Rich parents sneak ‘gifts’ to get kids into posh schools, by Tara Palmeri

Here’s a fun one…unless you live in NYC and feel the pressure that many of these parents feel. I have to say that when my kids went to preschool in Manhattan, we never gave gifts like this. Instead, all the parents in a class would pool their funds for a special gift from all of us. Looking back, I have to wonder whether this kind thing was going on and I just didn’t know. If you come from a certain social strata, this kind of thing would be no big deal, but for the rest of us, I’d hate to feel pressure to deliver these kinds of expensive gifts to my kids teachers. This article is from the NY Post. To read it at their website, CLICK HERE.

The city’s toniest pre-Ks bar parents from giving holiday gifts to teachers and directors — but moms and dads are so desperate to curry favor with the staffers who recommend their kids to future schools that they’ve turned to smuggling over-the-top “tips” to them.

Tiffany boxes, Birkin bags, Hermès scarves, diamond bracelets and even cash are standard offerings for the employees, parents and workers told The Post.

“It’s just one more way of protecting your child,” said one parent whose children attended pre-school at the Central Synagogue on Lexington Avenue off East 55th Street. “It’s just one more way of competing in NYC.”

Dana Haddad, a former private-school teacher, said parents would sneak gifts to her in creative ways.
“Parents met me outside of school to give [them] to me,” she recalled. “The rule was that it had to be a homemade gift, so once, I got a cookie jar that was actually homemade — but it was filled with $500 in cash.”

School officials began banning the gifts a few years ago because they were becoming extravagant.
When asked about parents continuing to give gifts, Ellen Davis, director of the nursery school at Temple Emanu-El on the Upper East Side, flat out denied it.

“That’s absolutely not true. They’re not allowed,” she insisted.

But parents said Emanu-El is among the worst offenders in the gifting competition. One year, a parent gave both a head teacher and her assistant gifts from Hermès — and the main instructor threw a hissy fit because the items were so close in value, a parent said. The gifts were eventually exchanged by the parent to reflect the workers’ different levels of experience.

A former admissions director at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Day School said she was showered every holiday season with spa gift cards, bottles of wine and blue Tiffany boxes.

“I had a lot of really nice dinners at fancy restaurants with $1,000 bottles of wine,” she reminisced. “The most powerful people in the city kissed my ass. It was lovely.”

Parents said they fear if they don’t pony up, their kids won’t get good enough recommendations to get into the best schools.

The premiere nursery school in Manhattan, the 92nd Street Y, actually embraces the gift culture; one parent recalled receiving a list of things that the teachers didn’t want for the holidays.

“I remember being surprised that the thing they would not like to get was a framed picture of your child,” the parent huffed. “It felt cold and even a little mercenary.”

Social researcher Wednesday Martin, who is writing a book about the city’s elite called “The Primates of Park Avenue,” said, “[Parents] are sometimes confused that these teachers are not service providers.”

Early Autism Diagnosis Tool – A Baby’s Gaze

This very interesting article appeared in the NY Times earlier this month. CLICK HERE to read the article at the NY Times Website and to watch a video of the study in action. If you know a family whose child was diagnosed with autism, please check out “A Spectacular Bond.” I highly recommend this book and wrote about it in an earlier posting.

Baby’s Gaze May Signal Autism, a Study Finds

Updated, 1:11 a.m. | When and how long a baby looks at other people’s eyes offers the earliest behavioral sign to date of whether a child is likely to develop autism, scientists are reporting.

In a study published Wednesday, researchers using eye-tracking technology found that children who were found to have autism at age 3 looked less at people’s eyes when they were babies than children who did not develop autism. But contrary to what the researchers expected, the difference was not apparent at birth. It emerged in the next few months and autism experts said that might suggest a window during which the progression toward autism can be halted or slowed.

The study, published online in the journal Nature, found that infants who later developed autism began spending less time looking at people’s eyes between 2 and 6 months of age and paid less attention to eyes as they grew older. By contrast, babies who did not develop autism looked increasingly at people’s eyes until about 9 months old, and then kept their attention to eyes fairly constant into toddlerhood.

“This paper is a major leap forward,” said Dr. Lonnie Zwaigenbaum, a pediatrician and autism researcher at the University of Alberta, who was not involved in the study. “Documenting that there’s a developmental difference between 2 and 6 months is a major, major finding.”

The authors, Warren R. Jones and Ami Klin, both of the Marcus Autism Center and Emory University, also found that babies who showed the steepest decline in looking at people’s eyes over time developed the most severe autism.

“Kids whose eye fixation falls off most rapidly are the ones who later on are the most socially disabled and show the most symptoms,” said Dr. Jones, director of research at the autism center. “These are the earliest known signs of social disability, and they are associated with outcome and with symptom severity. Our ultimate goal is to translate this discovery into a tool for early identification” of children with autism.

The eye-tracking differences are not something parents and pediatricians would be able to perceive without the technology and expertise of an autism clinic, Dr. Jones said. “We don’t want to create concern in parents that if a child isn’t looking them in the eyes all the time, it’s a problem,” he said. “It’s not. Children are looking all over the place.”

Autism therapies have not yet been developed for young babies, but there are efforts to adapt intensive behavioral therapy for use with children as young as 12 months, Dr. Jones said.

Diagnoses of autism have increased, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from one child in 150 in 2002 to one in 88 in 2008. The reasons are unclear, although some factors could be greater awareness of the disorder and a growing number of older fathers.

Dr. Jones and Dr. Klin, who directs the autism center, studied two groups of babies. One group was at high risk for autism, with a 20 times greater likelihood of developing it because they had siblings with the disorder. The other group was at low risk, with no relatives with autism.

The researchers assessed 110 children, from 2 months to 2 years of age, 10 times while watching videos of friendly women acting like playful caregivers. Eye-tracking technology traced when the babies looked at the women’s eyes, mouths and bodies, as well as toys or other objects in the background. At age 3, the children were evaluated for autism. Ultimately, researchers used data from 36 boys, 11 of whom developed autism. (They excluded data from girls because only two developed autism.)

While the number of children studied was small — and the researchers are now studying more children — experts not involved in the study said the results were significant because of the careful and repeated measurements that were not just snapshots, but showed change over time.

“It’s well done and very important,” said Dr. Geraldine Dawson, director of the Center for Autism Diagnosis and Treatment at Duke University. She said it was notable that “early on these babies look quite normal; this really gives us a clue to brain development.”

She said a possible explanation was that early in life, activities like looking at faces are essentially reflexes “controlled by lower cortical regions of the brain that are likely intact” in children with autism. But “as the brain develops, babies begin to use these behaviors in a more intentional way. They can look at what they want to look at. We think that these higher cortical regions are the ones that are not working the same” as in typical children.

Dr. John N. Constantino, a child psychiatrist and pediatrician at Washington University in St. Louis, said the study showed that “babies who develop autism are for the most part doing an awful lot of things right for the first few months.” Perhaps the genes that drive autism begin to derail typical development after that, so that “what you are looking at moment by moment, day by day, second by second, is completely different from what other children are looking at, and the cumulative experience is what sends you off into the trajectory of autism.”

The researchers found that children who developed autism paid somewhat more attention to mouths and sustained attention to bodies past the age when typical children became less interested. Even more noticeable was that children who developed autism looked more at objects after the first year, while typical children’s interest in objects declined.

“We’re measuring what babies see, but more importantly we’re measuring what they don’t see,” Dr. Jones said.

Dr. Dawson said that looking at people teaches babies about “facial expressions and language and gesture. If the baby who’s developing autism is paying attention to objects, they’re really losing out on those opportunities.”

Before this study, experts said, research found that potential signs of autism — including differences in temperament, eye contact and pointing out objects — could be detected late in a child’s first year. Most cases of autism in children are diagnosed between ages 3 and 5, although the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends screening children at between 18 and 24 months.

But the new study suggests the need to develop therapies that begin even earlier. “The train has long left the station if you don’t start intervention until 18 months,” Dr. Constantino said.

Dr. Jones said eye contact was “just one very important channel.”

He continued, “I think we’d see the same things if we were measuring a child’s social reciprocity via touch or auditory listening preferences, but those are harder to measure.”

He and Dr. Klin advocate the eventual use of eye tracking and other measures in social development growth charts, similar to height and weight charts. Still, the authors and other experts cautioned that the results required confirmation in many more children.

Autism is so complex and varied that eye-tracking is unlikely to be able to identify every condition on the autism spectrum, Dr. Zwaigenbaum and others said. But they said the study helped illustrate the need for therapies to increase social engagement among very young infants, “either by intensifying the experience for them or making it pleasurable in other ways,” Dr. Constantino said.

“It really does present an opportunity for seeing if we could do some preventative interventions,” said Dr. Sally Ozonoff, vice chairwoman for research in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the MIND Institute of the University of California, Davis. “Maybe you could keep the child from heading into that decline, so it doesn’t turn into autism.”

Your Toddler Can Read the Literary Classics!

I was intrigued by this article in the NY Times a few weeks ago. CLICK HERE to read the article at the Times website. Publishers are now creating simplified versions of literary classics for the preschool set. I think it’s a fabulous idea! Anything that encourages a parent to read to and cuddle with their child works for me!

A Library of Classics, Edited for the Teething Set

The humble board book, with its cardboard-thick pages, gently rounded corners and simple concepts for babies, was once designed to be chewed as much as read.

But today’s babies and toddlers are treated to board books that are miniature works of literary art: classics like “Romeo and Juliet,” “Sense and Sensibility” and “Les Misérables”; luxuriously produced counting primers with complex graphic elements; and even an “Art for Baby” book featuring images by the contemporary artists Damien Hirst and Paul Morrison.

Booksellers say that parents are flocking to these books, even if the idea that a 2-year-old could understand “Moby-Dick” seems absurd on the face of it. A toddler might not be expected to follow the plot, but she could learn about harpoons, ships and waves, with quotes alongside (“The waves rolled by like scrolls of silver”).

Publishers of these books are catering to parents who follow the latest advice by child-development experts to read to babies early and often, and who believe that children can display aesthetic preferences even while they are crawling and eating puréed foods.

“If we’re going to play classical music to our babies in the womb and teach them foreign languages at an early age, then we’re going to want to expose babies to fine art and literature,” said Linda Bubon, an owner and children’s book buyer at Women & Children First, a bookstore in Chicago. “Now we know there are things we can do to stimulate the mind of a baby.”

Suzanne Gibbs Taylor, the associate publisher and creative director of Gibbs Smith, a small publisher in Salt Lake City that conceived the popular BabyLit series, said she realized that no one had ever “taken Jane Austen and made it for babies.”

While the BabyLit books do not try to lay out a complicated narrative of “Wuthering Heights” or “Romeo and Juliet,” they use the stories as a springboard to explain counting, colors or the concept of opposites. The popular “Cozy Classics” line of board books, introduced in 2012 by Simply Read Books, a publisher based in Vancouver, B.C., adapts stories like “Moby-Dick” and “Les Misérables” for infants and toddlers using pictures of needle-felted figures of Captain Ahab and Jean Valjean.

“People are realizing that it’s never too young to start putting things in front of them that are a little more meaningful, that have more levels,” said Ms. Taylor, whose BabyLit series has sold about 300,000 books so far. “It’s not so simple as, ‘Here’s a dog, here’s the number 2.’ ”

While the publishing industry is still scraping through the digital revolution, children’s books have remained relatively untouched. Most parents are sticking to print for their young children even when there are e-book versions or apps available, and videos like the once ubiquitous “Baby Einstein,” founded in 1997 as a fast-track to infant genius, have fallen out of fashion.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that television should be avoided for children younger than 2 years old, and studies have suggested that babies and toddlers receive much greater benefit from real interactions than from experiences involving video screens.

“There has been a proliferation of focus on early childhood development on the education side,” said John Mendelson, the sales director at Candlewick Press, “as well as on the retail side.”

Board books, traditionally for newborns to 3-year-olds, have always been a smaller and somewhat neglected category in the publishing business, compared with the larger and more expensive hardcover picture books designed for children of reading age.

But board books may be catching up. Libraries that used to shun the genre are now buying them from publishers. Bookstores are making more room for board books on their shelves. And while a board book might have once been too insubstantial a gift to bring to a child’s birthday party, the newer, highly stylized versions (that can run up to $15) would easily pass muster.

“A board book was little more than a teething ring,” said Christopher Franceschelli, who directs Handprint Books, an imprint of Chronicle Books. “I think as picture books have developed in the last 20 years, parents, librarians, teachers have thought, ‘Why should board books be any less than their older siblings?’ ”

In 2012, Abrams Books, the art-book publisher, created a new imprint, Abrams Appleseed, to focus on books for babies, toddlers and preschoolers. Since then, it has published high-end books like “Pantone: Color Puzzles,” released this month, which uses intricate drawings and puzzle pieces to teach children the differences between colors like peacock blue and nighttime blue.

“If you look at board books from 15 years ago, it looks like the stuff on there was pulled off the Internet somewhere,” said Cecily Kaiser, the publishing director of Abrams Appleseed. “Now there’s a real embrace of a much more artful style.”

At Chronicle, a San Francisco-based publisher, sales of board books have been rising for at least two to three years. Editors there have experimented with books that attempt interactivity, such as a line of books with finger puppets. “We’re in this era of mass good design for everybody,” said Ginee Seo, the children’s publishing director at Chronicle. “You’re seeing good design at Target; you can buy Jonathan Adler at Barnes & Noble. You’re not willing to accept the cheesy clip art on a board book.”

Jon Yaged, the president and publisher of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, said the demand for board books has driven him to release more of them in recent years. He has also added ornate flourishes: on the cover of a new edition of “The Pout-Pout Fish,” the title reads in a shiny gold foil, a touch that would normally have been reserved for a more expensive picture book.

Cindy Hudson, a guidebook author and mother of two in Portland, Ore., who runs a Web site suggesting books for parents to read with their children, said she doubted a baby would “benefit intellectually” from being exposed to Tolstoy or the Brontë sisters.

Still, “anything that encourages that interaction between babies and parents is a good thing,” she said. “That’s where the learning and the bonding comes from.”

Language-Gap Study Bolsters a Push for Pre-K, by Motoko Rich

This article is from today’s NY Times. If you would like to read it there, CLICK HERE. There are some very interesting parent comments that go with it on the site. The article supports something I have been preaching for years – Talk to your children all the time about everything and anything! You don’t have to be rich to give your child the gift of language skills. All it takes is talking to your child and surrounding him with language.

Language-Gap Study Bolsters a Push for Pre-K, by MOTOKO RICH

Nearly two decades ago, a landmark study found that by age 3, the children of wealthier professionals have heard words millions more times than those of less educated parents, giving them a distinct advantage in school and suggesting the need for increased investment in prekindergarten programs.

Now a follow-up study has found a language gap as early as 18 months, heightening the policy debate.

The new research by Anne Fernald, a psychologist at Stanford University, which was published in Developmental Science this year, showed that at 18 months children from wealthier homes could identify pictures of simple words they knew — “dog” or “ball” — much faster than children from low-income families. By age 2, the study found, affluent children had learned 30 percent more words in the intervening months than the children from low-income homes.

The new findings, although based on a small sample, reinforced the earlier research showing that because professional parents speak so much more to their children, the children hear 30 million more words by age 3 than children from low-income households, early literacy experts, preschool directors and pediatricians said. In the new study, the children of affluent households came from communities where the median income was $69,000; the low-income children came from communities with a median income of $23,900.

Since oral language and vocabulary are so connected to reading comprehension, the most disadvantaged children face increased challenges once they enter school and start learning to read.

“That gap just gets bigger and bigger,” said Kris Perry, executive director of the First Five Years Fund, an advocate of early education for low-income children. “That gap is very real and very hard to undo.”

President Obama has called for the federal government to match state money to provide preschool for all 4-year-olds from low- and moderate-income families, a proposal in the budget that Congress voted to postpone negotiating until later this year. The administration is also offering state grants through its Race to the Top Program to support early childhood education. Critics argue, however, that with so few programs offering high-quality instruction, expanding the system will prove a waste of money and that the limited funds should be reserved for elementary and secondary education.

But at a time when a majority of public schoolchildren in about a third of the states come from low-income families, according to the Southern Education Foundation, those who are pushing for higher preschool enrollment say that investing in the youngest children could save public spending later on.

In the latest data available from the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University, 28 percent of all 4-year-olds in the United States were enrolled in state-financed preschool in the 2010-11 school year, and just 4 percent of 3-year-olds.

The National Governors Association, in a report this month calling on states to ensure that all children can read proficiently by third grade, urges lawmakers to increase access to high-quality child care and prekindergarten classes and to invest in programs for children from birth through age 5. In New York, the Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio has said he would tax high-income earners to pay for universal prekindergarten in the city.

“A lot of states are saying, ‘Let’s get to the early care providers and get more of them having kids come into kindergarten ready,’ ” said Richard Laine, director of education for the National Governors Association. That way, he said, “we’re not waiting until third grade and saying, ‘Oh my gosh, we have so many kids overwhelming our remediation system.’ ”

Currently, 17 states and the District of Columbia have policies requiring that third graders be held back if they do not meet state reading proficiency standards, according to the Education Commission of the States.

Now, with the advent of the Common Core, a set of rigorous reading and math standards for students in kindergarten through 12th grade that has been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia, educators say the pressure to prepare young children is growing more intense.

Literacy experts have previously documented a connection between a child’s early vocabulary and later success in reading comprehension. In a study tracking children from age 3 through middle school, David Dickinson, now a professor of education at Vanderbilt University, and Catherine Snow, an education professor at Harvard University, found that a child’s score on a vocabulary test in kindergarten could predict reading comprehension scores in later grades.

Mr. Dickinson said he feared that some preschool teachers or parents might extract the message about the importance of vocabulary and pervert it. “The worst thing that could come out of all this interest in vocabulary,” he said, “is flash cards with pictures making kids memorize a thousand words.”

