Last week, the big New York City news was: Amazon Is Coming To Long Island City, Queens!
While pundits debated what that will mean for housing prices, public transportation, and other quality of life issues, The Wall Street Journal hoped for improved student tech training and internship opportunities, The Daily News revealed that it would displace the offices of over 1,000 public school employees, and Chalkbeat, as usual, had the best analysis, touching upon homeless students, English Language Learners, corporate partnerships, gentrification, and overcrowding.
Now we take a deeper look at the issues that will affect schools and families the most:
General Education Schools
There’s no getting around it. Long Island City schools are already operating at 102% capacity, despite what that Simpsons clip says:
More potential students means more potential overcrowding. But not only in Long Island City. Just because Amazon will be building their headquarters there doesn’t mean that’s where the majority of employees will choose to live. Other districts will feel the impact, even outside of Queens. The Upper East Side of Manhattan is just across the way, which is also the site of some of the most desirable public elementary and middle schools in the city.
As it stands now, families living in the zones of NYC’s highest performing schools aren’t guaranteed a seat. All of the top schools have wait lists. An influx of new families will not only make those lists longer, it will also make it harder for out-of-zone families to receive the coveted seat they might have in the past.
Even if low-income families live side-by-side with Amazon’s workers, it’s not at all clear their children will learn together. Long Island City is home to New York’s largest housing project, and whether high-earners would opt into schools where many students are poor is an open question.
In my experience, they’re not doing it now. Which opens the question of, where will these new families go?
Gifted & Talented Schools
More families will also mean more competition for Gifted and Talented seats. Already two-thirds of those who qualify for Citywide and half of those who qualify for District G&T programs are not placed due to demand outpacing supply.
Roosevelt Island’s PS 217 currently accepts applicants for its G&T program from both Manhattan’s District 2 and Queens’ District 30. It would be logical to increase the number of G&T programs in both districts, as well as citywide. But Mayor Bill de Blasio and School Chancellor Richard Carranza have made it clear they have no intention of doing so, despite repeated pleas from parents.
In fact, historically, G&T programs have been shut down when the number of families in the neighborhood suddenly increases, in order to turn those seats into General Ed ones.
Families shut out of G&T programs and unhappy with their neighborhood school options often turn to charter schools, due to some of the latter’s outstanding test scores or other factors.
But, just like with G&T, the Mayor and Chancellor refuse to approve many more of those, either.
Preschool has been the Mayor’s pet cause ever since assuming office. He expanded Universal Pre-K, claiming he was responding to parental demand (for a change), despite the program operating both under-capacity and over-budget. He triumphantly announced a 3PK initiative, despite a lack of funding, space, qualified teachers, and proven results.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is also a champion of preschools. In fact, he’s set aside money to open a chain of his own, inspired by the Montessori teaching method and targeting children from underserved communities.
Could Amazon become a competitor for the mayor in his favorite educational space? How will de Blasio react if Amazon’s offerings prove more popular than his?
“Why don’t we have as many private schools in Queens as they do in Manhattan?” a family I was working with just asked me.
If public schools are overcrowded, G&T schools more competitive than ever, and charter schools forbidden from expanding, could we see new private schools coming to Queens? Or even outer-borough outposts of current Manhattan stalwarts? Imagine a Dalton or a Brearley or a St. Anne’s… Queens
As Silicon Valley boomed and newcomer families began swarming previously homogeneous Northern California communities, media coverage proliferated about how they were changing their schools:
Parents say they’re leaving because the schools are too academically driven and too narrowly invested in subjects such as math and science at the expense of liberal arts and extracurricular activities like sports and other personal interests.
In other words: Too many Asians busting the curve.
We know where the NYC Mayor and Chancellor stand on Asian students. They’d like to see less of them, middle-class or poor, in Specialized High Schools. Many affluent families of all ethnicity agree. It’s why that demographic champions college-style (Harvard?), “holistic” admissions for Screened High Schools, which take into account personal essays and interviews about “extracurricular activities like sports and other personal interests.”
Will an Amazon headquarters in Long Island City raise the exact same issues that have been haunting Silicon Valley schools for almost two decades now?
And how will NYC respond?
What do you think?