A challenging year lies ahead for schools. The summer was marked by a political battle for control and new, tougher standards imposed by state government make it appear the reforms of the past few years have not paid off as well as promised by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
"We're doing better than the system did before, and not as good as we would like it to be," Bloomberg said.
The students are entering a school system that Albany has put back under the control of the mayor until 2015. It's also system facing tougher state standards in math and English.
"By making the tests so not comprehensive and so predictable, we were telling parents across the state, your child is proficient," state Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said.
In 2009, about 82 percent of city students passed the state math test, and about 69 percent passed the English test. But last school year, measured by new state standards, just 54 percent passed the math exam. Only 42 percent passed English.
Schools chancellor Joel Klein says more hard work is needed.
"What are we going to do? The first thing we're going to do is take all the information from the state, and our schools are going to analyze it," he said. "Which kids move forward, which kids move back. What help they need. Now, we're going to do that."
The city is also trying to reduce chronic truancy and absenteeism. One fifth of city students missed a month or more of school last year. Now, letters are going out to 5,200 students who were chronically absent. Some of them will be matched with mentors to try to improve their attendance.
Bloomberg and Klein were on hand at PS 172 to welcome the students. The rift between the mayor and teachers' union seemed evident, because the head of the union did not join the welcome at PS 172. Instead Michael Milgrew visited PS 322 in Brooklyn.
Bloomberg did not seem fazed by the break in tradition.
"He's got to pump up his teachers, and give them the confidence and explain to them that the public, no matter what some of the naysayers say, the public does appreciate what our 80,000 teachers and 2,000 principals are doing," Bloomberg said.