Corey Pettaway. “It’s all my fault. I made my own decisions.”

Pettaway said his father died when he was 13, so he was more interested in making money to help his mother than doing schoolwork.

“It’s a devastating, devastating situation,” said Dr. Richard Reeves, who runs a young adult literacy program in East Harlem through the Union Settlement Association. “Our young men have issues that stop them from being able to function in the system. And the system is not designed to meet those needs.”

Echols and Pettaway are in the program now, working towards their GED’s.

Echols looks forward to attending college.

Pettaway wants to be a chef.

<![CDATA[NJ Special Needs Students Learn with iPads]]> Wed, 26 Sep 2012 06:51:59 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/special+needs+ipads.jpg

Apple's iPad is being used with increasing effectiveness to teach students with autistism and Down Syndrome.

In New Jersey, 9-year-old Enrique, a child with Down Syndrome who is unable to speak, was able to use his tablet's synthesized voice to express himself to his mother Diana Mendez.

Mendez has said "I love you" to her son every day, not knowing, she said, if he could comprehend. But after just a few days of using his school supplied iPad, Enrique pressed several symbols and she finally heard him, through the device, say "I love you."

"I was hysterical," Mendez said. "To realize that he's been listening to you, every time I told him 'I love you.'" 

At the private EPIC school in Paramus, which teaches 28 mostly severely autistic children, iPads teach students how to spell and say phrases, and give them a structured way of playing during down time, such as while they are waiting at a doctor's office.

"It's more interactive, so it's more fun," said teacher Brittany English, a believer in the iPad.

The biggest challenge, according to EPIC's clinical director Dr. Paul Argott, is finding the right apps.

"There are thousands and thousands of apps out there that claim to be useful," said Argott, who explained that each student may react differently to the same app.

Still, the success special needs programs are having with iPads may quickly convince some school systems to give them to mainstream students.

Old Bridge plans to buy 3,000 tablets for all of its middle school students next year and in 2014, high school students will be encouraged to bring their own devices, or if they can't afford one, will be given one by the school system, as it rapidly cuts back on the annual purchase of books. 

"We're hoping that by deploying 3,000 iPads to our students we can uncover the voice or hidden talent that every student has," said Old Bridge Assistant Superintendent David Cittadino.

<![CDATA[Education Nation Gets Underway]]> Mon, 24 Sep 2012 06:48:26 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/education+nation+nypl.jpg

NBC's third annual Education Nation hosted by the New York Public Library kicked into high gear Sunday.
Over the next three days, hundreds of experts in education government and philanthropy are coming together for a national conversation about the issues facing our schools.


On Sunday students spoke out about the challenges they face in the classroom during a town hall with MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry. NBC's Brian Williams also hosted a teacher town hall with educators from across the nation.

To learn more about Education Nation, visit EducationNation.com, Facebook.com/EducationNation, or follow us on Twitter @EducationNation.

<![CDATA[NBC Kicks Off "Education Nation"]]> Fri, 21 Sep 2012 18:21:41 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/chuck-education-nation.jpg

NBC's third annual "Education Nation" -- a three-day summit aimed at improving education in the U.S. -- kicked off Friday on the steps of the New York Public Library.

Hundreds of experts in education, government and philanthropy will participate in the Education Nation summit, which will run from Monday through Wednesday. Events will include talks moderated by NBC journalists, as well as case studies from communities across the country that will be aired on NBC.


"We're focusing on solutions," said Steve Capus, president of NBC News. "Not just want the problems that exist, and there are many, but let's look at the people who are having success with solutions."

Both President Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney will be among those participating.

"No matter what challenges our students face, or what neighborhoods they come from, we expect every student to excel despite the odds," said New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, who was on hand at Friday's event along with NBC 4 New York Anchor Chuck Scarborough.

To learn more about Education Nation, visit EducationNation.com, Facebook.com/EducationNation, or follow us on Twitter @EducationNation.

<![CDATA[Rules Unclear For Teacher-Student Contact]]> Mon, 17 Sep 2012 15:24:34 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/school+children+generic.jpg

Is it okay for a teacher to hug a student? How long can that hug last?

When does an innocent gesture cross the line into teacher-student sexual harassment?

The I-Team has learned the New York City Department of Education has few, if any, real guidelines for teachers looking to understand where that line exists.

