School Success Criteria Vol 1: Parents

In the news lately there has been a lot of talk of underperforming “Renaissance” schools who will forced to dismiss many of their teachers.  On the one hand, I applaud the attempt to shock our worst schools into improvement.  On the other hand, I am dismayed that the teachers are being disproportionately punished for the failures of their schools.  It occurred to me that so many factors contribute to the success of schools beyond the teachers.  I am going to try to go about hypothesizing what those factors are so that can be an angle for my research and school visits moving forward.

My first hypothesis–schools that have involved parents perform better.  Groundbreaking idea, I know.

On a recent tour of Meredith, I was struck by how many Read the rest of this entry »

The Lower Merion School District Paradox

Lower Merion School District (LMSD) is known to be one of the best school districts in Pennsylvania, despite the recent laptop-webcam scandal.  I have toured two of the public elementary schools already and they seem to be amazing.  It would seem like a no-brainer that I would want to move my family there for the schools if the decision was purely based on school quality.  Of course, there are issues that are important to me beyond school quality (see the choice criteria tag plus personal issues like commute times and financial), but let me put them aside for the purposes of this post.  Are there other reasons that LMSD is not the best choice?

Drawing the school districting lines for the Lower Merion School district last year was a contentious issue, involving loud town hall meetings, angry allegations of racism, lawsuits, and now a federal investigation.  Should that controversy also be a factor?  Read the rest of this entry »

Lower Merion–Spies Like Us?

Lower Merion has long been the no-brainer school choice.  Living in the city is a priority for me, but when schools are a factor, it is hard for Philadelphia School District’s beleaguered system to compete with what some consider to be one of the best public school districts in the country.  Until now, perhaps?

Unless you have been living under a rock over the last few days, you have most likely heard about the lawsuit filed by several students of Harriton High School alleging that school administrators spied on them at home using Read the rest of this entry »

Having Your Cake and Eating It Too

This blog got very popular very quickly.  I have no illusions that it is about anything that I am doing.  I am certain that it is all about the shared anxiety we have as parents of soon-to-be-school aged kids.  I have only gotten one community submission on the emotional aspect of this process, but, as a result of finding this blog, many strangers and friends are reaching out to me to share their fears and anxieties without formally submitting stories.

The conversations often go something like this.  “We love our Philadelphia neighborhood, but we hate our local public school.  We believe in public school, just not the public school option available to us here.  We can’t afford private schools [or we don’t think that they are the best option].  We can’t count on getting into 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]

Thinking About School Choice Long Term

Yesterday, Kristen Graham of the Philadelphia Inquirer posted a story entitled “Study finds high school choice ‘an illusion’.”

There is a pretty vibrant (and in some cases heated and profane) debate about this article happening in the Philadelphia Speaks Forum.  I am evaluating elementary school options for my kids, and I wrote about my own anxiety around sticking with the School District of Philadelphia with regards to the uncertainty of what comes after elementary school.  Here is the two sentence summary of that post:  If my family moves to the suburbs, we have a prescribed school path that we know will provide excellent schools for my kids.  If my family selects an elementary school in Philadelphia, we will just have to go through the process again for high school, possibly even for middle school, with no certainty of being satisfied with the options.

Ultimately this article doesn’t change my thought process much.  I am definitely in favor of school improvement, who isn’t?  I am disturbed by the inequality inherent in the Philadelphia school system, but right now I am most occupied by the priorities of my family.  I am concerned that my children won’t be able to get into their preferred school choice.

Graham reports that overall, about 70 percent of district eighth graders apply for admission to a school other than their local high school, but only 45 percent of them end up attending the special schools.  I am neither an expert or activist one way or another on school choice.  But it strikes me that if 45 percent Read the rest of this entry »

School District of Philadelphia Publishes 2009 Annual Report & School Performance Index

I found out from the This Year at Jenks blog that the School District of Philadelphia just released the 2009 Annual Report and School Performance Index (SPI).  The annual report is essentially an easy-to-read high level rating and demographic breakdown of every school in the district.  The SPIs compare and rank schools with others in its region and demographic.  Cool stuff, especially if you are considering moving to a certain region and are trying to compare the different school options.  I wonder if I can get the same sort of performance measures from some of the surrounding suburban districts to get a sense of how the best Philly schools compare to the surrounding publics.  I’ll be looking into that and will publish anything that I find.