Instead, literacy experts emphasize the importance of natural conversations with children, asking questions while reading books, and helping children identify words during playtime.

Even these simple principles may be hard to implement, some educators say, because preschool instructors are often paid far less than public schoolteachers and receive scant training. In one study, Robert Pianta, dean of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia, found that in observations of 700 preschool classrooms across 11 states, teachers in less than 15 percent of the classes demonstrated “effective teacher-student interactions.”

“There is a lot of wishful thinking about how easy it is, that if you just put kids in any kind of program that this will just happen,” said W. Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research, referring to the development of strong vocabularies and other preliteracy skills.

Literacy experts and publishing companies are rushing to develop materials for teachers. Scholastic Inc., the children’s book publisher, for example, began selling the Big Day for Pre-K program to preschools three years ago. Collections of books come with specific question prompts like “I see a yellow taxi. What do you see?”

Educators and policy makers say they also must focus increasingly on parents.

In Vallejo, Calif., where about 400 children up to age 5 attend publicly funded prekindergarten programs, the district invited Anne E. Cunningham, a psychologist and literacy specialist from the University of California, Berkeley, to conduct a training program for preschool teachers that included the development of parent education workshops. And in Kentucky, the governor’s Office of Early Childhood started a social media campaign last year that offers simple tips for parents like “Talk about the weather with your child. Is it sunny or cloudy? Hot or cold?”

Middle class and more-affluent parents have long known that describing fruit at the supermarket or pointing out the shape of a stop sign are all part of a young child’s literacy education.

But even in low-income families, parents who speak to their children more frequently can enhance vocabulary. In separate research, Ms. Fernald, working with Adriana Weisleder, a graduate student in psychology, recorded all the words that 29 children from low-income households heard over a day.

The researchers differentiated between words overheard from television and adult conversations and those directed at the children. They found that some of the children, who were 19 months at the time, heard as few as 670 “child-directed” words in one day, compared with others in the group who heard as many as 12,000.

Those who had heard more words were able to understand words more quickly and had larger vocabularies by age 2.

“Even in families that are low income and perhaps don’t have a lot of education, there are some parents that are very engaged verbally with their kids,” said Ms. Weisleder. “And those kids are doing better in language development.”

Why More Families are Homeschooling their Kids

At, we are noticing that more and more of our members are homeschooling their kids these days. Often, I talk to parents who have made the decision to educate their kids at home and they are thrilled with the the outcome. Homeschooling is not for everyone, but it is becoming more and more mainstream and doable because of resources and information available on-line and through Homeschooling associations. Here is an article on Homeschooling in major urban cities that I enjoyed reading and wanted to share with you. After reading it, I almost wished I could have homeschooled my kids. For me, it was impossible because economic circumstances were such that my husband and I both had to work full time while raising our kids. However, I can really see the benefits of that choice after reading this piece. If you’d like to read the article at the NY Magazine website, CLICK HERE.

Homeschooling, City-Style
Why more and more city parents are teaching their kids themselves.

By Lisa Miller

It’s 1:15 on a Monday afternoon, and two dozen kids, mostly girls in brightly colored leggings, are in the gymnastics studio at Asphalt Green on 90th Street and York Avenue, doing what kids in gymnastics classes do. They’re stretching against a wall, palms pressed flat, arms overhead. They’re jumping and fidgeting on a puffy mat as an instructor demonstrates tumbling moves. Up in the balcony, meanwhile, their moms are in semi-distracted kid-tending mode. With one eye, they’re observing their blossoming Gabby Douglases, while with the other they’re reading their iPads, chatting with one another, keeping track of smaller children—or all of the above.

The scene is totally normal, except for one thing. It’s a weekday. At lunch time. Aren’t these kids supposed to be in school?

They are in school, sort of. These are homeschoolers. They can take gymnastics in the middle of the day because they don’t leave their houses each morning, laden with backpacks and lunch, to spend six hours in classrooms down the block or in a different borough at what their parents call “regular school.” Their mothers (and a few of their fathers) are their teachers and their principals, their recess monitors and their librarians, having taken over from New York City (or Dalton, or Sacred Heart) the responsibility for their children’s education.

The term homeschool used to evoke images of conservative Christians in the rural districts of western and southern states, who, in protest against secular education and the eroding morals of the nation’s youth, took matters into their own hands. The earliest homeschooling resources—the curricula and the online networks and message boards—were developed by Christian activists. The Internet was a boon for these parents, whose interests were aligned but who often lived hundreds of miles apart. “Do we want our children to be like the ultraliberal teachers that they have in public school,” asked the vice-president of the Southern Baptist Convention in 2002, “or do we want them to be like their Christian parents?”

But in recent years, as the number of children being homeschooled has exploded from 1.1 million in 2003 to 1.5 million in 2007 (or nearly 3 percent of the school-age population), according to the U.S. Department of Education, so has the number of homeschoolers in American cities spiked. According to the department’s most recent data, some 320,000 kids are being homeschooled in apartments and walk-ups, in brownstones and housing projects nationwide. There are homeschooling support groups providing resources, classes, and curriculum help. In New York City last year, 2,766 children were being homeschooled, up from 2,550 in 20010–11. (And that’s a low estimate, according to New York homeschool advocates, because it doesn’t include preschoolers or teenagers over 17.)

Urbanites cite many reasons for choosing homeschooling, but religion is rarely one of them. Laurie Spigel, who runs the website Home School NYC, estimates that “maybe one percent or less” of New York homeschool families are religiously motivated. “You can only generalize about homeschoolers as much as you can generalize about New Yorkers,” says Spigel. Mostly, though, New York City homeschoolers are “educated, middle-class people,” she says, who don’t like what’s on offer from the Department of Ed and can’t afford or don’t want to pay private-school tuition. In this way, New Yorkers who homeschool reflect the homeschool population at large: The greatest proportion of homeschool parents in the United States earn between $50,000 and $75,000 a year and have a bachelor’s degree or more.

Why Teach at Home?

Urban homeschoolers frequently cite the homogenization of public education as the reason they chose to take over their kids’ schooling. With federal and state education policy placing ever-greater emphasis on core standards and standardized tests, many parents want to give their kids something more creative, flexible, and engaging than a school day they see as factory-made. The one-size-fits-all model is especially unappealing to parents of children who are “special” in some way: unevenly intelligent, intensely shy, immature, or in need of a flexible schedule to accommodate their professional acting or dancing or musical careers. In New York, even parents in the best districts complain about overcrowding and about teachers, who, however motivated and skilled, have their hands full managing the unruly few who can reign in some classrooms. Then there are the problems that come with all traditional schools: the bullying, the playground politics, and the escalating gadget and fashion arms races. According to the DOE, nearly 88 percent of U.S. homeschool parents express concern about the school environment, citing drugs, negative peer pressure, and general safety.

Kristin Sposito was one of the moms at the Monday-afternoon gymnastics class. She and her husband, Brett, decided to homeschool when their daughter, Maya, was 5. The Spositos, who lived in Portland, Oregon, at the time, looked around at their friends’ children who were going off to school. The school day seemed very long for children so young, Kristin thought. And the kids who did go to school came home “with bad attitudes right off the bat,” she says. The children were mouthy; family relationships grew strained; the joy of family life was somehow lost; and the children were none the better for it. “It’s not like they were away all day and then came home and were brilliant. And I thought, You know what? This is a waste of time. I could do it better myself.” The family moved to New York City five years ago. Maya is now 12. Neither she nor her two brothers, Jonah, 9, and Simon, 4, has ever been to school, and Sposito is happy with her choice. “It’s like a big secret, like we’re getting away with something,” she says.

A Homeschooling Primer

It’s relatively easy to begin homeschooling in New York. Homeschoolers need only file paperwork with the Department of Education stating their intention to homeschool, outlining their curriculum goals, and promising to fulfill certain requirements that correspond to public schools. Parents do not have to be certified or credentialed (nor do any tutors they use) and don’t have to abide by any particular schedule.

Some homeschool families largely emulate a traditional school day: The parents make lesson plans; start and end at a specific time; use textbooks and workbooks; and give homework, tests, and report cards. “Some families use correspondence curriculum. They say, ‘We are at home for these hours.’ They ring the bell and use the blackboard,” says Spigel.

But in New York and other cities, where cultural offerings are so rich, many homeschooling families rely heavily on the city’s cultural institutions. The New York homeschool population has grown to such an extent, in fact, that many city institutions now offer classes (often at a deep discount) just for homeschoolers. The New-York Historical Society has a program in which homeschoolers learn American history through Broadway musicals and the artifacts in its collection; this fall, it’s teaching kids about the westward expansion through Oklahoma! and the works of the artists in the Hudson River School. At Robofun, on the Upper West Side, homeschool students work in pairs to learn architecture, computer programming, robotics, and engineering by building their own robots. One of the most popular programs among New York homeschooling families, and one that fulfills the city’s phys-ed requirement, is Wayfinders, a role-playing fantasy program in which kids run around Central Park in teams with large foam swords playing an epic version of capture the flag.

