In an attempt to streamline kindergarten enrollment, on January 13th, the Department of Education will be launching its new, “transformative” process (according to their own press) for kindergarten admissions. You might have read about it here, here, or here. The DoE’s Kindergarten Connect will allow families to apply to multiple schools using a single form, either online, by phone at 718-935-2400, or in person at an Enrollment Office.
In the past kindergarten enrollment was handled at the school level. Students were automatically provided access to their zone school but parents applying to choice or lottery schools would have to apply separately at individual schools. With no central clearinghouse to coordinate the admissions process, some families would receive multiple offers; other families would wind up on waiting lists for months while school administrators juggled a shifting applicant pool.
Here’s how the new kindergarten admissions system works. Between January 13th and February 14th, families will apply simultaneously to up to 20 schools ranked in order of preference, including both zoned and choice schools around the New York City. Gifted and Talented programs and charter schools will still have separate applications. In April, students will receive one offer from the highest-ranked school on their list that has spots available. They’ll be automatically placed on the waiting lists of all schools ranked above the one they’ve been admitted to. And, essentially, that’s it. The regulations used to set the priority order for admissions (preferences for students in zone/district, for siblings, etc.) remain the same. The schools’ internal lotteries for selecting from waitlists and within preference groups also remain the same.
There’s no doubt that Kindergarten Connect will simplify life for parents and schools. For school offices that are often overwhelmed and understaffed (even before recent budget cuts), this new system likely offers needed support. For parents, simpler is not necessarily better. A recent DOE subway ad reads “every NYC family can apply for kindergarten online, without the headache of traveling to explore their options.“ While this may be true, it also does not allow parents to fully engage in school choice. Exploring options by going on tours and through each school’s application “experience” allows parents to make informed decisions about the culture and environment of potential schools. Not every school is the right fit for every child. With the vast variety of school choices in NYC, becoming familiar with the options helps parents determine where their child will thrive. The educational philosophy (e.g. progressive, traditional, arts intensive, math/science intensive, dual-language), the feeling you get from the principal and teachers, the design of the classrooms, the approach to homework and testing, and the level of student engagement are just a few of the indicators that are really only learned when you show up and see the school “in action.” Family alignment to a school’s approach is critical for students and educators alike. In most cases, the success of an educational model requires, or at least greatly benefits from, parents who are on board and actively support it.
There are other concerns. In a December 5th letter to then Mayor Elect De Blasio, some parents outline a few of the more salient ones. They have also started an online petition to urge the new mayor to postpone the launch until their issues are addressed. This is unlikely to happen. For now, we will wait to see how the unveiling of Kindergarten Connect plays out. We hope, for the sake of rising kindergarten parents everywhere, that the road is not too bumpy