"School construction didn't keep pace with immigration, and many of the schools are badly overcrowded," writes Clara Hemphill on the state of Queens schools. The borough, which retained much of its rural character until as late as World War II, "boomed," in the author's words, in population during the 1980s and 1990s.
In lieu of actual construction, portable classrooms sprung up in unusual locations (on playgrounds, for instance) while other schools constructed annexes. The additions, Hemphill points out, placed burdens on the buildings' "common spaces" — their cafeterias and gymnasiums — which were not designed to handle such volume. Most critically, increased enrollment turned the attentions of the schools' principals more in the direction of "crowd control and the details of administration" — and less toward curriculum development and teacher supervision.
Hemphill says that most of the borough's schools limit enrollment to those children living within their zone, and that school choice tends to be "very limited" — although a few schools do permit the enrollment of children from anywhere in their district, and sometimes from anywhere within the borough itself. School choice in District 24 (which serves Elmhurst, Maspeth, Middle Village, Corona and Glendale), is, Hemphill reports, "next to impossible" when it comes to school selection, due to the lack of space; while District 25 (which includes Flushing's Chinatown and Whitestone), although likewise crowded, does permit some "shopping around" for families within its own boundaries.
According to Hemphill, P.S. 242, Early Childhood School, in Flushing, accepts children from across District 25. P.S. 499, Queens College School for Math, Science and Technology, is open to all Queens children, while both P.S. 21, in Flushing, and P.S. 193, in Whitestone, have been known to accept students from outside their zones. Identified by Hemphill as one of the most sought-after schools in the borough, P.S. 130, in Bayside, bypasses textbooks and workbooks for works of literature and coins and blocks. The school is open to any child living within District 25, although a special application must be submitted in order to attend.