As children get older and their educational needs become more sophisticated, many homeschool parents reach out to the homeschool networks online and band together with other families to hire private tutors for specialty subjects—advanced science and math, foreign languages, dance. Other parents share their own expertise. Actor parents will help a bunch of kids stage a show; artist parents will teach a painting class; parents trained in classics will teach Latin. Sposito, a civil engineer, has recently started teaching physics to her son Jonah and one of his friends based on a curriculum called “Real Science-4-Kids.” The boys did a physics lab the morning of Maya’s gymnastics class. “We threw some balls, rolled marbles, and talked about inertia,” Sposito says.

At the far end of the homeschooling spectrum are the “unschoolers,” folks who have no set learning agenda. “ ‘Unschooling’ is learning without any sort of curriculum whatsoever,” says Amy Milstein, who runs the website UnschoolingNYC. “It’s learning through life.” Rather than follow any particular math curriculum, for example, unschoolers learn to multiply fractions when they double a recipe while they’re cooking dinner. They learn to add and subtract in their heads when they count their change at the store; they do percentages by calculating tips. In unschooling, there is no memorization of multiplication tables, no spelling tests, no grammar lessons. “I think what takes the fun out of learning is ‘You must do this. It’s a lesson. That’s the way it’s done,’ ” says Milstein. “It’s an unnatural thing that we’ve come to believe is natural. Of course, there will be gaps in their knowledge. But they’ll know how to find out what they need to know.”

Testing is the great equalizer between homeschoolers or unschoolers and children following the traditional route. Math and reading tests are required at regular intervals, beginning in fourth grade. Parents can choose from a list of accepted tests, or they can opt for the same citywide tests that all public-schoolers take (arrangements can be made for homeschoolers to test at a public school alongside their peers). Tests taken at home must be administered by a certified teacher or another qualified person agreed upon by the superintendent of your school district. Parents must file test results with their end-of-year assessment. Under the city’s regulations, children who score below the 33rd percentile of national norms or show no progress compared with a previous year’s test will have their homeschooling program placed on probation. If that happens, parents must submit a plan of remediation to be reviewed by the school district.

Does Homeschooling Work?

According to a 2011 report from the National Home Education Research Institute, which is, to be sure, a homeschooling advocacy group, homeschoolers typically score 15 to 30 percentile points above public-school students on academic-achievement tests. In 2002, the College Board, which administers the SAT, says that homeschoolers averaged 72 points, or 7 percent, higher than the national average. In terms of college acceptance, admissions directors say homeschoolers are evaluated just as other kids are—on their academic achievement, test scores, letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities, and so on (See “What the Harvard Admissions Director Thinks,” at left). Students coming from a homeschool graduated college within four years at a higher rate than their peers—66.7 percent compared with 57.5 percent—and earned higher grade-point averages, according to a study that compared students at a midwestern university from 2004 to 2009.

But this year, the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers’ union, published the following statement: “[The NEA] believes that homeschooling programs based on parental choice cannot provide the student with a comprehensive education experience.” What homeschooled children are most deprived of, homeschooling critics say, are socialization skills. School isn’t just where kids develop intellectually—it’s where they learn to cooperate, face social challenges, and work out their differences. Kids who are homeschooled, critics note, often develop a sense of entitlement. Despite the way they were educated, not everything in the workplace and the world beyond school is custom-tailored to an individual’s needs. Danielle Everett, who is 24, grew up in Queens and was homeschooled from the time she was a preschooler until she went away to college. “I always struggled socially,” she says. “I didn’t have close friends until I was 15. I don’t think I have ever met a homeschooler who doesn’t have social awkwardness.” When she has kids, she says, she’ll homeschool them—“just not all the way through. A good educational experience should include learning how to have relationships.”

Other educators note that the U.S. population is fast becoming majority nonwhite, and that the ranks of homeschoolers are increasingly unrepresentative of the population at large. Amy Stuart Wells, a professor at Teachers College at Columbia University, says homeschoolers aren’t learning to be members of a diverse society. “I don’t want my son to think just like me,” says Wells. “I want him to be challenged and confronted with other points of view. We have to question homeschooling from that standpoint.”

Homeschoolers themselves, however dedicated to their choice they may be, acknowledge its challenges. For one, homeschooling is expensive. Sposito pays more than $7,000 a year in classes and tutors for Maya and Jonah (and, of course, she still pays school taxes). She estimates she’s in the mid-range of homeschool families. “I know lots of people paying $4,000 a year for violin and $2,000 for science classes,” she says. And some families pay for private tutors and classes at levels that can add up to tuition at Fieldston. And of course, one parent staying home means one less salary. Disposable income, in fact, is the thing Sposito misses most about having a more conventional life. “There are significant things I wish my family could afford—more travel, renovations to our apartment—that we can’t have because we’ve been living on one income for a long time,” she says. Her husband supports the homeschooling effort, but is not engaged in the day-to-day teaching and would not, Sposito says, have chosen it on his own. He feels the burden of his breadwinning role in the family acutely. An engineer who inspects the structural safety of the city’s bridges, he often feels stressed at work. And when he does, he asks his wife to consider returning to work. For her part, Sposito feels the weight of her commitment to homeschooling as well as the magnitude of her dual role: primary parent and full-time educator. “I do feel responsible for everything, being their mom and their teacher, but at least I am in touch with their learning.”

And then there’s the pure exasperation homeschool parents can feel after spending all day with their children—not just teaching but cooking, cleaning, shopping, mediating arguments, and more—without a break from breakfast until bedtime. “Of course, my kids bicker and make messes and sometimes don’t want to brush their teeth or clean up or practice their violin or do their schoolwork,” says Sposito. “I’ve called my husband at work, in tears, because I didn’t think I could deal with the kids that day.”

On balance, she points out, she’s still thrilled for the opportunity to be able to educate her children the way she wants to and to spend the bulk of her time in a relaxed and playful way with them. But on those days when things aren’t going so smoothly, Sposito says, she’s not above a threat: If her kids don’t shape up, she tells, them, she’ll go back to work and send them to “regular school.”

The Everything Guide to Urban Home Schooling

Mastering the Basics
The nuts and bolts of teaching kids yourself.

Step 1: Write a Letter of Intent
You need to inform the city by mail (Central Office of Home Schooling, 333 Seventh Ave., seventh fl., New York, NY, 10001) that you will be homeschooling your child. Letters are due by July 1, or within fourteen days from when you start home instruction. Include the child’s name, date of birth, grade level, and home address, plus a statement of intention. And while it’s not required, it’s a good idea to send a copy of the same letter to your child’s former school, especially if you’re withdrawing him or her. Within ten business days of receipt, parents will get a copy of the New York State Education Department Commissioner’s Regulation Part 100.10 (the official rule book for urban homeschoolers), as well as a form on which to submit an Individualized Home Instruction Plan (IHIP), due by August 15 of each new school year or four weeks after receiving the response to your letter of intent.

Step 2: Submit Your IHIP
Here, you need to describe the curriculum that you (or those you plan to hire) will teach your child. There are plenty of free online resources to help; the World Book website, for example, lists detailed curriculum requirements by U.S. grade level. (Note: New York State requires you to cover specific subjects for specific grades—see “Required Subjects by Grade” for more.) Some parents choose to write their own IHIP, streamlining the process from year to year and facilitating easier record-keeping, which is important when applying for college or internships.

Step 3: File Quarterly Reports
Four times a school year, parents must send in a report detailing their child’s progress with regard to the curriculum laid out in the IHIP. Parents must also make note of the number of hours of instruction and attendance to date—see “Required Hours of Instruction” for more. Suggested deadlines for quarterly reports are November 15, January 31, April 15, and June 30.

Step 4: Submit an End-of-Year Assessment
Parents have the option to write up a statement confirming that the educational goals for the year, as outlined in the IHIP, have been met; alternately, they can submit achievement test scores. (For more info, read the New York State Education Department Commissioner’s Regulation.) This is due at the same time as the final quarterly report.

Required Subjects by Grade
Grades 1 through 6:

math, reading, spelling, writing, the English language, geography, U.S. history, science, health education, music, visual arts, physical education, bilingual education and/or English as a second language where the need is indicated.

Grades 7 and 8:
English (two units*); history and geography (two units); science (two units); math (two units); physical education; health education; art (a half-unit); music (a half-unit); practical arts; and library skills. While the subjects are defined by the state, parents can define the content of the curriculum.

Grades 9 through 12:
English (four units); social studies (four units), which includes one unit of American history, a half-unit in participation in government, and a half-unit of economics; mathematics (two units); science (two units); art and/or music (one unit); health education (a half-unit); physical education (two units); and three units of electives (such as foreign languages or performing arts).

Additional requirements:
The following courses must be taught at least once during the first eight grades: U.S. history, New York State history, and the Constitutions of the United States and New York State. The following subjects must be covered during grades kindergarten through 12: patriotism and citizenship; health education regarding alcohol, drug, and tobacco misuse; highway safety and traffic regulations, including bicycle safety; and fire and arson prevention and safety.

