Mayor Bill de Blasio struck a chord with New Yorkers when he first spoke of universal pre-kindergarten as a means to end the “tale of two cities” that divides our highest and lowest wage earners. Classroom diversity was billed as an integral part of that vision, building on research that middle-class and low-income students in economically integrated classrooms see more academic and social gains. However, a lack of reliable data and the sense that pre-k remains just as economically divided as many elementary schools has led many critics to attack the city for not making good on that promise.
A new report by Halley Potter, a fellow at The Century Foundation—a non-partisan social policy research institute—takes an in-depth look at UPK’s progress, focusing specifically on the goal of classroom diversity and what we need to do to get there.
"The de Blasio administration has pulled off a remarkable feat in expanding free, full-day universal pre-K to roughly 70,000 children by this fall, while also bringing much needed attention to the value of socioeconomic and racial diversity in preschool classrooms,” Potter wrote Insideschools via email. "But there's still much more that the administration can and should do to open opportunities for integrated universal pre-k classrooms, including collecting better demographic data and revising admissions preferences to support diversity."
Close to home or far away?
Little kids tire easily, and a long commute to school will be difficult, particularly in the winter. Who will take them home if they get sick during the day? Will weekend or after-school playdates be possible? Still, some parents find good programs near their work, or near a grandmother who can pick them up after school.
Are the children safe?
Is the class clean and orderly or does it have an air of neglect— dusty shelves, torn books and dying plants? Is there a safe, fenced-in playground? Look for a bathroom in the room or no more than three doors away. You don't want to see exposed extension cords and outlets. You can find information on safety and cleanliness by checking out the inspection history of pre-k sites online.
Is the teacher effective?
A good pre-k teacher should be talking to kids and listening to them, repeating back words and full sentences—upping the ante when it comes to language. They should be able to maintain an orderly and predictable routine to help kids feel safe and secure.
Are parents welcome?
You can tell a lot from the moment you step inside a building. Does someone say hello? Do you feel security is thorough? Is there information for parents on display and is there a place to sit and wait? Parents should feel welcome to take part in the life of the school, whether it's attending an event, taking care of the class pet over the holiday or volunteering to read a book to the class.
What is the program leader or principal like?
You want someone who is approachable and easy-to-find, not hidden behind a door. A strong leader brings out the best in each member of the school community. The principal or director should either know something about early childhood or be in communication with an expert in the building.
Are there examples of children's work?
Look for children's work on display, not decorations made by the teacher. Ideally, the work should show individual creativity. You don't want to see lots of fill-in-the-blank worksheets, but kids may be beginning to draw, write letters, or sound out words and label their pictures. Are there science explorations—like drawings of leaves or a graph to show how many seeds are in an apple?
An exciting, orderly classroom
Kids like to explore in a well-organized classroom. Good pre-k's have fun-to-read books and objects organized in baskets on shelves to help them investigate patterns, numbers and shapes. Instead of tracing their names over and over, kids can strengthen their hand muscles for writing by squeezing clay, cutting paper and stretching small hands around big blocks. Look for classrooms with live animals, Legos, water tables, plants and fish tanks to spark curiosity. Tables and rugs give kids choices of where to work. It's great to see a mini kitchen, hospital or wood shop area where children can dress-up and say new words like "construction" and "stethoscope."
A well-balanced day
Often you will see a schedule of the day posted on the wall. Look for a routine with a mix of active and quiet activities. There should be a time to rest in full-day programs but not enforced naptime. Kids should have time to play outside every day and time to explore, often called "choice" or "center" time. All pre-k children eat lunch in the classroom, "family style," where they can chat with friends and practice good manners.
Opportunities to be independent
Look for how teachers foster independence. Children are able to hang up their own coats, help prepare and serve breakfast or lunch, clean up after themselves, and put on their own coats and shoes. Good pre-k's often label objects so kids can begin to pair objects and words, and provide them with step-by-step pictures for procedures like hand washing. These activities instill good habits.
It seems the blocks are stacked in Mayor de Blasio's favor. One day into the pre-k enrollment process, nearly 22,000 families had applied, up from 6,500 in the first day last year. By the end of the first week, some 37,000 families had signed up, according to the Daily News. If the mayor gets his wish, the city will serve 70,000 pre-k students in fall 2015.
Last year, the mayor's fast-paced citywide rollout of more than 53,000 pre-k seats was unprecedented and largely successful, although the timing and logistics were far from headache-free. Some popular schools had far more applicants than seats available, while others remained under-enrolled, and parents had to navigate separate application systems for district schools and early education centers.
Although inconsistencies may persist around the city, this year promises some relief with a (mostly) single application. If you have a child born in 2011, you can apply online, by phone at 718-935-2067 or in person at a family welcome center now through Friday, April 24. You may list up to 12 pre-k programs including district schools and full-day New York City Early Education Centers (NYCEECs). Those interested in charter schools or half-day programs at a NYCEEC, however, should still contact the program directly.