Last year, at least 10 city educators were arrested for sexual misconduct or abuse.

“I would say the boundaries aren’t clear,” said Billye Jones Mulraine, a Bronx social worker who gives presentations on sexual misconduct prevention in the classroom. “I'm not sure that there is any training for teachers by the DOE.”

A spokeswoman for the department says that’s not the case. In an e-mail to the I-team, Connie Pankratz said the DOE holds, “Thousands of training workshops each year to remind teachers about the boundaries of healthy relationships with their students.”

But when the I-Team filed a Freedom of Information Law request seeking all the training material used in those workshops, the DOE could not provide anything specific and instead sent copies of the Chancellor’s Regulations and a two-page handout from the Division of Equal Employment Opportunity.

In the last school year, Chancellor Dennis Walcott attempted to fire sixteen teachers for improper touching or behavior with student.

Investigation reports, released publicly, accused teachers of “rubbing students’ backs” as well as “tickling and hugging teenagers” and “leering at students’ breasts.”

Others included a teacher accused of “grabbing a male student’s testicles,” and another said a teacher told a female student she looked, “beautiful and sexy.”

Arbitrators ultimately decided there was not enough evidence against the teachers and sent fourteen of the sixteen back to the classroom.

Mulraine offers several guidelines for teachers.

"As children get older, physical contact should be greatly decreased," said Mulraine. She believes that once students have left kindergarten teachers should not touch them at all, unless the student expressly says it’s ok. "If you're a teacher out there, you need to know you should not be touching children unsolicited."

Guidelines set by the National Education Association mirror much of what Mulraine teaches. The NEA also advises educators to avoid physical contact with students and, like Mulraine, says “An occasional hug is probably ok” with younger children.

Mulraine says teachers of very young students should always use the bathing suit rule, never touching anywhere that would be covered by swimwear.

And, in this new age of digital technology, Mulraine believes teachers should avoid calling or texting students on personal phones.

Last year, a gym teacher in Queens was accused of texting a single student 383 times. The teacher was fired.

Despite advice to the contrary, the NYC DOE does allow teachers to text students on their personal phones, believing it’s important to maintain open lines of communication between teachers and students.

Chancellor Walcott declined the I-Team’s request for an interview. He is currently pushing for a state law that would make it easier to fire teachers accused of sexual misconduct.

<![CDATA[Race Gap Persists at NYC's Elite High Schools]]> Mon, 17 Sep 2012 15:42:20 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/stuyvesant+race+gap+copy.jpg

A dramatic race gap persists at the city’s most elite public high schools, a product of a single standardized entrance exam that privileges students who have been intensively primed and prepped through expensive private tutoring programs, NBC 4 New York's I-Team has found.

At Stuyvesant High School, widely viewed as the crown jewels of the top public high schools, just two percent of incoming ninth-graders are black, and 3.5 percent are Hispanic, according to preliminary enrollment numbers obtained by the I-Team. 

In the general New York City public school population, the two groups comprise a total of 77 percent. 

Meanwhile, 71 percent of the year's incoming ninth-graders at Stuyvesant are Asian. 

"It's alarming to see how low these numbers are," said Neida Guzman, whose son Jonathan is a black middle-schooler and hopes to get into Stuyvesant. 

All of the incoming freshmen took the SHSAT standardized exam to get into Stuyvesant and other top schools like Bronx High School of Science and Brooklyn Technical High School. And city officials and critics agree that it's nearly impossible to score high on the exam without tutoring.

The opportunity to succeed on the exam as a result of private instruction tends to be predicted by the student's race. For example, in Flushing, Queens, an increasing number of young students from Asian immigrant families are spending summers and weekends at private test prep sites like Elite Academy.

Director Jeannie Kim said her customers can afford the tutoring, though some struggle and use payment plans. But she believes the reason Asian-American students flock to tutors, and therefore score high on the entrance exams, can be traced to cultural roots.

"The cultures, sort of on the Asian side and the Eastern Europeaners, they're used to going to school six days a week," director Jeannie Kim said. 

But she recognizes that the test-taking skills that students pick up at Elite Academy give them a clear advantage many others don't have.

"It would be great if it could be provided to everyone so that everyone has a fair chance to be able to get into these schools, especially if they have the potential to do so," she said. 

