The Education Department operates the public schools in New York City. The largest system of schools in the United States, the department is headed by the schools chancellor in conjunction with a leadership team. The current chancellor is Dennis M. Walcott.
The Panel for Education Policy is described on the Education Department Web site as “the governance body” for the department. The panel consists of the chancellor and 13 members appointed by the borough presidents and the mayor. The panel has far less authority than the old Board of Education, which was eliminated after the state Legislature gave New York City’s mayor full control over the public schools in 2002.
Citywide and Community Education Councils are advisory committees of elected parent leaders who help to administer schools on the district level. The councils are made up of 12 people — 9 elected parent members, 2 community members or local business owners appointed by the borough president and 1 (nonvoting) high school senior. They can review educational programming, approve zoning lines and make recommendations to the department.
New York City’s public schools also include all of the charter schools in the five boroughs. Charter schools are publicly funded, but they are run independently, by boards made up of educators, community members, supporters and parents. They receive public financing on a per-pupil basis but receive no financing for facilities and have to raise it on their own or through the help of outside supporters — though the Education Department has taken the unusual step of allowing many charter schools to co-inhabit its public school buildings, sharing space with regular schools in what amounts to giving them free space. The public charters are organized under the New York City Charter School Center.
Private schools are not part of the Education Department. They are independent organizations run by private entities, and are financed in whole or part by charging their students tuition. Private schools are exempt from some state regulations, although many choose to adhere to them in the name of educational quality.
More information on the city school system can be found on the department’s Web site.
New York City has 32 elementary and middle school jurisdictions that are known as community school districts. Each district has its own superintendent and receives guidance from a Community District Education Council made up of parents and local representatives. Each district handles zoning, parent support and supervision of school administrators.
A community superintendent oversees and supports all schools for prekindergarten through grade 8 in each school district. The superintendent approves teacher tenure decisions and rates the principals of schools in the district.
While those tasks are significant, the superintendent’s role has changed substantially under mayoral control. Under the old system, a superintendent could hire and fire principals, move staff members from one school to another and would have significant say in school spending and in choosing schools’ curriculum. If a parent had a problem with a principal, the parent used to be able to appeal to the superintendent directly. Today, superintendents address parent concerns that the district family advocates can’t manage.
None of that authority really exists anymore. As Jim Dwyer, the Metro columnist for The New York Times, wrote on March 2011:
“The local superintendent in charge of the district — a person holding a potentially useful position that is required by state law but that in New York City has become as vestigial as a tailbone — had virtually no authority to control, supervise or remove the principal. The power to make changes rests with the Department of Education….”
As such, superintendents are no longer the resource they had been for parents. Instead, much of the role of assisting parents has been assumed by the district family advocates, who are under the authority of the district superintendents, or the central Education Department at the Tweed Courthouse. Parents also have the option of calling 311.
High schools, including most of those that also include lower grades, are overseen by high school superintendents. Those superintendents are assigned by the chancellor to oversee and support designated schools. They also serve as liaisons to the citywide High School Education Council.
A full list of community and high school superintendents can be found on the department’s Web site.
The site also includes a full list of district family advocates and borough directors:
The city is divided up into 32 districts. Each district is then divided into zones for the purpose of defining the geographical area that is served by neighborhood schools. If you don’t know what your zone is, call 311 and tell them your address.
A zoned school is a neighborhood school, which is supposed to accept all children who live in its boundaries.
There are several kinds of un-zoned schools, which are called alternative schools, option schools, choice schools or magnet schools. Some of these, like Ella Baker in Manhattan, accept applications from all over the city. A few, like Midtown West in District 2, are open to children in their district. The Brooklyn New School is open to all Brooklyn residents. Applications must be made directly to those schools.
Then there are the gifted schools. Most of the city’s 32 districts offer gifted programs, and in addition, there are some more selective citywide gifted programs. Students must test into all of them. All incoming kindergarten and first-grade pupils who score at the 90th percentile on the admissions tests and rank every district option listed on their application are guaranteed a spot in a district gifted-and-talented program. Students who score at or above the 97th percentile are eligible for (but not guaranteed a seat in) the more selective citywide programs. A full list of gifted and talented programs can be found on the Department of Education Web site.
Networks, now known as Children First Networks or C.F.N., are small groupings of approximately 25 schools. The networks were developed as part of an initiative to empower principals to make the best decisions for their school. Unlike the old district system of grouping principals together by geography, the new networking system allows principals to connect with other like-minded principals — regardless of school type or borough — to surround themselves with the instructional and operational support that best fits their needs. Schools in a network share a 14-member support staff, which provides services similar to those once provided by the school districts.
A zoned school is a neighborhood public school for all students who live within a designated geographic area, or zone. The zone’s boundaries are set by each school district’s Community Education Council. A zoned school offers convenience to families, because it is usually the public school closest to the student’s home.
Magnet schools are community schools that receive government funds to offer special programs that are meant to attract students from many neighborhoods, with the goal of achieving racial integration. Programs offered include studies in music, science, business, law and others. Some magnet programs require an exam to demonstrate skills in the program specialty in which the student wishes to enroll. To find a magnet program in your area, contact your Borough Enrollment Office or speak to the guidance counselor at your school.
According to the teachers union, the United Federation of Teachers (U.F.T.), the following are the maximum sizes of classes allowed under their contract:
In practice the D.O.E., particularly in high schools, often exceeds these limits at the beginning of the school year, but under pressure from the U.F.T. generally brings them down to the contractual limit, though it can take weeks for some schools to do so. Arbitrators will also make exceptions in some cases.
In past years, class size has been generally kept lower than the contractual limit because extra financing was available to hire more teachers. That money, generally, is no longer available.
Each school has a portal through the Education Department’s Web site that provides some information. Some schools also have their own self-created sites, as do some school parent associations. There are also networks of parents who communicate with each other online by e-mail or in discussion groups. Information about the public online resources that are available at your school can be found on the school’s page on SchoolBook, or you can ask the parent coordinator or another parent.
The Achievement Reporting and Innovation System, also known as ARIS, is a Web-based database for tracking all information about students, teachers and schools. It also gives parents access to information about their child, including test scores, grades, attendance, school statistics and transcripts for students in middle and high school.
Through ARIS, parents can participate in their child’s academic experience and monitor the child’s progress. The information is accessible to parents online through the department’s Web site.
A parent can begin using ARIS by contacting the parent coordinator at his or her child’s school to obtain a temporary password. You will then need a personal e-mail address and your child’s student identification number. Once you have logged in to ARIS you will be able to see your child’s records and test scores dating back to the 2005-6 school year. The information is accessible in 10 different languages. You can also find resources through ARIS that will help you understand the information it provides. The system is phasing in more information for parents to see.
Many schools have purchased other software packages for tracking student test scores and other sources of data. Ask your school if there is a Web site other than ARIS that you can use for keeping up on homework assignments, quizzes, attendance, test scores and even PTA meetings.
More information and a tutorial on how to use ARIS can be found at the Education Department’s Web site.
These answers were researched, reported and written by Jessica Bell, Jessica Campbell, Christina Diaz, Beth Fertig, Maria Newman and Rachel Ohm. To correct, improve or enhance an answer, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.