Streams

A Middle-School Student Overlooked by the High School Draft

Monday, April 02, 2012 - 09:03 AM

The New York City public school system has about 1.1 million students -- a number so large that it is easy to forget that it is made up of individuals. In his On Education column in The New York Times this Monday morning, Michael Winerip reminds us of the many young lives in the city's hands, and puts the focus on one of them.

The column tells the tale of Omri Shefet, a somewhat quirky middle-school student at East Side Middle School on the Upper East Side who has found his niche: sports knowledge. His obsession with topics like Tim Tebow versus Mark Sanchez helped him create a circle of friends, including some teachers and administrators at East Side. Unfortunately the city's high schools apparently had no special place for such a talent, Mr. Winerip writes.

That so many people know Omri became important a few weeks ago when the 69,000 eighth graders across the city learned what high schools they had been selected to attend next year. Of the 127 eighth graders at East Side, only five were not picked by any school, and Omri was one of them.

Needless to say, when everyone around you is ripping open envelopes and celebrating, and you are not, it is a difficult time for a 13-year-old.

“I was speechless,” Omri recalled. “Everyone else was saying, ‘I got in, I got in,’ and I just felt dumb and stupid. I had anger in me I never really felt before. I didn’t know how to react.”

After the anger had subsided, and with the help and support of East Side's caring teachers and administrators, Omri started over. He went on to Round 2 of the high school application process -- a period even more fraught with anxiety and worry than seems healthy for a middle-school student -- visiting schools, going on interviews and focusing on his second round of choices.

Later this new month, like thousands of other unlucky students, he will know where he has been placed. Readers of Monday's On Education column will surely be rooting for him.

Also in the news this weekend, Diane Ravitch, the education historian, explains in The Daily News how misguided the city's policy of banning 50 words on standardized tests really is.

The Internet has been abuzz, with media around the world focusing on the silliness of the city's policy to ban words like dinosaur, abuse, war and even Halloween from standardized tests. Ms. Ravitch, who had pointed out earlier that this policy goes way back and is not a city initiative, explains in an opinion article how it is the product of lobbying by special interest groups -- not, as a city spokesman said, an attempt to avoid invoking "unpleasant emotions" in students.

If the policy is intended to help students and their chances of succeeding on standardized tests, she writes:

How can a good science test forbid reference to evolution, dinosaurs, geological history, vermin, alcohol, tobacco, drugs, disease and bodily functions? Beats me.

How can a good social studies test avoid asking about war, terrorism, nuclear weapons, politics, poverty, religion, disasters, crime or loss of employment? Beats me.

Anyone who does not work at the DOE’s Tweed headquarters can quickly see that such tests will be stripped of much of their meaningful educational content.

But more importantly, the DOE has no understanding of why it is banning so many common topics from its tests. This is less about the sensitivity of children than it is about the influence of powerful political lobbies. And generally speaking, these lobbies don’t even reside in New York City.

Some of the pressure to freeze out those words is from religion fundamentalists, as well as from feminists and lobbyists for other specific political causes, Ms. Ravitch said. Her column adds meaningful information to a debate that most media outlets, unfortunately, treated as merely a harsh joke at the expense of New York City schools.

Here's what is happening this Monday, a short week for public school students (spring break starts on Friday):

A public hearing on the turnaround plan for Herbert H. Lehman High School in the Bronx is scheduled for 6 p.m. at the school, 3000 East Tremont Avenue.

The Community-Word Project, an education arts organization that has been working with students since 1997, will feature the work of students at its annual benefit, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Bonhams New York, 580 Madison Avenue.

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