Recognizing the problem of access, New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott launched a program earlier this year to offer free test preparation in communities where it would normally be unaffordable. Test prep experts from the Kaplan company worked with the Department of Education on crafting a new and improved curriculum for the program, called DREAM. 

"It gives them the opportunity to compete at a specialized high school, and they graduate from there, they get an opportunity to go to a high-performing college, and really, it helps with their income and earning power," Walcott said. 

The DREAM program offers tutoring to 2,400 randomly selected gifted students in disadvantaged communities. The Department of Education is not allowed to select students based on race, so the lottery is instead open to low-income students with top scores on their fifth-grade standardized math and English exams, according to Walcott. Forty-seven percent of the children selected for the DREAM program this year were black and Hispanic.

In East New York, Brooklyn, where one of the 18 DREAM sites is located, students have found immediate payoffs in the program. Asanni Brown of Canarsie, who is 13 years old and wants to go the Bronx High School of Science, says he is already learning material that was never taught in his middle school. 

Critics say private tutoring programs are a short-sighted answer to a system-wide problem. As long as the SHSAT covers material and strategies not taught in public schools, and as long as some families pay for private tutoring, the race gap will persist, they say. 

“What is the Chancellor saying about the school system that he runs that it’s necessary to bring in Kaplan to tutor kids?” asked Michael Holzman of the Schott Foundation for Public Education. "The New York City public schools are charged with educating the children. What needs to be done is to align the curriculum of the middle schools with these high schools and the test.”    

The DREAM program is also limited in that it only accommodates so many students. Of all the gifted students that the Department of Education identified in communities of color, 1,200 did not get into the DREAM program because of a limited budget. 

"There are a lot of black kids who are smart and they don't have this opportunity that I have," said a girl who attends the DREAM program in East New York. 

That's the case for Jonathan Ettricks, who's gifted by all measures but wasn't selected in the DREAM lottery. He's now studying on his own. 

"I read through little tips in books, and I also practice on an SHSAT book," he said. 

Holzman charges that in its own way, the DREAM program also contributes to a system that could be described as "segregation." 

Walcott dismisses the complaints, saying the answer is not in changing the test but perhaps expanding the DREAM program in the future so that all gifted children will have an equal chance. 

"The initiative is to try to deal with the leveling of the playing field to make sure we're providing access to students of color," he said. "Critics will be critics."  

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<![CDATA[Education Nation: Fruity Lunches]]> Thu, 20 Sep 2012 11:20:51 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/kids-eating1.jpg Will the introduction of new healthy snacks help break bad eating habits?

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Education Nation: Smart Pens]]> Thu, 20 Sep 2012 11:20:26 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Smart+Pen1.jpg High-tech pens are taking the place of chalkboards and notebooks.]]> <![CDATA[Education Nation: Real Skills]]> Wed, 19 Sep 2012 11:38:29 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/145680657.jpg At Sollers Point Technical High School in Maryland, it's not unusual to find students working with their hands—whether it's on a carpentry project or on computers in a cyber-security program. Students seem to have the best of both worlds, combining what they learn in the classroom with skills needed to eventually land a job.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Education Nation: Battling Concussions]]> Wed, 19 Sep 2012 11:37:49 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP060824025070.jpg Maryland's State Board of Education has added a policy on brain injuries affecting high school athletes. It calls, in part, for state high school coaches, trainers and athletic directors to do a better job protecting students on the field. Schools are well aware of the new policy, and in places like Eastern Tech High School in Baltimore County, they're wasting no time putting what's on paper into action.

<![CDATA[Chicago Strike Tests Unions' Sway in Reform Fight]]> Thu, 15 Nov 2012 13:50:19 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/edt-AP557377177863.jpg

The week-long teachers’ strike in Chicago has drawn national attention because it affects 350,000 children and pits two Democratic forces against each other. But it also represents a broader struggle over education reform and union power, and the results could reverberate elsewhere.

If the Chicago Teachers Union wins enough concessions, then it’s a victory for the labor movement and a potential guide for similar battles underway in other parts of the country.

If Mayor Rahm Emanuel emerges with enough of his demands intact, then it’s another setback for labor and validates the push to impose stricter measures of teacher accountability.

