Educating Kids In Nyc

Educating Kids is one of the big Nyc Challenges.

Summary of my Public Policy recommendations: School Reform

  • meta: create a more liquid/competitive Market for delivering education: easier creation and destruction of schools. School Choice!
  • make Public Schools into Small School-s, so there will be more of them, so that parents might pick from a larger number in their Neighborhood, avoiding a large Commute
    • use the created spare space in the current big schools for potential Charter School-s
  • give the principals lots more power (contra the Teachers Union and the Board Of Education)
    • let them pick their own Curriculum (death to the New New Math!)
    • let them assign teachers to appropriate classes, rather than having seniority do it
    • let them kick out teachers who don't perform
    • let them kick out students who don't perform, or are dangerous (then you don't need the Police State air associated with having the police needing to provide Security)
    • let them do more subject-specific "tracking" - in other words let the kids who do great at math have math class together.
    • give them control over the janitors and other support staff
  • fire big chunks of the Board Of Education: they suck up money, and make the system less responsive and Adaptable.
  • support greater diversity in structure/Curriculum: Product Oriented Unschooling

Notes from 2001

A special circle of Hell.

Number One Son (3-1/2) is in his second year of Pre-School (in 2001). Next year is pre-K. We can keep him where is he for another year, then send him off to K someplace, or move him to pre-K at a new school next year, which makes sense if it's the right school for him to stay at.

The average city school stinks: only 40% test at-or-above basic standard in 4th-grade english and math tests.

Our Neighborhood school is only at that average.

Some schools do much better than average overall, and/or have gifted programs (TAG) that are excellent. Although if the overall school isn't that good, you have to worry about the chemistry between the gifteds and the general population.

And the good schools are generally not in our District (which is District1; District2 had Anthony Alvarado).

To cross District lines, you have to get a 'variance' from the bureaucracy, and you have to hope there's space left at the good school after it's taken all requests from more local residents.

For the gifted programs, at least if you get accepted, you automatically get the variance. But you can only apply to a single gifted program school! And they have varying standards. So it's a twisted game of guessing which school to take a chance on.

For the pre-K programs, you actually don't need a variance, you just have to get the principal to take you (which is often a lottery). But then you still need to go through the variance procedure for K, so you might have to change schools again! (Or maybe that's just the official word, but it doesn't work out that way... it's like life in the Soviet Union, you have to learn which laws aren't really enforced...)

Public Schools have to follow heavily standardized procedures ("this is the one approved way to teach math"), and teachers are often selected based on seniority and politics rather than ability and interest.

Public Schools have cut lots of programs (few have instrumental music bands). They should be getting rid of administrators instead. The public schools do a lot of fundraising to pay for "optional" programs.

Public school facilities are typically bleak. Private School rooms just seem brighter and more cheerful. (Ugh, just visited on Dec19 the public school in my district I had high hopes for. Gads, the designers and builders of public schools should be flogged in the public square! Maybe someone could at least spring for some brighter lightbulbs?)

Elementary Private School-s can cost $15k/year (in 2005)! And we have 2 kids, so that gets pretty extreme.

And you can get a weird mix of students then. I don't want my kids thinking it's normal to take horse-back riding lessons in Central Park.

On the other hand, I don't want them to think it's normal that Heather-has-1-mommy and a rotating string of mommy's boyfriends. (Roughly 40% of NYC public school students come from a Single Parent Family.) On the other-other hand, (a) not all kids from "challenged" homes are unteachable (see John Taylor Gatto, esp his stories about his student Hector), and (b) this situation has been created at least in part by the War On Drugs.

How rigorous a program do you want? Some schools seem to be having an awful lot of fun at all ages. At Grace Church School, they don't even try to teach reading until 1st grade. Meanwhile, at PS124, they take kids from non-English-speaking families and have them writing stories at the end of Kinder Garten. But the latter school doesn't have any recess! I'm not sure whether this is because the private schools know their students are almost self-educating via their surroundings, so they can just coddle them and not worry, or if it's something else. But the private schools seem almost too low-stim: it's hard to imagine a child of burning intelligence feeling stimulated, though he'll be given the room/support to find his own way.

