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.

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.

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 »

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….

Philly Area School Statistics

Philly Area MapTorture numbers, and they’ll confess to anything. –Gregg Easterbrook
98% of all statistics are made up.  –Unknown
Statistics are like bikinis.  What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital. –Aaron Levenstein
Statistics can be made to prove anything – even the truth.– Unknown

In case those quotes were too subtle, let me state it plainly.  I don’t trust statistics in general, especially in the absence of other evaluation criteria.  Now that that is out of the way, I wanted to share a resource that I found.  The Philadelphia Inquirer has a very interesting interactive map of regional school districts and some statistics like starting teacher salaries, total enrollment, percentage of students in “gifted and talented” programs, and more.