“This is being looked at very carefully by school districts across the country,” said Kathleen Hirsman, who teaches education and labor law at the Loyola University School of Law. “There’s the issue of the diminishing strength of teachers unions and who is going to come out the winner. And how the Chicago Public Schools resolves this will be very instructive to other school districts now looking at implementation of state laws requiring teacher evaluation based on student performance.”

All over America, states and cities are trying to figure out how to respond to federal initiatives aimed at improving the public school system. They come down to a series of carrots and sticks. There’s money for districts that implement the Obama administration’s ideas on teacher evaluations and testing, and there’s the threat of closure or other sanctions for underperforming schools.

That challenge has resulted in elected officials trying to impose new standards for teachers, who resist having to give up control over their work.

“It comes down to who’s going to decide how kids are educated,” said James Wolfinger, an associate professor of history and education at DePaul University. “Who is the expert? Who should have the greatest voice?”

Chicago is just the latest of several big cities - including New York, Los Angeles, Boston and Cleveland - where that tension has come to a head.

Illinois lawmakers have set a schedule to implement new teacher evaluation methods, and Chicago must start making those changes this year. Illinois also happens to be a state that allows teachers to strike.

That makes the four-day-old walkout, which has captivated the country and could impact the presidential election, an ideal opportunity for labor to show that it’s no pushover.

“This is a very important strike for the teachers union,” said Richard Kearney, a political scientist at North Carolina State University. “If they can come out of this thinking they’ve made up some ground, that should give some encouragement to teacher’s unions elsewhere who are facing similar situations.”

Then again, Emanuel could end up on top.

Or: each side will concede, ending the strike in a draw.

What then?

“Then the fight just goes on elsewhere,” Kearney said. “And none of this meant a great deal.”

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Chicago Strike Enters Second Week]]> Tue, 18 Sep 2012 09:56:42 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/teacher+strike+getty.JPG

UPDATE: Judge Holds Off Order to End Teacher Strike

The first Chicago teacher strike in 25 years entered its second week Monday, pushing students' earliest return to class to Wednesday.

Union delegates on Sunday deferred its vote to end the strike and asked for more time to review a proposed teachers' contract drafted last week by school officials and the Chicago Teachers Union. The decision prompted an angry Mayor Rahm Emanuel to file an injunction that could force the teachers back into class.

"I will not stand by while the children of Chicago are played as pawns in an internal dispute within a union," Emanuel said in a statement. "This was a strike of choice and now a delay of choice that is wrong for our children."

The mayor instructed the city's top lawyer to work with Chicago Public Schools' general counsel to file an injunction Monday asking a judge to immediately end the strike, now in Day 6.

In a statement, Emanuel called the strike illegal and said there's no reason why teachers can't return to work while the rest of the contract is ironed out.

"This continued action by union leadership is illegal on two grounds," he said. "It is over issues that are deemed by state law to be non-strikable, and it endangers the health and safety of our children."

But union president Karen Lewis said the deal isn't sitting well with many of the teachers.

"Our members are not happy, and they want to have the opportunity to talk to their members," Lewis said. "They want to know is there still anything more they can get." 

The union delegates aren't scheduled to meet again until Tuesday, in part out of respect for for the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah, which began at sundown Sunday.

"If the agreement is not good, if the members reject it and think it won't improve conditions in their schools and classrooms, then we want the board to listen to those concerns before we would go back to school," CTU chief of staff Jackson Potter told NBC Chicago Monday.

School board president David Vitale said Monday the two sides are done negotiating and CPS is waiting on the union.

"We've done as much as we know how to do," Vitale said. "We reached an agreement with their leadership, we think it's a good agreement. It's time for the teachers to get back in school."

Potter said it's worth the wait.

"People have to live for three years under the terms of this agreement, and so it has to be a good agreement, it has to reflect the concerns that we brought to the table all along."

NBC Chicago has an array of reporters and producers covering the Chicago teacher strike. Check our live blog for continuous coverage and updates throughout the strike.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[NYC Students Head Back to School]]> Mon, 17 Sep 2012 15:42:20 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/schools+chancellor.jpg

It's back to school for New York City's 1.1 million students.      

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott and Mayor Bloomberg greeted children returning to class at the New Settlement Community Campus in the Bronx on Thursday.      

