Getting to 53000

City approves 10,400 new pre-K seats in sites across the city

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Mayor Bill de Blasio has made no distinctions between the different pre-K providers, only saying that they “will be held to the exact same high standards” as public schools.

The city has approved more than 10,000 new full-day pre-kindergarten seats in privately run centers, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Friday, continuing the city’s all-out sprint to make 53,000 seats available by September.

The locations of those 10,400 free pre-K seats, which will be managed by more than 200 community-based organizations, have come under fresh scrutiny this week. Officials said Friday that about half of the newly approved seats are located in low-income neighborhoods, and noted that hundreds were coming to Crotona-Tremont in the Bronx and to Flushing and Jamaica in Queens.

At a hearing on Wednesday, some City Council members said they were concerned that neighborhoods with overcrowded schools and a short supply of CBOs may be left with few local pre-K options. Today, de Blasio acknowledged that the demand in some neighborhoods may outstrip the supply, at least in the first year of the expansion.

“This is one of the biggest challenges in this process,” he said, adding that some families will have to travel out of their school zones to find available seats. “It’s not always the perfect geographical match.”

The new batch of CBO seats, which were approved by the Panel for Educational Policy on Thursday, brings the total of such seats to 25,000. About 20,000 seats inside public schools have already been approved, and an additional 8,000 pre-K seats inside other nonprofits, religious schools, charter schools, and more public schools still must be approved for the city to meet its targets.

The pre-K seats the city has approved so far are spread across all five boroughs. Of the roughly 45,000 seats, Brooklyn has the most with 15,100, Queens has 10,700, and the Bronx has 10,300. Meanwhile, Manhattan has 6,400 and Staten Island has 2,400.

The city has also continued to face questions about how officials will guarantee that the privately run pre-K sites match the quality of the pre-K classes at public schools.

Deputy Mayor Richard Buery said Friday the city’s quality control began with a “rigorous screening process” that considered the facilities, staffing levels, and experience of the private groups that applied to offer pre-K next year. About 40 percent of those applications were rejected, Buery said.

Once the sites are up and running, city workers will inspect them at least twice per year in visits that may be planned or unannounced, Buery said. The city will hire more inspectors to keep tabs on all the new sites, de Blasio said. And the Department of Education will provide summer training and ongoing support to the CBO teachers, he added.

“This is an extraordinarily large effort and we have resourced it accordingly to guarantee the quality control,” de Blasio said.

Another concern has been the longstanding gap between the salaries of pre-K teachers at privately run sites and those at public schools, who earn full unionized teacher salaries.

The city announced last month that it would increase the pay of CBO teachers to push them closer to public school salaries. But since then, the city forged a deal with the teachers union that could eventually raise public-school teachers’ salaries by 18 percent. A City Hall spokesman said the CBO teachers will not get equivalent raises, and that the city’s goal has been to decrease the pay gap between the groups, not to create full parity.

The deadline to apply for the public school seats has passed, but families can contact schools directly about open seats beginning next month.

Families can now fill out a universal form and submit it in person to any CBO. Beginning next Tuesday, they will be able to apply online. The city is encouraging families to apply for the CBO seats by the end of the school year, but they will continue to accept applications throughout the summer.

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By the numbers

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

PHOTO: Jessica Glazer

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.