Accountability · Finding the Right School

The Sorting Hat: How NYC’s Kindergarten Admission Really Works

Last week, I received the following email from a parent:

I‘m being told by the parent coordinator at our zoned school (PS 11Q) that general ed school choice is not real, and my child will be attending the zoned school no matter what I ranked.

The PS 11Q parent coordinator did not schedule any open houses or info sessions before the kindergarten app deadline because she thinks it is a bogus exercise.

She chided me for thinking my child could end up going elsewhere and really demonstrated hostility to the idea of school choice. She also disparaged the idea of parents applying for G&T, and spouted off about how special ed kids bring down the test scores at her school which also turned me off because my child gets some speech and OT services this year.  

All in all, she made me quite nervous about sending my child to that school and I’m feeling quite trapped right now.

So is the parent coordinator at PS 11 Q correct?  Is the whole ranking process just a sham?

($%@&*! Insert multiple swear words here.)

As I wrote in my very first New York School Talk post, I have made it my mission in life to make sure all families know all their school choices – and how to get them.

And here this paid employee of the NYC Department of Education is saying not to bother — you’re stuck where you are no matter what!

Public school choice is not a sham. I work with hundreds of families every year to help them apply — and get into — out-of-zone schools, unzoned schools, Gifted & Talented programs and charter schools they believe will serve their child better than their local zoned school.

However, competition for the handful of schools parents consider acceptable is fierce: Some traditional public and charter schools have waitlists of up to 800 kids for just kindergarten alone!

And the admissions process is hardly straightforward. I advise the families I work with, “anyone who says the waitlist follows a straight queue is lying — either to you or to themselves.”

Now, I’m not talking about schools like the publicly funded Hunter College Elementary. There, children are required to take an IQ test given by a Hunter-approved private psychologist. The score is then forwarded not to the parents (who paid for it), but to Hunter directly. Hunter claims they invite the top scoring 300 out of the almost 3000 who apply (do they honestly do that? We don’t know!) to their Second Round assessment, where children are evaluated based on unrevealed criteria, and then 25 boys and 25 girls are accepted. (Is the process fair and unbiased? We don’t know! Hunter doesn’t have to explain themselves!)

And I’m not talking about the public Special Music School (SMS), where about 800 kids are evaluated for musical giftedness, and 15 are accepted. What are the evaluators looking for? How do they decide? We don’t know! SMS doesn’t have to explain themselves to anyone either.

The schools I’m talking about are general education schools that are supposed to accept all children from their zone first, before moving to their out-of-zone waitlist, and the unzoned and citywide schools that are supposed to hold completely unbiased lotteries, where any family has as much of a shot of getting in as any other family.

And yet, schools like Central Park East have been facing accusations of cherry-picking their students for years. Why else would an institution designed to bring progressive education to East Harlem report the majority of their students residing on the Upper West Side? Well, you see, they’re “committed to enrolling parents in sync with their progressive model.” Ah, OK, then.

Another parent wrote me that The Brooklyn New School asked prospective families to fill out a questionnaire regarding gender, family income, home language, Individualized Education Plans, and even whether the child is adopted! None of that is supposed to matter for lottery-based admission.

The Hell’s Kitchen unzoned PS 212 was stopped from giving out similar questionnaires a few years ago. Theirs also had a question about how you intended to contribute to the school. They encourage families already enrolled to recommend others. Because, like Central Park East, they want to make sure everyone is on the same page. Not because they’re being selective with admissions. They can’t do that! They’re a general ed public school!

Meanwhile, PS 17 in Queens was calling out-of-zone parents even before 2019 Kindergarten Connect placement was announced to offer them a spot. Maybe the parent coordinator from PS 11Q who claimed school choice wasn’t a thing should talk to the parent coordinator at PS 17Q, who clearly embraces it! When I reached out for comment via email, the school’s website, and social media, I received nothing beyond a (presumably automated) thumb’s-up on their Facebook page. I inquired if that was their official reply. Nobody got back to me.

So to answer the parent from above: You absolutely have the right not to settle or be cowed, and to keep pushing until you find the ideal fit school for your child.

But is it an equal playing field process? Of course not.

Is there string-pulling going on? Without a doubt.

Does it favor the informed and the connected? Of course it does. (Does being a celebrity – or the child of a celebrity – help? Damn skippy!)

Should you ignore what your parent coordinator said and do what’s best for your child by applying broadly?

Yes, yes, and yes.

That goes for everyone currently wondering the same thing. (For tips on how to work a waitlist, click here.)


What do you think?

More Comments