In the Atlantic’s profile of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, he touted a system for tracking how well elected officials fulfill their campaign promises by the end of their terms. Then he said the news media don’t do enough of this:
And the thing that I find the most frustrating is that the Fourth Estate never picks up on it. They’ll write a story about those things that you said were a dumb idea, or those things that didn’t work, and never give you any credit for the other things. And never hold other elected officials to task.
Recently, GothamSchools did just that with Bloomberg’s school policies for the 2011-2012 academic year. We looked at every policy promise made by Bloomberg or top Department of Education officials in the past year and wrote about how much had been accomplished, started, tabled, and pushed aside. Here are parts 1, 2, and 3.
Computers are cool now, right? This is what the venture capitalist Fred Wilson asked me this last week, when I interviewed him about his ambitious plans to recreate the rigorous Stuyvesant High School computer science curriculum in a new, software engineering-themed public school opening this fall. Unlike Stuy, which is a hyper competitive specialized school, the Academy for Software Engineering will be “limited unscreened” which is basically education jargon for “open to any student, regardless of their academic performance.”
In Room 307 of Manhattan’s Stuyvesant High School, 23 students spent a recent afternoon copying tables and number trees representing a mathematical problem-solving technique used in graphic design computer software.
The students, who all won admission to Stuyvesant by posting top scores on an entrance exam, listened raptly as their teacher, Mike Zamansky, walked them through the complex algorithm behind “seam-carving,” a process used in resizing images. Then Zamansky checked to make sure they understood.
“No problem? Seems reasonable? or ‘Huh’?” he asked, offering students the chance to signal by a show of thumbs whether they understood or needed more help. No one pointed a thumb down.
Zamansky has been teaching computer science since 1995, through a program he designed for students to follow from sophomore to senior year. Stuyvesant’s program is the only rigorous computer science sequence in the city’s public schools and one of the few in the country.
Now it is the inspiration behind a new city high school that aims to change that.
Founded by an influential venture capitalist with deep ties to the technology industry and a young principal fresh from the city’s training program, the Academy for Software Engineering will be the city’s first school to focus on software engineering. The goal is to extend the approach of Zamansky’s classes — which teach problem-solving, network communications, and programming language literacy — to any student in the city, even if they can’t make the cut for Stuyvesant or don’t even have a computer at home.
Read the rest here.
I think a home without books gives off an upsetting vibe somewhere between nomad and serial-killer—the gaps in the bookshelves make everything else look slightly uprooted.
I try to avoid betraying how uprooted I often feel, but in the early months of my move to New York City the absence of the books I had dutifully lugged from California to my college dorm room to my first and second apartments made me feel worse than anything else. When I had guests over I prominently displayed The City Room and The Day Kennedy Was Shot and River Town by my bed, and always apologized, like the lone shortstack of books was a character flaw.
Last week Ben sent me the penultimate box of books I left sitting on his shelves in Chicago, and finally my bookshelves are full. Every time he sends some books he has to chose which ones he thinks are most important to me.
This month it was:
The Book of Daniel by E. L. Doctorow
Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Grammar
For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
The Wind-Up bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
New and Collected Poems of Czelsaw Milosz
The Completed Poetry of Cesar Vallejo
Real Live Nude Girl by Carol Queen
Como agua para chocolate by Laura Esquivel
He also sent me a letter. I’ve been thinking a little about the value of letters because I just got my first Letter in the Mail from The Rumpus this week, written by the hilariously insightful Margaret Cho. To have an address, and see it used, is a new comfort to me.
