Pamela Wheaton is one of the founding members of Insideschools. Since 2002 she has served as deputy director, project director and managing editor. She edits the blog, reviews schools, leads workshops about school choice and oversees editorial content. She collaborated with Clara Hemphill on a series of guides to New York City’s best public schools. Previously Wheaton was a producer of PBS television programs and a reporter and editor at the Buenos Aires Herald. Her two daughters graduated from New York City public schools.
If you want to see some schools that work—maybe to get some ideas for your own child's school—you might want to take a look at some of the showcase schools that the Department of Education is promoting. The idea of the showcase schools is for teachers to share best practices, but it's also a chance for parents to see how schools solve tricky problems such as integrating special needs kids in regular classrooms, fostering kids' independence or making the best use of technology.
Last week the DOE spotlight was on PS 32, which in 2004 became the first school in Brooklyn to open an inclusive program for students with autism. Instead of segregating children in separate classrooms—or even in a separate school—PS 32 started an ASD NEST program, "nesting" autistic children within larger classrooms.
Insideschools featured the school's noteworthy special education program in a video: "PS 32's NEST program." And, this month PS 32 opened its doors to teachers from around the city, as one of 23 showcase schools, a program started by city schools chancellor Carmen Fariña in 2014.
Got a child born in 2011? Get your kindergarten application in by Wednesday, Jan. 20. The original due date of Jan. 15 was extended to give more parents a chance to get their applications in.
Full-day kindergarten is guaranteed—and required—in New York City for all children who turn 5 during the calendar year. Children have the right to attend their zoned school (space permitting) and most do, but you may apply to other schools as well. You may apply to up to 12 schools online, on the telephone or in person at a Department of Education Family Welcome Center. You'll find out in March where your child is accepted.
If you haven't already, pick up an elementary school directory for your borough, neatly broken down by districts, zoned schools and unzoned schools.
Here are answers to some common questions and misconceptions!
What should I do before I apply?
Visit the school! You want to see the school to see if it's a good fit. Watch our short video: "What to look for on a school tour." Check a school's website or call the parent coordinator to see when tours and open houses are scheduled. The DOE lists some tour dates here. Read the school's profile on Insideschools and check out InsideStats. Do teachers recommend the school to parents? What's the average class size? Is bullying a problem? If you're still uncertain of whether it's a good fit, talk to parents on the playground and read the comments on our profile pages.
How many schools should I apply to?
Apply to as many schools as you are interested in. There's no strategic advantage in listing just one school. The key is to rank the schools in the order that you like them. Do not list any schools you are wary about. If you want your child to attend your zoned school, list that first—or only list the zoned school. If you are concerned about overcrowding and being sent to another school, list your next favorite school to ensure that you are not assigned to a school you did not select. Keep in mind that all schools first accommodate their zoned kids before accepting others. (The eight admissions priorities for zoned schools are spelled out in the directories and in the Chancellor's Regulation 101.)
Most schools are able to accept all zoned students and if you are not accepted in the first round, you are automatically placed on a waitlist. In fact, if you list other schools, and do not get an offer from any of them, you will remain on a waitlist of schools you ranked higher than the school where you were placed. Last year some waitlisted families got offers from out-of-zone and out-of-district schools starting in June and continuing into October. If you do your research, remain persistent and are willing to wait, you may end up with several choices.
What if I don't like my zoned school?
Consider unzoned and charter schools as well as other zoned schools in your district. (Three districts have no zoned schools: District 1 on the Lower East Side, District 7 in the South Bronx and District 23 in Brownsville.)
You don't have to apply to your zoned school but keep in mind that if you are not accepted by any other school, you will most likely be assigned to your zoned school. However, you will be waitlisted at the other schools and there is usually lots of movement in the spring as families accept offers to gifted programs, private schools or move. Keep in touch with schools you are interested in to make sure they know you still want a spot.
You can see in the kindergarten directory which schools had space for students outside of the zone last year and which had a waitlist after the first round of admissions; it's not likely to be too different this year unless there has been rezoning.
This admissions season, the DOE is promoting a new pilot program intended to increase diversity in city schools. Seven schools participating in the program will give increased admissions priority to students who qualify for free or reduced lunch, are English language learners or are in the child welfare system. “Students learn from the diverse experiences and cultures of their fellow students, and it’s important that our schools match the diversity of our City," Chancellor Carmen Farina said in a DOE press release.
How do I apply to a dual language program?
More than 100 schools offer dual language programs and the list of schools offering programs is growing. In dual language, students receive instruction in both English and another language. Spanish, Mandarin and French are among the most common languages offered but others include Korean, Japanese, Polish, Arabic and Russian. Next fall there will be a German program starting at PS 17 in Williamsburg! You apply directly to the dual language program on your application. The goal for dual language is to have a 50-50 split of native English speakers and native speakers of the other language offered. Zoned students receive preference in admission, but out of zone students who are native speakers of another language may have a chance of admittance, space permitting.
