2023 Year in Review

Dear fellow parents, guardians, supporters & partners,

I am honored and privileged to take a look back at this past year to reflect upon and thank you for all the amazing achievements we accomplished together, including:

  • Restoration and expansion of middle school screening and accelerated programs to District 2 and District 20
  • PLACE-endorsed candidates winning 40% of CCEC seats
  • Advocating for revisions to the Class Size law

Since the founding of PLACE NYC less than five short years ago, our successes in advocating for increased access to rigorous, merit-based accelerated education opportunities for all students regardless of their zip code, have been because of your engagement and activism. What began as a ragtag group of involved parents who met in coffee shops has now grown to be a network of over 10,000 parents, guardians, supporters and partners from all walks of life across the five boroughs and even across the US and Canada. 

You care not only about your own children’s education but also want to improve it for all students. You have made a difference: signing petitions, calling officials, speaking publicly, protesting, leading and participating in our Working Groups and events, voting for pro-education candidates and even stepping up to be candidates for public office.

As we now begin a new year, on behalf of the Executive Board, I wish you and your family health and happiness in 2024. I also look forward to your continued engagement and activism this year advocating for rigorous, merit-based accelerated education opportunities for all students. I know together, we will have continued success. 

– Chien Kwok, President and Co-Founder, PLACE NYC

Please support us with a donation. PLACE NYC is 100% parent volunteers but we do have to pay for Zoom, Mailchimp, and website hosting. We appreciate any amount you can spare.

Return of Middle School Screening to District 2, Expansion in District 20  

In 2020, Chancellor Carranza suspended the use of state tests or any sort of academic screening for the entrance to middle schools. This decision – and his infamous statement at the time, “never waste a good crisis” – leveraged the pandemic to strip all middle schools from their ability to select their applicants based on academic proficiency, an absurd and misguided decision for academically screened programs.

Students entering middle schools in the Fall of 2021 were placed based on a lottery, causing unprecedented disruption for families who were already impacted by prolonged school closures and learning loss. NYCPS continued to run lottery admissions for the Fall of 2022, arguing that state test results were non-existent (the state tests were made “opt-in”, resulting in very  limited participation).

PLACE NYC tirelessly advocated for districts to revert to allowing selection for accelerated programs if parents so desired. In September 2022, Chancellor Banks announced the end of the citywide lottery policy for middle schools and returned the autonomy to individual districts. This was a step in the right direction, although the ultimate decision-maker for each district is the superintendent. Some districts, including District 21 in Brooklyn, District 5 in Manhattan, and Districts 25 and 26 in Queens, reinstated their screened admissions for selected middle schools. While several superintendents genuinely engaged their families and conducted a productive dialogue with their local CEC, others chose to limit this engagement and act as the sole decision-makers.

Earlier this fall, our advocacy paid off for two large school districts: D2 and D20. For admissions in the Fall of 2024, several districts announced the return of selected screened programs or the creation of new accelerated sections within large middle schools – including in District 2, Manhattan’s largest district with 25,000 PreK-8 students and District 20, Brooklyn’s largest district with 38,000 PreK-8 students. While PLACE NYC advocated for a full return of screening in all districts, these decisions – which was likely motivated by continued enrollment decline – is a step in the right direction and we will closely monitor whether parents endorse these programs for their rising middle schoolers, while continuing to advocate for truly accelerated programs with objective admissions criteria.


Advocating for a Better Way to Smaller Class Sizes

PLACE NYC worked on analyzing the true impact of the Small Class Size mandate. After several consecutive years of enrollment decline due to various factors – including the pandemic, rising cost of living in NYC, as well as numerous misguided education policies which created uncertainty for families. Many classes today are already in compliance with the mandate, so the timing for passing the Small Class Size bill in June 2022 did not seem to align with what was happening in our schools with regards to class size or enrollment. This unfunded mandate, expected to be implemented over a 5-year period, is particularly alarming given the looming fiscal cliff and the budget cuts across all city agencies, including New York City Public Schools (NYCPS) that were announced by the Adams administration in November 2023.

The biggest issue with the mandate is its lack of flexibility: the legislators opted for a “one size fits all” approach, which will undoubtedly result in collateral consequences, including a reduction in accelerated academic opportunities in NYCPS.

