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Pre-kindergarten offer letters went out today to nearly 68,000 city children born in 2012, and 85 percent got an offer to one of their top three choices; 71 percent to their first choice. Those who didn't get a seat at one of the schools they listed on their application were assigned to a different program, according to the Department of Education. Every 4-year-old is guaranteed a slot in a full-day program at a public school, a pre-k center run by the DOE or at an early education center—although not necessarily at the school or program closest to home.

This year 11 percent of applicants—7,386—were matched to a program they didn't apply to. Most of them were offered a program in their district and 17 percent were given one in their borough. 

If you like what you got, make sure you pre-register at the program or school by May 20. If you're not happy with your choice or just want to keep looking, here's what you need to know.

Accept a placement

Children will automatically be placed on waitlists for schools listed above the one they were assigned to. Unless you have a fallback plan like private or parochial school (or are moving to New Jersey!), it's best to accept your offer while you pursue other options. Accepting the seat you were offered will not impact your ability to move off the waitlist at another school or to apply again in a second round. May 20 is the deadline to accept an offer and pre-register at the school. It's also the deadline to submit your application for Round 2. 

Q: Do you recommend that we send colleges our child's first round of ACT scores? Of course, we don't know how he did, but he seemed to feel confident about it. In addition, his practice test scores had him scoring at the 98th percentile.

A: You do not say if your child is a high school junior—I will assume that. I do not think it is healthy to start studying for, or taking, the standardized tests before that (although I know the PSAT is usually given to 10th graders).

My first reaction to your sending the scores to colleges is: Why? And the second question would be: Where? Do you already have a list of possible colleges? It's a little early to have a final list.

All 31 city school districts will offer gifted and talented (G&T) elementary school programs next fall—although in districts 7, 12, 16 and 23, G&T will begin in 3rd grade, not kindergarten. In response to the clamor around the city for more programs in poor and primarily Black and Latino neighborhoods, the Department of Education (DOE) announced today that it will open the 3rd grade G&T classes in the South Bronx and Central Brooklyn, areas which have not had G&T programs in recent years because too few students earned qualifying scores on citywide tests.

Current 2nd-graders in these districts who apply will be evaluated for G&T based on "multiple measures" such as academic performance, attendance, curiousity, motivation and being a fast learner. 

All 2nd-graders may apply, said DOE spokesperson Harry Hartfield, but "specific outreach will be done to families of students who are above grade level to encourage them to apply." 

"It's a fantastic idea," said Robin Aronow, a social worker and schools consultant in Manhattan. "The advantage of it, in particular in those districts, is that you have teacher recommendations rather than being dependent on a kid doing well on a test ... you're able to take into account what kids are demonstrating in school."

Q: I was waitlisted at my top school (Cornell), as well as two other schools (UPenn and Dartmouth). Realistically, what are my chances of getting into Cornell from their waitlist? My major is biomedical engineering (with a minor in animal science) and I am female. I got into my "targets" and "safeties" but none of them offer biomedical engineering AND animal science, and quite frankly, I just don't like them.

A: Being on a waitlist is a tough situation. You don't have a final answer and yet you still need to enroll somewhere by May 1. Sometimes colleges never take anyone from their waitlists, and at other times, when they do take applicants, it seems random.

It's actually not completely random, and you do have some power here. But, just as with any admissions decision, there are no guarantees.

Eight years ago, as a brand-new bilingual special education teacher, Ruby had some clear ideas about the kind of school that would match her skills—and her passion for her students.

"I wanted a small English-and-Spanish dual language school with a positive culture," she said.

Using Insideschools profiles and our parent comments on schools, she found the right fit: PS/IS 89 in Cypress Hills.

Now she spreads the word to new teachers and urges them to use Insideschools in their own job searches.

"It's very important that your personality match the culture of a school," she said. "Insideschools can help."

Insideschools is the go-to website for information about New York City public schools. Last year alone, more than 1.8 million visitors turned to Insideschools for help choosing the best schools -- and improving schools for all children. We rely on your support. Please consider a tax deductible gift today.