*Note: 1 unit equals 108 hours of instruction per school year.

Required Hours of Instruction
According to the regulations, homeschooled students are expected to have 180 days of instruction each school year (just like public-school kids). Minimum hours of instruction per school year are as follows: 900 hours (225 hours per quarter) for kids in grades 1 through 6 and 990 hours (247.55 hours per quarter) for grades 7 through 12. Parents are expected to keep attendance records but do not need to submit them unless requested.

How to Find a Great Tutor
The New York City Home Educators Alliance maintains a list of member-recommended tutors in a range of subjects. Professional teachers and homeschooling parents with specific expertise, like an architect who can teach basic architecture and design, advertise in the NYCHEA newsletter.

Tutoring agencies run the gamut from those associated with high schools (the Tutoring School at the Beekman School) or universities (Columbia University Tutoring and Translating Agency) to private businesses, like Partners With Parents, which provides a selection of tutors with advanced degrees and extensive home-teaching experience, and Mosaic Tutoring, which offers college counseling in addition to tutoring services. Fees average $100 to $135 per hour.

Word-of-mouth can also be valuable. Cynthia McCallister, an associate professor at NYU’s Steinhardt School of Education and homeschooler to her 11-year-old son, has used family friends and college students, and says parents shouldn’t forget about older kids in their buildings. Always ask for references, and, where possible, try out a tutor for a session before committing.

What the Harvard Admissions Director Thinks
Do colleges frown upon homeschooled applicants? Marlyn McGrath says no.

The requirements are the same for everybody, but some parts of the admission process are unique to homeschoolers. We require the same standardized tests for everyone, but homeschool students often take extra tests—say, SAT subject tests—because they find that those tests are an easier way to convey mastery of a subject. We want all the usual recommendation letters, but because parents who homeschool are often their children’s teachers, they write letters, too. They want to show the thinking behind the work they did and why. Homeschoolers don’t always have easily identifiable extracurriculars, so we are often pleased to see team participation. On the other hand, many of them have an unusual story to tell, and that can be a strength. In the end, we ask the same questions of all candidates: How unusual is she in her accomplishments? Her ambition? Her capacity to overcome whatever life might have thrown her way? And how would she stand out and contribute here? —As told to Jillian Goodman

A Day In the Life of a Homeschooler
Monique Forest teaches her 13-year-old son, Shane, in Sunset Park. We asked her to document a typical day.

9:30 a.m.
We woke up late because I took Shane to the Jay-Z concert last night. Normally, he goes to bed at 9:30 p.m. so he can get ten hours of sleep, but I made an exception this time so he could have a life experience. This was his first concert, and I know it will be a great memory for him. I believe in a well-rounded education so I use the Core Knowledge Lesson Plan. It covers all the basic subjects: English, math, science, history, geography, language, art, music, and health. I also teach practical life skills—like budgeting, baking from scratch, and learning the subway system.

10–10:45 a.m., Current Events
We read the newspapers in the morning, mostly the New York Times, and discuss articles we find interesting. Today we talked about the presidential debate. Shane’s uncle gave him an iPad, and he does a lot of his work on that. It’s a wonderful teaching tool. Sometimes we’ll do editing in the morning. Getting him to do this is like pulling teeth, so I try to get it out of the way early.

11–11:30 a.m., Reading and History
He’s reading Fall of Giants, by Ken Follett. Although it’s fiction, it’s a fun way to learn about history. It takes place during WWI and the Second Industrial Revolution. It’s about 1,000 pages.

11:30 a.m.–Noon, S.A.T. Words
Shane has an app for this so he practices by taking a test, and at the end you get your score. He also did another vocabulary app today called Vocabador. I love this one. You knock out your opponent by choosing the correct definition.

Noon–12:45 p.m., Lunch Today
I gave him Ak-mak crackers, sliced raw red bell pepper, a peanut-butter-and-pumpkin-butter sandwich on wheat, and a glass of unsweetened vanilla almond milk with Stevia, a dash of cinnamon, and pumpkin-pie spice. The saying “Change your food, change your mood” is so true.

12:50–1:40 p.m., Exercise and Music
Shane can choose different exercises, but it must be vigorous and last at least 30 minutes. Sometimes we play basketball or walk a few miles or he rides his scooter. Exercise is conducive to learning. Shane is trying to get into La Guardia High School next year, so we also work on music in the afternoon. He’s doing a song in Italian; he’s on level 2 in Rosetta Stone. Instead of telling him he’s the best, I try to be realistic. I let him know the odds are long, and he needs to practice more.

1:45–2:30 p.m., Math
We use the Teaching Textbooks CD. It has tutorials and a fully automated grading system. Right now, he’s finishing up pre-algebra. I expect him to do fourteen lessons a week, though he can choose how he wants to split those up. He has typically ranked between the 90th and 99th percentile in math on the New York State Exam for grades 3 through 8 (with the exception of sixth grade, when he scored in the 84th percentile).

2:40–2:55 p.m., Snack Time
It’s pear and plain Greek yogurt with organic honey.

3–3:30 p.m.
Shane went outside to socialize with kids from his old school. They’re really curious about homeschooling, so they’re always asking him questions. The idea that homeschoolers don’t socialize is just wrong. If I hear one more person say, “What about the socialization?”…

3:40–4:15 p.m., Science
Today he studied science terms; I usually quiz him afterward. Science is one of his favorite subjects. He looks over the eighth-grade curriculum that’s submitted to the city’s homeschool division and can study anything on the list he chooses.

4:15–4:30 p.m., Spelling
I have an app where I record whatever words I pick. He takes the test, and it gives his score. It’s a great app, and free, which is important since we’re on a tight budget. We do school seven days a week because he can’t be pushed for too long on any given day. I have to respect that about him, and I have to make everything interesting, or else he just won’t do it.

The City As Classroom
Eight New York homeschoolers’ field trips.

Film Society of Lincoln Center
Walter Reade Theater, 165 W. 65th St., nr. Amsterdam Ave.; 212-875-5600

Mom Ayun Halliday: “I know lots of families go to the movies, but my son was one of the only kids at a 6 p.m. screening of the French animated movie The Rabbi’s Cat, which touches on Judaism and Islam in twenties Algeria. He got this big lesson about some central tenants of two major world religions.”

Seventh-grader Milo Kotis: “I got to meet [director] Joann Sfar, and he even made a drawing for me! I felt like a real celebrity.”

Hospital Pathology Lab

Mom Ivette Mayo: “We toured the pathology lab of the hospital where my husband works. We went from looking at the single-cell hydra under a microscope at home to watching a pathologist work with living tissue.”

Seventh-grader Fiona Fragomen: “I wasn’t freaked out or anything because my father is a doctor, and I’ve been on rounds with him and seen some pretty gross stuff. I loved seeing how the slides are made: You need to ferment and then put it through many machines and create pigments.”

Grand Central Terminal
89 E. 42nd St., nr. Park Ave.;

Mom Laura Cain: “We didn’t go to the station because it’s historic; we went to see who works there. We talked to a police officer, a conductor, the guy shining shoes … my kids saw the practical way the place operates.”

Fourth-grade sisters Abigayle and Rebecca Cain: “We liked the gigantic clock and talking to the people. We met a girl, and she taught us a little bit of French, but we forgot it. We just remember bonjour and non.”

Fat Cat
75 Christopher St., at Seventh Ave.; 212-675-6056

Mom Bethany Vedder: “One afternoon a week, the club lets homeschoolers come in to shoot pool or play shuffleboard and Ping-Pong. We go partially for social time, but also because those games improve my 10-year-old’s math, logic, and strategy skills.”

Fifth-grader Douglas Vedder: “I like playing pool, and I couldn’t do it anywhere else. Plus, I get to talk about Minecraft with my friends.”

Beczak Environmental Education Center
35 Alexander St., Yonkers, N.Y.; 914-377-1900

Mom Sabrina Funk: “We went seine fishing in the Hudson River. My son is interested in underwater creatures, so we’re always doing life-science kind of stuff.”

Second-grader Finley Funk: “I liked putting on the waders and taking out the nets. It was cool to drag in the little jellyfish.”

97th Street Greenmarket
W. 97th St. at Columbus Ave.

Mom Christy Young: “They’d been shopping with me before, but I realized they didn’t even know what the word local meant in terms of food. I explained what was in season, and we did some math when I got change.”

Fourth-grader Lily Young: “Some of the vegetables still had dirt on them and green stuff at the top. They weren’t packaged like they are in the grocery store.”

Victorian Gardens at Wollman Rink
Central Park at 59th St.; 212-982-2229

Mom, Regan Avery: “When we go on the rides, we talk about physics, like centrifugal force, how if you sit on the outside seat of the roller coaster, you’re going to get smushed against the side. They have one of those really big slides, so we talk about gravity, too.”

Pre-kindergartner, Mason Avery: “My mommy and I went more than once. We had fun. My favorite was the truck ride. I got to drive!”

The Brooklyn Bee
Fort Greene;

Mom, Sandra Leong: “The beehives are on urban-beekeeper John Howe’s rooftop. He showed us the queen and talked about pollination, and the kids got to take the honey off the honeycomb. It was real hands-on science.”

