Contribute Your Experiences to the Philly School Search Blog

This blog started one month ago to document the school selection process of one family. The goal was to get feedback from others who are doing the same, and for helping future school researchers navigate the educational waters.

We are hoping that this is a community blog–we want it to reflect the experiences of many regional parents and not just the specific experiences and biases of its founder. As such, we invite you to share your thoughts in one of two ways.

  1. Become a contributing blogger on Philly School Search.  The commitment is what you make of it–post daily, weekly, monthly, or quarterly. If you or someone you know might want to contribute, let us know.
  2. If you don’t want to make the commitment to becoming a contributing blogger or you wish to remain anonymous, write about your experiences and send them to Len for review.  Examples of contributions that we would welcome might be “Why I chose XYZ school” , “How I navigated the competitive private school admission process” or “How I talked my way into XYZ school.”  If accepted, he will post them under this new “PSS Community” author.   If you are interested in submitting content, let us know.


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My Dilemma

So my family has attended three open houses in the last two days.  As you would expect, there were some things that we liked and some things that we disliked about the different schools that we visited.

My dilemma is how to document those impressions on this forum.  I am not a journalist seeking to write objectively, I am just a dad sharing my experiences.  What I perceive to be weaknesses of a particular school might not be important or might even be considered to be strengths by other parents.  I do not wish to engage in criticizing any school, ranking schools, or debating which school is better in some marginally objective way.  I will not evangelize for any school.  Ultimately my family will select a school for my son (and later for my daughter), and I will share that decision.  However, I have learned enough at this stage of the process to know that selection of a school is a personal matter for a family that involves a whole host of factors, many of which have nothing to do with the school at all.

Ultimately, I have decided to limit my posts on my open house experiences to the following:

  • The process of evaluating schools
  • uniquely positive things that I observe about particular schools that I am researching–for example, I am already drafting a post about language immersion.  Stay tuned!

I am more than happy to privately discuss my impressions of specific schools.  Contact me or send me a direct message on twitter.

Paradox of School Choice

I have been contributing to this blog for almost a month now.  From the beginning, I was reminded of a podcast that I heard almost a year ago.  The podcast was an episode of WNYC’s Radio Lab.  Radio Lab is a fantastic program that asks very interesting philosophical questions about life (the afterlife, morality, sleep, stress, time, etc.)  and tries to present a scientific viewpoint on the issue.  In particular, they do an incredible job telling wonderful stories and distilling the science into narratives that are very engaging to the non-scientist listener.  I highly recommend it.  Over the last month writing this blog, I am reminded of a particular episode on the topic of Choice.  On the show, they hear from a long list of guests, including a professor from Swarthmore College, Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, Jonah Lehrer, contributing Editor at Wired Magazine and author of How We Decide, Baba Shiv, Professor of Marketing at Stanford Graduate School of Business, Oliver Sacks, neurologist, and Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers: The Story of Success.

I highly recommend listening to the program yourself.  But one of the core arguments that is made (which I will now grossly oversimplify) is that the human brain can only hold a finite and very small amount of data.  Applied to the subject of this blog–the more data that I accumulate, the more schools that I research, the harder the choice becomes and the greater the likelihood of making a bad choice and subsequently experiencing regret.  Going with your gut is a better ‘choice’, the argument goes.  I actually remember this when prepping for the SAT 20 years ago–the test tutors used to tell us that when we didn’t know the answer, don’t over-think it.  Your greatest chance of guessing correctly is to go with your initial instinct.

In general, I buy into this principle when it comes to making a choice about a purchase like a car or a TV set.  However, when it comes to choosing a school for my children, I am having trouble applying this philosophy.  I posted earlier about my choice criteria (diversity, community, educational quality) that I am taking into account alongside other non-school factors that I won’t be blogging about (professional, personal, relocation).  The lesson I am taking away from Radio Lab will be that I will try to research diligently, but not to worry about the details of my inputs.  In other words, I may set a threshold for reading/math test scores, but I won’t decide on a school because 85% score above average versus 80% at another school.  Ultimately, this also means that this whole choice will become clearer after I stop reading about schools and actually get off the internet and visit some.  I intend to make the primary food for my gut to be seeing classrooms and meeting teachers and administrators.   After the new year….

Other Philly School Parents?

Are there other Philly parent bloggers out there documenting their experience with the school system?  The only one I have found so far is This Year at Jenks.  Know of others?  Let me know.

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Why Blog?

Just what the internet needs, another blog, right?  I am a father of a 4 year old boy (scheduled to start kindergarten in 9/2011) and a 2 year old girl (9/2013). My wife and I live in the Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia and we love it. There are school choices in Chestnut Hill (JS Jenks Public) , but we are also considering a regional relocation.  The relocation would be for many reasons, most of them distinct from the school situation. Philadelphia’s school district system is astoundingly complex and the number of private school options are so vast that I figure that this blog would serve two purposes.

1.) Document our process and experience to help others navigate the process, if only a little.

2.) Get feedback/validation on our experiences and impressions of schools

I may invite others to blog on this site as well to get different perspectives.  If you are interested or know anyone, please contact me.