Why Every Day Is Groundhog Day In New York City Schools (UPK Edition)

In the 1993 movie, Groundhog Day, Bill Murray’s cynical anchorman is doomed to relive the same day, over and over again, until he learns his lesson. (For the local angle, it was also a Broadway musical, last year.)

With the holiday that inspired the movie coming up this Friday, February 2, what better time to take a look at how New York City parents are constantly being given the same pie-in-the-sky assurances over and over again – without anyone seemingly learning their lesson?

It would be too overwhelming to focus on every allegedly life-changing school program touted by the NYC Department of Education, and so this week we’ll focus on Universal Pre-K (UPK) because the 2018 application will be available next Monday, February 5.

Let’s start at the very beginning….

  • On January 6, 2014, Mayor Bill de Blasio promised, “The goal is that every single child, at pre-k age, has full-day pre-k available to them in a reasonable – within a reasonable distance of their home… (N)o wait-lists, no you have to go ten miles away. It should be available locally for every single family.”


  • On March 25, 2014, Deputy Mayor Richard Buery boasted, “We’re going to help people who are graduating from our public universities, and people who work already at neighborhood-based organizations, to get the training and certification they need to further their careers in early childhood education.


  • On June 3, 2014, as the first round of acceptances went out, the mayor pronounced his initiative an unqualified triumph, though he did hedge, “[w]hether your child is accepted to a public school program this week or not, there are more options—both at community facilities and at other public schools—to find the right fit.”


  • On November 12, 2014: “So waiting lists – central Queens, lower Manhattan… not every seat is going to be right down the block, some will take a little bit of travel.”


  • On September 9, 2015, a reporter asked de Blasio why, if 73,000+ seats are available, only 65,000+ are full? The Mayor replied, “(I)f you want the seat that works for you best, that’s nearest to your home, or nearest to your work, the faster you act, the more chance you’ll get the seat you want.” (Ed. note: UPK is not first-come, first-served.)


  • On April 20, 2017, the Mayor’s press office announced that 74 percent of families received an offer to their top choice. (They did not announce that, consequently, 26 percent did not.) And that thousands of unclaimed seats were still available. Come and get them, folks….


  • On April 24, 2017, despite both wait-lists for neighborhood programs and a documented lack of demand for programs families deemed unacceptable, not to mention parents protesting being arbitrarily assigned to centers up to 40 blocks from their homes, a “full-day” curriculum that still forced working parents to scramble for childcare in the afternoons and summers, religious schools receiving public money, and a massive shortage of qualified teachers (forget the promised Master’s degree in every classroom, even Bachelors in Early Childhood Ed are now optional), de Blasio announced that he would be expanding his Universal Pre-K to 3 year olds. As soon as he figures out how to fund it.


Of course, fear not: Just like with UPK, you will get your first choice, there will be no wait-lists, and everything will be within walking distance. (Now where have we heard that before?)

Finally, on June 19, 2017, de Blasio threatened “chaos, gridlock, and corruption” if Mayoral control of schools was not renewed. But the very worst thing, he stressed, would be the potential loss of UPK. Which has already proven to be an indispensible success, achieving everything from raising test scores (despite the fact that those who went through the program have yet to sit for any state tests) to reducing teen suicide (despite the fact that those who went through the program have yet to reach their teen years; and also, seriously?).

So, to summarize for those parents about to embark on their NYC public school Pre-K journey, Universal Pre-K is in so much demand that you should hurry and sign up as soon as possible, all centers are absolutely equal in quality, all families will receive a space in their neighborhood, all teachers will be highly qualified, and this one year’s effects will continue to improve your child’s life well into their dotage.

What do you mean your personal experience (and a couple of site visits) indicates otherwise? We keep telling you and telling you that everything is wonderful (please see dispatches above).

Who are you going to believe, the Mayor’s press office, or your own observations?

How about it, Punxsutawney Phil?

What do you think?

More Comments