Elementary Schools

Your Options

Besides your zoned neighborhood school, you may want to consider gifted programs, unzoned schools, dual language programs and charter schools. You may also want to consider neighborhood schools that have extra space and routinely admit children from outside their attendance zone. Apply to these schools on your regular Kindergarten Connect application, except for charters which have their own application process.

If your child has a disability, visit our Special Education section to learn more.

If your child speaks a language at home other than English, see our section on Students Learning English.

Gifted programs

Parents may ask to have their children tested for gifted programs in early November the year before they start kindergarten; the tests are given in January and February. There are five gifted and talented (G&T) schools open to children citywide:

Children must score at least in the 97th percentile on the gifted exam to be considered for a citywide G&T program; several these schools limit admissions to children who score in the 99th percentile.

Most of the city’s 32 districts have gifted programs open to children who score in the 90th percentile or above. These programs mostly consist of one class in a neighborhood school. You learn more about Gifted and Talented programs in InsideTools.

Two other gifted programs of note: the Special Music School open to children citywide and Hunter College Elementary School on the Upper East Side, open to children living in Manhattan only. These two schools have their own admissions procedures.

Other options

Unzoned schools

Some schools admit children from a whole district or occasionally from the whole city. Many were designed as an alternative to traditional neighborhood schools and have a progressive philosophy, with lots of projects, field trips and hands-on activities. Some are simply created to ease overcrowding at zoned schools. The city publishes lists of unzoned schools in its kindergarten directories. They are also sometimes called option schools or choice schools.

Charter schools

First established by state law in 1998, charters are tuition free and operate independently of the city’s Department of Education. There are more than 200 charter schools in New York City serving 95,000 pupils or nearly 9 percent of the city’s school population. A few begin in pre-kindergarten but most begin in kindergarten; some serve grades k–8, others grades k–12. Some begin in middle school and a few begin in high school. Admission is by lottery held in April. Most give priority to children who live in the school district in which the school is located. You may apply online, through a common application on the Charter School Center website, or directly to the school that interests you. If you arrive in the city after the lottery has been held, your child may be placed on a waitlist. Some schools admit children in upper grades; some do not.

Learn more about the different kinds of charter schools and networks in New York City in InsideTools.

Dual language programs

Dual language programs offer instruction in two languages and are designed to make children fluent speakers, readers and writers in both. Typically, classes mix native speakers of both languages; the language of instruction alternates. Some of these programs give preference to children who live in the attendance zone, but some have room for children outside the attendance zone. Dual language programs are offered in Spanish, French, German, Chinese, Korean, Arabic, Hebrew and Italian. A complete list is available in the city’s elementary school directories. Apply on your Kindergarten Connect application or contact the school directly.

You may search for dual language programs in our Find a School section.

Read more about services for Students Learning English in InsideTools.

Magnet programs

Magnets are designed to foster racial integration. They receive federal or state funding for three years for special programs (such as art, science, drama or law), making the school more attractive to draw—like a magnet—children of different races who might not otherwise attend. These schools admit children from outside their immediate neighborhood. Call your district office to find out if there are any magnet programs in your area, but visit first and see if they still receive the extra teacher support magnets get, or are now “magnet” in name only.


Educating your child at home is an option for parents unhappy with the public school choices in their neighborhood. You must notify the Department of Education of your intention, and submit a plan for what you (or a tutor you hire) will teach. The New York State Education Department website has a useful question and answer section for parents. To learn more visit the DOE's website, call the Office of Homeschooling at (917) 339-1793, or email [email protected].

Private schools

Tuition schools are beyond the scope of InsideSchools. We cover only New York City’s public schools.

Here's a list of websites with information about private and parochial schools:

Diocese of Brooklyn and the New York Archdiocese operate Roman Catholic schools in New York City and upstate New York and have a searchable school database.

Greatschools offers information on public, private and charter schools in all 50 states, with detailed school profiles for California, Arizona, Texas, Florida and Washington.

• The Independent Schools Admissions Association of Greater New York offers a directory of independent schools.

The Parents League provides information and advice on private school admissions in New York City to parents who pay an annual membership fee. Advice on summer camps and after-school programs are also available.

Early Steps gives financial assistance to children of color to attend private elementary schools.