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Thursday, 16 February 2012 16:56

Poll: Change kindergarten cutoff age?

Kindergarten applications are due March 2, and any child born in 2007 may enroll in public school kindergarten. That means that some kids will still be only four years old when school starts. That cut-off date differs from many private schools and some city charter schools which expect children to turn five by Sept. 1, before the school year begins. 

In the last two decades, the practice of "redshirting" has become more common. (Redshirting is a term borrowed from sports, where it means holding an athlete back a year to develop more skills). Parents may want to give their children, especially their boys, an extra year of informal education for a leg up when they finally do start kindergarten. Many private school children don't start kindergarten until age six but in public schools, 6-year-olds must go into 1st grade.

On the other hand, a child reading by the age of four may seem ready for the big league. Spots in full-day pre-K are rare, and most New York City parents can't afford the extra year or two of daycare. 

What do you think? Should the age at which New York City kids enter public kindergarten be changed to ensure that all children are five years old before starting school? Take our poll and let us know!

Published in News and views
Thursday, 09 February 2012 15:27

Poll: Should kindergarten be mandatory?

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn says kindergarten should be mandatory for all 5-year-olds. In her State of the City address Quinn, who co-sponsored the Insideschools' event on applying to public elementary school this week, said she is working with the state legislature to get a law passed which would allow New York City to make kindergarten compulsory.

All children who turn five years old this year are guaranteed a seat in kindergarten although they do not have to attend school until they turn six and enter 1st grade. Some parents prefer to keep their children home or to send them to childcare centers that offer more hours of care.  Some overcrowded schools have even been known to discourage parents from enrolling their children, reminding them that kindergarten is optional.

According to Quinn's office, a change in the law would bring in an additional 3,000 kindergartners into the public school system, representing about 4% of the city's five-year-olds.

“Every year nearly 3,000 5-year-olds in New York City don’t enroll in kindergarten. That means thousands of kids enter first grade every year having never set foot in a classroom. Many of them are kids who need kindergarten the most," Quinn said in her speech.

Quinn's office said the city's schools are prepared to accept the influx of 3,000 more students, despite overcrowding and kindergarten waitlists at some schools.

What do you think? Is it time to make kindergarten compulsory for all five-year-olds? Take our poll!

Published in News and views
Wednesday, 08 February 2012 10:30

Watch our kindergarten workshop online

If you missed our forum on "How to apply to public elementary school," you can watch it below. (Please bear with us for the 30 second ad before the video starts).

If you'd like to see more events like this, please email our co-sponsor, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

If you prefer words to video, here's a summary of my talk from the event:

Starting kindergarten is an exciting time for you and your child. But it can be a scary time as well. We're here to try to help you relax. There are a lot of lovely kindergartens out there and we'll help you find one for your child. We'll tell you about different kinds of schools available to you. But first, let's look at a video that will give you an idea of what to look for in a school:

Now I'm going to tell you about the different kinds of schools.

You can apply to as many schools as you like, your zoned neighborhood school, or another neighborhood school that might have space, or a special program such as a dual language program or a charter school.

One thing I want to make clear: Your child is entitled to a seat in kindergarten the year he turns 5. You are not required to send him until he is 6, but he is entitled to a spot in kindergarten if you want it. If you wait too long—if you just show up in August—your neighborhood school may not have any room and your child will be sent to another school. But they have to find a place for your child someplace.

Neighborhood schools:

Most kids in the city go to their zoned neighborhood schools. The advantages: it's close to home. It can build a sense of community. Kids get tired travelling. If you are considering a good school close to home or a great school miles away, I'd choose the good school close to home. Tours are going on now. Not all schools offer them. If you can't go on a tour, go to a PTA meeting or talk to parents at drop off in the morning.

No school is perfect. Think about "What can you fix, and what's impossible to fix?" My kids' school only had phys ed once a week, but we signed them up for West Side Soccer League on the weekends. Other things are harder to fix: if the principal is really unfriendly to parents, for example.

Most neighborhood schools have room for all their zoned kids. There are pockets of overcrowding: PS 41, PS 234 in Manhattan, District 24 (Elmhurst, Maspeth) in Queens and possibly District 20 (Sunset Park and Bay Ridge).

It used to be that parents just registered their children at their neighborhood school, but now there is a 2-step process. You "apply" between now and March 2. Don't bring your child, just your documents. Then you hear where you child has been "accepted" and you "register" –bring your child—sometime after March 26.

Now is the time to consider other options as well.