If the Common Core were a person, I think we could be friends. I’d call her CeeCee and take her out for a drink. She needs it. I imagine CeeCee sobbing on my shoulder, saying something like, “I’m just trying to give all our kids a fair shot. Really I am!” Poor CeeCee. She means well and I think she got a lot more right than anyone is willing to admit, but we’re all just having too much fun hating on her.
It’s all the rage to bash Common Core these days. People see the standards, not as a well-meaning mom like I do, but as a thug with a gun in a dark alley shouting, “Make those kids read developmentally inappropriate texts or you’ll be sorry!” A Siena poll cited by Capital New York in mid-January found that 49 percent of New Yorkers statewide think Common Core implementation should be stopped. Not amended, just stopped. I’m left wondering how many of those voters can actually explain what Common Core is.
In New York City, the standards have become a convenient scapegoat for an education system plagued by big problems. Drastic economic inequality, uneven teaching and mass confusion about pretty much any directive handed down by the Department of Education all serve to create a broken education system. Common Core was intended as a long-term, partial solution to schools that vary widely in quality. If all kids are held to the same grade-by-grade expectations, the logic goes, we’ll be five steps closer to making sure all kids who receive a NYC education receive not just a comparable one, but also a great one.
All pre-kindergarten through 2nd-graders are eligible to be tested for the city's gifted and talented programs—but the overwhelming number of test applicants come from Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. Bronx children are tested at the lowest rate in the city, and some say it's because efforts to reach them are lacking.
"Information is not being disseminated widely," said Bronx parent Jonathan Ettrick, whose two children attended citywide G&T schools in Manhattan.
The tests are free but parents must fill out a short form called a Request For Testing (RFT). Families may submit online or at an enrollment office. The deadline to sign up for G&T testing for the 2015-2016 school year is midnight, Nov. 7th is Wednesday, Nov. 12. The Department of Education announced on Nov. 6 that it had extended the deadline from Nov. 7.
It's crunch time for pre-kindergarten. In just a couple of weeks, the city will open 2,000 new, full-day classrooms in schools and community centers across the five boroughs. If the city gets it right, the pre-k expansion could set a national standard for universal, high-quality instruction for 4-year-olds. Unfortunately, it could also be the cause of death for programs serving those 4-year-olds' younger siblings.
Though it has stood alone in the political spotlight this year, universal pre-k is not New York City's only early education program. For decades, the city has held contracts with hundreds of childcare providers—ranging from home-based daycares to nationally accredited preschools—to care for low-income kids from 6 weeks through 4 years old. In its current iteration, the subsidized childcare system has the capacity to serve 37,000 children.
National studies show that early childhood programs are critical for kids. The care a child receives while she's an infant or toddler—long before she's old enough to go to school—can impact the way her brain grows, potentially changing the trajectory of the rest of her life.
When I first found out in June that my son’s elementary school would be ending 30 minutes earlier this year and I would have to pick up two children at the same time, ten blocks apart, my first thought, of course, was, “Yes! Now I can harness those superpowers of time travel I always knew I possessed!” Actually, just one word came into my head, and it's unprintable here.
Apparently I’m not alone. According to The Daily News, about 450 schools will be changing their start and end times this year in order to comply with the new UFT contract. In a nutshell, the contract does two things as far as the school day is concerned: First, it elmininates 37.5 minutes each day that teachers were previously devoting to small-group work and tutoring for students who were behind. Second, it reapportions that time for professional development, parent communication, preparing lessons and all the other behind-the-scenes work that teachers must complete but never have time for.
Parents looking for a pre-kindergarten program for their four-year-olds now have a lot more options. The city is opening 10,400 new pre-k seats this September in community-based organizations, including childcare centers, libraries, public housing projects and Catholic and Jewish schools. This is in addition to the 15,000 pre-k seats currently offered at community organizations.
New pre-k seats will open in roughly 280 community organizations across all five boroughs. More than 4,500 of the new spots will be in Queens. Bronx and Brooklyn will each gain roughly 2,100 new seats. Staten Island is gaining about 990 seats; Manhattan only 580.
(This story first appeared on DNAInfo.com.)
Mayor Bill de Blasio has promoted his pre-K expansion as a way to help working families — but programs that last only about six hours a day aren't long enough for many New Yorkers, parents and advocates said.
Although the thousands of new public school pre-K seats being created this year are called "full-day," they run on a typical school day schedule, from about 8 a.m. to 2:20 p.m., with summers and vacations off.
That's why many low-income families have been turning to the 350 community-based organizations that provide pre-K classes that last 10 hours per day and run year-round. As part of city's Early Learn program, these organizations offer low-cost pre-K seats using federal, state and city funding.
However, the thousands of new pre-K seats de Blasio plans to create over the next two years at community-based organizations will only have enough funding to cover the school day schedule of about six hours a day, 10 months per year, officials said — raising concerns that they will not adequately serve some of the families de Blasio had pledged to help.