Third-grader, Brennan-Pierson Wang: “I learned so much: Bees live in a community and have individual jobs, and they care for their babies and report to their queen.”

Kindergarten Gets Tough as Kids are Forced to Bubble in Multiple Choice Tests, by Rachel Monahan

Today’s NY Daily News is reporting that kindergateners need to learn to fill in bubbles when taking the new Common Core Standardized tests. As if taking the test isn’t hard enough, young kids need to know how to fill in bubbles! To read the article at the Daily News website, CLICK HERE.
Goodbye Play-Doh, hello No. 2 pencils.

Because of a tough new curriculum and teacher evaluations, 4- and 5-year-olds are learning how to fill in bubbles on standardized math tests to show how much they know about numbers, shapes and order.

Teachers said kindergartners are bewildered. “Sharing is not caring anymore; developmentally, it’s not the right thing to do,” said one Queens teacher, whose pupils kept trying to help one another on the math test she gave for the first time this fall.

“They’re scared. They just don’t understand you’re supposed to bubble in next to the answer.”

The state’s teacher ratings, which are in their first year, require each city school to administer some tests. State exams are usually administered starting in third grade, but 36 early elementary schools that have only younger students — in kindergarten through second grade — are required to give the multiple-choice tests to kids who are just starting school.

Even city schools that aren’t required to test their youngest kids have begun giving kindergartners similar math tests as part of the Common Core — the new curriculum that’s supposed to help kids develop higher-order thinking skills.

One of three tests obtained by the Daily News is created by Pearson — which made the New York State third- through eighth-grade exams, including a ridiculously worded question about a talking pineapple last year. Pearson also makes the Common Core materials that most city schools have recently adopted.

Administering the exams is a complete headache, teachers said. “They don’t know how to hold pencils,” said a Bronx kindergarten teacher whose class recently took the Pearson exam. “They don’t know letters, and you have answers that say A, B, C or D and you’re asking them to bubble in . . . They break down; they cry.”
practice test

Because the little test-takers don’t know their numbers, teachers direct them to find each question by an image printed next to the answers.

Education Department officials insist that the 32 early elementary schools don’t have to give the kindergarten test yet — though they are required to administer it by this spring. But officials also acknowledged schools may not realize they can wait a few months.

At the same time, officials defended the use of multiple choice as an an easy way for even kindergarten teachers to learn how much their students know at the beginning of the year.

“Teachers should have access to multiple tools that they can use in a variety of ways to diagnose what students already know and what they need help with,” said Nancy Gannon, executive director of academic quality for the Education Department.

But teachers said testing this way is slow and traumatic. Trying to get a proper answer was next to impossible. “We said to color it in with a pencil, so they were taking out crayons,” said a veteran teacher on Staten Island. “I can tell when a student needs help. I don’t have to give them a test.”

Read more:

NYC Elementary School Rankings: See How Your Neighborhood School Scored, by Amy Zimmer

In my opinion, DNAinfo is one of the very best sources of information on NYC schools and Amy Zimmer is one of their best writers! She is always on top of what is happening with education in NYC. Here is an article about how neighborhood schools fared after this year’s common core aligned achievement tests. CLICK HERE to read the article at DNAinfo New York!

NEW YORK CITY — Dismal results in this year’s reading exams pegged to new, tougher federal standards saw less than a third of the city’s third- through eighth-graders pass the tests.

But that number doesn’t reveal what most parents want to know — how do their school’s scores compare to the more than 700 other elementary schools in the city?

To help answer that question, Tom Goodkind, a Lower Manhattan accountant and former public school parent, crunched the numbers of publicly available data for the 2013 fourth-grade English Language Arts test results, stacking the schools up against each other.

For more than a decade, Goodkind has created the ranking system using these ELA scores, since they are a key part of students’ applications to middle schools and are obsessively tracked by many families who often base real estate decisions on public school test results.

“Whether they make the test harder or easier, it’s really harder or easier for everyone because it’s a comparative rank,” Goodkind said.

Many of the schools in the top 10 percent have consistently been among the best-performing schools, year after year, even as the tests have changed, he noted.

“You want to move to an area where the schools are at least in the top half [of scorers],” he said, adding, “Nothing drives [real estate prices] higher than families wanting to move in because they’re saving on private school.”

Four of the top six performers on the fourth-grade ELA test this year were, perhaps unsurprisingly, elite gifted and talented schools that accept the highest scorers on the G&T exam across the city.

NEST+M on the Lower East Side took the No. 1 spot, with 99 percent garnering pass grades of 3 or 4 on the ELA, moving it up from the No. 5 spot last year. The Anderson School on the Upper West Side was No. 2 (down from No.1), TAG Young Scholars in East Harlem ranked No. 4 (up from No. 9), and No. 6 was the Brooklyn School of Inquiry in Bensonhurst.

The Upper East Side’s Lower Lab School, which ranked No. 3 (the same as last year), is a G&T school with priority given to students in District 2, stretching from Battery Park City to the Upper East Side. Bayside’s P.S. 188, a Queens neighborhood school with a G&T program, came in at No. 5.

Rounding out the top 10 were strong neighborhood schools.

The Upper West Side’s sought-after P.S. 199 was the seventh top-scoring school. Park Slope’s P.S. 39 — once considered “a poor cousin of other, larger Park Slope elementary schools,” according to Insideschools — bested its district’s coveted neighbors, landing in the No. 8 slot. Another Bayside school, P.S. 203 — which the U.S. Department of Education named a Blue Ribbon school for academic achievement and improvement — came in ninth, and the Upper East Side’s popular P.S. 6 was No. 10.

“It gives me a sense of school pride and makes me feel they’re on the right track,” said Evie Rabeck, whose 9-year-old son is entering the fourth grade at the Brooklyn School of Inquiry.

Since his elementary school transitions into a middle school, her son doesn’t have to fret about his scores as much as other kids might. But Rabeck still worried that the “nosedive” that schools took citywide would result in more “teaching to the test,” and she was concerned about the stress from the tests.

“He was a nervous wreck,” Rabeck said of her son around exam time. “It really wasn’t coming from the school. They were trying to prepare him, but downplay it. He wants to be perfect.”

Tough Teachers Get Good Results

I love this article by Joanne Lipman that appeared in the Wall Street Journal last weekend. You may want to read it on the WSJ site so that you can see all the comments added by readers. CLICK HERE to read the piece on the WSJ site. Lipman has just co-authored a book with Melanie Kupchynsky called “Strings Attached: One Tough Teacher and the Gift of Great Expectations.” It is just being published by Hyperion and can be purchased on Amazon. It’s a book I will absolutely read! I love the message, which is reflected in the article below.

Why Tough Teachers Get Good Results
I had a teacher once who called his students “idiots” when they screwed up. He was our orchestra conductor, a fierce Ukrainian immigrant named Jerry Kupchynsky, and when someone played out of tune, he would stop the entire group to yell, “Who eez deaf in first violins!?” He made us rehearse until our fingers almost bled. He corrected our wayward hands and arms by poking at us with a pencil.

Today, he’d be fired. But when he died a few years ago, he was celebrated: Forty years’ worth of former students and colleagues flew back to my New Jersey hometown from every corner of the country, old instruments in tow, to play a concert in his memory. I was among them, toting my long-neglected viola. When the curtain rose on our concert that day, we had formed a symphony orchestra the size of the New York Philharmonic.

I was stunned by the outpouring for the gruff old teacher we knew as Mr. K. But I was equally struck by the success of his former students. Some were musicians, but most had distinguished themselves in other fields, like law, academia and medicine. Research tells us that there is a positive correlation between music education and academic achievement. But that alone didn’t explain the belated surge of gratitude for a teacher who basically tortured us through adolescence.

We’re in the midst of a national wave of self-recrimination over the U.S. education system. Every day there is hand-wringing over our students falling behind the rest of the world. Fifteen-year-olds in the U.S. trail students in 12 other nations in science and 17 in math, bested by their counterparts not just in Asia but in Finland, Estonia and the Netherlands, too. An entire industry of books and consultants has grown up that capitalizes on our collective fear that American education is inadequate and asks what American educators are doing wrong.

I would ask a different question. What did Mr. K do right? What can we learn from a teacher whose methods fly in the face of everything we think we know about education today, but who was undeniably effective?

As it turns out, quite a lot. Comparing Mr. K’s methods with the latest findings in fields from music to math to medicine leads to a single, startling conclusion: It’s time to revive old-fashioned education. Not just traditional but old-fashioned in the sense that so many of us knew as kids, with strict discipline and unyielding demands. Because here’s the thing: It works.

Now I’m not calling for abuse; I’d be the first to complain if a teacher called my kids names. But the latest evidence backs up my modest proposal. Studies have now shown, among other things, the benefits of moderate childhood stress; how praise kills kids’ self-esteem; and why grit is a better predictor of success than SAT scores.