Formal feedback to the Small Class Size Working group was provided in the form of written comments and participation in the public comment sessions. Highlights of the comments provided include:

  • Unproven benefits of the mandate as approved given the limited research (a single study from the 1980s, which looked at much more drastic reduction in the number of students in classes)
  • Risk of reduced seats in high demand programs which are the most oversubscribed at this point – including but not limited to Gifted & Talented district and citywide programs, accelerated middle and high schools, Performing Arts schools,  and Specialized High Schools
  • Space limitation in buildings will result in loss of rooms dedicated to electives (music, arts, labs) and resorting to trailers to house some classes 
  • Rezoning to address extremely overcrowded schools particularly in Queens, South Brooklyn, and Staten Island – with bussing starting in K. 
  • Displacement of 3K and preK programs outside of the elementary schools which currently house these classes, resulting the separation of families and reducing access to those important programs
  • Inability to fill the pipeline of new teachers with qualified individuals, resulting in lower teacher quality
  • Overall lack of funding for both the additional teachers and the required construction, which will result in painful trade-offs if the city needs to comply
  • Shift in funding/resources from high-need, low-performing schools with lower class sizes to lower-need, high-performing schools with larger class sizes

Ultimately, it appears that the Chancellor and his team are cognizant of the impossible task that Albany legislators imposed on them. The final Working Group recommendations were published in December 2023, and, as expected, recommend implementation of the law with rezoning, enrollment capping and all the negative consequences highlighted in the testimonies. A Minority Report signed by 8 of the working group members who dissented and refused to endorse the Working Group’s recommendation, provides a powerful and effective summary of many of the obvious issues with the legislation as it stands today. The Minority Report makes some thoughtful proposals for an amendment to the law which could lead to its partial but realistic implementation.

PLACE NYC Candidates Wins 40% of CCEC Seats 

PLACE NYC mobilized its members for an unprecedented outreach to recruit and identify aligned candidates for Citywide and Community Education Councils (CCEC) elections. Building on the success of the 2021 election, we conducted information sessions in multiple languages, meeting prospective candidates in their neighborhoods, and answering their questions. CCECs are effectively parent run school boards – there is one for each of the 32 geographic districts overseeing elementary and middle school, and in addition, there are 4 city-wide councils CECs: the CCHS (High Schools), CCSE (Special Education), CCELL (English Language Learners) and the newly created CCD75 (D75 students).

This was the second election cycle where CEC members are elected democratically by every parent with children in NYCPS. It is critical to make sure that CECs are truly the voice of parents in their district, as, before democratic elections, the DeBlasio/Carranza administration would often claim that their actions – such as the D15 or D3 diversity plan – were parent-initiated and parent-led. Therefore, we felt strongly that, despite the limited effective power of CCECs under Mayoral Control, true representation mattered and that parents needed to reclaim their voices on CCECs.

After candidates applied, candidates forums were held, allowing PLACE NYC to make voting recommendations for every single district and citywide council. PLACE NYC was subsequently able to mobilize families, delivering strong results for endorsed candidates who claimed 40% of the seats in this election cycle.

PLACE NYC new parents with younger children to become strong advocates and serve on CCECs. As eligibility to serve as elected Council Members is based on having a child still enrolled in NYCPS schools, we want to  develop a continuous pipeline of new parent leaders with younger children who will be impacted for a long time by education policies, to drive high quality education for future families.

Helping Parents Navigate Kindergarten and High School Applications

In October, PLACE NYC hosted over 100 parents on Zoom to share information about the NYC high school application process, tips on researching schools, and “hidden gems”. PLACE NYC started holding admissions events during the pandemic when drastic changes were made to admissions policies and applications. PLACE NYC parent leaders are the most engaged and knowledgeable parents in NYC about our public school system. We invited members of Citywide Council on High Schools and of CEC30 to share their knowledge and experience on the high school application process and provide schools for attendees to consider depending on their location, academic record, program interests and lottery number. 

Following the success of the high school event, we heard from parents new to the public school system needing help navigating kindergarten applications. On December 21, we hosted over 50 parents on Zoom to share our knowledge and advice. Many had questions about gifted and talented programs which were overhauled in the past three years. PLACE NYC parent panelists answered questions on the G&T evaluation process, questions to ask on school tours and how their child’s lottery number affected their chance of getting a seat at popular schools. 

