Finding the Right School

NYC’s Top 25 Elementary Schools for 2018 & How You Can Get In!

Last year’s post on NYC’s Top 10 Elementary Schools By Test Scores: What Makes Them Special – And How You Can Get In proved such a reader favorite, we’ve updated it!

Because many schools make a return appearance, we’ve expanded our list to the top 25, and added details about how some of them get those high scores.

Here are NYC’s top 25 elementary schools for 2017-18:

  1. Special Music School: See last year’s list, and this video for tips on getting in.
  2. TAG Young Scholars: See last year’s list and this video on citywide G&T schools.
  3. PS 172 Beacon School of Excellence: See last year’s list and below.
  4. PS 77 Lower Lab School: See last year’s list and this podcast on the difference between General Ed and District G&T programs.
  5. NEST+M: See last year’s list and this podcast on getting your child in after Kindergarten.
  6. Success Academy – Cobble Hill; See last year’s list and this video of their principal explaining how they are NYC’s top school for closing the achievement gap.
  7. 30th Avenue School: See last year’s list.
  8. Success Academy – Crown Heights: See last year’s list.
  9. The Anderson School: See last year’s list.
  10. Success Academy – Bronx 1
  11. Success Academy – Harlem 4
  12. Success Academy – Upper West
  13. Success Academy – Bronx 3
  14. Success Academy – Union Square
  15. Success Academy – Hell’s Kitchen
  16. Success Academy – Harlem 5
  17. Success Academy – Bed Stuy 1: See last year’s list.
  18. Success Academy – Bronx 2
  19. Success Academy – Harlem 3
  20. PS 196 Grand Central Parkway
  21. Success Academy – Bergen Beach
  22. South Bronx Classical Charter School
  23. Brooklyn School of Inquiry: The citywide school that got rid of homework.
  24. Success Academy – Prospect Heights
  25. Success Academy – Harlem 2

So, what can we learn from this list about how these schools manage to get all their students performing at or above grade level

To start with, it helps if you screen for admission, like the citywide gifted schools – Anderson, NEST+M, TAG, 30th Street School and Brooklyn School of Inquiry – do. (Special Music School screens for musical giftedness.) And if you’re a district G&T program, it helps to be a stand-alone school like Lower Lab, so your students’ test scores aren’t mixed in with General Ed.

Because two-thirds of kids who qualify for a Citywide G&T seat, and half of those who qualify for District G&T seats are shut out for lack of space, parents often get their children tutored for the exams. If parents are willing to get their kids tutored for the entrance exams, they’re also likely to get them tutored for the state tests. And then, what do you know, the schools take credit for their high test scores!

But what about schools that don’t screen for admissions? 2018’s #3, PS 172 The Beacon School for Excellence, is a neighborhood school in Brooklyn. The majority of their students are Hispanic (76 percent), a fourth of whom don’t speak English at home. Eighty-seven percent are Free Lunch. They’re exactly the demographic that Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Richard Carranza have so little faith in achieving, that they need standards lowered for them in order to be competitive for top high schools.

And yet, these students are excelling! (Be careful, PS 172, the last time a school full of brown children beat NYC’s jewels in the crown gifted programs, the city took over their admissions, explaining how they’d be able to do a better job!).

So how does PS 172 do it? Inside Schools reports:

The school has strong, stable leadership and gives teachers lots of time to plan their lessons together. Rather than relying on textbooks, the staff has put together its own curriculum with a rich mix of carefully-thought-out units on topics such as poetry, the solar system, multiplication or the history of Mexico. There is consistency from class to class and a logical progression from grade to grade. Every month the curriculum is revised based on the needs of the students. Each summer, the entire staff revises the curriculum after discussing what worked best and what needs improvement…. “There is at least one teacher in every grade who really loves math. We try to have some in each grade who have a love of science, and a love of history.” A number of teachers majored in math in college—unusual among elementary school teachers.

Starting in November, teachers identify children in grades 3-5 who are struggling and invite them to attend special classes from 9 am to noon each Saturday.

The #20 ranked school, PS 196 Grand Central Parkway, is another neighborhood school in Queens. Their students are majority White and Asian, and only 25 percent qualify for Free Lunch. The school is overcrowded, due to so many families moving into the area specifically so they can attend. English Language Learners make up only 5 percent of the student body, but, for those who are struggling, there is extra help available after school, as well as early morning tutoring and a Saturday Academy.  

Number 22, The South Bronx Classical Charter School, has an even higher Free Lunch rate than PS 172, 88 percent,, and serves a majority Hispanic and Black population (which, according to the Department of Ed’s bizarre logic, makes it adequately “diverse”). Students start learning Latin in 3rd grade, and the school day runs until 4:30 PM. Admission is by lottery, no screening.

Inside Schools reports:

There’s a heavy emphasis on learning facts and honing skills…. The tone is orderly and formal. Children wear uniforms and must adhere to a strict behavior code. When listening to the teacher, they’re expected to sit up straight with hands folded on the desk; a student may be admonished for behavior such eye-rolling, sulking, whining and talking back.

And then there are all those Success Academies (SA). These schools regularly outperform within their districts, even affluent ones like Brooklyn’s District 15, especially when it comes to minority and economically disadvantaged students, as evidenced by the charts below:

Overall Performance

School # Test Takers Passed Math Passed ELA Level 4 Math Level 4 ELA
SA Cobble Hill 132 100% 98% 95% 48%


Demographics of Test-Takers at SA Cobble Hill

School EcD Black Hisp White Asian MRO % EcD %



% Hisp % Wh % Asian % MRO
SA Cobble Hill 61 35 31 43 15 8 46% 27% 23% 33% 11% 6%


SA Cobble Hill Math Pass Rates by Demographic

SA Cobble Hill Overall Pass Econ Disadvantaged Not Econ Disadv. Black Hispanic White Asian
100% 100% 100% 100% 100% 100% 100%


District 15 Math Pass Rates by Demographic

District 15 Overall Pass Econ Disadvantaged Not Econ Disadv. Black Hispanic White Asian
56% 42% 77% 37% 35% 78% 72%


SA Cobble Hill ELA Pass Rates by Demographic

SA Cobble Hill Overall Pass Econ Disadv. Not Econ Disadv. Black Hispanic White Asian
98% 95% 100% 94% 97% 100% 100%


District 15 ELA Pass Rates by Demographic

District 15 Overall Pass Econ Disadvantaged Not Econ Disadv. Black Hispanic White Asian
57% 41% 80% 47% 39% 80% 60%


What does this mean? It means that Success Academies’ methods – which have attracted both praise and controversy – work for some children, at least when it comes to test scores.

It also means that families who want their children to test well and are comfortable with how those test scores are achieved should continue to have the option of enrolling in such schools. The same way that parents who prefer a more progressive approach currently have the option of attending unzoned schools. The same way that parents who believe in a second language have the option of dual language schools, and the same way that parents who want a faster-paced curriculum can apply to Gifted & Talented programs. (Even when that gifted program isn’t technically a public school.)

Giving all parents all kinds of choices just makes sense mathematically. Especially when we’re talking about test scores like the above.

What do you think?

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