Ben used to write me sweet notes on index cards to accompany holiday presents and anniversaries. This time the letter came handwritten on a lose sheet of notebook paper he cribbed from one of the half-dozen “Evidence” reporter’s notebooks I have in circulation. It says:
Sheets of reporter’s notebook paper are the new index cards, dontcha know? In any event, here is a box of books for you. When I was making it—trying to figure out which of the volumes remaining in the smaller-but-still-bigger-than-I-feel-like-it-has-any-right-to-be-at-this-point pile you would most appreciate, I came across The Book of Daniel, and remembered first-year Ben in a now non existent Border’s, agonizing over what to get this bright young thing who cared about social justice and good writing. Things have changed so much since then, since we gushed back and forth at each other about Hamlet, Ulysses, Godot, but that first shared love remains, even if there’s never enough time anymore. I know we’ll share it in the future too, whether on dates to the theater or rolling awake lazily on a weekend morning to find you reading something you can’t wait to share with me. I hope this box finds you well. See you soon.
This fall, Orlando Geigel used his hour-long D train commute from the South Bronx to Brooklyn to practice math problems from a review sheet to prepare for his first set of college finals. The answers were written on the back, but he waited until the end of each ride to check his work.
Geigel, a 2011 graduate of the Bronx School for Law, Government and Justice, rarely studied in high school, and he didn’t think much about it in college, either — until he failed his first midterm in October.
That’s when Geigel turned to Bottom Line, New York City, a branch of a 14-year-old counseling program in Boston that aims to address the challenges that lead many low-income, first-generation college students to drop out.
Nationally, 89 percent of those students who enter college leave without a degree within six years. The City University of New York reports that just 24 percent of its full-time students — mostly graduates of city high schools — receive degrees within six years of entering college for the first time.
The striking statistics have prompted city and state officials to argue for the first time that schools should be judged by their students’ ability to succeed in college. They have also prompted a constellation of nonprofit groups to try to ease the transition from high school to higher education.
Some of those groups place privately funded counselors inside schools. Others outsource counseling entirely — in Bottom Line’s case, to an office in Downtown Brooklyn where high school and college students come for individual guidance about applying to college and adjusting to its demands.
This year, Bottom Line is working with 125 high school seniors and 20 college freshmen. Those numbers are set to rise to 800 high school students and 850 college students in 2016.
Of the 600 students Bottom Line has supported in Massachusetts, 74 percent have graduated from college within six years, according to the organization.
The boost came not from bolstering students’ algebra or grammar skills, but by teaching them study skills and work habits that their high schools might have ignored, according to Ruth Genn, Bottom Line NYC’s executive director.
“We don’t provide tutoring, but what we do help them with is time management, understanding the syllabus,” Genn said. “If they come to us and say, ‘hey I’m having trouble with math,’ we help them find a tutoring center. It’s advising, mentoring, parenting, advocating.”
That kind of attention is exactly what Geigel said propelled him to graduate from high school — and what he missed when he arrived at the New York City College of Technology in September.
“In high school, I used to have the teachers on my back every day telling me, you, do this or I’ll call your parents, you’ll get in trouble,” he said. “In college, the professors give you the work and if you don’t do it, it’s your fault.”
He had trouble adjusting to that culture shock until he began meeting with Risa Dubow, a Bottom Line counselor, in October after a friend urged him to apply to be part of Bottom Line’s inaugural class. For the first year, Bottom Line recruited students through word of mouth, in addition to partnerships with nonprofits that manage schools and CUNY’s Center for School Support and Success.
“It’s important to talk to your professors,” Dubow told him. “They’re not always going to be on your back.”
Dubow, who previously worked as a college adviser with the Harlem Children’s Zone, also suggested he use an array of organizational and study tools he hadn’t considered before, such as reviewing his essays for grammar and coherence before submitting them to a professor, blocking out schedules for work time and free time, and renting a sociology textbook for his sociology class.
Bottom Line structures its programs around one-on-one counseling that takes place by appointment. Geigel meets with Dubow as often as three times a week, and he is also one of many students who visit the classroom-like office overlooking Brooklyn’s Borough Hall frequently to do schoolwork. He spent a recent December afternoon there studying for a sociology exam on immigration patterns in the United States.
“This place got me back on track,” Geigel said. “I think I’d be failing without it. I would think about dropping out already.”
