Diminishing Choices: Why NYC Kids’ Pre-K Affects Where They Go To College

New York City kids are coming to the end of the 2017 application cycle, with general education Kindergarten as well as all Middle School and High School placements set to be released next month.

Yet, once again, families were not fully informed of all their choices, entering the process unaware that options diminish as students progress, and how picking a nursery school can reverberate all the way up to the college level

Friday, February 24th was supposed to be the last day to apply to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s signature initiative, Universal Pre-K For All (UPK). But the deadline was extended to March 3d when, for the third year in a row, the program that parents were supposedly clamoring for failed to fill its enrollment quota. Despite His Honor’s fervent insistence, parents know that all UPKs are most definitely not created equal, as outlined in UPK: Neither Free, Nor All Day, Nor High Quality.

In another development that seems unrelated, but is actually part of the Diminishing Choices crisis, earlier this month the Archdiocese of New York announced it would be closing six Catholic schools. One, St. Gregory the Great, will be shuttering its UPK program, while another, St. Peter and Paul, will be turning into a UPK site. (This may come as a surprise to those who thought the Mayor was against using public money to fund religious schools, but that’s a credo he ignores when  it doesn’t jibe with his own agenda!).

Although the Archdiocese promised that all children currently attending a soon-to-be-closed school are guaranteed a seat at another Catholic institution, for many parents that new school is either too far away or unsuitable for a variety of reasons.

In theory, these children should also be guaranteed a seat at their local public schools. But it isn’t that simple. Many of the most popular general education schools don’t have room for all their in-zone applicants, so if you don’t get in at the kindergarten level, it’s almost impossible to score a seat in the older grades. (That is, unless you know someone or have strings to pull, but that’s true anywhere, in any kind of school system.)

Because of my Secrets of NYC Schools books and workshops, parents come to me for help when their school unexpectedly closes. But those mid-elementary, pre-middle school years are tricky. The unzoned public school some turn to has no room. Dual language programs won’t take new students after the third grade – even if the child is fluent in both languages (which puts many programs, due to natural attrition, at perennial risk of being shut down). And Gifted & Talented programs only offer qualification testing for those in 2nd grade and below. Apparently, in NYC no child is gifted and/or talented after the age of 8.

Seats in under-subscribed schools are available, of course, and, as long as the Department of Education offers placement anywhere, they consider their obligation fulfilled. But would a family who, previously, was willing to pay for a certain level of academics, be comfortable in a school where only 5% of the students are performing at grade level?

Under such circumstances, I urge parents to look into public charter schools or private schools. But what of the family trying to move their child out of a failing school? Their options are even more limited because even if there were space, the student might not be up to the academic level the private school deems necessary.

Which brings us back to UPK and all preschools most certainly not being the same. Some prepare kids for Kindergarten G&T tests, which puts them on track for Honors middle schools, screened and Specialized High Schools and, eventually, college merit scholarships. Meanwhile, a teacher from a Bronx UPK confided to me that her families are so unprepared for the application process they don’t even know which schools go on which forms, much less how to apply for G&T or unzoned programs.

All this shows just how imperative it is that parents be made aware of all their school choices, the pros and the cons of every option, starting with pre-kindergarten. Parents need to know that their children’s opportunities diminish at every level.

What do you think?

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