One small fix for NYC’s cruel lottery for kindergarten assignments

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New York City parents of pre-K students will apply for kindergarten seats in less than a month — and that means crossing your fingers that your kid gets assigned a good lottery number. Making it even worse, the Department of Education doesn’t even tell you what your number is.

The lottery is part of a ridiculous system designed to appease social-justice warriors instead of helping parents with hopes and dreams for their children’s futures. We’re stuck with it this year, but the DOE can still make it a little less cruel.

The 70,000 families applying to kindergarten deserve to know their child’s lottery number in advance of the application process so they can make the best selections for their children. By withholding that info, the DOE forces parents to list programs their child may not even be qualified for — wasting valuable school-application spots. 

In 2021, PLACE NYC launched a campaign to help 5th grade parents applying to middle school learn how to get their child’s lottery number — which families have a legal right to access — via Freedom of Information requests. The office handling such requests was so inundated that the DOE decided to add the lottery numbers to every student’s MYSchools on-line account page — a big win for transparency and for parents.

Eric Adams
Eric Adams announced in April he would expand the Gifted and Talented program in New York City schools.
Paul Martinka

Pre-K parents deserve the same transparency now. The DOE has a number for every child and an existing mechanism to deliver it to every parent. There is no excuse to withhold that crucial information from parents. 

Knowing your lottery number in advance of the applications is critical in deciding which schools to apply to. (And if you have a particularly bad lottery number, you might want to investigate charter, parochial, private or homeschool options before deadlines pass.)

A family has 12 choices for a kindergarten application that they must rank — including Citywide and District G&T programs. But parents don’t even know if their child will be recommended for any G&T program because the process for a subjective teacher evaluation isn’t triggered until after you list the school on your child’s application.

Bill De Blasio
Bill de Blasio tried to phase out the Gifted and Talented program in late 2021.
William Farrington

Worse yet: Even if your child’s teacher recommends them for a G&T program, drawing an unlucky lottery number leaves no shot at one of the 2,500 seats in G&T (which historically has 625 applicants per slot).

So parents could list six or more schools out of their 12 choices, not knowing in advance if their child is even eligible or has no chance even if they are.

The lottery system for assigning kids to schools has long been the goal of “equity” activists, who reject grades and test scores (meritocracy and hard work) as serving white privilege and systemic oppression. But they didn’t get their way until COVID. 

David Banks speaks at a press conference regarding special education initiatives in the NYC school system at ABC The Graham School at Echo Park in Manhattan.
Chancellor David Banks has failed to replace the anti-merit lottery system.
Stephen Yang

Then 2020 saw all such testing canceled, and Mayor de Blasio’s anti-merit schools chancellor canceled all grading, and the DOE then declared it had to use admission lotteries for lack of objective measures to judge student performance.

That excuse is gone, but Mayor Eric Adams and Chancellor David Banks have inexplicably failed so far to replace the de Blasio anti-merit lottery system. 

How to replace this awful system for G&T? Return to objective test measures instead of subjective teacher recommendations (which are time-consuming, expensive and riddled with bias); institute universal screening to identify the gifted children in every neighborhood who could benefit from a rigorous curriculum; expand the number of G&T programs and schools to meet the demand and need. 

But fixing what de Blasio broke takes time; this year’s kindergarten-applying families won’t get a perfect system. But they can have a less-unfair one if the DOE does what’s right: Tell families their child’s lottery number before applications are due.

Maud Maron is a co-founder of Parent Leaders for Accelerated Curriculum and Education (PLACE-NYC).

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