There's been a lot of talk on the Upper West Side about "controlled choice" as a way to ease racial and economic segregation in the elementary schools. The idea, proposed by a group called District 3 Task Force for Education Equity, is to get rid of school attendance zones and assign children to schools according to a formula that takes into account parent preferences as well as family income.

The benefit is this: everyone, regardless of their address or income, would get a shot at some of the most popular elementary schools in the district that runs from 59th Street to 122nd Street. Controlled choice puts a thumb on the scale for low-income children who want to attend a middle class school (or middle class children who want to attend a high-poverty school).

But there is a crippling drawback: Controlled choice is, in essence, a form of rationing. By itself, it does nothing to improve the quality of schools—or to increase the number of schools to which parents willingly send their children.

Q: I am in 10th grade and starting to think about preparing for college admission. This year, some of my friends took the new SAT. But at this point I don’t know if I should prepare for the SAT or take the ACT. Which would look better for college?

A: To colleges, the SAT and the ACT “look” the same. Admissions offices do not care which test you take. It doesn’t matter. You should take the test with which you are more comfortable. Some students like the new SAT, while others do not. There is always going to be a difference of opinion.

The tests were created at two different times and by two different companies. And, these companies pretty much control the testing market. The tests are not perfect, and results are dependent on many factors including academic preparation, socioeconomics, and English fluency.

Got a 7th-grader at home? Relax. High school admissions season doesn't kick in until the fall, so you can spend the next few months preparing for, rather than stressing over, the process. Our advice:

Make sure your 7th grader keeps up with her work and gets to school on time every day. Many high schools look at grades and attendance from this year and there are still three months of school left before summer break.

Come to our high school admissions workshop for 7th grade families!


Join the staff of Insideschools for a presentation on Tuesday, April 19 from 6:30-8 pm at the New School in Manhattan. We’ll tell you what you need to know about high school admissions so that you're ready to hit the ground running in September. Topics covered will include:

The nuts and bolts of applying

Describing your options and how to narrow your list

Applying to screened, audition and specialized high schools

What to do when: spring, summer and fall

Registration is required. Learn more and sign up here.

Last month we wrote about some new options for rising middle schoolers unhappy with their current choices. Now there's a few more to consider: Five new charter programs—four middle schools and one high school—are opening in the 2016-17 school year.

Applying to a charter now won't hurt your chances of being accepted at a middle or high school you already applied to. It will only give you more choices, so look through the offerings, do your research and if you see something you like take the leap this week.  All charter schools applications are due April 1

Brooklyn Prospect Charter School, District 13

We wrote about this one last month, but it's worth repeating. The highly successful Brooklyn Prospect Charter School in District 15 has spawned a new middle school program, Brooklyn Prospect Charter—Clinton Hill Middle. Jackie DeLuca, the head of literacy instruction at Brooklyn Prospect's flagship school, will leave her position to become Clinton Hill Middle's founding principal. Construction on the school’s permanent facility is underway, but will not be completed for two years. Pending approval by the Panel for Educational Policy, Clinton Hill Middle will be temporarily housed in a public school building that is also home to Brooklyn High School for Leadership and Community ServiceBrooklyn Community High School of Communication, Arts and Media and P369, a program for students with disabilities. 

It seems like every day I read another account of persistent segregation in public schools. They point to one conclusion: No political system or bureaucrat is going to integrate our schools for us. In the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, the Bed-Stuy Parents Committee did not necessarily start out to solve that particular problem. Rather, beginning last year, a group of new parents simply got together to talk about what we perceived as a lack of acceptable public school options in our neighborhood. We started off angry about the state of our neighborhood schools, and we came to realize that we are just as responsible for them as anyone.

Our district—District 16—had the reputation of being one of the city's worst by several measures, and it lacked options such as gifted and talented or dual language programs. For decades, parents had been "trading up" to public and private alternatives in other neighborhoods, or to charter schools. Many of us were prepared to do the same—but, we wondered, was there another way?