Research Proposal–Amanda Gurren

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Research Question: Has competition increased for entrance into top elite pre-schools in New York City, and why?

Relevance/Why it Deserves to Be Researched: How did we get to the point where competition for preschools is the norm? I have consistently questioned this ever since I had asked my mom why in the world we had moved from lively, wonder-filled New York City to that of a boring, seemingly bleak suburb in Fairfield county. After her grocery list of  mundane reasons, she blurted out that she could not get my brother into a decent preschool. Now, this response came to me as a complete and utter shock considering my brother was at that time pursuing his undergraduate degree at Tufts University. I remember chuckling to myself at the time that my seemingly “prodigy-esque” scholarly brother was incapable of passing a test that probably entailed differentiating colors from one another and the proper technique of finger painting. Granted, I was unable to grasp the reality of the situation at hand and what was occurring in education reform around the United States.

I have read various accounts of concerned parents and their experiences with this frantic (and many would argue, ludicrous) registration process for pre-kindergarten schools in New York City. What has caused parents/guardians of New York City to go through such extreme lengths to secure a spot for their children in a prestigious pre-kindergarten program? Could it be simply accredited to the fact that the NYC school system is ill-equipped in its ability to tend  to the educational needs of the volume of children within the five boroughs? Or could it be accredited to the belief that these pre-k schools will better a child’s academic success in the years to come?

Regardless of the cause, it is undeniable that the preschool application process has become cutthroat and incredibly heated in New York City. The admission process has escalated to the point where observed play sessions, interviews, parent-written essays and profiles of children have become a part of the application norm in many of the most elite preschools in New York City and other parts of the world.

How I Searched For Primary and Secondary Sources: To begin, I simply typed into the Google search engine “preschools in New York City” where I was immediately greeted with hundreds of thousands of hits. I found one website in particular ( to be completely intriguing where it provided me with a sort of database to search the best schools in my general area. That said I plan to revisit the website later on to discuss how elaborate, time-consuming, and confusing the entire application process actually is. I wished to narrow it down with adding “Competition preschools in NYC” and found a wide range of sources—ranging from blogs to discussion boards, all the way to New York Times articles. Most of these articles were about the competition that has arisen for the most elite private preschools in New York City and the havoc that has come to engulf the application process.

I then acknowledged the fact that I needed something of more substance and began my search for books. I know for certain that I will read some chapters of Whatever it Takes by Paul Tough for some of the studies conducted about the importance of a pre-kindergarten education in a child’s life and determine if and how these studies may have played an important factor in the competition that has arisen for preschools.

Furthermore, I searched “JStor” for scholarly articles written and studies conducted that explored the benefits and impacts of a quality preschool education. I stumbled upon various articles written by prominent scholars in the education field (listed below in the bibliography). In my opinion, “JStor” is an incredibly effective search engine in that most materials posted there are legitimate and credible.


Anderson, Jenny. “At Elite New York Schools, Admissions Policies Are Evolving.” The New York Times, September 5, 2011, sec. N.Y. / Region.

This New York Times Article provided great insight into Trinity, one of New York’s top pre-schools where the acceptance rate of 2.4% for those families who have no ties to Trinity,  joking that getting into Harvard that has an acceptance rate of 6.2% look “easy.” This article discusses the importance of legacies and siblings—a factor I previously only associated with high school and college admissions.

Barnett, W. Steven. “Benefits of Compensatory Preschool Education.” The Journal of Human Resources 27, no. 2 (April 1, 1992): 279–312. doi:10.2307/145736.

Belkin, Lisa. “Competition for Preschool.” Accessed April 2, 2013.

“Competition for Preschool the Fiercest Yet – College Confidential.” Accessed April 2, 2013.

A comment that really stood out to me in particular, which was posted by member “Roshke” on March 3, 2006 at 2:23 p.m: “This article just about blew my mind. Safeties for preschools?? Thick and thin envelopes expected next week?? Essays for 18 month olds?? I kid you not, in NYC they now have seminars dedicated to “idea starters” for preschool application essays. And a sought after school consultant there claims that it is impossible to overstate the importance of the essay in determining, what else, demonstrated interest!!!!!!! And the icing on the cake had to be, are you ready for this…….an EARLY DECISION option – for PRESCHOOLERs!!!! What is this world coming to? I’m (almost) speechless.”

