Yasmeen Khan is an associate producer covering education. You can find her stories on the air and on SchoolBook.org, WNYC’s education website.
But many educators believe that college readiness starts in a child's earliest years, so the Education Department is also starting an initiative that focuses on the other end of the educational spectrum: preschoolers.
Starting Tuesday, the city will hold its first information sessions for pre-K parents on how to set their children on the path to college and careers.
Education officials say the sessions are meant to develop a relationship between parents and the Education Department, and to impart some of the deeper thinking strategies that students are learning in the classroom, as defined by the Common Core Curriculum.
"When we talk about early childhood as the first step toward college and career readiness," said Sophia Pappas, executive director of the Office of Early Childhood Education, "there's really two parts to that: kids having a solid foundation of skills and knowledge that they need to be successful, and there's also the D.O.E, through its programs, partnering with parents from the start."
Ms. Pappas said that higher-order thinking strategies, such as problem solving, will help set young students on the path to college and that these strategies are already showing up in the pre-K curriculum.
For example, she said, if a child is building a tower of blocks and it falls, the teacher can help by asking, "How do I build the tower that doesn't fall?" Or, "How many blocks are in this tower that's taller than this other tower?"
A key component of this week's parent sessions, Ms. Pappas said, will be helping parents figure out ways to continue this type of learning outside the classroom and in basic family routines, like cooking together at home or comparing prices at the grocery store.
She said the Office of Early Childhood Education has tried to get the word out to its universal pre-K programs by sending messages to principals and social workers and by placing a notice in newsletters to community-based pre-K directors.
"I'm really in favor of it, because there's only so much teachers can do in the classroom," said Mary Cheng, director of Little Star of Broome Street Day Care Center, a community-based universal pre-K program.
Ms. Cheng said she supported the strategies laid out in the Common Core curriculum and the philosophy of engaging children in their own learning. But she said she hoped for more professional development from the Education Department for her teachers so that they will take it seriously.
The Education Department is holding the parent information sessions from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in all five boroughs, starting Tuesday evening in Brooklyn and Queens. There is a full schedule posted on its Web site.
The sessions are free, and door prizes will be raffled at each site. Parents can register ahead of time, but do not have to, Ms. Pappas said.
Education officials will hold two more parent information sessions in the spring, one of which will help parents navigate the Department of Education as their children make the transition to kindergarten.