Finding the Right School

Some Families Don’t Know How To Exercise School Choice. Others Don’t Know They’re Already Doing It: An Open Letter To Both

Kindergarten Connect, the form New York City parents use to apply to public school Kindergarten for September 2019, came out on December 5 after being delayed from its originally announced date, December 3, presumably due to the ongoing disaster that is the new Parent Portal.

Kindergarten Connect was designed to help all families exercise school choice. The problem is many parents don’t even know that they have choices, much less what those choices might be or how to go about getting them.

I wish I could go door to door and explain everything. I wish I could shout it from the roof-tops. But since I’d probably be arrested, I’m going to try and do what I can, here and now:


Yes, almost all families have a zoned public school. No, you are not required by law to go there.

Kindergarten Connect has 12 slots where you can rank any 12 schools in order of preference. The schools do have their own priorities, including siblings and children who live in the zone, so ranking a school does not guarantee you getting a seat.

Parents often ask me, “Should I bother ranking a school I have little chance of getting into?”

I tell them, “If you don’t rank it, you have no chance.”


So go ahead, rank a school outside of your zone.

Rank an unzoned school – if you live in the district, you have as much of a chance of getting in as anyone else.

Rank a Dual Language program – if your child is a native speaker, he or she gets priority for admission!

Rank a magnet school – they often receive extra money from the state for special programming.

Audition for The Special Music School – a public/private partnership where your child gets free music lessons along with top-ranked academics.


Because you can.

Because you don’t have to settle for a school you don’t like just because it happens to be within walking distance, and the Department of Education would really prefer you went there, because it would make it easier for them.

Because you don’t have to make it easier for them.

Because other parents are already doing this.

Because your children deserve no fewer choices than theirs do, even if many of my conversations with families who do come to me for help choosing the right school go like this:

“Oh, no, we don’t believe in school choice. School choice means charter schools, and we’re committed to sending our child to public school. We really believe in diversity.”

“So you’ll just be ranking your zoned public school then?”  

“Well, if we don’t get into Hunter College Elementary School.”

“That’s not a public school,” I correct.

“But it doesn’t cost anything to attend!”

“It’s a publicly funded school, but it’s not under the Department of Education. It’s administered by Hunter College and it’s actually closer to being a charter school due to the – ”

“But it’s a school for highly-gifted children, right?”

“It’s a school for children of college educated parents who have been read to, yes.”

“If we don’t get into Hunter, we’ll apply for a public school Gifted & Talented program, hopefully a citywide, even though that might mean travelling outside our neighborhood, but we’re sure it will be worth it.”

“The G&T schools, including Hunter, are some of the most segregated in the city. You did say you were committed to diversity.”

“We’re applying to The Special Music School, too.”

“Only about 15 kids out of 800 get into the Special Music School,” I am professionally compelled to point out. “Two-thirds of those who qualify for an accelerated Citywide G&T school, and half of those who qualify for an enriched District G&T don’t get a seat, either.”

“I know,” they sigh. “It’s just so unfair.”

“So, about your zoned school – “

“Unfortunately, it’s just not the right fit for our child. Maybe if we could get into the Dual Language program, we’d consider it. We’ll probably rank that, just in case. But, in the General Ed, half the students aren’t performing at grade level. Not that we’re obsessed with test scores, not like charter schools. Still, we’d prefer something more progressive. There’s an unzoned school in our district, and a few outside of it that we’re going to rank ahead of our zoned school.”

“That’s the correct strategy, rank the schools in the order you genuinely prefer. If you’re placed in any school other than your first choice, you’ll be waitlisted at all the schools ahead of the one where you were placed.”

“If we’re waitlisted, we have friends at the school, they’ll vouch for us, help us get a spot. And, of course, if nothing works out, we’ll just move into a better zone.”

“So it looks like you’re in good shape. We’re so lucky to have so much school choice in NYC.”

“Oh, no,” they remind me sternly, not unlike MacArthur Genius winner Nikole Hannah-Jones who literally wrote an article entitled, Choosing a School For My Daughter In a Segregated City. “We don’t believe in school choice.”


What do you think?

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