Nothing stresses out parents in New York City more than making a decision about where they send their kids to school. Between public schools, private schools, charter schools, and Gifted and Talented programs, parents in NYC have choices. Many, like NYC Dads Group member Edward Yau, are immersed in application processes, paperwork, and school tours. Enjoy this guest from Edward as he begins his search for the “right” Pre-K for his son.
I can barely believe it, but the time has come for our little boy to go to Pre-K. Sort of, he won’t be entering Pre-k for another 9 months or so we hope. I’m speaking in these vague and indecisive terms because not only is getting your child into a NYC Pre-K terrifying and difficult, it is not guaranteed!
This is our first time going through the process and I started at level zero with absolutely no knowledge at all about what I was getting myself into. I have learned many facts through many late nights of research over the past several months, such as:
- The New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) only has enough seats for about 65-70% of all Pre-K applicants
- Neither Pre-K nor Kindergarten is required by state law, so the NYCDOE is not obligated to provide those services
- Private school admissions deadlines are normally well in advance of the NYCDOE admissions process, which doesn’t start sending offers until June.
What parent doesn’t want the best education for their child? As the multitude of front page articles would tell you, the question of what makes a school good is both an ardent topic of debate and highly political. On top of that, this island of Manhattan seems to be in its own world when it comes to neurotic parents doing whatever it takes to get their children into whatever is considered the “best” school. I won’t soon forget a Today Show episode where a guest was pontificating that her young child’s $38,000 per year tuition was worth every penny, because it meant she would get into the Ivy League.
Manhattan parents have this reputation that they just care about the image of their children getting the best schooling at the best schools. While this may be true for those that could afford a $38,000/yr tuition, for us, we just want our child to actually learn something. I don’t believe that paying through the nose in tuition is going to guarantee a good education. Both of us went through the public school system and this Ivy Leaguer and NYU alum didn’t do too badly. In addition, I don’t believe that a school’s test scores offer the full picture of what goes on there. Scoring well on a test could be a matter of knowing how to take the test, as opposed to actually knowing the subject matter. How much do you actually remember from all those exams you aced in school? I surely don’t remember the difference between mitosis and meiosis and I would have never graduated without Cliff Notes.
Take one of the schools we visited recently. This school in our district is present on almost every top list I found online in terms of math and english language scores. Their model of teaching follows a rigid Chinese style approach that tests like crazy and assigns a ton of homework. While we were touring the school, I felt myself breaking into a cold sweat as the Pre-K teacher was barking commands at her group of overwhelmed 4-yr olds. The memories of all those unpleasant Saturdays spent at Chinese school (where I didn’t learn a thing!) came rolling back. Obviously, this school is not our choice for our son, test scores be damned!
Unfortunately, short of visiting every school, one doesn’t have much to go on when it comes to evaluating them outside the state test scores and those pesky letter grades the NYCDOE assigns to every school in the city. I was quite demoralized for awhile, as the schools we could choose from mostly graded an overall “C” or worse. One school even scored a ZERO on its performance grade. That’s right, goose egg! How does one score nothing on a test? The thing I learned about these letter grades is that the NYCDOE uses a bunch of very subjective factors to come up with them. Statistics are a funny thing, work them hard enough and you will always find the answer you want. The worst part is that these letter grades are highly political and no one seems to want to talk about them. I had to grill at least three educators before I could get a straight answer about what these NYC grades mean. My conclusion was to take the letter grades with a grain of salt and to compare them against the actual state score results. Then take a tour! There is nothing like a little face time to get to know a place. Talking to other parents also makes a big difference and the tour is a good place to do it. It was also great to see just as many Dads as Moms on these tours!
We believe in the public school system. Ideally, we’d like to get our son into a school where he could continue through 5th grade or later. We do fear the worst in that our son could potentially not be accepted to any Pre-K at all. But out of principal alone, we won’t be throwing away deposit money by entering him into a private program that he might not attend. Never mind the money, we could be selfishly taking a spot from someone else that really wants it. Sure, some may think that we’re gambling with our son’s education, but at the end of the day, I believe that a child’s development comes down to good parenting and then the child’s individual desire to succeed. And I believe that a child’s desire to succeed starts at home.
Edward Yau is a geek dad that writes code for his kid.