I don’t have any idea what I want to get out of this Tumblr account, and that’s a problem for it. I created it to document my journey through graduate school. But now that I’m a beat reporter for a wonderful website and permanently on-deadline, there is no point in re-posting all of my stories. Especially when I’m writing as many as six stories a week.
But I have been thinking a lot about what I want to get out of New York City, now that I’ve finally warmed to the notion that I’m here to stay, and my personal belongings have finally migrated over here from Chicago (my bike, 50-plus pounds of books, my immersion blender). The problem is, I’m usually so tired when I’m done with work that I spend most of my free time staring at the floor of my apartment trying to figure out where I’m supposed to go.
What am I supposed to be doing right now? It’s a question I always knew how to answer in college. I used to duck into the bathroom in the middle of a lecture on global warming, or Don Quijote, to take calls from my editor at the New York Times. I always had my priorities straight.
When I’m lucky, I have friends who bring me along to explore Lower East Side bars, a chef who gives me food and compliments, and an Upper West Side grandmother to visit who bears many, terrifying similarities to me and is quietly losing her mind. She still gives me the best advice, even if it’s usually, “Get your feet off the sofa!” This is how I fill my time, but there’s not much intention behind it.
I feel compelled to keep posting (barely), because I’ve been reading a lot about what young people in big cities are supposed to be doing with themselves, and most articles say that being lost is what your early 20s are really about.
So that’s a relief.
My work life is the one place where I’m starting to feel un-lost. I think that’s because I’m doing meaningful work.
I say this in part because I don’t need anyone to convince me that journalism can be a great calling in at least as many ways as it can be an echo-chamber of sniping and shallowess. And I also say this because the type of journalism I get to do means something to people in government and the teachers in the classroom—our readers. And it means something to me—how cool is that?
Here’s an example of a story I’m pretty proud to have told. A few weeks ago, GothamSchools published a series of stories about a recently-opened high school in Queens that was facing some debilitating administrative problems. My story brought more attention to the school, where the Chancellor’s daughter works, and city officials said they’d take action.
On November 15, after my editor received some emails from people at the school, I made some phone calls and ran out to Queens to cover a PTA meeting. The next day I wrote this story:
A year-old Queens high school that expanded to meet community demand is struggling under the weight of its own ambitions.
Located in a suburban section of Queens, Queens Metropolitan High School promised rich course offerings and a rigorous academic program to its 650 ninth- and 10th-grade students. But the ambitious plans left little room for error, and because of staff changes, space issues, and poor planning, Queens Metropolitan students have gotten new schedules as many as 10 times since September.
On Monday, up to three periods of classes were canceled for many 10th-grade students, who sat in the auditorium and cafeteria as administrators feverishly worked to hash out new schedules, according to accounts from parents, students, and staff… (Click the headline to read more.)
On November 17, Department of Education officials discussed the story at their monthly Panel for Education Policy meeting (this is why I love covering local government):
The agenda for tonight’s Panel for Educational Policy meeting, held in Queens, contained just two topics: School locations and the Department of Education’s financial contracts.
But it was scheduling crises at two Queens high schools that dominated most of the meeting at Astoria’s Frank Sinatra High School of the Arts, drew just a few dozen parents.
We reported this week that Queens Metropolitan High School had revised students’ schedules as many as 10 times this year amid an organizational crisis. Last month, NY1 reported that thousands of students at Long Island City High School were enraged after the school changed their schedules midyear.
Tonight, Department of Education officials vowed to repair the damages. Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky, who stepped in at Queens Metropolitan on Wednesday, called the debacles “rare” and vowed that they “will not be repeated.”
After the meeting, the schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said his role in the school was “limited” because his daughter works there as a gym instructor. Gym was one of the subjects affected by the school’s problems.
The following week, I wrote a final story based on a follow-up with the parents who originally shared the issues their son encountered at the school: DOE officials promise swift changes for Queens high school.