Elementary School Report Card
Does your local grammar school make the grade?
Our 155 Elementary Schools (Click Here for PDF Chart/ Full Breakdown)
How to Grade Yours–
Here’s our first-ever survey of the county’s public elementary schools. In cooperation with the Lower Hudson Council of School Superintendents, we’ve asked
These students at
Way back then, the only report cards we cared about were the ones our children brought home in their backpacks. “Accountability” was something that we had to worry about in April when taxes were due, and “No Child Left Behind” wasn’t even a slogan. What we cared about was that the local school taught our son and daughter how to read, write, and do math, and that our children were happy to get on the big yellow school bus in the morning.
It’s not so simple now. Today, looking at what factors make a top-notch elementary school can be difficult—which is why we asked schools superintendents and experts for input. As a reporter who has covered
You probably have your own measures of what constitutes a happy child in a good school. We hope the assessments we’ve looked at helps.
fourth-grade class at
The Little Schools That Could
No one is particularly surprised when an Bronxville or a
Principal Cynthia J. Slotkin credits the kids, the parents, and the community. “My student body and community are just fantastic,” she says. But ingenuity and creativity probably deserve as much or more credit.
The school, for example, takes advantage of its proximity to Manhattanville’s
Manhattanville student placement and they offer us staff development," says Slotkin. The school also is open from 7:30 am to 6 pm, giving educators more time to provide extra help (there are test-practice tutorials and homework sessions offered after school); extra challenges (enrichment programs in the arts, technology, theater, and sports are offered); and extra programs (in January, the school launched a walking club and intramural boys and girls basketball—all before school—and will soon offer a cheerleading club, too). The five-year-old after-school program serves 140 children—more than one-forth of the student body.
Declares Slotkin: “It’s not the length of the day that matters; it’s the quality of the program. It has been an incredible success.” And the perks are not only for the kids. There are workshops, in Spanish, for parents.
Arts, theater, and music round out the three Rs at
Similarly impressive is the Brookside school in
HOW YOUR SCHOOL IS STRUCTURED
And Why It Matters
According to the Westchester-Putnam School Boards Association, there are 155 elementary schools in the county (there are, for example, five in White Plains, 11 in Mount Vernon, and 29 in Yonkers)—and they are not all structured alike.
While most of the county’s elementary schools are organized in the traditional kindergarten-through-fifth-grade configuration (or K to 4, or K to 6), especially in smaller communities where there is only one elementary school (e.g, Ardsley, Dobbs Ferry, and Tuckahoe), others—often in less affluent communities but not exclusively so—have a different structure, something known as the Princeton Plan. With this plan, the elementary schools are organized not by geographic location (i.e., all kids residing in a certain designated area go to the same school) but by age (all five- and six-year-olds, say, attend one central school and all seven- and eight-year-olds another, and so on). The combination may be different—all kindergarteners, first graders, and second graders attend one school while everyone else attends another. What are the benefits to using the Princeton Plan?
Diversity, for one, experts say.
Take districts such as Greenburgh Central 7, whose schools generally are less diverse than its population because, says Town Supervisor Paul Feiner, the wealthy tend to favor private schools. The Princeton Plan, by bringing kids from all over town to the same school, helps to integrate the school, if not the community, by mixing privileged kids with underprivileged ones, Caucasian children with Hispanic children, Jewish youngsters with Catholic youngsters. Elmsford Schools Superintendent Carol Franks-Randall says, “Our schools are a melting pot—and it’s beautiful to see.”
Another benefit, educators maintain, is consistency. “Everybody’s on the same page,” says John Chambers, superintendent of the
Those who favor the Princeton Plan say there are social benefits as well. “K to five is a big age spread,” Chambers says. “In a K-to-two building, kids get a broader range of social experiences, with a broader sample of friendships.” Celia Oyler, a professor at
Of course, the big downside is there’s no “neighborhood school,” says Joan Rosen, director of public information for the Mamaroneck Public Schools, which has a traditional K to 5 structure. "We do not have a bussing system," Rosen says. "It strengthens the community feel when neighbors and families go to school together.” And many parents may not be thrilled, either; they may be spending more time in their car driving their child to play dates.