What about gifted and talented programs?
The admissions timeline, and the application, for gifted and talented programs is different than general kindergarten admissions. Families signed up in November for G&T testing in January and February. The results of the tests will not be sent to families until early April. Qualifying students then apply to programs and will find out in late May if they have got a spot.
Even if you are applying to a G&T program for your child, you must still apply to kindergarten by Jan. 15. If your child is later accepted to a G&T program you'll have a choice of the school you were matched with on the application and the G&T program.
What if my child has special education needs?
Children with special needs also go through the general application process; every school is supposed to offer needed special education services, although in practice this doesn't always happen. Watch our video: "Touring schools for your special needs child." If your child needs a wheelchair accessible site, you can note that on the application.
What if I move after the application due date or I miss the deadline?
If you move after you submit your application but before kindergarten offers are made, you may call the Department of Education, or visit a welcome center, to give them your new address. You will not be able to submit a new application at that time but the DOE will most likely assign you to your new zoned school. If you don't like that placement, you can reach out to other schools in the late spring to ask to be placed on a waiting list.
If you miss the deadline for applying, late applications will still be accepted online, in person and over the phone after Jan. 15, almost until letters are sent in mid-March, according to the Enrollment Office, but you will receive your offer later in the spring. Those who wait until later in the spring or summer to apply, will go directly to their zoned school, or school of interest, to register.
How do I apply to a charter school?
You apply to charter schools separately from district schools and most applications are due by April 1, 2016. You can apply to multiple charter schools on a single application. Find the link to the common application on the New York City Charter School Center's website. Applications are also available on school websites or may be handed out in person when you visit the school.
The information in the directory is pretty comprehensive and straightforward but if you still have questions, or want to talk to a DOE official in person, call the DOE's Enrollment Office at 718-935-2009 and see the DOE's kindergarten page for more information.
If your child was born in 2011, it's time to be thinking about kindergarten for 2016. You may apply online, on the phone or in person at a Department of Education Family Welcome Center between Dec. 7-Jan. 15.
If you're wondering where to start, Insideschools can help. We're offering a workshop for parents of rising kindergartners.
Join Clara Hemphill and the staff of Insideschools as we help you navigate the kindergarten admissions process.
We'll tackle these questions and more:
- What should I look for in a school?
- What's the difference between progressive vs. traditional?
- How do I know if the school is right for my child?
- What if my local school doesn't offer tours and open houses?
- What about gifted programs, charters and other options?
- My child has special needs. What do I need to know?
We'll offer a short presentation and then open it up for a Q&A session to answer all your questions.
Register here! The workshop will be held at The New School in Manhattan.
Se habla español. Spanish translation will be available.
High school applications are due on Tuesday, Dec. 1. Have you made your list yet?
If you are still undecided where to apply, or how to rank your 12 choices, we've got last minute tips for you.
Read our school profiles for every high school in the city, including the InsideStats section that gives you answers to such questions as: Are graduates successful in college? Does the school have metal detectors? Click the Comments link to see what current and former students have to say about the school.
If you're looking for a school with a specific theme, or one that's on a certain subway line, check out our high school search on your desktop or mobile device. You can search by borough, subway line, middle school grades or keyword, sifting through hundreds of high schools to find the best matches.
If you have an 8th-grader, you're in the final throes of applying to high school. You've attended the fairs, visited schools, watched our videos, read our school profiles and marked key pages of the big school directory. What comes next? You've got to make final decisions and fill out an application.
Insideschools can help. We're offering a last-chance workshop for parents and students!
Join Clara Hemphill and the staff of Insideschools as we help you determine how to rank your high school choices before the Dec. 1 application deadline.
We'll tackle these last-minute questions and more:
- What can you do if you and your child disagree?
- My dream school is far away. Is the commute worth it?
- What are good choices for the "B" student?
- Is it worth applying to a screened school if I don't have tip-top grades?
- How many schools do I really have to list to better my chances of getting accepted somewhere?
- My kid has special needs. How do I know whether a school will actually provide the supports and services he needs?
Got other questions? We've got answers. Join us on Nov. 23. Sign up on Eventbrite here.
Se habla español. Spanish translation will be available.
This weekend, Sept. 26 and 27, is the Department of Education's gigantic citywide high school fair from 10 am to 3 pm at Brooklyn Technical High School. Prepare for a hectic, information-packed day.
