Finding the Right School · School Choice

Beyond The Zone: All Your NYC Elementary School Options (And How To Get Into Them) Explained!

For her last post in Education Week’s Bridging Differences blog, education scholar and advocate Deborah Meier writes:

The notion that we can leave (education) to the whims of individual parent choice in marketplace fashion is problematic. Good parents are inclined to put their own children’s immediate interests first.

Meier, as her bio states at the bottom, is the founder of Central Park East Schools in New York.

And what are Central Park East schools? They are unzoned schools that families can lottery into if they are unhappy with what their local public school has to offer, precisely the sort of “marketplace” parent choice that Meier concurrently claims to oppose.

Because, whether Meier likes it or not (and she must have liked it enough at some point), NYC parents do have choices beyond their zoned schools!

In her honor, we illuminate them below (and explain how to apply):

Unzoned Schools

Often more progressive and with less emphasis on standardized tests, unzoned schools are popular with a wealthier, more educated parent demographic. Unzoned schools give priority to children throughout the district, though accusations of manipulated waitlists arise yearly. Parents must rank unzoned schools on their Kindergarten Connect form, and demand almost always exceeds supply.

Gifted & Talented

An even more popular option with wealthier, educated parents who don’t find their general ed zoned school adequate, G&T requires a separate test and ranking on a different form. Seats are so limited that two-thirds of children who qualify end up shut out of programs.

Dual Language

Parents whose children fail to score a seat at an unzoned school or G&T will sometimes opt for Dual Language programs. Though initially created to help English Language Learners (ELLs), in many schools, Dual Language has turned into a way to give English-speaking children a further leg up, and to segregate them from general education classes. To apply, parents must rank a dual language program on Kindergarten Connect separate from the overall school. Once again, demand for French and especially Mandarin programs, exceeds supply.

Special Music School

A public/private partnership, this tiny conservatory, which only accepts 15 out of the over 600 children who apply from all over the city, was NYC’s top-scoring school in 2017! Although you rank it on Kindergarten Connect, SMS has its own audition process, where children are assessed for musical giftedness. Along with a general education, accepted students receive top-notch, privately-funded instruction in either piano, violin, or flute.

Charter Schools

Chartered by the state and given more flexibility with personnel and instruction, as well as the length of the school day and year, three of NYC’s top 10 schools were charters in 2017. The charter application process requires its own form. Like unzoned schools, charters give priority to district residents, and enroll via lottery. They also prioritize ELLs. No testing is required, and hundreds more families apply than there are available seats.

Hunter College Elementary

The school even parents who swear they fervently believe in public schools are willing to make an exception for, HCES is not a public school (i.e., not managed by the Department of Ed), but a school funded with public money. In that way, it’s the original charter school. However, its stellar reputation as a school for the highly-gifted (though a 1993 book found that questionable), overrules moral principle (as Meier predicted it would), and prompts over 2,500 Manhattan moms and dads to battle over what ultimately is 50 Kindergarten spaces (25 boys and 25 girls). Hunter requires parents to get their child tested by a licensed psychologist, and runs its own application process, the rubric for which has never been publicly disclosed.

Private Religious and Independent Schools

NYC offers an embarrassment of riches when it comes to private school options, including K-5, K-8, and K-12 schools, traditional and progressive schools, single sex and coed schools, religious and secular schools, as well as schools with a special focus on the arts, sciences, social action, etc.. Parents must apply to each school separately, and comply with their individual requirements. Millions of dollars in financial aid are available, just in case you’re not a celebrity dad (who totally believes in public schools… for other people), like Matt Damon.

Due to all of the above various tracks, it is possible, at the end of this (sometimes 18-month) long, exhausting, and frustrating process, for families to be offered a seat in a general ed school (which might include an unzoned or Dual Language program), a G&T school, HCES, more than one charter, and more than one private school.

Parents can then choose the situation that’s best for them.

Because that’s what good parents do, according to expert Deborah Meier. The only question is, why is she making being a good parent sound like a bad thing?

What do you think?

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