Sometimes districts also organize by what’s known as “magnet schools” or, as White Plains prefers to call them, “parent-choice schools,” in which a school focuses on a theme—the arts, say, or science and technology—and students gain admission by a lottery. Three of
AVERAGE CLASS SIZE
And Why Small Is Better
Size matters—a lot. When it comes to educating our kids, especially our youngest kids, the smaller the number of children in the classroom, the better. With fewer kids in the classroom, teachers can provide more individual attention and greater personal instruction. Lots of research bears this out. One of the best-known studies, the Tennessee Class Size Project, found a direct (that is, positive) correlation between smaller class size and student performance—and not just in the short term.
The study looked at kindergarten through third-grade classrooms of 22 to 25 students, classrooms of 22 to 25 youngsters in which the teacher had an aide, and classrooms of 13 to 17 students. It found improvement in early learning and cognitive studies among the kids in the smaller classes and found that improvement was especially significant (almost double) among minority students. Indeed, African-American youngsters in smaller classes in the early years, the
Says Sara Wilford, director of the Art of Teaching Program at
You also need money. Very often there is a correlation between the wealth of a community and the class sizes in its school. Take Briarcliff Manor, for example, where the median household income is $157,880, versus
And Why It’s No Longer PC
There are times when it seems as if every child in Westchester inhabits the rarefied precincts of
Gifted education, or, more precisely, what are now known as “pull-out programs” that target children identified by IQ or other measures as being in need of greater intellectual challenges, largely have fallen by the wayside in most districts. Partly, they were seen as politically incorrect—aren’t all children in some way gifted? Plus, they weren’t exactly pound-smart. These programs served perhaps no more than 10 percent of a class; how does a district defend spending its hard-to-get money on so few students?
Although federal legislation in 1972 required that all students be tested and identified, whether for special education (students who needed tutoring and help of some sort) or gifted education (students who needed more challenge than their classmates), federal funds somehow only materialized for special-needs students, not for “gifted” ones. Districts found it difficult to financially support programs for the gifted. Fewer and fewer districts even have a once-a-week session for gifted students to explore subjects in greater depth. Declares JoAnne Ferrara, chair of curriculum and instruction at
Districts favor an “enrichment for all” model, in which a teacher may work in the homeroom classroom with all students on a special project, or provide extra readings or math problems for a few students. If you’re the parent of a child who’s been designated as gifted, you’re going to have to work closely with his or her teacher to be sure that there are challenging assignments or projects, not just more-of-the-same—and probably look outside for other experiences.
And Why the Sooner the Better
Face facts. The world your young child lives in is becoming more and more global. To succeed, he or she will need proficiency and fluency in more than English—even if English continues to become our universal language. Foreign-language education, experts say, is not a frill, or something to be assigned to a lunchtime enrichment program or to an after-school club.
“We are being quite myopic,” says Ofelia Garcia, a Teachers College professor. “The world is going to have such an advantage over us. All over the world, foreign language education is booming.”
Some of our districts seem to understand the need for early foreign-language education better than others. Local districts that have significant non-English-speaking populations—for example, Tarrytown,
Perhaps the most impressive foreign-language program in the county was started at the
HOW DIVERSE IS THE SCHOOL
And Why It’s Important
Diversity? Why should this matter? There is research suggesting that students who know how to navigate in classrooms where not everyone looks alike are better prepared than those who are in homogeneous schools. “The population in the
According to a Briefing Report by the U.S. Commission of Civil Rights, "recent studies have found that students who attend more diverse schools have a higher comfort level with members of racial and ethnic groups different from their own and a greater desire to live and work in multiracial settings."
And What They Really Mean
Standardized tests aren’t about to win any popularity contests. But you can’t get away from them. They matter because they tell us how well students have learned the material that
Students are graded from a low of 1 (not meeting the learning standards) to a high of 4 (meeting the learning standards with distinction) on these tests. Schools in which a high percentage of students receive grades of 4 can be said to be performing well. For example, in
But of course, there’s a correlation between how well students do on standardized tests and how financially well off their parents are. “Generally, wealthy families’ kids do well on tests and in school,” Shine says. He notes, too, that there’s a high correlation between the parents’ level of education and the child’s performance. The more educated the parents, especially the mother, the better a child does in school, he says.
