Education is the foundation for a functioning society, and parents naturally want their children to receive the best schooling they can. However, there are many options when it comes to education in New York City. The quality of the school, budgets, and systemic issues have many people worried that their children won’t receive the best educational experience. One debate parents in the city grapple with is whether to send their children to traditional public schools, magnet schools, or charter schools. So how do these options stack against one another? Do they provide children with the same opportunities their peers get? What are the pros and cons of each?
NYC Traditional Public Schools
The Department of Education designates which students go to which traditional public school depending on where they live in the city. In total, there are 1,722 schools with a total budget of $34 billion a year, easily the largest public school system in the country. On average, public schools in the city are performing on par, and in many cases better, than other schools in the state. There’s a lot to consider when it comes to these scores. But, overall, traditional public schooling is slowly getting better every year.
That said, some areas still struggle a bit. For instance, while a good amount of a school’s budget comes from the state and the city itself, the majority of its budget comes from property taxes and the number of students who attend them. While property taxes are high everywhere in the city, there are still vast differences between the richest and the poorest districts. Additionally, many parents are seeking to send their kids to charter or magnet schools, which means fewer students and less funding for traditional schools. This means that schools can have vastly different budgets, and less money means fewer resources. Schools might not even have access to basic supplies, much less popular extracurricular programs. This divide is slowly being fought, but progress has been slow.
NYC Magnet Schools
Magnet Schools are another branch of the public school system, though with a few distinct differences. As schools that are more specialized, the education is top-notch. This top-notch education is no surprise considering they receive more government funding to keep their special programs thriving. Magnet Schools can specialize in a number of things, like science, math, the arts, and the humanities among others. This gives these schools a much more flexible curriculum and extracurricular activities, all without paying tuition.
However, despite being tuition-free, not everyone has access to them. Students must submit an application to these schools, and less than a tenth of students accepted in 2018 were Black and Latino, despite the fact that Black and Latino children make up two-thirds of the student population in the city. That’s a bad statistic that needs to be corrected. But, again, progress is slow. Some steps, like a lottery, have been added to make things slightly more equitable. However, that’s just a band-aid given the larger, systemic issues seen in magnet and traditional schools.
Charter Schools in NYC
Charter Schools are the final branch of public school, but to call them “public” schools is a bit of a stretch. While they do receive public funding, charter schools don’t answer directly to the Department of Education. They, instead, make a contract with the city or state and report directly to them. They are privately owned, usually by non-profits. While they have to take standardized tests like other public schools, the rest of their curriculum is much more open and versatile.
However, this versatility can come with downsides. While test scores are through the roof, many charter schools have had issues with racial sensitivity, as detailed in 2019 by Richard Buery, a former DeBlasio deputy and head of policy at KIPP, the Knowledge Is Power Program which has a number of college prep charter programs around the country. Buery also noted that other criticisms about charter schools, like how students struggle when they get to college or how the lack of a teacher’s union provides little protection, are completely valid and need to be addressed. While charter school leadership is acknowledging these issues, they are all still privately run, so it’s hard to track if problems are being solved everywhere.
Public schools in NYC are pretty good, with high test scores and stellar options for students. However, those stellar options aren’t available to every student. This is only highlighted by the fact that NYC schools are some of the most segregated in the country due to zoning policies, application processes, and the ways they are funded. Rich schools that do receive funding seem to hoard resources from other schools in their zoning district, though several districts in the city have taken steps to make things more equitable.
At the end of the day, the biggest issue that NYC schools face is that they are all run and funded so differently. Yet they are all public schools. They are all supposed to be open to everyone and tuition-free. And on paper, they are. However, in practice, they thrive on separation, so it’s tough to fix issues with one branch of this system, without fixing the entire thing.
Overall, if you send your children to a public school in NYC, they’ll most likely do well. The teachers here are dedicated, the students are bright and eager to learn, and the schools are safe because the city is safe. That said, even with all those positive attributes, there is still an imbalance between privileged communities and those with fewer resources. Education is the future, and children should have equal access to the resources that will ensure that the future is bright. Instead, many schools struggle to buy basic supplies, while other ones get to build robots and take lavish field trips. Every child deserves access to a great education, extracurriculars, and additional support should they need it. NYC schools are still pretty good. However, they could be a lot better.