Classicism in the New York City Education System; Slipping Through the Cracks

Horace Mann realized the importance of education in the 1830s with the establishment of the first public schools in America. Mann believed that, “ Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men, the balanced wheel of social machinery.”

Based on data from the Department of Education more than 1.1 million New York City students reap the benefits of a public school education. However, there are an additional 500,000 students attending elite private schools across the five boroughs. What is the difference you might ask?

There is a general stereotype that private schools are better because they have their own independent funding, rather than public schools which receive money from the department of education. However, the clear line between public and private schools has become more rigid with the establishment of specialized and charter schools in New York City. Charter schools embody a combination of private and public schools practices. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools defines a charter school as an institution which receives government funding, but operates independently and can be privately owned in some cases. Additionally, specialized high schools such as Stuyvesant High School and Bronx Science are public, but rank as the city’s top nine elite schools by the New York Post poll with college readiness rates reaching 95% and above. With so many options how do you decide on the best school for your child?

Eighth graders, in their last year of junior high school, attempt to take a stab at the specialized high school exam hoping to receive a score adequate for one of the nine schools. While some students simply peruse their notes the night prior, other students start studying for the SHSAT as early as elementary school by taking weekend prep classes. The Princeton Review offers a variety of test prep opportunities such as ten hours of preparation for $1,500. This sum, however, was too high for a current New York City public school student, Dawilka Caraballo, who dreamed of attending Stuyvesant High School three years ago. She could barely beg her single mother of three to spare twenty dollars on a review book. Dawilka also applied to Beacon, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Millennium High School because she scored all threes and fours on state tests, and had a cumulative 98 average at the beginning of her eighth grade year, yet she was denied acceptance from all three. When she emailed the admissions office at Eleanor Roosevelt High School for the reasoning behind her rejection they stated that they prioritize Manhattan students for their 500 seats offered to freshman. Only about 2% of the freshman population are students who reside in the Bronx.

As a result, Dawilka is currently a senior at the Bronx Studio School for Writers and Artists. When asking her to comment on her high school experience she stated, “ …they don’t have the appropriate teachers for certain classes and some classes I can’t even take because they don’t offer them…”. She fears that this high school experience will repeat this year as she applies to college. Dawila used terms such as  “unprepared” and “lost” when mentioning the college process being a first generation, minority, and having no one to guide her through it all.

In addition to the SHSAT for public schools, certain private schools offer other forms of examination such as the ISEE ( Independent School Entrance Exam) or the SSAT (the Secondary School Admissions Test) . For example, the Dalton School located on the Upper East Side reviews ISEE scores when choosing which students to admit. The test is administered during Fall, Winter, and Summer/Spring seasons, and takes three hours to complete. The prices solely to take the exam range between $105.00 to $185.00 depending on the form of registration, and students who score 8’s and 9’s on the 1-9 scoring scale are considered for admission to prestigious schools like Dalton, Riverdale, or Horace Mann. (

What am I paying for? Is the common question many parents ask when deciding to go private with their child’s education. Dalton incorporates the arts and athletics into its everyday curriculum to stimulate the student bodies well being as proven on the school website. Teachers of core classes such as English, mathematics, sciences, and history are graduates of Ivy League and  private institutions. Students take computer science classes, and learn how to use various technological programs such as Microsoft excel preparing them for future tasks in the employment world. While students like Dawilka struggle to get their college applications completed correctly, Dalton seniors are assigned to their individual college counselors towards the end of their junior year, and learn how to fill out a mock college application prior to completing the real one.(

However, the benefit of attending a public school is the diversity that can be seen when stepping into school hallways. Based on a study made by the Southern Education Foundation in 2016 forty-three percent of the nation’s private school students attend virtually all-white schools, compared to the 27 percent of public- school students. Some minorities who attend private schools on scholarships have trouble fitting in. A current University of Pennsylvania sophomore who attended Trinity School on the Upper West Side shared his experiences in a  New York Times article titled, “Admitted, but Left Out”. Ayinde Alleyne, a son of immigrants from Trinidad and Tobago living in the South Bronx, spoke of roaming through his school hallways hearing students discussing their amazing weekends in the Hamptons, or their spring break trips to the Bahamas. He shared that minority students have been ostracized from the student body due to physical and economic differences, or they “fake it till they make it” attempting to change themselves in order to fit in. Based on data from the National Dropout Prevention Center; 48.9% of American students dropout of high school due to “push-out” factors such as “not feeling like they belong” and “ not getting along with others”.

Annually over 1.5 million students drop out of high school. The Live United Organization concluded that the three main reasons why students choose to drop out are lack of parental engagement in their child’s education, poor academic performance, and familial financial need. Dawilka Caraballo openly spoke about her families low income. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays she rushes to catch the train to make it on time for her 3-7 P.M. shift at the midtown Chipotle. Yet, she manages to maintain her status as valedictorian, volleyball captain, and Student Diplomacy Program Ambassador. Overall she commented, “ My mom always complains about how I’m never home. She wants to train me to be a wife, but there is more to me… I want to be the greatest version of myself. She doesn’t understand the importance of my education.” There are many students like Dawilka who feel like giving up when surrounded by doubt and disapproval. When asked about what keeps her going she responded, “…when I see myself in twenty years from now I want to be on a private jet to Paris or Milan, rather than living in the same old project in the South Bronx…”

Theresa Pfister, a former fourth grade teacher at Leadership Prep Bedford Stuyvesant Charter School, and a current program manager at the Sponsors for  Educational Opportunities Program claims, “ All students have the potential to succeed, but not all of them are given the opportunity to do so. This is why we have a lower, middle, and upper class which usually remains unchanged because these students don’t know how to break through the ceiling without proper guidance and support which is usually offered at these private schools. That’s why programs like SEO are created.”  Programs like SEO Scholars, Minds Matter, and The Opportunity Network offered in the metropolitan area aid low income, first generation, minority students who have academic potential, but lack support when trying to gain admissions to competitive four year institutions.

Education, indeed, is the great equalizer of all men, but there is a difference if this education is being absorbed from a dusty textbook dated back to the 1990s, or a newly purchased ipad.

Written by Carolina Bzowski



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s