path to pre-k

Most pre-K seats are full one week before the start of school, city says

PHOTO: Jessica Glazer
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that 95 percent of the 53,000 pre-k seats are filled, one week from the start of classes.

The city has enrolled 95 percent of its target of 53,000 four-year-olds in full-day pre-kindergarten, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Thursday.

With one week left before the start of school, it was a declaration of near-victory in a hard-fought enrollment battle. Since de Blasio secured $300 million from the state to dramatically expand full-day pre-K by about 33,000 seats, the city has made a major push to sign up students for the seats it created, including sending outreach workers to parades and parks to find four-year-olds, and setting up an enrollment hotline.

The city has enrolled 50,407 children to date, de Blasio said, and he expects that all 53,000 spots across 1,100 sites will be filled by October 1. Last year, 20,000 children  attended full-day pre-K.

“We will have the largest number of children in full day pre-K in the history to New York City, starting this Thursday,” de Blasio said. He noted that access to quality education early on helps students stay at grade level and graduate on time.

The announcement, made in the shaded playground of P.S. 307 in Brooklyn, was also a counterpoint to a Wednesday report from Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office, saying that 70 percent of the city’s 500 pre-K contracts have yet to be vetted by his office, potentially jeopardizing student safety.

De Blasio, flanked by Chancellor Carmen Fariña, Public Advocate Letitia James, City Council members, and commissioners from various city departments, hit back. Just because the comptroller’s office has not seen all of the contracts does not mean that the providers are unsafe, he said, noting that members of a task force from various city agencies have been inspecting every pre-K site and addressing violations swiftly.

If any of those sites’ violations are not “completely and permanently addressed,” the mayor said, the city is prepared to drop those providers and work with families on placing their children elsewhere.

“We’ll close a site if we don’t feel comfortable that it’s up to our standards,” de Blasio said.

Across all 1,100 sites, officials said that five still have health and safety violations requiring immediate attention, down from 12 last week.

Although the deadline for community-based organizations to report enrollment numbers isn’t until Oct. 1, the city has been in touch with the organizations to keep track of the count.

Rebecca Bonano, the director of the universal pre-K program at Fabiana Day Care Academy in the Bronx, said her site has reached capacity with 21 kids enrolled. Officials have been calling her all summer to make sure everything is running smoothly in advance of the Academy’s first year offering pre-K, she said.

“They have been very helpful. When I got to capacity I let them know,” Bonano said. “We expect all the kids to be there.”

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.