The item below, in The Paper of Record, caught my attention. As it happens, this elementary school is my son's alma mater and I know it inside out.
First, a light-hearted moment. So, the gist of the NYT article is that people far outside the catchment will lie, cheat, and steal to get their children into this school. Yet, the DOPE's ("Dept of Public Education") progress report on PS 321 gives the school an overall grade of "B" mostly because of its Student Progress grade of "D". How to understand the seeming paradox of families desperate to gain entrance to an okay school?
Maybe somebody can help me out, but I see only three possible explanations. Either the Education Mafia are morons and they produce a report that is mainly worthless, or people are stupid and do not understand the value of the report, or the report is a tangible measure of the disconnect between Education Mafia ideology and the hopes and aspirations of the common citizens.
But now, there is a deeper mystery. So, here we have, in PS 321, a school that is highly desirable to very many people. What is it about PS 321 that is so desirable and, if it is so desirable, why do the Education Mafia not duplicate these desirable elements in other NYC elementary schools? I can tell you that the desirability of PS 321, if not unique, is certainly rare and of very long standing: the school was highly desirable years before my son attended and it remains highly desirable some eight yrs after he "graduated".
That the Education Mafia has not replicated this school, many times, is plainly evident from the NYT article. So, I am racking my brains figuring out what about PS 321 is so hard to replicate. In The People's Republic of Brooklyn, in The Church of The Democratic Party, in the very Mordor of American liberalism, in a borough that voted for Obama in 2008 at a rate north of 90% (and will most likely do so again next week), could this be the explanation:
As the day draws to a close at Public School 321, the school that launched a thousand strollers toward Park Slope, Brooklyn, the grown-ups begin to assemble outside. Bus drivers pull their long yellow ferries up out front. Parents and caretakers hover near doorways and perch on benches.
Some adults wait in cars, ready to shuttle their little students to homes far away, even far outside the school?s prescribed zone.
They are beneficiaries of a longstanding regulation in New York City that says that once children are registered at a public school, they can remain until they graduate, regardless of where in the city they live after registration day.
But Park Slope has seen a lot of development in recent years, especially in family-size apartments, and the Education Department is pushing forward a plan to redraw several zones in the area and add a new school, in an effort to keep overcrowded institutions from becoming even more tightly packed. If the plan is approved, the zone devoted to P.S. 321 will shrink by the equivalent of about 10 city blocks. The catchment area for another crowded and popular Park Slope school, P.S. 107, will be slimmer by about five blocks.
Suddenly, this longstanding regulation for children who move has slid directly into the eye of a fraught fight. Many parents on blocks facing rezoning, who bought their homes expressly so their children could attend a particular school, are furious and panicked. And there is a sense among many of them, who pile into community meetings and online forums, that families who touch down in the neighborhood just long enough to register their children, sometimes for just a year or less, may be following the letter of the regulation but are not following its intent.
?They?re safe,? said Leslie Uretsky, a parent of two young children who are being zoned out of P.S. 321 and into a new school. ?My daughters would be an experiment.?
School officials say it is primarily the new construction that is creating the untenable trend of overcrowding, not the children who attend P.S. 321 but live far away. Nonetheless, parents living in the zone say that the children who live elsewhere are taking up precious seats, and that families who come to the area without plans to stay long are taking advantage of the rules.
Though the circumstances surrounding those families who do not stay vary widely, more often than not it was the school that drew the parents in, and it is economics that forces them out.
When it was time for Stefan Fredrick?s daughter to start school, he and his family moved from their rental in Park Slope, just outside the P.S. 321 zone, to another rental within the zone. The apartment was not ideal.
?It cost a fortune,? Mr. Fredrick said, ?and to spend that and having mice running around wasn?t great.?
After years of looking for a home to buy, and putting down a few bids on apartments in the P.S. 321 zone, Mr. Fredrick said his family found a place in Gowanus, just a few blocks away from the school but outside its zone. So they took it.
?It was not our intention to zip in and zip out,? he said. ?We would have stayed if we could have.?
Francesca Pope, who was retrieving two of her four children from P.S. 321 last week in a gray minivan, said it was economics that forced her family, as well, to move out. Ms. Pope grew up in Park Slope, in the house where her father was raised, she said, but when she was pregnant with her third son, the apartment where she and her husband were living was sold. The apartments they could afford in the area were untenable for a family with more than two children.
?Even our bed wouldn?t fit in some of those places,? she said.
They moved to Flatbush, but she did not want to take her children out of the school they knew. Ms. Pope has two sons there now ? if a school has the room, siblings of students already in the school can enroll, even if they do not live in that zone ? and she continues to volunteer at coat drives, class trips and fund-raisers.
?Families are really truly invested in the school, even if they leave the neighborhood,? Ms. Pope said. ?It?s a source of stability.?
The relocation rule, which has been on the books for at least two decades, provides children with an important modicum of stability, even if their families move around, educators say.
?Switching schools disrupts education,? said Carrie Marlin, a planning official at the Education Department. ?We think all students deserve continuity.?
None of that, however, is of great comfort to the families being squeezed out of the zone, who say they are being blindsided, with little warning and less opportunity to be heard. The plan will be put to a vote in the coming weeks by the district?s Community Education Council, which controls rezoning; if passed, it will go into effect for the next school year.
At a community meeting this month, Elizabeth Phillips, the principal of P.S. 321, said that while the majority of students who live outside of the zone lived within it at some point, there were those who never did.
?Are there people who lie about their address? Of course,? she said before a roomful of jittery parents. ?We check as much as we can. We do home visits. But there is a limit.?
One official said schools sometimes had success rooting out parents who were lying about their address simply by asking for more documentation when they went in to register, which led some parents to stop trying.
Another factor in this very expensive neighborhood is property values. Ruthanne Pigott, president and owner of Brenton Realty, a local brokerage, said there was a premium built into prices of apartments in the P.S. 321 zone. And though prices in the neighborhood are extremely high even outside the zone, many families are anxious about the prospect of losing that premium.
Jean-Francois Collard, a parent in the neighborhood that is being redrawn out of that zone, said he and his wife planned to sell their apartment to pay his children?s college tuition; now he fears that they could end up $100,000 short.
One thing most of the neighborhood?s parents can agree on is that there is no perfect solution to P.S. 321?s crowding problem. Another is that when it comes to children, a primal rule applies. Said Katie Keating, a P.S. 321 parent: ?You can?t really fault a parent for trying to get their kid the best situation they can.?