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Borough kids left in a ‘school daze’ - Middle school students still aren’t making the grade, new report states

Brooklyn middle school students are not getting the education they deserve, an alliance of parent organizations says. A new report released by the Coalition for Educational Justice (CEJ) examines city schools catering to grades six to eight and found that the education children are receiving leaves a lot to be desired. According to the findings, which were compiled with data from the city and state Education departments, the majority of the city’s eighth-graders cannot read at required state levels. Students attending schools in low-income areas are more than twice as likely to be unable to read at the state standard than their wealthier counterparts. When kids get to high school, only 25 percent of African-American and Hispanic students graduate with a Regents diploma. These findings were unsurprising to Brooklyn parents who said that local middle schools have long needed work. “They’re not startling. We’ve known this for some time,” said Carmen Colon, president of the Association of New York City Education Councils and a parent of children in District 13 and 15 public schools. “I don’t think people understand that it’s more than an issue of race,” she said. “It’s an issue of class. “Minority parents and parents in middle-income to lower-income areas understand very simply that it’s the ‘haves’ versus the ‘have nots.’ It’s an issue of equity,” she continued. Colon suggested that the city’s struggling schools receive more funding and resources than thriving schools. “All the money is divided equally among the schools and that would be wonderful if the schools were equal to begin with but they never were,” she said. And middle schools require even more financial assistance. “Middle school children have always been the low ones on the totem pole in getting what they need. All you hear about is universal pre-K and theme high schools,” Colon said. The findings in CEJ’s report mirror standardized test results released just a few months ago. On the 2006 state English Language Arts (ELA) exams, the number of children who met or exceeded standards by scoring in the top two levels on the tests steadily declined from grades three to eight. Citywide, 61.5 percent of third-graders excelled on the ELA exam but in the eighth grade, just 36.6 percent of students placed in the highest brackets. Last year’s math exams were no different. Approximately 75.3 percent of the city’s third-graders scored in Levels 3 and 4. Of the city’s eighth-graders, just 38.9 percent met or exceeded standards. Schools Chancellor Joel Klein has acknowledged that middle schools need improvement. “That’s an area where we need to do some work,” he said at a meeting of District 20’s Community Education Council (CEC) last October. He went on to say that the eighth grade “is really the place where we’re not achieving as a city.” In response to CEJ’s report, the city Department of Education released a statement noting, “We have added an extra $40 million annually to fund academic interventions and improve instruction, closed failing schools, widely reconfigured grade structures to support instructional and social cohesiveness, and created small learning communities in large middle schools.” The DOE is also opening more schools serving grades kindergarten to eight with the belief that kids will be academically successful if they remain in one school building. While some say kids will benefit from the familiar surroundings, others say lowering class size is key to improving middle schools. “I don’t know how much of a difference it makes,” Mary-Powel Thomas, president of District 15’s CEC, said of K-8 grade schools. “I really think smaller classes are much more important. “The kids are going through a lot emotionally, hormonally and cognitively at that age and they desperately need a lot of adult attention,” she continued, “but they are not getting it in a classroom of 34 children.”

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