Some options

cf Learning vs Eating

Rudy Giuliani was always at odds with the Board Of Education, but never really tried to rip them apart.

Mike Bloomberg has made more aggressive plans, but I haven't seen any action yet.

Note that statistics on the number of kids per class count the number of registered students. Truancy (and other absences) reduces the number quite a bit. (John Taylor Gatto often mentions this.)

2003 update

Have decided to send Number One Son to UNIS. Second choice was PS124 in Chinatown, preferably in its TAG program.

Our 2 main concerns with private school are/were (a) gads what a pile of money, esp when you think of 8-12 years times 2 kids, and (b) putting the kids into a rich-kid society where they think everyone in the world has a home in the Hamptons. Item (b) seems less of an issue at UNIS than at the other schools were looked at.

At good public school programs, the big issues are (a) none of them are near us, so transportation would be a hassle during early years, (b) public schools have to put all their resources just into english, math, and science, and can't offer much else of value (so you have to become a soccer mom), and (c) the good schools are so paranoid about their scores that they actually tend to assign too much HomeWork.

  • But I'd still like to give a huge shout-out to PS124, where lots of kids come from homes where their parents don't speak much english, but they end up learning how to read and write really well during 1st grade. Some of the notebooks I saw were amazing.

Ultimately we felt like UNIS offered just a great broad bundle of opportunities, both in academics and in the availability of other stuff (music, swimming, participation-focused athletics, etc.) all under one roof, so we don't have to schlep him around town after school for good-quality extras. Which sounds sillier than it is.

A more-experimental Private School we considered was Little Red School House. I still sometimes wonder if we should have gone that way.

Some details relevant to my area

I am in "Region 9", specifically "District 1".

Region 9

District 1

  • has 15 elementary schools
  • has no Charter School-s
    • starting Sept'2005 there will be a "Girls Preperatory Charter School" (initially just K, 1) and a "Manhattan Charter School" (initially K, 1)!
  • the only TAG in the district is at the NeST School, which we have considered and rejected. Maybe we'd change our mind, but it's a painful Commute.
    • we can apply for District 2 programs, but again the commute can be annoying (though some of them are more convenient than many District 1 schools).

There are "Community Education Councils" which include parents. The Neighborhood councils only include parents of Public School students. There are 2 seats on the Community Education Councils and Citywide Council on Special Education who do not have to be parents of New York City public schools. These seats on the Councils are appointed by the Borough President or Public Advocate. Please call these respective offices to find out their process for appointing people to these seats.

2009 update - The Wife got job opportunity that resulted in Living In Chicago Suburbs, switching to Public School. At that point had 3 kids, which would have resulted in 3 x 13 x $25k in K-12 expense if we had stayed in NYC going with Private School.

Aside from the structure/market problems, I'm very interesting in designing Stimulating Learning Projects.

Comments from others

As a parent facing the frustrations of having registered my child for a public school that has proven overcrowded and substandard in quality, I can totally relate to your article. In fact, I really appreciated reading this cuz the maze is more than i can bare. My daughter was assigned to attend a school four blocks away but is instead being bused 12 miles away ddue to overcrowding. Our efforts to do intensive homeschooling have resulted now in her attending a school where fourth graders are performing at horrendous levels. How sad that the most expensive city in the world is in this state.

I have a third grade daughter who has been attending a gifted program in the Bronx for 2 years. She has done well there but the HomeWork these little folks got was overwhelming and ridiculous. We found it very difficult to be well rounded when so much time was spent on HomeWork. So we took our daughter out of the gifted program and put her back in our local public school, which while overcrowded, is one of the best schools in the City. She is now in 3rd grade and doing work she did in first grade all over again. She's a good kid but she's bored and is acting up a bit in class. I have been unable to find anything on the BOE's policy on skipping grades. Does anyone out there know if this is possible?

