Make Every School a Charter?

Mary Beth Hertz (a.k.a. mbteach on Twitter) over on the Philly Teacher blog recently posted a very thought provoking article–A New Model for School Reform: Could it Work?. With all the talk of Charters and Renaissance schools lately, it was great to read such a well thought out and well articulated model of school reform. Her idea in a nutshell–do away with catchments and let every student/parent rank the schools that they would like to attend, and award all spaces based on a lottery system, similar to how seats in charter schools are awarded today. This system would be superior, because, in her words,

  • Giving students and families a choice helps keep them engaged in a child’s education.
  • Choice fosters competition among schools to attract the best students, no matter what neighborhood they are in.
  • Services are more evenly distributed throughout the district since no one school is overwhelmed with high-needs students and families.

I like the sentiment and how Hertz is thinking outside the box.  I liked this idea a lot at first.  However, Read the rest of this entry »

Comprehensive Directory of Philadelphia Charter Schools

directory coverThe Philadelphia School District’s Charter School website is helpful, but the Directory of Philadelphia Charter Schools (PDF) published by the Greater Philadelphia Urban Affairs Coalition is much better. It contains a lot of great school data, including the mission of each school, demographic/test score data, contact information, and more. It also has special sections on cyber charter schools, a charter school FAQ, a checklist of things to look for when visiting a school, a charter school map, and more.

Winning the Lottery: Independence Charter School

Independence Charter was the only school which explicitly told us, “Do not hover.  Do not contact us.  It makes no difference.”  Their incoming class is filled by random lottery on the first Friday of December.  The only exception is siblings of current students, who get first preference.  Sibling preference actually fills up quite a lot of the kindergarten class – this year there were about 26 openings for the lottery out of a total 44 spots.  So, about half of the incoming class is siblings.  There were about 200 applications, giving us about a 10% chance of getting our son into Kindergarten (or about what my chances were of getting into any particular medical school back in 2003).   The business manager assured us on the phone that the lottery was random, “We actually, literally, pull the names out of a hat.  Well, nowadays it’s a big box because there are so many kids applying.  You’re welcome to come view the process.”

And that’s exactly what we did this past December.  We dragged Read the rest of this entry »

Confessions of a Conflicted Public School Advocate

By Anonymous

Who would have thought that picking a school for our kids would make me feel like I was back in 8th grade again??  It’s a constant whirl of asking people what they are doing and having people watch us, or so it feels.  It’s the constant going over of priorities in my head, what really matters to me I ask myself so many times in a day, and then so quickly I feel undermined by what other people are doing, next year, last week, in three years to come.  Some of this is surely my own baggage, but as with everything else in parenthood my school-picking journey has been fraught with wondering how people will see me/us; I really am clear about what matters to me, my parents were public school teachers and then principles in New York City.  My brother and I went to public schools in New York from kindergarten on, and it was a rich experience.  We met people of all kinds, though I am still struck by the fact that the friends we became the closest with were so much like us.  We were driven into East Harlem from K-8 to attend Deborah Meir schools (for those of you who don’t know, Debbie Meir received a MacArthur grant for her establishment of educational institutions in New York and then in Boston) and yet we remained the closest with the kids on our bus, the ones who lived in neighborhoods more like ours.

For numerous reasons, my family doesn’t feel that our neighborhood school is a good fit.  I have a lot of anger that my kid’s neighborhood school is not a choice after having been the kid whose own parents never went on a school trip with me because they were teaching other people’s children.  I feel like a good school should be a choice within easy reach and it’s not, really, in so many places in Philadelphia.  We are waiting on the lottery to get us into one of the three public schools that we like from afar and that is a scary place to be.   The obvious next issue is where we will live if/when the lottery doesn’t go our way and so I spend lots of hours in the night worrying about the slippery slope of it all.  I am, on the one hand, dropping my jaw in horror at the tuitions our friends are shelling out for pre-K, even, many people we meet in Fairmount openly say that they had just one kid so that they could afford to carry on at such high rates of tuition for their child.  But I am also somehow judging the people we know who move out to the ‘burbs.  How, how, how will we live by our values and within our means when we too choose to move beyond our neighborhood school and try to opt in elsewhere?

[edited 2/22/2010, added “by anonymous” for clarification–Len]

More On Language Immersion

After my post last week on language immersion programs in the area, an Independence Charter parent emailed me a list of resources on the philosophy of language immersion.  This list is from the Independence Charter website.

Recommended Websites

Research on language acquisition
Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL)
Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA)

Parent/teacher resources
Ñanduti: Foreign language learning for grades K-8 (run through CAL)
Contains section on learning benefits of early language acquisition.

Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA)
A collection of newsletter articles, including “Immersion 101” and “Points for Parents.”

Additional parent resources are listed in the Parents section.

Specific articles
“Why Immersion?”
Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition
“What Parents Want to Know About Foreign Language Immersion Programs”
Center for Applied Linguistics
“Homework in an Immersion Classroom: Parental Friend or Foe?”
Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition

Language Immersion And Philly Primary Schools

In the book, Critical Issues in Early Second Language Learning: Building for Our Children’s Future Myriam Met collected a series of essays and studies on foreign language study in early childhood (abstract).

In sum, the essays assert that learning a second language at an early age…

  • Has a positive effect on intellectual growth.
  • Enriches and enhances a child’s mental development.
  • Leaves students with more flexibility in thinking, greater sensitivity to language, and a better ear for listening.
  • Improves a child’s understanding of his or her native language.
  • Gives a child the ability to communicate with people he or she would otherwise not have had the chance to know.
  • Opens the door to other cultures and helps the child understand and appreciate people from other countries.
  • Gives the child a head start in language requirements for college.
  • Increases job opportunities in many careers in which knowing another language is a real asset.

An interesting point that is made in the book is that Read the rest of this entry »

Great Resource: PhillySpeaks Forums

By Anonymous

I don’t know whether you ever get on philadelphiaspeaks.com (formerly phillyblog), but there seems to be a post at least every couple weeks about people dealing with school choice issues. Here are some recent discussion threads: