Loud Call for More Quality Choices in Philly

Vanessa Herrera is a senior at Esperanza Academy Charter School in Philadelphia. She was among the hundreds of community members who attended a rally yesterday, making a loud call to bring the power of choice to more of the city’s families. A Newsworks story quoted her as saying:
“I was fortunate enough to be selected through the lottery. Unfortunately there are hundreds of students on a waiting list.”
As in many cities, there is strong demand among families in Philadelphia for high-quality choices. And, as the Newsworks story points out, the new school funding coming to the woefully underfunded Philadelphia school district comes with a choice lever. The legislation that created a cigarette tax that will go to schools comes with a requirement that the School Reform Commission overseeing Philadelphia schools start accepting applications for new charter schools. Accepting applications, while good news—especially given that it hasn’t happened since 2007—is the easy part. The harder part is determining which ones will result in high-quality choices for families. And Philadelphia—again, like a lot of urban districts—has a mixed track record on that count, according to the Newsworks story:
Academically speaking, the city's charter sector as a whole performs marginally better than the Philadelphia School district according to Pennsylvania's school performance index. Just as within the district's slate of schools, the charter sector offers a wide range of quality. Some schools perform highly on state tests—others mediocre, others low.
Further complicating matters is the funding crisis in Philadelphia, as the district points out:
District spokesman Fernando Gallard said that the SRC would follow the law in hearing new applications, “but [would] also will keep in mind the financial limitations that the district finds itself in….One scenario could be that as charter schools close, we have the ability to open others.”
And that makes sense. It’s not just about choices; it’s about high-quality choices. But the parent voices in the Newsworks story make a compelling case for doing that hard work. Ashley Franklin is a parent whose family is split between schools because of the limited supply of high-quality choices.
She succeeded in getting one of her two school-aged children into KIPP North, but her other child wasn't selected in the lottery. “We felt like we were making a decision to ensure a bountiful harvest academically for one child, and famine for the other,” said Franklin. “We had no explanation to offer or absolution to give, other than the upside of being able to apply next year and ‘wait and see what happens.’”
There’s now hope that “what happens” will be more high-quality choices for Philadelphia families.
Michael Vaughn
Michael Vaughn was the founding Communications Director of Education Post. Prior to that, Mike worked for 18 years in the communications offices of two urban school districts. He served in a variety of communications roles for the Chicago Public Schools starting in 1996, shortly after Mayor Richard M. Daley took control of CPS, and eventually served as the district's Communications Director until ...

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