Policies in support of school choice have been bitterly contested for years in public discourse. However, the majority of Philadelphia families have made their positions clear: School choice is an integral part of our education system.
In Philadelphia, 65% of the city’s 237,000 school-age children exercise choice every day by attending a school other than their assigned neighborhood school. At the high school level, the numbers are even greater: 88% of all students exercise some form of choice. The schools these children attend include a variety of public district schools, public charter schools, and private/parochial schools.
The Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP) funds two important online tools to help families make informed choices. The first is GreatPhillySchools (greatphillyschools.org), a website that provides easy-to-understand data on academics, school incidents, and student engagement for elementary, middle, and high schools, as well as early childhood education centers. Families go to GreatPhillySchools to review school profiles and find step-by-step instructions for applying to all types of schools, and identifying which schools have available seats. For instance, the website has information on the District’s “Find Your Fit” campaign, which encourages students to apply to as many as five district schools – elementary, middle, or high – including schools other than their neighborhood school, by the Nov. 1, 2019, deadline.
The second tool is Apply Philly Charter (applyphillycharter.org), which PSP launched in 2018 in partnership with charter schools in response to family feedback about the difficulty of applying to schools with different deadlines and application processes. Families fill out one standard application for the 80 participating charter schools in the city, with one deadline and one date for notification of lottery outcomes. (The application deadline for fall 2020 enrollment is Jan. 27, 2020.)
More than 200,000 Philadelphia families visited GreatPhillySchools in 2018 seeking information about schools and educational programs. Schools rated “7” and above (on a 10-point scale) received twice as many page views on average as schools rated 6 or below, demonstrating that families seek information about higher-rated schools – regardless of whether those schools are public district schools, public charter, or private/parochial. Currently, 91 of 449 Philadelphia schools listed on the website (20%) are rated 7 or above.
Last year, nearly 30,000 students submitted applications via Apply Philly Charter, applying to an average of four charter schools each. Only about 7,000 seats were available. Applicants came from every zip code in the city, with each of the participating charter schools receiving applications from no fewer than 27 zip codes.
All Philadelphia families want the opportunity to find great schools for their children. Instead of debating the reality of what’s already happening, let’s put our collective energy into creating more equitable access and more available seats – particularly for our most vulnerable students – in the schools families want the most.
Salma Khan and Eileen Walsh work for the Philadelphia School Partnership, where Khan is the director of GreatPhillySchools and Walsh is the manager of Apply Philly Charter.