School Choice: It Helps to Know the Basics
School Daze?

For those of us who grew up outside the city, picking a school was a no-brainer. You went to the one – and there was usually just one – in your district; you registered and then showed up on the first day of school. No problem. For kids in New York City, the choices can seem endless and daunting. For starters, it helps to know the basics – such as the difference between a charter and a magnet. 

• Magnet Schools. There are public schools designed to foster racial integration. They receive federal or state funding for special programs (such as art, drama or law) to draw children of different races who might not otherwise attend. Many are open to children from outside their immediate neighborhood. Call your district office and ask the magnet coordinator for details.

• Charter Schools. These are public schools that function independently of the local districts under a “charter” from the state Board of Regents. The quality of the schools is widely varying. Acceptance is by lottery. For a list, see

• Gifted and Talented Programs. These programs are for students who have been identified, via a test, as “gifted and talented.” They can be separate classes offered within neighborhood schools or they can be an entire school solely devoted to gifted children. Sometimes, they consist of after-school classes.

Unzoned Schools, also known as “option schools,” are for children from a whole district or even a whole borough. Children are accepted by application or by lottery.