Snow Days in June? Check Your Local Listings

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Note to public school parents: Adjust your calendars. Though the rains keep coming this spring, the winter was a mild one, and in many schools, two snow days that were never used are being given back to students at the end of June.

But there's a catch, as Anna M. Phillips reported in The New York Times on Friday: after having those two days off, students must come back to school for a half-day of classes, for one final counting of attendance.

That's state law, and missing the last day could affect students' -- and schools' -- attendance records, which count for everything from a student's admission to a middle or high school to a school's progress report grade.

Making it all the more tricky is that the policy is being decided on a school-by-school basis. As Inside Schools reported on Friday:

Last week, Chancellor Dennis Walcott issued a surprise memo giving all schools the option to use June 25 and 26 for professional development. Extra days added in case of severe weather had gone unused during the mild winter.

Many schools hastily opted for professional development after conducting a vote among teachers. Some schools also are asking parents to vote on the matter, although such votes typically are arranged with little notice. "It's really up to the principals to decide," said Department of Education spokeswoman Margie Feinberg, adding she didn't know how many schools had decided to cancel classes.

Some parents are not happy with that. As Inside Schools summed up:

No school on June 25 and 26 is good news for parents and kids eager for an early start to summer vacation. But it is an unwelcome surprise for working parents whose summer plans don’t begin until June 28, and who must now arrange child care during what they had assumed would be two full school days.

For teachers, it is less complicated: those schools that opt to close schools to students will be holding professional development sessions, many organized around the new Common Core curriculum standards, and teachers will have to attend, anyway.

In any case, it's up to you, public school parents, to find out your school's decision.

Also in the news this weekend: the problems that resulted in the invalidation of SAT tests at Packer Collegiate Institute in Brooklyn Heights this weekend are more severe than were first reported.

Last week Jenny Anderson reported in The Times that the scores of 199 students who took the exam at the school were invalidated, and students were told they had to take them over again, after officials noted that proctors failed to set up students' desks at least four feet apart, as required by the test-makers.

On Saturday, Tanya Caldwell reported that an internal memo obtained by The Times showed the proctoring problems were more extensive. According to The Times:

Before the test began, proctors left booklets unattended in classrooms for approximately 15 minutes, and during the test they were “on cellphones, on laptops, reading books and reading test materials,” all of which were prohibited, according to the memo. They also allowed students to select their own seats for the exam, a direct violation of a rule that calls for test supervisors to seat students randomly. And, as the students returned to their test rooms after breaks, the proctors failed to verify or even ask for identification.

Packer officials at first had thought the decision by the Educational Testing Services, which administers the SAT, to invalidate the students' scores was an overreaction. On Friday they expressed surprise at the extent of the problems, The Times reported:

Packer was to be a host for another SAT exam in June but it has been ruled out as a testing site while the school makes “the necessary adjustments for next testing year,” the memo said.

Bruce Dennis, the head of Packer, said he relieved the supervisor of her testing duties after the scores were thrown out. He said he had not been told of the range of violations and was “blindsided,” to learn of them during an interview on Friday night.

“This is an extremely bad situation,” he said. “They’ve taken what I thought was an overreaction and just made it worse.”

Also this weekend, an opinion article in The Times's Sunday Review makes a strong argument for school desegregation, noting that it is "one tool that has been shown to work." But on the 58th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education, which wiped out laws that allowed black and white students to be educated in schools that were "separate but equal," desegregation is effectively dead, writes David Kirp, a professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley.

It's worth quoting extensively from the article, as it is extremely thought-provoking, especially considering the series in The Times, "A System Divided," that shows school segregation in New York City is as pervasive as ever (and don't forget this graphic):

To the current reformers, integration is at best an irrelevance and at worst an excuse to shift attention away from shoddy teaching. But a spate of research says otherwise. The experience of an integrated education made all the difference in the lives of black children -- and in the lives of their children as well. These economists’ studies consistently conclude that African-American students who attended integrated schools fared better academically than those left behind in segregated schools. They were more likely to graduate from high school and attend and graduate from college; and, the longer they spent attending integrated schools, the better they did. What’s more, the fear that white children would suffer, voiced by opponents of integration, proved groundless. Between 1970 and 1990, the black-white gap in educational attainment shrank — not because white youngsters did worse but because black youngsters did better.

Not only were they more successful in school, they were more successful in life as well. A 2011 study by the Berkeley public policy professor Rucker C. Johnson concludes that black youths who spent five years in desegregated schools have earned 25 percent more than those who never had that opportunity. Now in their 30s and 40s, they’re also healthier — the equivalent of being seven years younger.

Why? For these youngsters, the advent of integration transformed the experience of going to school. By itself, racial mixing didn’t do the trick, but it did mean that the fate of black and white students became intertwined.

And one more thought, which should be fodder for debate during this era of school reform: integration meant that “...their teachers and parents held them to higher expectations. That’s what shifted the arc of their lives," Mr. Kirp writes.

The entire piece is worth reading for anyone who worries that efforts to turn around school achievement are still falling short, despite a plethora of programs, ideas, reforms, upheaval and standards.

Also in the news: The tabloids were busy this weekend reporting about a lawsuit brought by a teacher charging that the United Federation of Teachers sold out its members by making concessions to the city to cover up an incident involving Michael Mulgrew, the union's president. The New York Post reported:

UFT President Mike Mulgrew was caught “in flagrante delicto” with a guidance counselor at William Grady HS, where he taught before becoming the union’s boss, a bombshell lawsuit charges.

The accusation that Mulgrew was seen having sex with a co-worker in a woodshop at the vocational school, and that it was hushed up, comes in a rambling 73-page suit filed in Brooklyn federal court last week by Andrew Ostrowsky, a math teacher at Frank Sinatra HS of the Arts in Manhattan.

Ostrowsky, 35, names Mayor Bloomberg, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, Mulgrew and the UFT, claiming the teachers union conspired with school officials to quash the scandal. It accuses the city of using the favor to “extort” labor concessions.

Mr. Mulgrew and other union officials denied the accusations, and noted that the lawyer for the teacher had previously been fined for filing frivolous lawsuits.

And, finally, see how Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott spends his Sundays, in a Sunday Routine article in The Times's Metropolitan section. Hint: It is extremely healthy.

Here's some of what's going on in education in the city on Monday:

At 10 a.m., Williamsburg Charter High School will be in Brooklyn Supreme Court arguing that it should be allowed to stay open. "Parents and community members will rally in support of WCHS in front of the court house at 9:00 to share success stories of WCHS students. Differing from the majority of school closures, none of the NYCDOE’s concerns regarding WCHS are related to the school’s academics," a news release says.

At 2 p.m., Mr. Walcott will visit Staten Island Technical High School, and at 5:30 p.m. he attends a District 9 Town Hall meeting at Public School 110 Theodore Schoenfeld, 580 Crotona Park South, the Bronx.

Monday is the deadline to apply to the Achievement First Endeavor Middle School in Brooklyn. "Coffee and conversation" can be had from 7:45 to 9:45 a.m. at the K-12 Achievement First Endeavor Charter School, 510 Waverly Avenue, but you must have RSVPed.

And Jam On DUMBO is sponsoring Music Week at P.S. 307 Daniel Hale Williams, "five days of music programming for the elementary school’s students." According to a news release: "During Music Week, Jam On DUMBO is bringing more than a dozen musicians, educators and performers to P.S. 307 (209 York Street, Brooklyn). Students will be exposed to different types of music and movement and have the opportunity to explore the importance of music in their own lives."