HOUSTON, Texas -- Everybody knows competition for college admission can be fierce, but here in Houston, getting into preschool these days can be just as bad.
"In the last three days, I've turned three families away just because I don't have space," says Linda Draper, founder of the Blossom Heights Child Development Center in southwest Houston. That's a new problem for her. Having opened the school four years ago, Draper says as recently as last year she would have taken anyone who walked through the door.
"The level of competition has grown so fast in Houston," says Neha Gupta, an educational consultant and CEO of Elite Private Tutors. "We are totally in the same realm as New York, Chicago (and) L.A. And the issue is that Houston schools aren't growing at the same pace as the amount of families that are moving here." So Gupta coaches parents on finding the right fit for their preschoolers and coaches their kids on mastering the WPPSI, the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence test. That test is used by many private schools to thin the herds in the application process. Some administrators say studying for the WPPSI skews the data and is basically cheating, but Gupta disagrees, "It's just like preparing for the ISEE (Independent School Entrance Exam) or SAT. If a child can go to a swim coach, why can't they go to an academic coach?"
"People find it funny that people are thinking about preschool when their child is one or one and a half," says Pranika Sinha who has two daughters at the Mandarin Chinese Immersion Magnet School in Bellaire. "It's actually not early because then you get a sense of what you like and dislike."
Dane Roberts, assistant principal at that magnet school, says parents have been coming in for tours earlier and earlier, often with infants in strollers. "People definitely wanna know in an urgent kind of way, 'What can I do? How can I improve my chances?'" he says. "At a school like ours, a magnet school, the answer is: you have the same chance as everyone else. Apply and cross your fingers." But know that those chosen in their lottery system very rarely give up their spots, so have a backup school if you are waitlisted.
Jill Jarvis, who runs the parenting website BigKidSmallCity.com, says her first advice for preschool-pending parents is knowing when to register, "You don't start school until September 1st, but now it's November, and it's time to apply for next year. And if you don't do it now, by about Christmas time, you may be out of luck for next year." Jarvis admits planning for preschool can drive folks crazy but offers these words of wisdom to panicked parents: "Just give yourself a break. You're not a failure as a mom if you don't get into that perfect preschool and start doing it when they're in the womb."