All of which flies in the face of the kinder, gentler philosophy that has dominated American education over the past few decades. The conventional wisdom holds that teachers are supposed to tease knowledge out of students, rather than pound it into their heads. Projects and collaborative learning are applauded; traditional methods like lecturing and memorization—derided as “drill and kill”—are frowned upon, dismissed as a surefire way to suck young minds dry of creativity and motivation.

But the conventional wisdom is wrong. And the following eight principles—a manifesto if you will, a battle cry inspired by my old teacher and buttressed by new research—explain why.

1. A little pain is good for you.

Psychologist K. Anders Ericsson gained fame for his research showing that true expertise requires about 10,000 hours of practice, a notion popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book “Outliers.” But an often-overlooked finding from the same study is equally important: True expertise requires teachers who give “constructive, even painful, feedback,” as Dr. Ericsson put it in a 2007 Harvard Business Review article. He assessed research on top performers in fields ranging from violin performance to surgery to computer programming to chess. And he found that all of them “deliberately picked unsentimental coaches who would challenge them and drive them to higher levels of performance.”

2. Drill, baby, drill.

Rote learning, long discredited, is now recognized as one reason that children whose families come from India (where memorization is still prized) are creaming their peers in the National Spelling Bee Championship. This cultural difference also helps to explain why students in China (and Chinese families in the U.S.) are better at math. Meanwhile, American students struggle with complex math problems because, as research makes abundantly clear, they lack fluency in basic addition and subtraction—and few of them were made to memorize their times tables.

William Klemm of Texas A&M University argues that the U.S. needs to reverse the bias against memorization. Even the U.S. Department of Education raised alarm bells, chastising American schools in a 2008 report that bemoaned the lack of math fluency (a notion it mentioned no fewer than 17 times). It concluded that schools need to embrace the dreaded “drill and practice.”

3. Failure is an option.

Kids who understand that failure is a necessary aspect of learning actually perform better. In a 2012 study, 111 French sixth-graders were given anagram problems that were too difficult for them to solve. One group was then told that failure and trying again are part of the learning process. On subsequent tests, those children consistently outperformed their peers.

The fear, of course is that failure will traumatize our kids, sapping them of self-esteem. Wrong again. In a 2006 study, a Bowling Green State University graduate student followed 31 Ohio band students who were required to audition for placement and found that even students who placed lowest “did not decrease in their motivation and self-esteem in the long term.” The study concluded that educators need “not be as concerned about the negative effects” of picking winners and losers.

4. Strict is better than nice.

What makes a teacher successful? To find out, starting in 2005 a team of researchers led by Claremont Graduate University education professor Mary Poplin spent five years observing 31 of the most highly effective teachers (measured by student test scores) in the worst schools of Los Angeles, in neighborhoods like South Central and Watts. Their No. 1 finding: “They were strict,” she says. “None of us expected that.”

The researchers had assumed that the most effective teachers would lead students to knowledge through collaborative learning and discussion. Instead, they found disciplinarians who relied on traditional methods of explicit instruction, like lectures. “The core belief of these teachers was, ‘Every student in my room is underperforming based on their potential, and it’s my job to do something about it—and I can do something about it,'” says Prof. Poplin.

She reported her findings in a lengthy academic paper. But she says that a fourth-grader summarized her conclusions much more succinctly this way: “When I was in first grade and second grade and third grade, when I cried my teachers coddled me. When I got to Mrs. T’s room, she told me to suck it up and get to work. I think she’s right. I need to work harder.”

5. Creativity can be learned.

The rap on traditional education is that it kills children’s’ creativity. But Temple University psychology professor Robert W. Weisberg’s research suggests just the opposite. Prof. Weisberg has studied creative geniuses including Thomas Edison, Frank Lloyd Wright and Picasso—and has concluded that there is no such thing as a born genius. Most creative giants work ferociously hard and, through a series of incremental steps, achieve things that appear (to the outside world) like epiphanies and breakthroughs.

Prof. Weisberg analyzed Picasso’s 1937 masterpiece Guernica, for instance, which was painted after the Spanish city was bombed by the Germans. The painting is considered a fresh and original concept, but Prof. Weisberg found instead that it was closely related to several of Picasso’s earlier works and drew upon his study of paintings by Goya and then-prevalent Communist Party imagery. The bottom line, Prof. Weisberg told me, is that creativity goes back in many ways to the basics. “You have to immerse yourself in a discipline before you create in that discipline. It is built on a foundation of learning the discipline, which is what your music teacher was requiring of you.”

6. Grit trumps talent.

In recent years, University of Pennsylvania psychology professor Angela Duckworth has studied spelling bee champs, Ivy League undergrads and cadets at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y.—all together, over 2,800 subjects. In all of them, she found that grit—defined as passion and perseverance for long-term goals—is the best predictor of success. In fact, grit is usually unrelated or even negatively correlated with talent.

Prof. Duckworth, who started her career as a public school math teacher and just won a 2013 MacArthur “genius grant,” developed a “Grit Scale” that asks people to rate themselves on a dozen statements, like “I finish whatever I begin” and “I become interested in new pursuits every few months.” When she applied the scale to incoming West Point cadets, she found that those who scored higher were less likely to drop out of the school’s notoriously brutal summer boot camp known as “Beast Barracks.” West Point’s own measure—an index that includes SAT scores, class rank, leadership and physical aptitude—wasn’t able to predict retention.

Prof. Duckworth believes that grit can be taught. One surprisingly simple factor, she says, is optimism—the belief among both teachers and students that they have the ability to change and thus to improve. In a 2009 study of newly minted teachers, she rated each for optimism (as measured by a questionnaire) before the school year began. At the end of the year, the students whose teachers were optimists had made greater academic gains.

7. Praise makes you weak…

My old teacher Mr. K seldom praised us. His highest compliment was “not bad.” It turns out he was onto something. Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck has found that 10-year-olds praised for being “smart” became less confident. But kids told that they were “hard workers” became more confident and better performers.

“The whole point of intelligence praise is to boost confidence and motivation, but both were gone in a flash,” wrote Prof. Dweck in a 2007 article in the journal Educational Leadership. “If success meant they were smart, then struggling meant they were not.”

8.…while stress makes you strong.

A 2011 University at Buffalo study found that a moderate amount of stress in childhood promotes resilience. Psychology professor Mark D. Seery gave healthy undergraduates a stress assessment based on their exposure to 37 different kinds of significant negative events, such as death or illness of a family member. Then he plunged their hands into ice water. The students who had experienced a moderate number of stressful events actually felt less pain than those who had experienced no stress at all.

“Having this history of dealing with these negative things leads people to be more likely to have a propensity for general resilience,” Prof. Seery told me. “They are better equipped to deal with even mundane, everyday stressors.”

Prof. Seery’s findings build on research by University of Nebraska psychologist Richard Dienstbier, who pioneered the concept of “toughness”—the idea that dealing with even routine stresses makes you stronger. How would you define routine stresses? “Mundane things, like having a hardass kind of teacher,” Prof. Seery says.

My tough old teacher Mr. K could have written the book on any one of these principles. Admittedly, individually, these are forbidding precepts: cold, unyielding, and kind of scary.

But collectively, they convey something very different: confidence. At their core is the belief, the faith really, in students’ ability to do better. There is something to be said about a teacher who is demanding and tough not because he thinks students will never learn but because he is so absolutely certain that they will.

Decades later, Mr. K’s former students finally figured it out, too. “He taught us discipline,” explained a violinist who went on to become an Ivy League-trained doctor. “Self-motivation,” added a tech executive who once played the cello. “Resilience,” said a professional cellist. “He taught us how to fail—and how to pick ourselves up again.”

Clearly, Mr. K’s methods aren’t for everyone. But you can’t argue with his results. And that’s a lesson we can all learn from.

Ms. Lipman is co-author, with Melanie Kupchynsky, of “Strings Attached: One Tough Teacher and the Gift of Great Expectations,” to be published by Hyperion on Oct. 1. She is a former deputy managing editor of The Wall Street Journal and former editor-in-chief of Condé Nast Portfolio.

A version of this article appeared September 28, 2013, on page C1 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Tough Teachers Get Results.

ERB Test is Going Away in NYC – What Does It Mean?

Here is a great piece in the NY Times about how NYC parents feel about the ERB test going away. CLICK HERE to read it at the NY Times website. My feeling is…don’t celebrate too quickly. The schools will replace it with some assessment (to be decided) and some schools will stick with the old test. My prediction is that kids will end up taking more tests rather than fewer to qualify for private school after the ERB goes away. Only time will tell!

Your 4-Year-Old Scored a 95? Better Luck Next Time

When other preschool parents bragged that their children had aced the admission test for New York City private schools with a top score of 99 in every section, Justine Oddo stayed quiet. Her twin boys had not done as well.

“It seemed like everyone got 99s,” recalled Ms. Oddo as her sons, now 7, scampered around a playground near Fifth Avenue. “Kids you thought weren’t that smart got 99s. It was demoralizing. It made me think my kids are not as smart as the rest of the kids.”

Her sons’ scores? Between them, they had one 99 and the rest 95s, which would still put them in the top 5 percent of all children nationwide.

