the road to 70000

As city plans pre-K year two, most families get a top-choice offer

PHOTO: Geoff Decker

More than 80 percent of families that applied for a seat in the city’s rapidly expanding pre-kindergarten program will receive an offer to one of their top choice programs, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday.

The event followed the city’s rollout of a unified enrollment system that let parents apply to both district schools and community organizations offering full-day pre-K next year. Seventy percent of the more than 69,000 applicants received their top choice, officials said, and 12 percent will get an offer to their second or third choice. Another 10,000 or so families will get an offer to a program they didn’t request when letters are sent this Wednesday.

“We are confident that every family is going to find a full day pre-K program that they can fall in love with,” Deputy Mayor Richard Buery said at P.S. 5 in Washington Heights.

The matching process is not yet over, with another admissions round starting in late June that will allow families to re-apply if they are not happy with their choice or want to apply to a program that has added seats more recently. (Buery said 370 programs still had seats available, and that thousands of new seats would become available in the coming weeks.) But it marks a milestone for the pre-K expansion, which has so far proceeded smoothly toward de Blasio’s goal of enrolling 70,000 students in full-day programs by fall 2015.

De Blasio also used the occasion to connect the speed of the expansion to his control of the city’s school system, which expires at the end of June. There is just over a week remaining in the legislative session, and renewing mayoral control for at least three years is de Blasio’s top education priority. Its status remains the subject of negotiations with Senate Republicans, who last month proposed just a one-year renewal that would require state approval of the city’s education spending.

“The funding for pre-K last year was decided by Albany April 1. Pre-K seats were up and running for 53,000 kids by September 4. Five months,” de Blasio said. “It was only possible because mayoral control of education allowed us to do the work quickly and efficiently; allowed us to bring all the city agencies into alignment to get this done. And the same is true for this next big expansion.”

This year, city officials have simultaneously been monitoring the initial expansion and planning the addition of another 17,000 full-day seats for fall 2015. That second-year planning effort has brought new challenges, some of which were detailed in a recent paper published by Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. City officials noted in that report that the many existing community providers were already stretched to their limit with the past year’s growth, leaving the city to find new ways to meet the need for pre-K in both low-income and high-rent areas.

For next year, the city will also need to hire hundreds more teachers and ensure they receive the training they need, while making sure that existing programs are using high-quality curriculum and offering the necessary student support.

“The scale of the NYC UPK program is so much greater than anything attempted elsewhere that quality assurance guidance from ‘peers’ doesn’t really exist,” the report notes.

On Monday, Buery said the city would be open about the results of the evaluation of the effort’s first year, partially so that other cities can learn from how New York addresses those challenges.

“Whether we’re seeing things that we want to see or we’re not moving the needle everywhere, we’re going to be very transparent with that too because it’s all about us learning how to build,” Buery said.

By the numbers

As city gears up for year three of its pre-K expansion, applications hold steady

PHOTO: Jessica Glazer
A scene at a community-based pre-K provider in Queens.

More than 68,000 New York City children applied for full-day pre-K this year, jumpstarting the third year of the city’s expansion, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Thursday.

The total number of applications is in line with last year’s total, but the Bronx and Manhattan both saw drops in the number of families that applied. The Bronx had a 5 percent decrease, from 14,280 applications last year to 13,529.

Brooklyn, the borough with the greatest number of families who applied for pre-kindergarten, saw an increase, with 22,046 families applying — up from 21,500 families last year. Staten Island and Queens saw marginal increases.

The number of applications is just shy of de Blasio’s original goal of enrolling 70,000 four-year-olds in pre-K. The city pointed out that the number of applications represents three times the number of children enrolled in full-day pre-K before the expansion started in 2014.

De Blasio’s push for universal pre-K has largely been seen as a success, with seats generally meeting or surpassing quality standards. A recent, limited survey found that families said that pre-K saved them money and helped their children learn.

This year, the city has made a few changes to the application process. The application period opened earlier to give families more time to decide where to apply. Families will also receive offers in early May, a month earlier than last year.

Families who have not yet applied will be able to apply to programs with available seats from May 2 to May 20.

pre-k report card

City touts record 68,500 students in pre-K, releases data on program quality

PHOTO: Rob Bennett/Office of Mayor Bill de Blasio
Mayor Bill de Blasio visits Sunnyside Community Services Pre-K in Queens on March 14, 2014.

The city released new data Friday about the quality of its rapidly expanded pre-kindergarten program, which officials touted as evidence that the program has maintained high standards even as it enrolled nearly 50,000 additional students over the past two years.

With free full-day preschool as the centerpiece of his education agenda, Mayor Bill de Blasio has more than tripled enrollment since he took office — leaving some observers to wonder whether the city was trading quantity of seats for quality. The new data, compiled from reviews of a portion of the city’s 1,800 pre-K sites that were conducted from 2012 to the present, shows that the quality of New York’s pre-K program is on par with other cities.

The inspected sites on average met or surpassed the national average on a measure of teacher-student interactions, according to review of 555 cites. On a different measure, 77 percent of reviewed sites earned a 3.4 or above on a 7-point scale, which city officials said is the benchmark that programs must reach to have a positive impact on students.

However, Steven Barnett, a professor at Rutgers who is an expert on preschool programs, said that programs should strive to score a five or higher on that scale. The results are promising, he added, but should be seen as a baseline that the city should improve upon.

“They’re OK, but they’re not nearly as good as they should be five years from now,” he said. “It’s not an overnight process.”

Officials also announced that pre-K enrollment reached over 68,500 — just shy of de Blasio’s goal of 70,000 — and said that a recent crop of new students came primarily from low-income backgrounds. Of the 3,000 students who have enrolled since September, 90 percent live in zip codes with incomes below the city’s median.

The pre-K expansion has been one of de Blasio’s only initiatives to garner positive reviews from most observers.

“We’re proud Pre-K for All is performing on a level with some of the most highly-regarded programs in the nation,” de Blasio said in a statement.

The education department used two observation-based measures for the report.

The first, known as the Classroom Assessment Scoring System, focused on how teachers interact with students. It uses smiling and laughter to gauge school climate and judges the quality of questioning in a class. The second, called the Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale, used room set-up and student hygiene, as well as the quality of instruction.

More than 1,000 pre-K programs were evaluated using the second measure in the past three years. On average, they scored 3.9 on the 7-point scale. City officials said a 3.4 is correlated with “improved student outcomes,” including better reading, math, thinking, and social skills.

Barnett, who has studied New Jersey’s celebrated pre-K expansion, said it’s encouraging that categories like “language” and “interaction” were scored higher than “space and furnishings” or “personal care routines.” That implies physical space and classroom routines weighed down the ratings, not teacher instruction, he said.

New York’s scores align with pre-K programs in other cities. New Jersey’s Abbott program scored a 4.0 on the ECERS-R scale in 2002-03, just 0.1 points higher than New York’s rating.

Not all of the city’s 1,800 pre-K sites were evaluated, but soon the city plans to assess all programs. Every three years, each pre-K program should receive both ratings, city officials said.

City officials said they will direct more resources to pre-K programs with low scores on these measures, including extra social workers or more professional development.

They did not offer any specific plans to close struggling pre-K programs based on these observations, though they said that is a possibility in the future. The officials also said they would consider a site’s scores when considering whether to renew providers’ contracts.

For K-12 schools, the city publishes data in annual progress reports for parents. City officials did not say they plan to present pre-K information in a similar way, though all of the data is available on their website.