Unzoned schools:

Some schools are open to children from across a whole district or even across the city. These schools don't require an exam. Some of these were set up as alternatives to traditional neighborhood schools. Some are progressive schools, where children learn by doing, with lots of blocks, no text books, and fun-to-read picture books. Your child may call teachers by first name. Here are some unzoned schools: Ella Baker, Central Park East and the Neighborhood School in Manhattan, Bronx New School, Brooklyn New School.

The deadline to apply to these schools is March 2.

Dual language programs:

Dual language immersion programs have classes in which half the students are native speakers of English, and half speak another language (Spanish, Chinese or French, for example). Classes are taught in each language on alternative days or weeks, and the children are expected to become fluent in both. These programs shouldn't be confused with bilingual or English as a Second Language classes, designed to teach English to non-English speakers. Some dual language programs are PS 75, PS 87, PS 20, and PS 84 in Manhattan and PS 84 in Brooklyn.

The deadline to apply to these schools is March 2.

Magnet programs:

Magnet programs are designed to foster racial integration. They receive federal or state funding for special programs (such as art, drama or law) to make the school attractive to children of different races who might not otherwise attend, and they admit children from outside their immediate neighborhood. PS 145 on the Upper West Side and PS 201 in Queens are two magnet schools.

The deadline to apply to these schools is April 20. Lainie Leber from will tell us more about magnet programs on the Upper West Side and Queens

Charter schools:

Charter schools are public schools, but they are not run by the Department of Education. Admission is by lottery. Each school has its own deadline, but all are by April 1.

They are mostly in low-income neighborhoods where parents were fed up with their other options. Now there are a few in middle class neighborhoods as well. Honestly, charter schools are a mixed bag. Some are great, some are a mess. It used to be they had to find their own space, now Mayor Bloomberg gives them space in ordinary public schools. There's a lot of resentment over shared space.

There are two kinds of charter schools, what we call "mom and pops," versus the networks. The "mom and pops" are individual schools, mostly organized by community groups. For example, the Hellenic Charter School in Park Slope teaches Greek. The networks are a group of charters all managed by the same organization and all with the same philosophy. For example, Harlem Success Academy has a number of schools in the Bronx and Manhattan and they are opening some in Brooklyn as well.

Charter schools can have very different approaches to education. Some are very traditional, like the Achievement First schools, with lots of rules, uniforms, teachers who are given very precise instruction about how and what to teach. Others are more progressive, like Renaissance Charter School in Queens or Community Roots in Brooklyn.

There are 30 new charter schools opening next fall, if they are approved and can find space.

Later, we'll be hearing from Sonya Hooks from the City's charter school office

Gifted programs:

The deadline for gifted programs for fall 2012 has already passed. I'm going to let Robin Aronow talk to you more about gifted programs. But let me give you my thoughts. In most cases, I don't think gifted programs are necessary for very young children. A lot of what you need to learn in elementary school is social rather than cognitive. What you want is a teacher who can challenge different abilities in one class: If you see one child is reading an easy book like "Frog and Toad", while another is reading a chapter book like "Charlotte's Web", that's a good sign. By middle school (or even the upper elementary grades), it is very hard to teach different levels in same class: gifted programs make sense here. Also, gifted programs make sense if your neighborhood school is really not very good.

Special education:

We are lucky to have Randi Levine from Advocates for Children here to answer your questions about special education. But let me give you some general outlines and tips. I advise everyone to look at special education services in a school, whether or not you think your child needs them. That's because it will give you a clue about how the school will treat your child if he ever hits a bump—if he has trouble learning to read, or if there's a family crisis and he needs counseling. You want a school that includes special needs children in the regular activities of the school, not one that segregates them in the basement.

About 17,000 kindergartners will be getting special education services this fall, everything from speech therapy, to counseling, to a placement in an extra-small class with a specially trained teacher. If your child is one of them, you are entitled to apply to schools just like anyone else, and you'll find out what school he is assigned to just like everyone else.

In the past, some schools offered particular services--like help for deaf kids-- and some did not, and if your child needed the services he had to go to another school. Now, the Department of Education wants to make sure that every school can serve every child. This is one of those ideas that is good in theory but is causing lots of problems in practice.

If your child needs a small class (self-contained) or a class with two teachers (CTT or ICT), you used to apply through a central office and now you are applying at your neighborhood school. Some of the schools are prepared for this, some aren't. Basically, you are expected to apply for school before you know what your child needs and before you know what the school offers.

The Department of Education is holding workshops at the end of the month. If your child has special needs, it's a good idea to go.





