Finding the Right School

Could This Change Make NYC Kindergarten Admissions Easier – Or Harder?

Are you a New York City parent applying your child to public school Kindergarten for September 2019?

Congratulations! Here are just some of the forms you’ll need to fill out:

Interested in a traditional zoned Kindergarten? That goes on Kindergarten Connect! (Whether it’s your zoned school or not.)

Unzoned Kindergarten? Dual language Kindergarten? Magnet school? That’s Kindergarten Connect, too.

What about a Gifted & Talented program? That’s a separate test – and a seperate form. Unless, of course, we’re talking about The Special Music School. Then it’s back to Kindergarten Connect.

What about a public charter school? Some share a Common App. Some require that you apply to each school individually.

As things stand now, NYC parents have the option of ranking 12 different traditional public schools on one form, whichever G&T programs their child qualified for on another, and public charter schools on a half-dozen other forms. (For all the parents now asking, ‘What about Hunter? Where does Hunter College Elementary School fit on this list?” Hunter is not a public school. It is a publicly-funded school, which makes it closer to a charter, but it operates its own admissions process outside those listed above.)

A computer algorithm attempts to give each family its top available choice, while keeping the schools’ preferences in mind. Some traditional and charter schools are so popular, their wait-lists number in the hundreds and thousands. Others can’t even scrape up enough applicants to fill one class. (For tips on how to maximize the odds of getting into your first-choice school, click here. To learn the most common mistakes that will keep you out, click here.)

The process is time-consuming and complicated. To remedy that, some districts outside of NYC have started using a Unified Enrollment plan, wherein ALL public schools, traditional and charter, go on a single application.

For NYC parents, that would mean ranking an unzoned choice school like Central Park East alongside an unzoned charter like Success Academy Upper West. It would mean deciding whether you preferred the G&T program in another borough over your zoned school. It would mean deciding between Hunter and The Special Music School in advance, rather than waiting to see where you got in and then making your selection.

Is that a better or worse approach?

Some would say better. It streamlines the process and cuts down the application (and wait-list) season from February (when Hunter notifies acceptance) to March (when Gen Ed Zoned/Dual Language/Magnet/Unzoned notify acceptance) to April (when charter schools notify acceptance) to June (when G&T notifies acceptance).

Others would say worse. After all, it forces parents to make all their decisions in advance, and to judge all of their options in one swoop, as opposed to head to head.

When I was first dating the man who is now my husband (20th anniversary in January!), he ventured that it was easier to get a woman if she was already dating somebody. Then, you just had to be better than the guy she was dating. If she was alone, you had to be better than the imaginary guy in her head.

In helping families select the best schools for their children, I have seen the same scenario play out. Parents have an idealized version of the school they want in their heads, and nothing I say can talk them into exploring some slightly less perfect possibilities. You know, just in case that top choice doesn’t work out.

Three thousand children apply to Hunter. Only 50 get in. Eight hundred children apply to the Special Music School. Only 15 get in. Two-thirds of the children who qualify for a Citywide gifted school are shut out, as are one-half of those who qualify for a District program. More people don’t get their first choices than do.

That’s when the other choices come in. A dual language or a public charter school starts to look very different when you are comparing it with the General Ed school you did get into (yes, you can be placed against your will into a school you didn’t list if all your actual choices are full), versus the G&T school you were hoping for. Opinions change as options change.

I’m afraid that a Unified Enrollment plan in NYC would lock parents into making short-sighted decisions before they’ve looked broadly enough. They’d be ranking based on fantasy rather than reality, and they would overlook multiple good options while chasing the same “great” ones as everyone else.

I believe in school choice, just like the parents who opt for unzoned, gifted, and charter schools do. But I believe in giving families as many as possible before compelling them to settle for just one.

What do you think. Would a Unified Enrollment plan help or hurt applying to school in NYC?

What do you think?

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