Friday, February 24, 2012

Affluent, Born Abroad and Choosing New York’s Public Schools


In New York, the affluent typically send their children to private schools. But not the foreign-born affluent. In a divergence, a large majority of wealthy foreign-born New Yorkers are sending their children to public schools, according to an analysis of census data.

There are roughly 15,500 households in the city with school-age children where the total income is at least $150,000 and both parents were born abroad. Of those, about 10,500, or 68 percent, use only the public schools, the data show.

That is nearly double the rate of American-born parents in the city in the same income bracket.

The census data include both immigrants and those temporarily stationed in the city for work. The disparity is even sharper for foreign-born parents with household incomes of $200,000 or more. About 61 percent send their children only to public schools, compared with 28 percent of native-born couples in the same income bracket.

As a result, some public elementary schools in wealthier parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn are experiencing an unexpected increase in foreign-born students, especially Western Europeans.

"We have never had the numbers that we have," said Elizabeth Phillips, the principal at Public School 321 in Park Slope for 13 years. "But we've never had so many affluent foreign families in the neighborhood, either."

A similar divergence exists in other major cities, the census data show. For example, in Los Angeles and Chicago, roughly 60 percent of foreign-born couples with at least $150,000 in household income send their children only to public schools, a rate far higher than that of native-born parents.

In the United States over all, there is almost no difference between the two groups, apparently because wealthy people outside of urban areas are much more likely to show allegiance to the public schools. Nationally, 73 percent of native-born couples and 76 percent of foreign-born couples send their children only to public school, according to the data, which was provided by Andrew A. Beveridge and Susan Weber-Stoger, demographers at Queens College.

In interviews, affluent foreign-born New Yorkers said that like all conscientious parents, they weighed various criteria in choosing schools, including quality, cost and location. But many said they were also swayed by the greater ethnic and economic diversity of the public schools. Some said that as immigrants, they had learned to navigate different cultures — a skill they wanted to imbue in their children.


Affluent, Born Abroad and Choosing New York's Public Schools

Kirsten Luce for The New York Times

Lyn Bollen and her boys outside Sam's school, P.S. 89 on Warren Street in Lower Manhattan.

Published: February 14, 2012

Miriam and Christian Rengier, a German couple moving to New York, visited some private elementary schools in Manhattan last spring in search of a place for their son. They immediately noticed the absence of ethnic diversity, and the chauffeurs ferrying children to the door.

Lyn Bollen holding her 8-month-old, Leo, and pushing Max, 3, after picking up Sam, 5, left, at school in Lower Manhattan.

Gilles Bransbourg walking his two children to Public School 58, on Smith Street in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn.

And then, at one school, their guide showed them the cafeteria.

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