For families moving to New York City with children, wading through the barrage of city schools to make a suitable selection can be an extremely daunting task. The decision on what type of school new arrivals send their children to in New York may also play a significant part in which neighbourhood they choose to live in.
Public school attendance is based on school zones, so parents who want their children to attend a public school in New York will need to ensure they can find and afford a place in that catchment area. Those who send their child to a private or international school in New York will have more flexibility, as the student's address doesn't govern admissions.
Public schools in New York City
The New York State public school system is the USA's largest, with an enrolment of nearly 2.5 million. There are more than 4,000 public schools throughout the state, which can range from first-rate to totally inadequate.
Public schools in New York don't charge fees. However, better public schools tend to be in wealthier areas, and individuals can usually only attend schools within their school zones, based on address. Attending schools outside a designated zone is difficult but possible in some cases. Most New York City schools are diverse and accustomed to students from overseas, so international students should be able to settle in fairly quickly.
There are several charter and magnet schools in New York. Though classified as public schools, charter and magnet schools have more freedom and flexibility regarding teaching style, school policies and academic programmes. These schools operate on a performance-based contract with the government.
Read Education and Schools in the USA for more on the country's education system.
Private schools in New York City
New York is home to many private schools that are exceptionally academically competitive. Many also have stringent application procedures, so waiting lists can be long and prospective students must often pass academic tests and interviews.
In general, the standard of education at private schools tends to be better than at the average public school. Private schools also usually have superior facilities that allow their students to pursue extra-curricular activities such as sports and music to a higher level.
The downside of private school education in New York is the high fees. Newly arrived parents must also budget for other costs such as uniforms, textbooks, extra-curricular classes and field trips.
International schools in New York City
In a city as diverse as New York, it will come as no surprise that numerous international schools are available to meet the demands of the city's expat population.
International schools in New York teach foreign curricula in the language of their sponsoring country. The ideal situation is to attend an international school where the curriculum of one's home country is followed and where teaching is in the family's native language.
International schools are an excellent option for students whose first language is not English and those who are only in the US for a short time. However, not all countries are necessarily represented in New York's international schools. Still, attending an international school with a different curriculum from that of one's home country can be beneficial, as they allow children to experience different cultures.
Fees at international schools tend to be high. Many of the more popular international schools in New York are oversubscribed and have long waiting lists, so parents who wish to send their child to one of these schools should begin the application process as soon as possible.
Special-needs education in New York City
The New York City Department of Education assists students with special educational needs through Individualised Education Programmes (IEPs). Under this programme, the student's IEP team will determine what kind of school will best suit the child's needs and what level of assistance is needed. Ideally, children aren't separated from their peers in NYC public schools but are given additional resources and support in a mainstream context.
In cases requiring more care, special-needs students may be placed in part- or full-time Special Classes (SC) in public schools. These classes are limited to 12 to 15 pupils, and students with similar needs are grouped together. Parents can also consider 'District 75' schools – these are public schools providing highly specialised education for those with disabilities.
If private schooling is preferred, there are nearly 200 dedicated private special-education schools throughout New York State. Other private schools mainly cater to pupils without special needs, but also have special-needs services available. International schools, for example, often have a special-needs department catering for mild to moderate learning disabilities and assisting English second-language speakers. This usually comes at an additional cost to regular school fees.
Tutors in New York City
Local tutors can be a valuable resource for newly arrived families as they can provide support in several ways. For example, a child struggling to adapt to a new curriculum may benefit from extra lessons with a tutor to help get them up to speed. Tutors can also assist foreign children with low English proficiency or help them maintain their mother tongue if they attend a school taught in a different language.
There are many reputable tutoring companies throughout New York City. Parents may want to use a private tutor for specialised one-on-one tutoring. Some well-respected tutor companies in NYC include Central Park Tutors, Prestige Prep and Big Apple Tutoring.
There are also tutor services provided by non-profit or government-affiliated organisations. One such example is the New York Public Library's 'Enrichment Zones', where children can get help with homework and develop reading and maths proficiency. Organisations such as Boys and Girls Clubs of America and 826NYC also offer similar programmes.
►Kids and Family in New York City provides some useful insights into family life in the Big Apple
►For a list of recommended schools, see International Schools in New York City
"I can tell you from my friends' experiences that schools in New York City fall into two categories – you go to a good public school (rents in those neighbourhoods are understandably more competitive than in other parts of the city) or you pay for a pricey private school.
My understanding is that neither is stress-free. Most good public school districts have waiting lists (meaning even if you are living in the district, there is a chance your child won’t get into the public school of your choice). Private schools are equally competitive and much more expensive." Learn more about living in New York in our interview with Jessica, a US national who repatriated to New York City from Hong Kong.
Are you an expat living in New York City?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to New York City. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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