It's a change that was supposed to be greeted with cheers: allowing kindergarten applications to be completed online, instead of having to show up in person at each school. But the plan is being met with skepticism and concerns about equity -- as well as some cheers.
On the eve of Thursday's Panel for Educational Policy vote to approve Kindergarten Connect, emails have been sent to panel members, asking them for more time for public comment.
One email, shared with Schoolbook, refers to an "opaque" process in which a "centralized, computerized system would disadvantage low income children and English Language Learners whose parents would be less likely to use such a system, leaving them far fewer choices in reality."
The Department of Education said the $800,000 contract is intended to make life easier for busy parents. Here are the D.O.E.'s answers to various questions Schoolbook has received about the online application process.
Does this change mean parents can ONLY apply online?
No. Parents can still apply to kindergarten in person at their borough enrollment offices. But they will NOT fill out a piece of paper. The offices will be trained to assist them in person, or over the phone, in filling out the online application. If a parent shows up at a school, they should not be turned away; they will be assisted in filling out the form.
Applications will still be taken between January and March. Once families receive their choice they will then have to provide identification, to prove they live in the right local zone.
The D.O.E. said more than 75 percent of families (out of more than 1,800 respondents on a citywide parent survey) said they would prefer to submit their kindergarten application online.
What will be available for families who do not speak English? Will they be at any disadvantage if they do not have a home computer?
Parents can apply over the phone and translation services will be available in roughly 150 languages. Those who go to enrollment offices in each borough will also get language assistance. The Department of Education will also work with public libraries to help parents apply online if they don't have Internet access at home. If parents go directly to schools, they can receive support with the application there.
How does it work?
There is a single application that will allow parents to rank their options in order of preference. They can choose up to 20 different schools. They can choose zoned schools, schools in other districts, and magnet schools or dual language programs (which have their own priorities). But gifted and talented programs still require separate tests and applications. The D.O.E. said its citywide tool will allow parents to spend more time researching schools online or at the schools themselves, and less time submitting paperwork at each location.
Is this like the matching process for middle and high school applicants?
A computer will generate matches. But D.O.E. spokesman Devon Puglia said this is "absolutely not like high school and middle school admissions."
"Rather, it would be fair to characterize this as an enhancement that’s a bit more automated and parent friendly. It is a reflection of priorities that parents already have for given schools." he said. "It is not the same algorithm as high school in any sense – it is completely separate and mirrors existing practice that was being done by paperwork and data entry."
How will parents receive offers?
Families will receive one offer, which will be the highest possible based on the schools they rank. If they receive an offer for their third choice, for example, they will remain on the wait lists for their first and second choices. So if a family's top choice is their zoned elementary school, and there are more applicants than seats, they will remain on the wait list but will be offered another option right away.
Does this mean schools will change their policies for admissions?
This is solely a change in the application process. It does NOT mean schools are changing their admissions priorities.
Who gets preference? Will a zoned family who ranks their local school at 10 out of 20, for example, have less of a chance of admission than a family from out of the zone that ranks the school number 1?
Ranking does not impact zoned priority. A family in the zone will continue to maintain priority over a family from outside the zone.
Can the city assign a child to a school their family did not choose or rank at all?
Yes. As is the case now, if the family only applies to one school and does not receive an offer then they are given an alternate placement.
When will families learn about their child's placement?
Instead of getting a letter saying your child is wait-listed in March, and then getting an offer in June, all offers will be made at once.
What if space opens up in a very sought after school, but everyone has already been placed in other schools? How long will the waiting list remain in effect?
The waiting list, as it currently does, will remain in effect through the start of the school year in September. If the family receives an offer for their second or third choice, for example, they will remain on those wait lists. This way parents get an offer for the highest possible school they ranked while remaining on the wait list for any schools that were of higher preference.
How will the waiting lists be reported to the public?
The D.O.E. says it is still working out this process for reporting the results, because families will remain on waiting lists even if they didn't give a school their top ranking.
Will this lead to a flood of applications at the most sought after schools?
Perhaps. Parents can always take their chances. But the zones, criteria, priorities and preferences will remain in place.
How did this work in the three school districts that were part of a pilot program last year for online kindergarten applications?
The D.O.E. tried online applications last year in District 1 in Manhattan, District 7 in the South Bronx and District 23 in Brooklyn. These three districts are unusual because they are all un-zoned, meaning parents are allowed to apply to any school in the district.
The D.O.E. found that with the online and telephone options, significantly more parents applied for kindergarten earlier in the year. In District 1, 88 percent of applicants were matched to their first choice and 93 percent were matched to their first three choices. The percentages were higher in Districts 7 and 23. But, D.O.E. warns against making comparisons with other districts because the rest maintain local zones for elementary schools.
How will do will dual language and magnet schools be affected? Or district schools such as the Manhattan School for Children in District 3?
Parents can continue to apply to these programs in person, or online through Kindergarten Connect. Priorities for individual school admissions will not change. This is not a lottery.
Just to be clear, this common application called Kindergarten Connect does NOT include gifted and talented programs such as Anderson, Hunter and NEST+M?
Those programs continue to be separate; children take tests to get into them. They will find out at a separate time if they scored high enough to be accepted into G&T programs, and then they can apply.
What will the city do to publicize these changes?
Starting on September 30, for four weeks, ads will air on radio and across mass transit, including on subway cars, bus exteriors, next to subway platforms, and on the Staten Island ferry.
Does this affect charter schools?
No, they still use their own application system.