NYC Admissions Guide 2015-2016: Charter Schools

Editor’s note: This story is part of our larger 2015-2016 NYC Admissions Guide, which you can read here.

  • For our story on the Universal Pre-K admissions process, click here.
  • For our story on the Kindergarten admissions process in public schools, click here.
  • For our story on Gifted & Talented program admissions, click here.
  • For our story on independent nursery school admissions, click here.
  • For our story on independent school admissions for Kindergarten and up, click here.
  • For our story on Catholic school admissions, click here.

Each year, thousands of New York City parents ponder school choices for their children. If public schooling is something you are considering, in addition to traditional district schools, there are 208 public charter schools operating in NYC in 2015, educating more than 90,000 students.

Charter schools are free public schools that are open to all city students. They operate independently of the NYC DOE. Because they are separate from the district system, charter schools have greater flexibility in the ways they operate. They can develop their own academic programs focusing on the arts or science, for example, choose staff, and set their own educational goals and standards for student behavior. Many also have longer school days and a longer school year, and they tend to be smaller, providing a more intimate atmosphere for learning.

Importantly, charter schools have enrollment structures that are different from district schools. The following information will help clarify the admissions process.

New York City Charter School Center visits South Bronx Classical Charter School, Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014.
South Bronx Classical Charter School

 1. All students must fill out an application: Since charter schools are independently managed, parents must fill out an application for each charter school they would like their child to attend. Parents should contact each school to inquire about their admissions process, as every school sets its own application deadline. A majority of charter schools begin accepting applications in January and stop accepting applications by April 1 for placement in August/September. Keep in mind that there may not be a charter school in your area, and if there is, it may not serve your child’s grade. It is also important to remember that you can apply to as many charter schools as you think might be a good fit for your child.

2. Charter schools run lotteries for admission: When there are more student applications than seats available, charter schools are legally required to hold lotteries to randomly select students for admission. Students who are not selected in the lottery will be placed on a waiting list for spaces that may become available in the future. If you apply to multiple charter schools, there is a chance that your child’s name may be accepted by more than one school. In that case, parents usually have a week or two to confirm which offer they are going to accept. Students who are accepted through a lottery will be enrolled in the school and are able to remain there in future years. Parents cannot transfer their child from one charter school to another without going through the application process for the school they want to move to. However, if a child’s school provides elementary grades at one location, and middle school grades at another location, that child will have the right to move to the middle school from the elementary school.

3. Charter schools are required to give preferences in their lotteries: The law requires charter schools in NYC to give preference to returning students, siblings of students already enrolled in the school, and students who reside in the Community School District in which the charter school is located. In addition, charter schools are permitted to give preference to students at risk of academic failure. Accordingly, some schools give preferences to students receiving special education services, those students learning English, and students who are economically disadvantaged. Each school sets their own lottery preferences in accordance with their charter contract.

4. There are three ways to apply to charter schools: 1. Visit the school’s website directly to download an application or apply online. 2. Stop by the school to pick up an application, or call the school and ask the staff to mail you an application. 3. Visit the Charter Center’s website, nyccharterschools.org, to apply to multiple schools online through a common charter school application offered in multiple languages. Most, though not all, schools are part of this application process.

5. Research will help you choose the charter school that’s right for your child: Of course, applying to a charter school is the easy part. Choosing a school that is a good fit for your child is much harder. The best way to get to know a school is by attending an open house or tour—usually offered in the fall—and asking about the school’s educational model, school culture, discipline policies, and opportunities for parent involvement, to name a few. Parents may also want to consider learning more about its academic results and other accomplishments via its State Education Department “report card,” accessible via the search engine at data.nysed.gov/index.php, as well as its progress report prepared by NYC’s DOE, which you can find at schools.nyc.gov/Accountability/tools/report/FindASchoolQualityReport. 

Charter schools vary widely in their approach to creating the right environment for student success. Some use the Montessori model, others believe in a highly structured and rigorous environment—with many schools falling somewhere in between. There are charter schools that focus on the arts, while others offer intensive math and science supports. Finally, some charter schools have been in operation for years, while start-up charter schools are still growing into grades and establishing their successes. Ultimately, your choice of school is very personal. The more you can find out, the better. Application season doesn’t start until December, but it’s never too early to start investigating which school is right for your child.

James Merriman is the CEO of the New York City Charter School Center, an important of hub of advocacy, resources, and support for people wishing to start charter schools as well as existing charter schools and their communities of educators and families. For more on their work, and to find and learn more about NYC’s charters, visit nyccharterschools.org.

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