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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Public versus Private Open Houses Part 2

I have now been on almost a  dozen school open houses in the last eight weeks.  (Yikes!)  Some made my head spin, some schools met my expectations, some did not.  Some were after school hours, some were during the school day.  All of them were run differently.  I have been given tours by school principals, PTA volunteers, admissions officers, and teachers.  I have visited private schools and public schools (no charter schools yet).

There are three big things that I have learned. Read the rest of this entry »

Are Elementary School Test Scores Important?

I am divided over how to use standardized test scores mandated as a part of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) as a input into the elementary school selection process.  On the one hand, I scoff at NCLB because it encourages schools to ‘teach to the test’ instead of teaching to the student.  On the other hand, I admit that I care how well the students do on standardized tests at the schools that I am considering.  This admittedly hypocritical stance reminded me of this cartoon I recently saw that I appended to the end of this post.  My apologies for the off-color language.

A great quick and dirty source for test score data is a resource that I blogged about earlier this week, GreatSchools.org.  They track a variety of different Read the rest of this entry »

Another Argument for Going Local for Education

Back in one of my original posts, I wrote about how community is an important factor that my family is considering in our selection of a school.  It turns out that another Philadelphia blogger who writes about their public and private school experiences agrees.  Here’s what “A Very Public Education” has to say on the subject.

Public vs. Private Open Houses Part 1

I was unexpectedly able to attend an open house for Perelman Jewish Day School-Stern Campus this morning.  [Added 1/14/2010]Perelman is a private school affiliated with the Solomon Schechter Day School Association of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism[end edit].  I will share my reactions to that visit in an upcoming post.  I already mentioned that I plan on attending the Jenks open house tomorrow night.

I got to thinking about the difference between a private an public school open house event.  Private school being largely tuition driven to me naturally organically leads to a more sales-y open house presentation.  For a non-tuition dependent public school, I wonder how the tone of the presentation will differ.  The motivators are a little more hazy.  I wonder whether some public schools may actually be over-enrolled and may be hoping to limit enrollment.  Hmmm…  More on this topic if I notice differences.

K Through What?

I am having trouble getting my head around the organizational breakdown of elementary schools in the School District of Philadelphia.  Some are K-5, others K-8.  For students who go to a K-5 school, are they expected to go to a private school, a “Special Admission” a.k.a. ‘magnet’ school like Masterman (starts at grade 5), or transfer to an elementary school that offers up to 8th grade?  At the elementary schools that go to grade 8, will there be a noticeable drop-off in educational quality after grade 5 because the best kids go elsewhere?

This whole line of questioning regarding the Philadelphia School District inevitably leads to questions about high schools, because unlike most suburban districts and many private schools where the elementary to high school path is prescribed, the various city high school educational paths require a whole new set of choices that have to be made.  What is the difference between a “Special Admission” high school (like Masterman) and a “Citywide Admission” high school like Constitution or Swenson (both start at grade 9)?  If, like me, you are new to the different types of schools in Philly, here’s some information about the different types of Philadelphia high schools from the source.

Types of High Schools
The School District of Philadelphia has three types of high schools: special admission high schools, citywide admission high schools, and neighborhood high schools. All eighth grade students must fill out a high school application for up to five (5) schools or programs of any type in any combination.

Students complete the application by checking off that they plan to attend their neighborhood/ feeder high school or by listing school/program name and code number in order of preference from 1 (first choice) to 5 (fifth choice). Students who are not accepted to their chosen schools or programs will be eligible to attend their neighborhood high schools.

Students with disabilities and English Language Learners are encouraged to apply to special admission and citywide admission high schools. Admission criteria may be waived for those students who, given accommodations, may be successful in requested schools, as determined by the appropriate school teams.
Neighborhood High Schools
These thirty-two (32) high schools have open admission to students who attend a grade eight school that is within the feeder pattern. Students from outside of the feeder pattern may apply. However, admission is based upon space availability and selection is made by computerized lottery.
Citywide Admission High Schools
These twelve (12) high schools have admissions criteria. Students citywide may apply. Generally, in order to be eligible for the lottery, they must meet three of four criteria: grades of A, B, or C on the most recent final report card; no more than 10 absences, no more than 5 latenesses; no negative disciplinary reports on the most recent final report card. Students may have to attend an on-site interview. Exceptions are Constitution High School, PMA Elverson, PMA Leeds and High School of the Future.
Special Admission High Schools
These nineteen (19) high schools are “magnet schools,” each with its own set of admissions criteria related to attendance, punctuality, behavior, grades, and standardized test scores. Students citywide may apply to these special admission high schools. However, it is strongly recommended that you review the set of admissions criteria and your own scholastic record prior to applying.

Lots of open questions still.  If I had found answers to all of my questions, this post would have required 10,000 words.  Definitely more on this topic in the weeks and months to come.

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.