Published in News and views
Tuesday, 07 February 2012 13:38

Brooklyn & SI schools that (may) have room

Kindergarten options in Brooklyn are as diverse as the borough itself. In the largest districts, schools are packed and most families attend their neighborhood schools. Others have room for students from out of zone, and even out of district.  Charters crowd central Brooklyn but have little presence in northern and western Brooklyn. Magnet programs and dual language programs give parents options in some neighborhoods. In other areas, waitlists may present challenges but persistence can pay off.

In Staten Island, the city's smallest borough, there is much less school choice -- only one unzoned school and a few charters.

Here's a rundown.

District 13: Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Prospect Heights, part of Park Slope & Brooklyn Heights

Community Roots Charter School and Arts and Letters in Fort Greene are highly sought after schools that hold lotteries and give preference to district families. PS 11 and PS 20 in Clinton Hill usually have space for out of zone children. PS 9 in Prospect Heights and PS 133 in Park Slope have gotten much more popular with local parents, but often have space, but parents may have to stay on a waitlist until August. PS 9's dual language program takes native Spanish speakers from out of zone and PS 133's French, and new Spanish, dual language programs do as well. PS 282 in Park Slope is a traditional school, with a district gifted program, that is a top pick for many out of zone parents. (Its gifted program is only open to district students, though.)

Published in News and views
Monday, 06 February 2012 18:17

Queens schools that (may) have room

Most children in Queens attend their neighborhood elementary schools, and there isn’t a lot of room for shopping around. However, if you are dissatisfied with your zoned school, here are some possibilities.

PS 85, Judge Charles Vallone School, in Astoria has a gifted program with a science focus open to children citywide.

The Queens College School for Math, Science and Technology on the Queens College Campus admits children by lottery from across the borough.

Published in News and views
Thursday, 02 February 2012 13:49

City gives out wrong info about school zones

The Department of Education has not updated its zone maps to reflect zoning changes on the Upper East Side, lower Manhattan and the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn, so parents who call 311 to find out the name of their neighborhood school to register their kindergartners may get inaccurate information, Insideschools has learned. Schools affected on the Upper East Side are PS 158, PS 290, PS 151 and a new school, PS 527 which will open in September on East 91st Street in the Our Lady of Grace building. Schools affected in lower Manhattan are PS 89, PS 276, PS 397 and a new school, Peck Slip, which will open in the DOE headquarters in September.

In Brooklyn, PS 180, PS 164, PS 105, PS 69, PS 160, PS 163 and PS 200 in District 20 were also rezoned.

Published in News and views
Wednesday, 01 February 2012 10:50

Insideschools event will be streaming live

Our Feb. 7 Insideschools event "Applying to Kindergarten" is fully booked. All RSVPs are now going on a waitlist. Everyone who is on the waitlist is welcome to come at 8 p.m. for a Q&A session. And, we'll be live-streaming the event on If you would like Insideschools to host more workshops, please tell our co-sponsor, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.  You may email her office at

Clara Hemphill, along with the Insideschools staff members and other school experts, will offer guidance about what to look for in an elementary school, how and when to register, and how to explore your options if you're not happy with the schools in your neighborhood.

We'll cover gifted and talented programs, magnet schools, unzoned schools, special education and options for children learning to speak English.

Panelists will include Sonya hooks, senior director of the Education Department's charter school office, Robin Aronow of School Search NYC, Randi Levine, staff attorney at Advocates for Children, and Lainie Leber of the DOE's magnet program office.

A Q&A session will follow the presentation at 8 p.m.

The event is co-sponsored by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School.

You can post your questions in comments below.

(Updated 2/6/12)

Published in News and views
Tuesday, 31 January 2012 20:09

Manhattan schools that (might) have room

We’ve heard a lot of scary stories about kindergarten waitlists at very popular schools, but what about good schools that aren’t hopelessly oversubscribed? Insideschools has compiled a list of Manhattan schools that accept children from outside their immediate neighborhoods. We’ll be posting similar lists for other boroughs soon.

For this list, we have concentrated on schools that don’t require a "gifted and talented" exam. All a parent has to do is apply between now and March 2--and hope there are seats available. Call the schools directly for details. These schools fall in a couple of categories:

--Magnet programs. These schools receive federal money to develop a theme, such as science or technology. They give first preference to children who live in their attendance zone, but usually have room for children from across a district. Some also have room for children outside the district.

--Dual language programs. These programs are designed to make children fluent readers and writers of English and another language: Spanish, French or Chinese. Instruction alternates between the two languages. Typically, half the children speak English at home and half speak the other language. Zoned children get preference, but others may apply.

--Unzoned schools. These schools accept children from a particular district. A few accept children from all five boroughs.

