How Low-Income Brooklyn Kids Get Into Top Schools

5th ave, Sunset park - 17
A WNYC radio story about test prep in Sunset Park uncovered some interesting facts about education and demographics: Of the top 20 zip codes that send the most children to New York City’s elite public high schools, only three are low-income. All of those are in Brooklyn, and they include parts of Sunset Park, Borough Park and Dyker Heights. In Sunset Park, at least, the high acceptance rates to elite high schools can be pinned on the Chinese population there and their embrace of extracurricular test-prep programs intended specifically to ace public-school admissions tests. Testing in Chinese culture has a very long tradition, according to WNYC, going back 2,000 years to the Han dynasty. The story profiled one Sunset Park family who, incredibly, spends $5,000 a year on test prep for its three boys out of a total family yearly income of only $26,000. (The family’s housing costs are low because they own a two-family they share with relatives.) Average yearly incomes in the three zip codes range from about $35,000 to $40,000. Most of the other admissions came from middle-class or wealthy neighborhoods such as the Upper West Side. As for the mother of the family profiled in the piece, she said she hopes her boys will go to Harvard.
Around Sunset Park, Tutoring Is Key to Top High Schools [WNYC]

18 Comment

  • How about a list of the 20 zip codes that send the LEAST number of students to NYC specialized high school? Too politically incorrect for WNYC? That’s where we need to focus our attention. The Chinese know how to take care of their own children.

    • The article might be seen to imply poverty isn’t causative of poor educational destiny, merely correlative. That’s not PC.

      Anyway, its a reasonable place to focus attention – if low-income families can send a disproportionate number of children to the city’s best schools, then take a look at what they are doing to achieve that, and how much of that can be transferred to other low income families currently without the same success rate.

  • Dyker Heights is low income–have they SEEN some of the homes down there (not to mention the Christmas light extravaganza)? A chicken in every pot and a late-model Benz in every driveway.

    • That part of Dyker is mostly Italian, and possibly not sending vast numbers of kids to Stuy, Brooklyn Tech, and the like. The heavily Chinese portion of Dyker is to the north, adjacent to Sunset Park.

  • Why not just drug their kids like everyone else these days.

  • Cultural emphasis on educational achievement might trump income in these instances.

    • Yea, but that emphasis needs to be more than a statement of that as a goal – it needs the mental space for it to become real, it needs shared community knowledge and know-how, it needs actual behavior and practices that support it instead of just words. Otherwise it remains an aspiration and not an actuality.

  • You mean its possible to be a young boy, living in poverty, and actually spend your time studying rather than being “angry”, blaming others for your plight, and causing crime? You don’t say.

  • As a whole, the public schools in Sunset Park are NOT high-achieving. Although it’s a very interesting neighborhood for artists and young adults, it’s not a great place to raise babies and children. Public schools in neighboring Bay Ridge, on the other hand, do tend to be high-performing, with or without extensive private test prep.

  • Poverty is challenging. Neither of my parents finished school, were very low income, and I lived in some miserable hi-rise British projects when I was growing up (“Council estates”). I saw many friends go by the wayside, some making very poor decisions that screwed things up forever leaving them in prison, some being violent upon themselves. I could see a crummy outcome for me if it wasn’t for the family environment that I was raised in, where education was seen as the only way out. It worked for me, but if I hadn’t been able to do well at school because of my family’s sacrifices, I don’t know where I would have gone.

    But I do know, from our foster children, that things can be turned around for kids who are failing academically if they are given stability, if they don’t have food-anxiety, if they have a quiet place to study, if they are parented in certain ways. Too many kids don’t get those chances though.

  • P.S. 172 is one of the top-performing elementary schools in NYC and won a Blue Ribbon for excellence from the Department of Education in 2011. As the parent of a child who goes there, I can’t say enough good things about it.

  • I was in a Chinese Community Center on 79th St. in Bensonhurst on a really hot day this past summer. The place was stuffed with kids of all ages studying their butts off….

  • These kids may be poor but they have intact families who are interested in them. Poverty is bad enough but too many kids have parents who will not even show their faces at school let alone encourage their success.. I mentored one for most of a school year. He was killed a few years ago and I think of him all the time. I don’t know the answer but too many kids need the support of families who are either absent, ignorant or swallowed up in their own problems.

  • The Chinese kids in Sunset Park getting into top schools are doing so despite the educational environment, not because of it. Sunset Park is a big neighborhood. The much heralded PS 172 is a small, zoned school which serves kids in the 20s and is predominantly Latino. It is FAR from the chinatown areas farther east and in the 40s-50s. I’m not sure what Osito57 is talking about in terms of comparing the Sunset park elementary schools with Bay Ridge’s — the two main elementary schools serving the Chinese areas of the neighborhood (PS 169 and 94) are low performing, overcrowded, and frankly (from my tours, and conversations with others in the neighborhood), awful.

    • Yes P.S. 172 serves a small zone (27th to 33rd.) And yes the demographic is different to the one in the article. It’s mostly Latino.
      However, the majority of the students are from low-income families and about 85 percent qualify for free or reduced lunch.

      The reason it’s high achieving is because the principal and teachers provide the kind of education and attention that others pay tutoring services for. Additionally, the majority of parents are really involved in their kids’ education.

      I was lucky enough that I could move into the zone so my kid could go there. The parents in Chinatown are just finding a different albeit expensive way to give their kids the best chance. I moved out of the PS 169 zone because I worried about what kind of education my child might receive there.

      • This being a real estate blog and all, isn’t 29th St & 4th Ave, where PS 172 is located, considered Greenwood Heights, for real estate purposes? The zip code there is 11232. The Sunset Park neighborhood zip code that is in the top 20 zip codes sending the most kids to specialized high schools is 11220, which comprises most of Sunset Park, all the way to the 60’s. PS 172 is in the more expensive Greenwood Heights neighborhood. Probably a fine area to move to if you are seeking an excellent public school like PS 172. If you have kids, that is. Would make much more sense than renting in Park Slope’s 107 or PS 321, etc. Schools in 11220, despite the Chinese presence and their test prep tendencies, haven’t been achieving much. I love, love Sunset Park, I think it is about the most authentic Brooklyn neighborhood left. I’ve spent 9 years there and know lots of happy young creative types who also love it. It’s just not great for people with kids.