A decision last week by a group of private schools to move away from the test, commonly known as the E.R.B., will spare many 4- and 5-year-olds from a rite of New York childhood that dates back half a century. But it could also bring an end to a particular New York status symbol — a child with knockout scores — and to the uncomfortable conversations that occur each year when results start rolling in.

From the Upper East Side to Brooklyn, score-dropping in playdates and parks is common, with high marks flaunted by the parents of children who excel with 99s and anguished over by those who have to explain anything less.

One wealthy couple even celebrated their daughter’s 99s by throwing a catered bash at their Hamptons home with their closest preschool friends, said Bige Doruk, founder of Bright Kids NYC, which prepares several hundred children for the test every year. “I was thinking to myself, ‘What are they going to do when their kid gets into their school of choice?’” she said.

On, the Web site where parents chat about their children, the ubiquitous 99s prompted one person to question whether that score was really special since “they seem to be a dime a dozen.” In response came complaints of rampant test-prepping and outright lying.

At the other end of the scale, some parents are quick to offer excuses for a relatively low score: their child was sick, tired or having a bad year. Amanda Uhry, founder of Manhattan Private School Advisors, said that one mother tried to explain away her daughter’s 68 by saying she had been bullied in preschool. “Whether it’s the E.R.B. or sports, parents see their kids as an extension of themselves,” Ms. Uhry said. “It reflects on them. They think, ‘What did I do wrong?’”

All this has led many private schools to try to discourage parents from comparing E.R.B. scores. Some have even likened it to one’s salary — the less said, the better. At the Mandell School, which has a preschool and kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school on the Upper West Side, administrators suspected that a few parents were actually inflating numbers in conversation. “We felt particularly ardent about the damage that that kind of information could do,” said Gabriella Rowe, the head of school at Mandell, which stopped requiring the E.R.B. for admission in 2010.

Last week the Independent Schools Admissions Association of Greater New York, which represents more than 140 private schools, cited concerns that scores had been inflated by widespread test preparation and thus was no longer an accurate measure of ability. It said that it would stop recommending its members use the test as an entry requirement after next year, though a new assessment is expected to be developed in its place. Most schools in the group are expected to follow the recommendation.

The test, a version of an exam known as the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence, consists of two sections: verbal (which includes vocabulary and comprehension) and performance (picture concepts and block design, among other skills). Students receive three percentile scores, one for each section and a combined mark; a proud parent might let it be known that their child was a “99 x 3” or simply a “99.”

The name E.R.B. is actually a misnomer; the test’s actual name is the Early Childhood Admission Assessment. E.R.B. stands for the Educational Records Bureau, which administers the test.

The bureau issued a report defending the test, saying that while scores had increased, they had done so only gradually over time. But the report also acknowledged “the alarming number of children” who score in the highest percentiles: in each of the past few years between 62 and 70 percent of the applicants to the independent schools represented by the association reached the 90th percentile, meaning they were in the top 10th of a national norm of students who took a version of the Wechsler test, and between 18 and 29 percent scored at the 98th percentile. However, the report said the average E.R.B. child was, statistically speaking, a higher performer than the average American child and that “this is not a new trend.”

Still, among parents the coaching issue has become the preschool version of steroids in baseball, with any chart-busting score arousing suspicion. Debra Mesnick, a pediatrician whose children took the E.R.B., said she knew parents who were prepping their children even though they acted as though they were not. “There were the names of $200-an-hour tutors floating around, but people didn’t admit to using them,” she said. Such is the touchiness of the issue that discussing the test has become its own test of social etiquette. Francesca Andrews Goodwin, whose three daughters attend Grace Church School in Greenwich Village, said that she was tight-lipped about her daughters’ results. “I found it very rude when people talked about it openly,” she said.

Jae Chun, a lawyer, said he would try to discreetly change the subject. “When someone told you their child scored an 80 percent, it was very awkward to say your child scored a 99,” he said. Another parent, Marie Bishko, said that parents became stressed because the E.R.B. “divides children into two piles” — the 99s, and everyone else.

Even more damaging than the social pressure is the potential for a nonstratospheric score to color a parent’s own perception of a child. One mother of three children said that her first son scored 99, but her second one received only a 90. “For a moment, you have to check yourself,” said the mother, who declined to be identified, but who admitted being surprised and disappointed.

Ms. Oddo, 45, whose sons now attend second grade at the Saint Ignatius Loyola Grammar School on the Upper East Side, acknowledged that she was a little embarrassed by their E.R.B. scores until she “came back to earth.” She added: “If you get a 95 on a test at school, that’s great. No one would expect your child to get 100s.”

Still, Ms. Oddo said she never talked about her sons’ scores at the time. And she was not the only one, she noted. Other than 99s, the only scores she heard were in the 70s and 80s, which were so low as to be credibly attributed to a lack of focus or just a bad day.

“People who had 80s, they always had justification,” she said. “Nobody talks about it if it’s in the 90s.”

Losing Is Good for You, By ASHLEY MERRYMAN

I am a HUGE fan of Ashley Merryman and Po Bronson and all their books. Here is a terrific piece she wrote in todays’s NY Times. To read it at the NY Times Website, CLICK HERE. I highly recommend their new book, Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing to all parents!

LOS ANGELES — AS children return to school this fall and sign up for a new year’s worth of extracurricular activities, parents should keep one question in mind. Whether your kid loves Little League or gymnastics, ask the program organizers this: “Which kids get awards?” If the answer is, “Everybody gets a trophy,” find another program.

Trophies were once rare things — sterling silver loving cups bought from jewelry stores for truly special occasions. But in the 1960s, they began to be mass-produced, marketed in catalogs to teachers and coaches, and sold in sporting-goods stores.

Today, participation trophies and prizes are almost a given, as children are constantly assured that they are winners. One Maryland summer program gives awards every day — and the “day” is one hour long. In Southern California, a regional branch of the American Youth Soccer Organization hands out roughly 3,500 awards each season — each player gets one, while around a third get two. Nationally, A.Y.S.O. local branches typically spend as much as 12 percent of their yearly budgets on trophies.

It adds up: trophy and award sales are now an estimated $3 billion-a-year industry in the United States and Canada.

Po Bronson and I have spent years reporting on the effects of praise and rewards on kids. The science is clear. Awards can be powerful motivators, but nonstop recognition does not inspire children to succeed. Instead, it can cause them to underachieve.

Carol Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford University, found that kids respond positively to praise; they enjoy hearing that they’re talented, smart and so on. But after such praise of their innate abilities, they collapse at the first experience of difficulty. Demoralized by their failure, they say they’d rather cheat than risk failing again.

In recent eye-tracking experiments by the researchers Bradley Morris and Shannon Zentall, kids were asked to draw pictures. Those who heard praise suggesting they had an innate talent were then twice as fixated on mistakes they’d made in their pictures.

By age 4 or 5, children aren’t fooled by all the trophies. They are surprisingly accurate in identifying who excels and who struggles. Those who are outperformed know it and give up, while those who do well feel cheated when they aren’t recognized for their accomplishments. They, too, may give up.

It turns out that, once kids have some proficiency in a task, the excitement and uncertainty of real competition may become the activity’s very appeal.

If children know they will automatically get an award, what is the impetus for improvement? Why bother learning problem-solving skills, when there are never obstacles to begin with?

If I were a baseball coach, I would announce at the first meeting that there would be only three awards: Best Overall, Most Improved and Best Sportsmanship. Then I’d hand the kids a list of things they’d have to do to earn one of those trophies. They would know from the get-go that excellence, improvement, character and persistence were valued.

It’s accepted that, before punishing children, we must consider their individual levels of cognitive and emotional development. Then we monitor them, changing our approach if there’s a negative outcome. However, when it comes to rewards, people argue that kids must be treated identically: everyone must always win. That is misguided. And there are negative outcomes. Not just for specific children, but for society as a whole.

In June, an Oklahoma Little League canceled participation trophies because of a budget shortfall. A furious parent complained to a local reporter, “My children look forward to their trophy as much as playing the game.” That’s exactly the problem, says Jean Twenge, author of “Generation Me.”

Having studied recent increases in narcissism and entitlement among college students, she warns that when living rooms are filled with participation trophies, it’s part of a larger cultural message: to succeed, you just have to show up. In college, those who’ve grown up receiving endless awards do the requisite work, but don’t see the need to do it well. In the office, they still believe that attendance is all it takes to get a promotion.

In life, “you’re going to lose more often than you win, even if you’re good at something,” Ms. Twenge told me. “You’ve got to get used to that to keep going.”

When children make mistakes, our job should not be to spin those losses into decorated victories. Instead, our job is to help kids overcome setbacks, to help them see that progress over time is more important than a particular win or loss, and to help them graciously congratulate the child who succeeded when they failed. To do that, we need to refuse all the meaningless plastic and tin destined for landfills. We have to stop letting the Trophy-Industrial Complex run our children’s lives.

This school year, let’s fight for a kid’s right to lose.

Ashley Merryman is the author, with Po Bronson, of “NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children” and “Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing.”

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