Still, some schools, despite the disadvantages their student populations may have—non-English speaking parents, poor parents, uneducated parents—manage to have students who perform remarkably well on these standardized tests.
Take, for example, the
Greenburgh Central School 7, the
And Why It’s So Cool
Lots of schools make lots of noise about their technology programs, or classroom innovations. Beware: no matter how hefty a budget line, or how glitzy and glossy the shiny computers appear in the classroom on Open School Night, what matters is that the teachers in the school know how to use them.
“Technology is good only if it enhances instruction and provides more of an in-depth analysis,” says Manhattanville’s
Technology is not a substitute for teaching, but it can make the material more accessible to children and provide resources that go beyond the textbook.
In Bill McKeon’s fourth-grade classroom at the
“The board assists children who are visual learners,” says McKeon, who has been working with this system for the past six years. He writes problems that are projected onto a six-by-four-foot board at the front of the room, which the students can then work on from where they’re sitting by means of a stylus pen that controls the board. As the students manipulate the numbers to solve the problems and then make up new problems, their facility with a particular math technique improves, says McKeon.
“It brings all of what they do to life,” says Rye Neck Superintendent Peter J. Mustich, who has made it district policy that these interactive boards are in every classroom.
EXTRA, EXTRA, EXTRA
and why school doesn't end at 3 pm
Think back to your elementary school days. Chances are what’s stayed with you are some of those special events and activities—maybe a school play, perhaps a field day in a local park. You probably moved here precisely because you wanted to give your children those extras.
Luckily, many schools have made it their mission to offer students a variety (a great variety) of experiences—whether through before- or after-school programs, lunchtime specials, or push-in classroom workshops that offer creative and fun moments designed to bring out students’ talents and imaginations. Good school districts recognize that these programs matter because children aren’t simply the sum of their standardized tests, and have skills, talents, and abilities that deserve to be developed.
It’s not about having a mandatory longer school day, but about providing resources, space, and staff to offer tutoring, dramatics, nature walks, music, and other opportunities to students who want them.
It’s no surprise that districts like Scarsdale give its fifth graders a chance to develop an independent research project—great training for the types of academic challenges that middle school and high school present. Nor should it be a surprise that Blind Brook students can learn flamenco, or that Briarcliff Manor children have a chance to participate in the National Circus Project. And many districts have partnerships with arts organizations, from the
What may surprise is that some of the less affluent districts do such a good job at providing these extras, too.
Similarly, in Elmsford, where the student body is 42-percent Hispanic and the median family income is $78,000,
students get help in reading and math before and after school. There’s also a lunchtime enrichment club, and a robotics club in partnership with
And Why It’s Not As You Remember It
If you were one of those kids who loathed the very idea of gym class (and ran out of creative excuses to avoid PE sometime by Thanksgiving), you might wish you were a student in White Plains.
Instead of focusing on competitive sports and performance, the district—and specifically, the Mamaroneck Avenue Elementary School—has shifted to what Jody Cole, district coordinator of health and physical education for White Plains, calls “an emphasis on making children comfortable with themselves in a physical setting.”
Which means what, exactly? “The emphasis is not on athletics,” she says. "It’s more about enjoying and understanding the
benefits of physical and mental activity. ” So, instead of typical competitive sports, in which kids spend a lot of their time as bench warmers during gym class, Mamaroneck Avenue students are more likely to be grouped in teams trying to figure out how to use a rope to swing themselves across a pit. Or there could be a gym class focusing on dancing, or yoga. Some of this is a response to state standards. Now even gym class has specific curriculum goals that have to be met.
“Physical education is certainly a necessity in this world,” says Greg Ransom, director of athletics for Southern Westchester BOCES. “Obesity is an epidemic, particularly in young children. We need to get kids into a habit of eating right and exercising. A healthy child has a better opportunity of succeeding in the classroom.”
Merri Rosenberg, a freelance writer, happily sent her two children through the Ardsley schools. She covered schools and education for the New York Times Westchester section for more than
Additional reporting by Carol Caffin.