You can attend information sessions about high school admissions, and applying to specialized high schools, led by staff from the education department's enrollment office. This will be helpful especially if this is your family's first time applying (and it will give you a place to sit down and take a breather.) Enrollment specialists will cover most of the same information that was presented in the summer workshops. You can find links to those here.
Most schools will have a table staffed by students, teachers, parent cordinators, guidance counselors and sometimes the principal. Each borough has a dedicated space between the 2nd and 7th floors. The nine specialized high schools are set up in the first floor gymnasium. That's always very crowded so be prepared!
Middle school admissions season kicks into high gear this month for parents of 5th-graders. You can meet school representatives at evening district fairs beginning Wednesday, Sept. 30. Middle school directories for 2015-2016 are online and hard copies are available at elementary schools.
Now is the time to sign up for school tours and open houses! Check school websites or call the school to find out when they are being held. In some popular schools, especially in Manhattan where there is active school choice, many tours are already fully booked. Don't despair. If you're shut out, try contacting the parent coordinator to see if additional tours will be added. In parts of Brooklyn, tours haven't even been set up yet at schools, but they should be by the end of September.
When you visit the schools, be sure to ask about admissions requirements. The directory listings are not always specific.
School's open! For parents who still have questions—or who don't have a school assignment—here's where you can get help and find answers.
Your school district
Got a question about enrollment? Missing special ed or English language services? Contact your newly appointed family support coordinator. There is one for each of the city's 32 districts. Their job is to work with individual parents who have problems or concerns. It's a new position so we don't know how well it is working yet, but it's worth reaching out.
Family leadership coordinators replace the DFAs (district family advocates). Their job is to support PA/PTAs and SLTs (School Leadership Teams) and to lead district workshops and events. If you're wondering why your school's PTA isn't active, or have a question about how to get involved, talk to your district's leadership coordinator. Many of them are former DFAs and know their schools very well.
For more tips about the start of the school year, see the DOE's "Back to School Basics" here. Make sure to download a copy of the Parents' Bill of Rights. Your school should also be sending one home with your child.
With the massive expansion of universal pre-kindergarten this year, there are bound to be snafus. Some 51 programs closed before the start of the school year. If you were assigned to one of those, and need a new placement, call the pre-k outreach team at 212-637-8036 for help. If you never got a placement, or are new to the city, you can go to one of the Department of Education's new registration centers, contact the outreach team or call the DOE's enrollment helpline at 718-935-2009. You can also contact programs directly. (Sometimes you need several options!) Here's a list of schools that had available seats at the end of August.
New York City students performed slightly better on state standardized tests in 2015 than they did in 2014, but about two-thirds of test-takers in grades 3–8 still failed to meet state standards on either the ELA (English language arts) or math tests, according to figures released by the state education department today. The so-called "opt-out" movement gained momentum this year with nearly 2 percent of eligible New York City students refusing to take the tests, the city said; statewide some 20 percent of 3rd–8th-graders sat them out.
Math scores continue to be somewhat higher than ELA, with 35.2 percent of students meeting the standards—scoring a 3 or 4 on the Common Core–aligned exams, as compared to 34.2 percent last year. Only 30.4 percent of students passed the reading exam, up from 28.4 percent last year.
Parents can find their child's test scores on their NYC Schools parent account. If you don't yet have an account, you can contact your school, or local school district, to help you set it up. Scores for individual schools and districts are now posted on the Department of Education's website.
The gap in scores among ethnic groups remains large throughout the city and state. "Black and Hispanic students face a discouraging achievement gap," said State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia in a conference call with reporters. Similar to last year, more than 50 percent of white and Asian students in the city scored 3 or 4 on the English test, while only about 19 percent of black and Hispanic students did. In math, 67 percent of Asians passed, compared to 57 percent of whites, 24 percent of Hispanics and 19 percent of black students. [See the chart above].
Students with special needs and those learning to speak English fared the worst: Only 4 percent of English language learners passed the English test and 14 percent passed the math. Of the students with disabilities, nearly 7 percent scored a 3 or 4 on English and 11 percent on math, down slightly from last year.
Applying to high school in New York City can be a full-time job for 8th-graders and their families. Students who don't have an adult to help them have an even harder time navigating the system—and making the most of their options. Now, in two city neighborhoods, an innovative Department of Education program trains students to help each other through the process.
Modeled after a successful high school college access program, the Middle School Success Centers began as a pilot program on the Lower East Side and in Cypress Hills in late 2013, targeting neighborhoods where students could really use the help.
At IS 171 in Cypress Hills, counselors from the Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation offer intensive high school choice counseling and training for youth leaders in one of the poorest communities in the city. The middle school youth leaders are trained in a summer program and commit to working with their fellow students during lunch hour and after school to help them understand the admissions process and make good choices on their high school applications. They apply for the job and are paid $50 per month.