I don't know where this might fit in, but I know someone who is doing great things, check out

I have a 9 year old daughter in the fourth grade in a crappy Bronx public school. The students are doing way below the required standards in Reading and Math scores because the teachers are not trained well enough in order to teach the kids correctly. This really disgusts me because my daughter loves to learn and loves to go to school but she gets so bored with the way that she is learning. I was reading on the internet about a Bronx Middle School called KIPPS Academy. It is situated on the top floor of another school and is for 5th graders to 8th graders. It is said to be an exemplary school. There's a long waiting list and any kid could get in no matter what their past report cards say. If it really is a great school I would love to get my daughter in it. Has anyone heard of it or know a parent who has their kid attend it. I want to know if they like it.

My daughter is a Kindergardener who attends a public school on the campus of Queens College. Both her teacher and principal agree that she is a Gifted child (I believe she's smart) anyway. I've asked that she be skipped to 2nd grade in Sept.03. I was told that public schools do not skip at all anymore. The school does not have a Gifted program (the school is 3yrs old), and they don't expect to have any advanced classes at all. I'd like my daughter to stay at this school because of all the programs that will be available to her on this college campus. Does any one know of any loop-holes regarding skipping?

HELP! --2003/08/12 01:12 GMT
I have felt the same way and I thought I was alone. The worst thing of all is that I am a teacher and have felt hopeless at times. I have a 6 year old son who is going to 2nd grade in 9/2003. He is supposed to be in Grade 1, but was promoted ahead in Kind. This has been a big issue for me because I feel like I may have pressured my son and he was not ready for it. He is extremely bright, but I hate his school!! I would put him in my school but it is an early childhood school (K-2) so I don't want him to go from one school to the next. I am looking for a good school; a school with excellent teachers and a child centered environment. It is true- private schools are ridiculously expensive and I can't afford it, so I am basically looking for a school that fits our needs. My son attends a parochial school which concentrates on discipline and, meanwhile, my son is having a hard time reading. It is overcrowded (would you believe that there were 34 kids in his first grade class last year??)! Of course he is having a hard time reading! I help him at home as much as I can, but it becomes frustrating for the both of us and it breaks my heart. But I don't want to go from bad to worse. For those parents who want to skip their children, my advice would be to think about it very carefully. I think that I may have made a mistake with my son and now I don't know what to do. You need to see if your child is mature enough to be skipped (be realistic). You also need to see how much younger your child would be than the rest of her class. There are loopholes, of course. If her birthday is in January it may be done. The cut off date I think is the last day(s) of December. Otherwise it may be difficult. If anyone knows of a good school in Manhattan, please let us know by adding a comment in this site. Thanks for reading!

  • Response from Bill Seitz (definitely no expert, so take it with a grain of salt):
    • if your son hasn't skipped a grade already, then fight now for what you want.
    • there are pretty good public schools, at least in terms of teaching Reading And Writing and Basic Arithmetic. See a couple "report cards" links I've added up the page. Especially take a look at the TAG/gifted programs, and see whether there are any charter schools in your area.
    • see Roger Schank's book Coloring Outside The Lines for his perspective on how parents can help their kids develop the attributes that really matter. And, while kids are "able" to learn to read earlier than we might expect, many who start reading late end up with no problems. So don't freak out. At this age I believe learning is about breadth of stimulation, so don't make it into work. A "fun" book like Steve Cohen's ISBN:0761103309 might be worth a try. And if you read to him a lot, esp stories that interest him, then he'll definitely catch up faster once he starts reading on his own.

