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 »

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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 »

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.

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 »

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]

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.

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 »