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 »

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What The Heck is a Charter School Anyway?

So far my research has been all public versus private.  But there is a third option.  While technically public, Philadelphia Charter Schools are a bit of a different animal.  Philadelphia has 71 charter schools.  According to the charter school website,

Charter Schools are independently operated PUBLIC schools that are funded with federal, state and local tax dollars.  These schools are established to provide families with more educational alternatives for their children. Charters are non-profit, non sectarian, organizations that are approved by the local Board of Education   (the “authorizer”) or the State Appeal Board. Each charter has its own Board of Trustees and administrative staff and operates as a separate, independent  local educational agency (LEA) within Intermediate Unit 26 (IU 26).  The Pennsylvania Charter School Law – Act 22 of 1997 – set up charters to operate free of many of the local and state requirements that apply to traditional public schools.

It is my understanding that all charter schools base their enrollment on a lottery system, with some schools giving preference to siblings in the same school.  I sampled a couple of schools websites, choosing from the Philadelphia Charter School Directory.  The schedule at Independence Charter is an application is made available in September, must be completed by November, and admissions are made in December for the following fall.  Discovery Charter has an October-March timeline for the following fall.

I like the idea of charter schools because of the inherent diversity, which my family values.  However, as kids could attend a charter from all over the city, our other strong value of community may suffer.  Presumably, the most compelling reason to go the charter route would be educational quality, though that may vary.  Many of the charters have specialties (especially in the upper grades), so quality of core curricular subjects may vary especially.  This will be a core of my research as I look into charter schools.

I am learning that when it comes to Philadelphia schools, it is hard to have your cake and eat it too.

Choice Criteria: Diversity

One thing that is important to my wife and I is that our child be in a school that values diversity. To us, that means a balance of race, religion, and socioeconomic status. In general, this points towards public school, but not necessarily. If we send our son to our local public elementary school, Jenks, he may likely be the only Jewish child in his class, or only one of a small cohort.  Of course, if we send him to a private Jewish Day School, he may be the only REFORM Jewish kid in his class, so that may be even less desirable. The Friends School system values diversity on paper, but I need to learn more.  I would be surprised if there was a broad socioeconomic diversity at Friends.  One of the things we’ll be looking at when evaluating schools will be the race breakdown–that information is easy to find. Religious and socioeconomic breakdown will be harder to come by, so we will have to make inferences and assumptions based on the neighborhood and what we observe on school visits.

The information expressed in this post about the schools are assumptions only for illustrative purposes.  I still have to back it up with hard data and research.