More than 1,000 children in pre-K to 12th grade are enrolled in the Mt. Eden school, one of 55 new schools to open in the city this year. The state-of-the-art facility has a swimming pool, dance studio, high-tech classrooms and noise-reduction windows.

"There's a great vibe. Everyone's excited today," said Jay Jackson, dean of the middle and high schools at the campus.

As teachers welcomed children back to class and students prepared to get back to work, Bloomberg wished freshmen good luck and told them to enjoy their learning experience.

"Learning really does matter," he said. "Learn how to think. Learn how to work together and share things. If any of you want to be mayor, it's a great job."

Walcott will visit one school in each of the other four boroughs.

<![CDATA[Get Back-to-School Cool Under $100]]> Mon, 17 Sep 2012 15:33:42 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/196*120/backtoschool_ofakind1.jpg Back-to-school season may induce midterm-related anxiety, but it also means statement-making notebooks, funky new pencils and cute accessories.

Photo Credit: Of a Kind]]>
<![CDATA[Elmo Educates, Cookie Monster Crunches Math]]> Tue, 11 Sep 2012 15:00:08 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Elmo-092611.jpg "Sesame Street" is focusing this season on a "STEM" curriculum heavy on science, technology, engineering and math, which is "perfect for preschoolers" because it's based on asking questions, experimenting, and observing -- which they do already.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA["Parent Power" Vital in Education Reform]]> Fri, 15 Feb 2013 14:54:21 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/216*120/newsconference1.jpg Former White House Advisor Ben Austin explains why parents need to be brought to the table during the Chicago teachers' strike and how the days-long work stoppage has exposed a rift in the Democratic party between teacher unions and education advocates. Conan Nolan reports for NBC4's News Conference on Sept. 16, 2012.]]> <![CDATA[Judge: No Immediate Hearing on Chicago Strike]]> Mon, 17 Sep 2012 15:55:00 -0400 http://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/CX-school-strike-P5.jpg

A Cook County Circuit Court judge on Monday shot down a request to hold a same-day hearing for an injunction to immediately end Chicago's teacher strike.

During a short meeting, Judge Peter Flynn postponed the requested hearing until Wednesday, city law department spokesman Roderick Drew said. That comes after the Chicago Teachers Union's delegates are scheduled to meet and vote on a proposed contract.

Earlier in the day, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel made good on promised legal action to try and end the city's first teachers strike in 25 years, instructing his corporate counsel and the attorney for Chicago Public Schools to file an injunction to get kids and teachers back in class.

"I will not stand by while the children of Chicago are played as pawns in an internal dispute within a union," Emanuel said Sunday in a statement. "This was a strike of choice and now a delay of choice that is wrong for our children."

Emanuel added that the continued strike was illegal on two grounds: "It is over issues that are deemed by state law to be non-strikable, and it endangers the health and safety of our children."

Union delegates on Sunday deferred their vote to end the strike and asked for more time to review a proposed teachers' contract drafted last week by school officials and the Chicago Teachers Union.

"Our members are not happy, and they want to have the opportunity to talk to their members," union president Karen Lewis said. "They want to know is there still anything more they can get."

The union's chief of staff Jackson Potter told NBC Chicago that "if the agreement is not good, if the members reject it and think it won't improve conditions in their schools and classrooms, then we want the board to listen to those concerns before we would go back to school."

School board president David Vitale said Monday the two sides are done negotiating and CPS is waiting on the union.

"We've done as much as we know how to do," Vitale said. "We reached an agreement with their leadership, we think it's a good agreement. It's time for the teachers to get back in school."

Potter said it's worth the wait.

"People have to live for three years under the terms of this agreement, and so it has to be a good agreement, it has to reflect the concerns that we brought to the table all along."

Union delegates aren't scheduled to meet again until Tuesday out of respect for the Jewish holiday, Rosh Hashanah, which began at sundown Sunday.

Emanuel has no scheduled events Monday.

More than 26,000 teachers and staff walked out last Monday, leaving more than 350,000 students unattended. For five days, thousands of teachers picketed outside schools and twice converged on the Board of Education headquarters downtown.

The strike follows months of slow, contentious negotiations over salary, health benefits and job security after the school board unanimously voted last year to cancel teachers' 4 percent pay hike in the final year of their contract.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>