Kindergarten Disconnect?

By George Hunka

KC_onewebsite_091213The Kindergarten Connect program, a new online tool for families across the five boroughs to apply for kindergarten in New York City beginning in September 2014, is beginning to draw fire. Several members of the Citywide and Community Education Councils (CEC) have distributed an open letter to Mayor-Elect Bill de Blasio, asking him to delay implementation of the program for at least a year. The text of the letter follows:

Dear Mayor Elect de Blasio,

We write to you to express grave concerns regarding Kindergarten Connect, the Department of Education’s new student enrollment system.  It is our fear that this inadequately tested system will result in chaos, confusion and distress among New York City public school parents, similar to the well-intentioned, but glitch-plagued “health insurance marketplaces.”  We believe this can be avoided by postponing implementation for one or more years.  During this period, the following actions may occur: 1) hold public hearings to ensure that a major public education policy shift is guided by a transparent and inclusive public process; 2) provide parents the opportunity to learn about and offer feedback on the system; 3) revise the policy in response; and 4) pilot the system in zoned school districts. We base these recommendations on the following information:

  • The DOE did not assess the new system in the 29 community school districts with zoned, neighborhood public schools; it was piloted only in 3 districts with unzoned schoolsThus, the problems and complexities of ranking neighborhood schools are completely unknown.
  • The DOE has not coordinated roll-out with schools, thus magnet and zoned, neighborhood schools have tours scheduled past the new enrollment deadline.  As well, school directories were just released today (12/4/13) and do not present 2013 data, although it is available.  This means that parents cannot accurately assess schools and make an informed decision regarding ranking their options.
  • The system’s ranking system may maximize class sizes in some districts and reduces parent options in others. The DOE has stated that they will seat the greatest number of students allowed by contract in schools as necessary, even if that is not currently a school’s practice.
  • The system relies heavily on computer-based enrollment, leaving parents without computer access seeking assistance from 311, local schools or district enrollment offices.  Based on how little the schools know about the system presently, it is unlikely that school staff will be able to assist large numbers of parents in the complex process of researching schools and assisting the parent in ranking their options.
  • Outreach to public day care, Head Start programs and Universal Pre-Kindergarten programs has been completely inadequate.  We have yet to find a UPK or Head Start program that knows about this new process, even though the application period begins in roughly 30 school days.
  • Finally, and most importantly, matching English Language Learners and Special Needs students to schools requires more information and sophistication than is present in the system described by the DOE.  This absence may systematically disadvantage these children, widening inequities.

These are just a handful of the concerns that we have identified.  We urge you to review the attached rubric for analyzing the system, read our list of questions and concerns, the press coverage of the issue and the video taken of a recent Community Education Council (CEC) Six meeting. This system was pushed through by the Bloomberg administration at the eleventh hour, with the contract rubber stamped by the Panel for Educational Policy in September. No public hearings were held, CECs were not consulted and school leaders were not involved.  We do not want to see the first few months of your new administration marred by its disastrous implementation, particularly if a year or more delay would bring parents and the public into the process.

We thank you for your consideration and will make ourselves available to you at any time to discuss in more detail our concerns and our ideas for a system that will increase both access and equity, through community consultation that is both authentic and inclusive.

Sincerely yours,
Tory Frye (CEC6)
Kari Steeves (D6 parent)
Liz Rosenberg and Kemala Karmen of NYCPublic.org

[list of other signatories in formation]

Your observations and comments are welcome.

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