School Essentials: New York Schools
It’s a sad truth that if you’re a parent moving abroad, one of the most important issues you’ll face may also be one of the most incomprehensible.
Understanding a foreign country’s school system (and that assumes that there is a single, standard system) can be a challenge. Getting your children into the right school may seem near impossible — e specially when we take a look at the facts:
- The New York public education system (administered by the New York City Department of Education ) is the largest in the world, with over 1.1 million students.
- The five boroughs of New York City are divided into 32 districts.
- There are over 1,700 public schools in the city.
- There are over 75,000 teachers.
Arguably, however, the size and wealth of New York’s education system can make things a lot easier for you. With such a vast system, a lot of the power is decentralized, and the districts (and zones within them) play a major role in the education of their students.
How does it work?
New York schools tend to be grouped the following way: pre-kindergarten/kindergarten/ elementary schools (up to the sixth grade), middle schools (seventh through eighth grade), and high schools (9th through 12th grade), with colleges labeled "higher education" (and not touched on in this 101 guide).
In addition (and sometimes in contrast) to the public school system, there are plenty of private and gifted-and-talented school options, which operate on a slightly different system.
Finding the right New York school may seem like a challenge, but New York International's School Essentials guide can help you through it.
Which School, Where?
Some public schools in New York are fantastic, easily rivaling their private competitors, and some are truly struggling. The school(s) that your children are allowed to attend can wildly vary depending on the area. Information about specific catchment areas should be available from the NYC Board of Education.
There are good books available to help you navigate the system, such as New York City’s Best Public Elementary Schools , New York City’s Best Public High Schools , and the Manhattan Family Guide to Private Schools . It’s also worth checking out various newspapers’ websites for school listings and reviews.
It’s a confusing system at times, so do take heart: It’s not hard because you’re an international, it’s hard because it’s hard. New York parents themselves struggle sometimes, and some choose to hire professional services to guide them through the process involved in choosing, registering, and placing their child in the right school.
Check out Insideschools.org , a good resource for parents. Also try the New York Times Schoolbook for the latest news and info. It also provides a great searchable list of schools by type, level, and location.
As previously mentioned, there are some paid services to assist you with the difficult tasks at hand. SchoolSearchSolutions, for example, specializes in school placement, application assistance, and simply helping you learn about the numerous options available.
New York City School Districts and Zones
Where you live in the city matters if you’re using the public education system. The city is divided into districts, similarly to other U.S. states, but the big difference is the sheer number of schools.
Whereas less populated states might have a school or two in each district, in New York there can easily be dozens of schools per district. In addition, within these districts are zones (or catchment areas) that help determine which school your child should attend.
If you know your address, go to the New York Department of Education's School Search to get information about the nearest schools as well as New York City school districts.
Elementary and Middle Schools
Elementary- and middle school-age children are generally registered in the district school for their zone. This takes place during the spring preceding the September they will start school. For kindergarten students, preregistration normally starts in May for the coming year. Kindergarten is not actually required, but there are still age restrictions. Your child must be 5 years old by December 31 during the year they’re enrolling.
Special schools (such as gifted-and-talented schools, certain religious schools, etc.) do not run on the zoning system, and you must apply directly to register at these more in-demand schools.
Another quirk of the system is that within many districts there are "free choice," "parent choice," and "school choice" policies. These policies remove the need to stick within your zone, and allow you to apply to register your child at any school within the district, giving you access to many more schools. However, children within the zone are still given first preference, followed by children from outside the zone but inside the district. Children living outside of the district can apply on a space-available basis.
Needless to say, figuring out the system will take some research, so give yourself lots of time!
As mentioned, kindergarten preregistration normally takes place in the May preceding the starting year. A parent or guardian will need to physically go to the school with the child and have on hand proof of address, proof of immunization, and either a birth certificate, passport, or baptismal certificate.
Contact the school or the school's Board of Education for details on the immunizations needed. These are important, and you may want so spread them out over time to minimize the pain for your child.
Special schools will test your child’s performance before acceptance. Your best bet is to seek out information on particular schools as early as you can.
Compared to the elementary and middle schools, the system for high schools can be more or less complicated, depending on your view. New York City high schools accept children from throughout the city, with no zone or district restrictions.
However, there are so many different types of high schools, which specialize in various different areas, that testing is much more common. Going to school in a different borough is not even that uncommon for students with their hearts set on a particular school. Contacting the school is your best bet for finding out how open they are about receiving applicants with various circumstances.
New York City Private and Independent Schools
Private and independent schools are private, non-profit organizations with membership in the Independent School Association ( ISAAGNY). These schools accept students based on their performance on a test run by the Educational Records Bureau. The schools do charge tuition, and it’s important to know that you’re realistically looking at about $30,000 per year per child. A tidy sum, but one you may feel is worth it. Above all, it’s important to research the curriculum and philosophy practiced at the school to make sure it’s what you want.
The American School Directory has a large database of more than 105,000 schools both public and private for you to search through. The Handbook of Private Schools , published since 1914, also includes listings for more than 1,600 private and boarding schools, including up-to-date tuition information for private schools in NYC.
Some of the very best schools in the country are in New York, but the applications can be tough and require dedication and commitment from your entire family. The Private School Review has good comparative listings for private schools in the area.
School Choice International is a great resource for information about the different schools and their application procedures. See its list of Greater NYC Private Schools or its explanation of Private School Admissions. The whole site is worth a look, especially considering its focus on international schools and its great resources for children with special needs.