--Good neighborhood schools. Children who are zoned for the school get preference, but sometimes there are extra seats, even though you may not find out until August.

--Charter schools. These accept children by lottery. (You have until April to apply.)

Lower East Side

In District 1 on the Lower East Side, there are no zoned neighborhood schools. Everybody has to make a choice. Preference goes to children who live in the district, but there are sometimes spots for out-of-district children, including Brooklynites.

Long-time favorites are The Neighborhood School, The Earth School, and PS 184—which will most likely fill up with District 1 kids this year. (Note: out-of-district families who are willing to wait until August may snag a seat). Out-of-district children may have a better chance at the Children’s Workshop School and East Village Community School. Also consider PS 20, which has a nice dual language program in English and Mandarin. PS 63 is gaining in popularity. The Girls Preparatory Charter School offers a single-sex option.

Downtown, the Village and Midtown

Forget PS 234 or PS 41 if you live out of zone. Those popular schools have long wait-lists even for their zoned kids. There are some other options, however. PS 150 and Midtown West are sought-after unzoned schools for District 2. PS 33 and PS 11 are zoned schools that may have room for other kids who live in District 2. A new school, Peck Slip or PS 343, will be opening in the Department of Education headquarters in the Tweed Courthouse. See the District 2 CEC website for details. New schools often have space for out-of-zone kids in their first year.

Upper East Side

The good news: the Upper East Side will have some new buildings, easing overcrowding. PS 267 and PS 59 are moving into new buildings in the fall, and  PS 267 may have room for out-of-zone kids. A third school, PS 527, will open in the former parochial school, Our Lady of Good Council, at 323 East 91st Street. It, too, may have space for out-of-zone students. See the District 2 CEC website for details.

Ella Baker is a progressive K-8 school that has long accepted children from all five boroughs.

Upper West Side

PS 199 won’t have room for out-of-zone kindergartners, but other District 3 schools may. Consider English-Spanish dual language programs at PS 84, PS 87, PS 163 and PS 75. In addition, PS 84 has a French-English dual language program. These schools mostly limit admission to District 3 students, but French-speakers from out of district may be eligible for PS 84.

Manhattan School for Children accepts children from across District 3.

PS 145, which has a federal magnet grant, has room for out-of-zone children, as does PS 165.

As for charter schools, people seem to either love or hate the Harlem Success Academy Charter School and its sister school Upper West Success Academy. Both give preference to District 3 residents.

East Harlem

The birthplace of school choice, District 4 in East Harlem has welcomed out-of-zone and out-of-district children for decades. Central Park East I, Central Park East II and River East are small progressive schools. The Bilingual Bilcultural School, PS 57 and PS 171 are also popular choices, but they give preference to kids who live in the zone.

Central Harlem

Thurgood Marshall Academy Lower School, Harlem Success Academy 2 , and Harlem Success Academy 5 are good unzoned options in District 5.

Upper Manhattan

District 6 offers a number of choices for parents who want to look beyond their neighborhood school, including Muscota New School, Amistad Dual Language School, Hamilton Heights School, Washington Heights Academy and PS 178, The Professor Juan Bosch School.

For more on these and other tips on how to apply to elementary school, attend the Insideschools workshop in Manhattan on Feb. 7.

Published in News and views

For some parents, applying to kindergarten has become a second job.

They are zoned for schools that are failing, overcrowded or unsafe. They make phone calls, search websites and seek advice in hurried conversations at pre-school pick-up or on playgrounds to find out what schools are good and have space for out-of-zone kids. They make appointments to go on an overwhelming number of school tours and arrive at work late. They traverse the district, the borough and sometimes the city trying to find a good school that has available seats.

Dao Tran sends her daughter to the pre-kindergarten program she is zoned for at PS 49 in the Mott Haven section of the South Bronx, where one-third of the children are reading at grade level. But she hopes she will not have to return next year. "The school depresses me," she said.

Published in News and views
Monday, 30 January 2012 15:29

New! DOE posts elementary school directory

In the midst of the kindergarten application season, the Department of Education has posted its first-ever directory of all public elementary schools in the city. The listing indicates which are zoned schools, which are unzoned, and which have gifted and talented, dual language or magnet programs.

The 80-page 2012-2013 directory [PDF] should be an especially helpful tool for parents of five-year-olds seeking alternatives to their neighborhood schools. It explains the kindergarten application process, defines the priorities for admission to each program, and how the waitlist works for schools with more applicants than available space. All parents of incoming kindergartners may apply individually to as many schools as they wish -- but the best odds of admission to a school you aren't zoned for is at a school with special programs.

Published in News and views