Partnering with Parents Across the Country for Merit-based Accelerated Education

PLACE NYC proudly joined eight other organizations to submit an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in support of a lawsuit filed by Coalition for TJ against the Fairfax County School Board for racial discrimination in admissions to the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. We stand with all public school parents who want access to a great education and who reject racial discrimination in admissions.

PLACE NYC built relationships with parents in different US and Canadian cities to advise, strategize, collaborate and support each other to be more effective education advocates. We are grateful to the following parent groups: Coalition for TJ for Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax, VA; Friends of Lowell for Lowell High School in San Francisco, CA; parents of Boston Latin in Boston, MA and parents of SOS TDSB of Toronto District School Board in Ontario, Canada.


Testifying on Admissions at City Council 

PLACE NYC presented a comprehensive testimony at the NY City Council Committee on Education chaired by Councilmember Rita Joseph. Our previous co-President, Alysa O’Shea, testified at City Hall and also spoke as a parent leader of south Queens and a member of the Citywide High School Council.

PLACE NYC’s testimony addressed the abrupt and drastic annual changes to admissions, made without parent engagement and against the wishes of many NYC families. The unpredictability of parameters, process, and even timing of school applications adds unnecessary and avoidable stress to an already anxiety-ridden time for families.

Lowering academic standards and moving away from merit-based admissions, as well as uncertainty about future educational policies contribute to families leaving NYC public schools.

The testimony also highlighted the flaws of the new G&T admissions process that replaced the G&T test. Evaluations for G&T eligibility are now performed by PreK teachers using subjective criteria and are only done if parents apply for G&T programs. PLACE NYC demanded that NYCPS restore an objective criteria for G&T evaluation and encouraged universal screening of all students.

We requested the reinstatement of middle school screened admissions in districts where superintendents chose to continue with lottery-style admissions. PLACE NYC worked with parents in D2 and D20.

Finally, we relayed families’ demand for an end to lottery admissions for academically accelerated High Schools and a return of real, objective screening for this relatively small number of programs. After catastrophic high school results in June 2022 where thousands of high school bound students either had no offers or were placed to high schools that were a mismatch for their achievement and their potential, PLACE NYC urged NYCPS to make changes. 

Overall, PLACE NYC urged the NY City Council to allow greater engagement and provide oversight to restore rigorous academics, accelerated curriculum, and merit-based admissions. 

Please watch our full testimony here: https://placenyc.org/2023/01/28/place-nyc-testimony-on-admissions-changes/

Demanding Honors and Accelerated Classes in All Middle Schools

PLACE NYC spearheaded a letter writing campaign to Mayor Adams and Chancellor Banks demanding that all middle schools offer honors classes in core subjects to all the students who are prepared to take on accelerated classes. The letter, which was signed by 500 parents, reminds Mayor Adams of his campaign promise and stresses the need to meet each learner where they are and to provide a sufficiently challenging education. Access to honors classes should not be limited to just a few schools in every district. Academically advanced students are an afterthought in districts that did not reinstate merit-based accelerated programs in Middle School, and these students should be supported and not be ignored. Beginning with the 2023-24 school year, every middle school in New York City with three or more sections per grade should offer accelerated classes in both ELA and mathematics in each grade level.  

Celebrating the End of Affirmative Action 

PLACE NYC celebrated the long-awaited Supreme Court ruling against Harvard which renders affirmative action in admissions based on the applicant’s race illegal. Merit has been core to the American and PLACE NYC ethos. Harvard and other colleges and universities utilized race based admissions policies in an attempt to normalize the use of racial discrimination to deny opportunity instead of focusing on merit in offering admissions to applicants. PLACE NYC will continue to advocate for quality rigorous education starting in elementary school, raising expectations and academic outcomes, and recognizing merit so that students can have more control of their academic journey, and not be subject to or dependent on discriminatory practices.

Chien Kwok, then Co-President of PLACE NYC, stated “PLACE NYC advocates for merit-based rigorous education. Excellence in learning outcomes is achieved with focus on the earliest years of childhood, not with racially discriminatory guises that New York City and Harvard use, such as lotteries or “holistic” criteria, to deny high-achieving students’ entry into rigorous academic programs or schools. This is especially reprehensible when used by institutions because there are “too many” Asians. Violations of such rights is exactly what the Civil Rights Act protects against. It is long past due to end discrimination in education.”