Volume 78 - Number 48 / May 6 - 12 , 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933


Talking Point

A new equity and transparency in school admissions

By Joel Klein

Registering your child for kindergarten is often stressful — many of you are preparing to send your son or daughter to school for the first time. Reports of kindergarten wait lists for the fall at public schools in District 2 have added to the anxiety this year. I want to assure families in the community that we’re taking steps to enroll all students who have applied for kindergarten as quickly and fairly as possible.

Let me begin with the facts. A total of six District 2 elementary schools have wait lists for their zoned students: P.S. 6, P.S. 59, P.S. 183 and P.S. 290 on the Upper East Side; and P.S. 3 and P.S. 41 in the West Village (although there is one combined wait list for these two schools). In all of District 2, a total of 242 students are on a wait list at the school they are zoned for. This is a much smaller number than recent news accounts have reported. 

These wait lists are the result of two changes we made to the kindergarten admissions process this year. First, we eliminated the practice of first-come, first-served admissions that many schools used in the past, which gave an advantage to well-connected parents who knew when a particular school would begin registering students, and had time to wait in line that first day. Instead, this year each school accepted kindergarten applications until March 6; schools then admitted students based on a clear list of priorities, with the highest being given to the students living within the school’s zone. 

Second, we asked all schools to maintain wait lists of students to whom they could not immediately guarantee a seat. Every spring it is common for schools to receive more applications from zoned students than they can actually enroll. The difference this year is that schools registered only students to whom they could guarantee a seat and placed all other applicants on a wait list. This change gives parents a clearer picture about their children’s chances of being able to attend a particular school. It also lets us immediately identify schools that are experiencing a surge in demand and work with them to find ways to accommodate it. In the past, these issues were not addressed until September. 

If you’re a parent of a student on a wait list, however, you’re understandably frustrated and confused; it’s reasonable to want to know now where your child will attend school in September.

The answer is that she will almost certainly attend her zoned school. This is because three factors are reducing wait lists even as you read this. Let’s use P.S. 3 and P.S. 41, where there are currently a combined 90 zoned students waiting for a seat, as an example. 

We are considering relocating the pre-kindergarten programs at P.S. 3 and P.S. 41 to nearby locations for the 2009-’10 school year. This move will open as many as 75 additional kindergarten seats at the schools, which we will offer to students on the wait list within the next week. 

Second, 26 students who are zoned for P.S. 3 and P.S. 41 qualified for kindergarten gifted and talented programs this year. Many of these students either have a seat at one of the schools or are on the wait list, but will instead choose to enroll in the gifted program that we will offer them next month. 

Finally, some families who accepted kindergarten placements will ultimately decide to enroll in a nonpublic school or a school outside New York City. This happens every year as families weigh their educational options, but this year’s application deadline gave families an additional incentive to apply to their zoned school — even if there was only a small chance they would want their child to attend. 

All of this means that many of the students currently on the wait list at P.S. 3 and P.S. 41 will receive a placement at one of the two schools by the end of next month. Any students who remain on the wait list are still guaranteed a kindergarten seat. These students will receive a placement at a nearby school by the end of June and will be able to remain on the wait list at P.S. 3 and P.S. 41. Seats will likely open up for these students before the start of the school year, since families often move over the summer. 

The combination of these three factors will also reduce or eliminate wait lists on the Upper East Side and Upper West Side. There, too, the few students who do not have a placement by the end of next month will receive one at a nearby school. 

No explanation I can give will fully make up for the stress and inconvenience of being placed on a kindergarten wait list. But whether you have a child on a wait list or not, I hope you can recognize that we’re trying to bring equity and transparency to an admissions process which did not have either before this year. The families we welcome into our schools every year deserve nothing less, and the placement of every child is important to us.


Klein is New York City’s schools chancellor

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