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Echo Focus: New Math

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

The stress that goes into getting one’s child set up with a class seat is not for the faint of heart. The process has taken a page out of the storied college application process, with admission, registration and all the more often, a large tuition bill all wrapped up into one neat little package.
New York City makes it all the more difficult. Schools here can be considered an anomaly, as within city limits you can find some of the best schools in the country — public and private — though there are also some of the worst.
The Echo takes a look at the ins and outs of both systems.

Public Schools
The biggest benefit and complaint about public schools lie in the name – they are public, and anyone can go.
Horror stories of gangs roaming the halls and metal detectors aside, recent efforts to adhere to tougher standards have cut a lot of the fat that lay stagnant in the old Board of Education. Now a much sleeker Department of Education answers directly to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the results of his administration’s experiments have been carefully charted.
One of Bloomberg’s most talked about schemes will be put to the test this fall, when “mini” high schools will open, in some places as many as six to a high school building. The idea is to lessen the ways for students to fall through the cracks. Now there are more principals and faculty looking after a smaller numbers of students.
On the elementary and junior high level, magnet schools, specialized schools and admission-only programs offer alternatives.
You do not need a social security number to enroll your child in a public school, making this a viable option for undocumented immigrants.
One glaring problem that the Department has been unable to change is the clear stratification between schools and the neighborhoods they are in. Irish immigrants have oft commented on how different it is from home – when there was one school and it was the same as the one in the town down the road. All too often, a large school in a bad neighborhood will reflect that in poor test scores and overcrowding.

Parochial Schools
Interestingly enough, the combined student enrollment of the New York Archdiocese and the Brooklyn-Queens Diocese is roughly 186,000 students, which would make it one of the 10 largest school districts in the U.S.
Catholic schools education used to be regarded as the only way for immigrants, especially those who were Irish.
No matter the cost, it was imperative to send your child to the kind of school that taught many immigrants of the early 20th century in a similar fashion. Wraps on the knuckles aside, it was a sacrifice considered well worth it.
With admission by the aptly-titled Test for Admission into Catholic High Schools (TACHS), which is administered every fall by the diocese the school is in, competitive standards have made this a route still taken by many parents who are concerned about their children getting a closely-watched education.
Even with tuition, there are other costs involved with parochial schools. Uniforms, trips, and annual drives are what keep the schools running, if administration had anything to say about it, and what started as a pricey endeavor soon adds up.

Private Schools
Yes, there is a difference. At the top tier of tuition, these schools are synonymous with the elite and well heeled. Day schools, boarding schools and the Park Avenue chalets that house some of the most well regarded schools in the city are hard to get into even if you have the money.
With tuition lingering in the $20,000 range for the “upper” schools (secondary school), kindergartens charging in the thousands are giving parents plenty to weight when looking to enroll their children in these highly regarded institutions. Still, the demand is there.
What some might laugh off as urban legends are, in fact, true — waiting lists for spots in pre-schools can start as soon as gestation begins and the competition is fierce.
Many consider such schools as Nightingale-Bamford and Riverdale Country Day School as a fast track for ambitious youths, and will serve a student well into their college years. Facilities, extracurricular activities and teachers are all top-notch.
While teacher pay is not commensurate with that of public school teachers, it is still above that of parochial school salaries and the environment is one that teems with education. And as every school has a downside, here the problems may have more to do with overly involved parents and inflated egos than in other places.
The cost is high, but parents of students feel it is well worth it for the social network and college admissions benefits.
An average of about 20 percent of students receive financial aid at these schools, which is fairly low when you consider that colleges costing the same have an average of 70 percent of students on some sort of financial aid.

While the maze of getting in and paying for school might be a personal journey, the endgame is always the same. No matter the school, learning can always be supplemented with time and a supportive learning environment at home. Because wanting the best for your child might be the best investment yet.

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