Here are our recommendations for pre-kindergarten in the Bronx and Manhattan public schools, based on our school visits and the results of the city’s parent and teacher surveys. We didn’t include some very popular schools that receive hundreds of applications for a handful of seats. Instead, we tried to find some good schools that aren’t hopelessly oversubscribed.
Lower East Side
If you live on the Lower East Side, you’re in luck. Every school in District 1 has full day pre-kindergarten classes and all offer tours to prospective parents. There are no zoned schools in the district. Some of the schools are known for their progressive philosophy and high levels of parent involvement, including Earth School, Children's Workshop and East Village Community. The Neighborhood School shares a building with PS 63 William McKinley/STAR Academy, which is expanding its pre-k program from one to two classes. Shuang Wen has long been a top-scoring school serving primarily Asian families who want their children to be fluent in both English and Mandarin. Under new leadership, the school has become more welcoming to non-Asian children who want to learn Mandarin. Some schools have space for families outside the district.
Upper East Side, Midtown and downtown
District 2, a huge district that stretches from 96th Street on the East Side and 59th Street on the West Side all the way down to the Battery, has some of the best and most popular schools in the city. Unfortunately, there are far more applicants than spots in pre-kindergarten. A brand new school, PS 340 Sixth Avenue Elementary, in Chelsea, will offer two pre-k classes in the morning and two in the afternoon. If you’re looking for full day options popular Midtown West is opening its first pre-k class, PS 116 Mary Lindley Murray is opening two classes and PS 40 Augustus Saint-Gaudens is opening one. PS 126 and PS 1 Alfred Smith are terrific schools that sometimes have room for children outside their attendance zones.
Upper West Side and Harlem
District 3 covers the west side of Manhattan. Most of the schools on the Upper West Side have far more applicants than seats, but PS 191 sometimes has seats for children outside its attendance zone. In Harlem, we loved our visits to the Early Childhood Discovery and Design Magnet (with a hands-on engineering program and LEGO Lab) and PS 180 (which boasts a strong arts program). We haven’t visited PS 76, but parent and teacher surveys say it has a friendly vibe and strong leadership.
East Harlem has long been a pioneer of innovation and school choice and is home to popular progressive schools such as Central Park East I, and Central Park East II, which receive hundreds of applicants for only 18 full day pre-k seats. Try a hidden gem like River East instead, which is opening a new pre-k class. We haven’t visited PS 102, PS 146 or PS 155 recently, but positive surveys of parents and teachers suggest they are worth considering.
District 5 in Central Harlem has long had some of the lowest-performing schools in the city. However, there are a few bright spots: We loved our visit to Teachers College Community School (although competition for seats there is fierce.) Our recent visit to PS 200 suggests that it’s moving in the right direction. We haven’t visited PS 125 or PS 197 recently, but parent and teacher surveys are positive.
Washington Heights and Inwood
District 6 once had very overcrowded schools, but enrollment has declined in recent years as the neighborhoods of northern Manhattan have gentrified. Some of the most popular schools have far more applicants than seats. You may have a better chance at three schools we visited recently: Washington Heights Academy, Castle Bridge and PS 128.
District 7 in the South Bronx has mostly low-performing schools, but we can recommend the pre-kindergarten at a few schools we that we have visited. PS 5 has strong leadership and a happy cohesive staff. PS 25 has an amazing science exploration center. PS 157 boasts a good arts program.
Soundview and Throgs Neck
In District 8, we enjoyed our visit to PS 152, which often takes kids from outside across its attendance zone. PS 69 and PS 304 are terrific schools but they are flooded with applicants. It doesn’t hurt to apply, but don’t get your hopes up. We haven’t visited PS 182 in quite a while, but parent and teachers surveys say it’s a safe school with strong leadership and solid academics.
Grand Concourse, Morrisania, Crotona Park
District 9 is on the western edge of the south Bronx and is home to Yankee Stadium and much of the revitalization in the south Bronx. Best bet here: PS 63, which our reviewer called “an oasis of calm.”
Riverdale, Wave Hill, Central Bronx
One of the most overcrowded districts in the city, District 10 is also the top-performing district in the Bronx. A few schools are adding new pre-kindergarten seats: Bronx New School and a new school opening on Webster Avenue called Bedford Park Elementary.
District 11, covering the northeast Bronx including Pelham Parkway, Eastchester and Woodlawn, has space opening up at Linden Tree Elementary, a new small school that strives to be attentive to children’s different learning styles. PS 160 Walt Disney is one of the best bets for getting a spot in this area with three full day classes opening in the fall and good leadership, according to teacher surveys.
District 12 is smack dab in the middle of the Bronx so it’s worth checking all the bordering districts to find borough-wide options. Bronx Little School is a safe, welcoming place with high-expectations, but over 200 families applied for 18 seats in 2013. Samara Community School is a new school opening in the fall hosting one full day pre-k.