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New York City’s best public schools are harder to get into than the Ivy Leagues

Grade four students work on laptop computers at Monarch School in San Diego, California October 8, 2013. While most of San Diego County is wired for broadband access, the Public Policy Institute of California reports 23 percent of local residents have not connected to a service. Students are going home with digital assignments, or with school-issued technology, but with no active broadband connection in the home, according to a media release. REUTERS/Mike Blake (UNITED STATES - Tags: EDUCATION SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY POLITICS BUSINESS TELECOMS) - RTX1448Q
Reuters/Mike Blake
Intense focus is necessary.
By S. Mitra Kalita
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

About 6%.

That was your child’s shot at being accepted to one of New York City’s gifted-and-talented programs this school year. A report out this morning from the city’s Independent Budget Office finds that 36,000 students took the test to get in—for only 2,200 kindergarten seats (and a handful in grades 1 to 3).

Of course, many more children qualified by scoring in the 90th percentile or above. But the IBO points out that “in recent years most of the G&T programs can only accommodate students ranking closest to the 99th percentile.” Indeed, a snapshot of the 5,400 qualified kindergarteners shows that very few of those who scored between the 90th and 96th percentile got a seat:

And for the most elite schools, known as “citywide” gifted and talented, their chances were about 2%; the IBO did not disclose how many spots were available in grades 1-3 but there is very little turnover in these schools. The upshot is that you basically need your kid to get as close to a perfect score as possible—at the age of 4. Of course, whether or not public schools should track children so early is up for debate, with schools chancellor Carmen Fariña saying the system breeds inequality, not only by race and class but even within families: “How do you tell a child that he is gifted but his brother or sister isn’t?”

For perspective’s sake, these are the nation’s 10 most elite colleges, ranked by their acceptance rates:

Only two colleges have odds as tough as New York’s best public school programs. A lot of the reason for the logjam is that New York City has attracted an influx of wealthier college graduates over the last decade, who seek gifted, elite programs for their children. (Disclosure: My kid goes to one of these schools.) Many also hire consultants and pay for test-prep programs to give their kids a better shot of getting in.

So if you live in New York City, the report implies you might be better off saving your money, because it’s all going to be a gamble. Want a surer bet for your child’s success? Read to them. Talk to them. Invest in some flashcards. Economists and education experts largely agree: “The key to increasing upward mobility is expanding vocabulary.”

Quartz reporter Sonali Kohli contributed to this post.

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