Not a day has gone by over the past couple of weeks that a family I’m working with hasn’t emailed to cheer that they’ve finally gotten off the waitlist at their first-choice school, usually kindergarten, but sometimes other grades, all the way up through high school.
For most parents, summer is the time when you can take a well-deserved break from thinking about your child’s schooling (summer slide, aside). But that’s not the case in New York City. For many, summer is an academic nail-biter.
That’s because school placement here is rarely a straightforward process. When it comes to kindergarten admissions, for instance, private schools and Hunter College Elementary notify the February prior to the September when your child will start school. Public general education placement is announced in March. Charter schools hold their lotteries in April, and Gifted & Talented assignments come out in late May/early June.
While there is minor movement all throughout the spring, summer is when the fun really starts. A family who received their first choice Gifted & Talented school drops the spot they were holding in public general ed kindergarten. The family who gets that spot drops the space they were holding in a charter school. The folks who got the charter school seat they wanted give up their space in a private school, which goes to a child who surrenders a G&T spot, which goes to a child who… and so on into the fall.
Public school rolls close at the end of October, and some families receive their calls as late as the week of Halloween, asking if they’d like to move their child to the school where they were waitlisted. Institutions only receive funding for children enrolled prior to the deadline and, at that point, are desperately scrambling.
Do all schools maintain an honest queue? Of course not. Anyone who tells you they do is lying. Either to you or to themselves. There are all sorts of ways to work a waitlist.
But it still doesn’t answer the question: What’s with all the frantic string-pulling and anxious waiting, if all public schools, as per Mayor Bill de Blasio, are equally good?
Could it be that, unlike the Mayor, not all families agree on what a “good” school is?
There are those who equate “good” with test scores. Or an accelerated academic program. But then there was this mom, who chose a progressive general ed over her district’s top G&T. And this mom, who moved her daughter from a highly ranked neighborhood school to a citywide, though it increased her commute. Or parents who chose a dual language charter, or ones that moved their child, required to attend kindergarten prior to turning five years old, from a public school to a private one that accommodates her age.
We still have a problem, though. Because while not all parents want the same thing for their child’s education, there are not enough schools of any kind to accept all the families who want them (hence, the aforementioned waitlists).
That progressive public school – the one Matt Damon never considered, even though it’s right in his neighborhood and he is such a public school advocate – gets hundreds of applications for about 50 seats. Another one is in such demand, the principal has been accused of cherry-picking families.
On July 27, 2018, with much fanfare and his beloved press releases, de Blasio announced a new 1,000-seat school coming to Staten Island. He didn’t say what kind of school it would be, just that it would be fabulous.
At least as fabulous as the state-of-the-art school opened in 2017 on the Upper West Side, the one that was going to fix both segregation and minority student underachievement. That school is currently experiencing dropping enrollment and operating under-capacity.
Meanwhile, on the same day, New York State Senator Tony Avella proposed legislation to expand the number of elementary school G&T seats as a way to increase Black and Hispanic attendance at the Specialized high schools, instead of changing the admissions method, as the mayor and school chancellor would prefer (now that their own children are done benefiting from screened schools).
Bear with me now, I have a really crazy idea: What if school types were determined by the numbers of students clamoring for them? (What’s the matter? Are you against data and accountability? Are you one of those anti-science people?)
Why doesn’t NYC give families more of the schools they do want (as indicated by the number of kids applying to accelerated, progressive, and charter schools), and not force them to attend schools the administration believes they should want, but don’t (as indicated by classrooms standing empty.)
Those who want accelerated will get accelerated (whether or not they score well on an arbitrary IQ test for 4 year olds). Those who want traditional will get traditional, and those who want progressive will get progressive! Same goes for dual language, or a music-based curriculum, or schools that focuses on social-emotional learning!
How about we let all parents choose the educational path they believe best for their child, and then – this is where it gets really radical, so you might want to hold onto something lest your mind be completely blown – we demand the government serve the people, instead of the other way around?