Quinn's Quest for 'Kindergarten for All'

Thursday, March 22, 2012 - 08:11 AM

Kindergarten is not mandatory in New York City. And so anywhere from 3,000 to 6,000 children each year who meet the age qualifications don't enroll in kindergarten -- and too often those are poor or disabled children who need it most.

Last month Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker, said she would press Albany to approve a bill that would make kindergarten mandatory in the city, and end the experience of having children show up in first grade without ever having attended a day of school. Such a measure would cost around $30 million a year.

It's worth it, says Ms. Quinn, whose quest for kindergarten for all is explored by Winnie Hu in The New York Times this Thursday morning.

Ms. Quinn, who grew up in Glen Cove, N.Y., on Long Island, attended parochial school, which did not have a kindergarten, she says. But her mother had a strong belief in education, and drove her the mile every day to public school so she could attend kindergarten, before enrolling in the Catholic school in first grade.

Many children in New York City also have parents determined to see their children start school in kindergarten, but because of vagueness over the rules -- and apparent rationing of the available spots -- many of the children who need it the most are discouraged from attending.

Randi Levine, a lawyer for Advocates for Children of New York, a nonprofit education advocacy group, said several families had contacted her in recent years after schools asked their kindergarten-age children to leave or limited their attendance. For instance, a poor single mother of a 5-year-old Hispanic boy with behavioral issues was told by a Manhattan school that he could attend kindergarten for only two hours a day because there were not enough resources to care for him all day.

“While children in New York City have the right to attend kindergarten if their parents choose, the voluntary nature of kindergarten has caused widespread confusion and has resulted in children missing out on this critical year of school,” Ms. Levine said.

This year, there are 68,245 kindergartners in the city’s public schools. Ms. Quinn is trying to line up the support of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, city Education Department officials and legislative officals to ensure there are more in the coming years.

Ms. Quinn credits her interest in the matter to her mother.

“I have an enormous appreciation and almost reverence for education that she embedded in me, that she really gave me,” Ms. Quinn said. “And the foundation of that was kindergarten, the first time I had to go to school.”

The Times article includes a sweet school photo of Ms. Quinn, now 45, as a kindergarten student.

Also in the news this foggy Thursday, schools that are slated to close are turning to the courts for help.

Anna M. Phillips reported in SchoolBook late Wednesday that the Peninsula Preparatory Charter School in Far Rockaway, Queens, received a restraining order that will halt the city's proceedings to close it, at least until a court hearing on March 29.

The school received C's, not failing grades, on its school progress report, which made its closing unusual to begin with. And parents and school officials say the school is improving. Parents also claim that they will be forced to send their children to nearby schools that have the same or even lower progress report grades. But the city says the school has not met the goals outlined in its charter, and wants it closed.

And in Brooklyn, parents of students at the Satellite Three middle school in Clinton Hill are appealing to the state to block the city's plan to phase it out over three years, The Local news blog in Fort Greene-Clinton Hill reported. The city has listed the middle school for closing, saying its progress report grade has dropped to a D from a B -- but parents are saying that is because the school had three principals in a year, and that it is improving with stability, The Local reports.

The last-ditch effort to save the school came just hours before an open house for a new Urban Assembly Unison School, which will replace Satellite Three. That school is accepting applications now for its first sixth-grade class.

About three dozen parents turned out to hear about the new school's program, Erin Horan reports in The Local. Jennifer Ostrow, who is slated to be the new school's principal, and staff members described the school's "collaborative" curriculum, which is based on "Learning Cultures," a program that allows students to learn at an individual pace by working in small groups. The Local report describes the program in detail.

Parents seemed very receptive to the new school and its curriculum, The Local reports.

“It’s very appealing, and I’m warming to the idea,” said Judith Best, a mother from Bedford-Stuyvesant. “I think this learning model will work well for [my daughter].”

Gotham Schools' Rise & Shine morning post has a more complete roundup of what's in the news this Thursday.

At 10 a.m., AT&T; will present a $110,000 check to Junior Achievement of New York "to help deliver economic education and empowerment programs to New York City students." The presentation will be at Academy of Finance and Enterprise high school in Long Island City, Queens, "where Junior Achievement provides students access to programs, which enhance their normal school curriculum, such as the Job Shadow Program," a news release says.


News, weather, Radiolab, Brian Lehrer and more.
Get the best of WNYC in your inbox, every morning.

Leave a Comment

Register for your own account so you can vote on comments, save your favorites, and more. Learn more.
Please stay on topic, be civil, and be brief.
Email addresses are never displayed, but they are required to confirm your comments. Names are displayed with all comments. We reserve the right to edit any comments posted on this site. Please read the Comment Guidelines before posting. By leaving a comment, you agree to New York Public Radio's Privacy Policy and Terms Of Use.