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.