I feel as though this discussion board in particular will really provide me with great personal accounts and feedback on the issue at hand, which will in effect add that extra voice I need for my research paper. I understand that this is not an incredibly valid website, but it does provide me with some insight into the public’s mindset and reactions.

Karoly, Lynn A. Preschool Adequacy and Efficiency in California. 1st ed. RAND Corporation, 2009.

Saulny, Susan. “In Baby Boomlet, Preschool Derby Is the Fiercest Yet.” The New York Times, March 3, 2006, sec. Education.

This New York Times article provides astounding statistics about the “baby boom” that has occurred in families and in part explains why the competition has escalated to such a high degree. It explains that “In 1995, there were 3,707 twin births in all the boroughs; in 2003, there were 4,153; and in 2004, there were 4,655. Triplet births have also risen, from 60 in 1995, to 299 in 2004. Because preschools strive for gender and age balance in generally small classes — and also, some parents suspect, as many potential parental donors as possible — it is harder to get multiple slots in one class” (Saunly).

“Think Applying to University Is Tough?  Try Applying to Preschool in NYC.” ParentDish. Accessed April 2, 2013.

NPR Staff. “N.Y. Preschool Starts DNA Testing For Admission : NPR.” Accessed April 2, 2013.

This article I found to be most startling. This was done as an April Fool’s Day prank by a radio host claiming that a new prestigious school was opening, which actually required students to take DNA tests to determine his or her admission. Allegedly this article stirred up so much chaos people were calling the radio show asking immediately where to send the applications and where the DNA tests could be performed. This joke and the parents’ reactions to said joke reiterated the fierce competition that engulfs the admission process of these top pre-schools in New York City.

Palacios, Kim. From Preschool to Grad School: Strategies for Success at Any Level of Competitive Admissions. Luxe Publishing, 2012.

A book that provides the admissions fundamentals needed for the top pre-school all the way to the top grad school. The author claims that these fundamentals are the same—regardless of the age of the student or the level of education.

Wana, Jenifer. How to Choose the Best Preschool for Your Child: The Ultimate Guide to Finding, Getting Into, and Preparing for Nursery School. Sourcebooks, 2010.

This book is a step-by-step guide for parents to choose and get their respective children into the right preschool—from schools that enroll essentially every child to competitive preschools that only accept a few applicants. I am interested to see what the book suggests for those parents looking to enroll their children into these competitive schools.

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One thought on “Research Proposal–Amanda Gurren”

  1. As we discussed, this is a rich and timely research question, and here’s some advice for ways to take it a step further:

    1) As you continue to read, look for chronological boundaries on your current RQ: Has competition increased for entrance into top elite pre-schools in New York City, and why? Ideally, you would like to book-end this with 1970s, 1980s, or a particular milestone so that you can make stronger claims about what is (or is not changing).

    2) Two new search strategies:

    a) you’ve seen a NYT full-text search for phrases like “competitive pre-school” or “pre-school admissions” or similar. Look also for search tips to make keywords appear “near” one another. Some search tools allow you to use a wildcard symbol (* or ?) for root words, like compet*

    b) use Worldcat to search for the first editions of preschool guides for NYC (and language about why it was created, how organized, areas covered, etc.). Consider using “New York Times” and “preschool” and “guide” and similar terms that we discussed in the advanced search tool and look for similar titles.

    c) if you find a guide on Google, then use WayBackMachine to look for its earliest archived version (and language about why they created it). Also use this for checking admissions data (and how it is or is not presented) on selected preschool sites over time.

    In your research, you may need to read websites and comments as primary sources (like the MommyPoppins guide), and write an analysis about trends in the themes raised, areas covered, etc. IN other words, readers don’t want to read a paper that full of bizarre comments, but we are intersted in your insightful claims about the patterns that appear in these primary sources, with selected examples. Link arguments to points in time. If people are saying things about “college admissions” in 2000, but not in 1990, that’s intersting to point out.

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