GIFTED CHILD -- PLEASE HELP! --2003/09/29 21:30 GMT
Well it just so happens that I am a single Mother, outside the 40% with revolving boyfriends as you put it, and I can not afford to place my child into a private school since i am working on just one income. My child is currently in a gifted public school program called Astre in Distric 27, he is just starting the first grade. My problem is, which most would not think to be problem, is that the cirriculum is well below his capacity, the second day of school he recieved his math workbook of about 280 pages and althought he did not write in it he went through it with me and completed it within the hour. I ask what should I do with a child like this, I searched for better schools but they are all private or I live outside the district. I also inquired about skipping him a grade or two but was told that NYC publics schools no longer do that. Is there any other way to get around this without having to take on three jobs as a single parent to try and place him in private school, which will meet his academic needs but where he would probably never feel comfortable socially where children pull up in Mercedes And i pull up in a ford? Any info would be greatly appreciated, from a very concerned SINGLE MOM!

  • Have you talked to his teacher, does he/she agree that your son is too advanced for the class? What does he recommend? That's a key place to start. If he agrees about your son but doesn't have a good recommendation then talk to other people at the school. Also, you can usually cross district lines without too much trouble if you're accepted into a TAG program. Pick a school you would like him to go to, then go talk to the principal or "counselor" there. --Bill Seitz

Help in Making A Decision --2003/10/01 07:46 GMT
Given the amount of worry I see on these page, I feel sort of bad asking this question but here goes ... Can anyone here compare the effectiveness of a parochial school Elementary School versus a private elementary school education. My son has been accepted into a private school. He's in the second grade. He could also attend a Neighborhood parochial school. I'm new to NYC and am lost in the debate over schools. Can anyone give me a rough, personal opinion when comparing parochial vs. private? Thank you! Single Mom New York newbie

  • my perception is that the parochial schools are not as good, though that could be my anti-religious bias (is a religious insitution going to encourage the independent thinking necessary for the new millenium of flux and uncertainty?). There are no standard test comparison among the private schools, so it's hard to judge objectively. One approach might be to get some stats on what high schools the students end up attending: e.g. how many end up in Stuyvesant or Hunter or one of the other elite-yet-public NycSpecializedHigh School-s. --Bill Seitz

Added note ... from Single Mom Newbie --2003/10/01 07:52 GMT
My son has been attending private school here in Europe, where it is very inexpensive. The private school he's been accepted to in NY is the sister school of the one here. But this sister costs five times what we've paid here. Once I transfer him out of this particular school, there'll be no way he can get back in (because of the specific curriculum and language requirements). So I guess I'm worried about a decision that means no turning back ... Thanks. Single Mom Newbie

  • not clear on what you're looking for? Why would consider sending him to NYC? --Bill Seitz

I have asked his teavher about his giftedness and she agreed that he does seem bored and uniterested, but she is assured that he knows his work and could benefit from a more advanced cirriculum, but he is already in the best public scholl program for his age group, I also just managed to get through to My district office and get the results of his IQ, which were way above normal so now it's official, he's (as they put it) exceptionally gifted, so what do I do now, they won't let him skip a grade, so I guess this means private, which I really wanted to avoid, so do you have any suggestions as to which ones to look at or maybe another possible avenue to go, and don't say HOMESCHOOL because I'm sure I wouldn't be able to accomidate a child with an IQ that makes mine lokk pittiful!!! Thanks again!

  • talk to some other people to make sure your current school really is the best choice. Ask your teacher what she suggests - push on this. Then also talk to some sort of "counselor" or "parent coordinator" at the school - again, ask for specific recommendations. And so on at the district office. Also, are there any other kids in the class who are as smart? That might make it easier for the teacher to give a couple kids more independence for doing more advanced stuff at least a little of the time. --Bill Seitz
    • also, note that many private schools have financial aid programs. I don't know how generous those are, but I've run across some people who've gotten lots of aid thrown at them. Plus, it's possible you'll need to focus on supplementing regular school with After School home projects. Or maybe there's some way where you can work a deal with the school teacher to let your kids spend some time on the regular-class activities, with some independent time thrown in. --Bill Seitz

NYC Doing Its Part --2003/10/09 20:49 GMT
New York to Lower the Bar for High School Graduation:

A recommendation --2004/04/19 20:49 GMT
Anderson program at PS 9 on West 84 St.

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