School & District Management

Study: High School Choices Elude Phila. Students

By Debra Viadero — March 30, 2010 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A report that takes a comprehensive look at the critical transition that students make from middle to high school in Philadelphia finds that fewer than half of 8th graders end up attending their top-choice high schools.

“There are many young people who feel they are trying to select and get into a high school that has a strong reputation and is safe and where they do well,” said lead author Eva Gold, the founder of Research for Action, the Philadelphia-based research group that produced the report. “And,” she added, “they end up in the high school they were trying to avoid.”

Released last week, the 110-page report draws on districtwide data from 2006-07 on 8th graders’ public-school-selection choices; data from 2007-08 on student demographics, and high school enrollments across the city; teacher and student surveys from that same year; and in-depth interviews conducted over the next few years in 15 district-managed schools and four charter schools, among other information sources. But it does not include districtwide data for the city’s charter high schools, to which students apply separately.

As in Chicago, New York, and some other big-city school systems, the 163,000-student Philadelphia district allows 8th graders to indicate which high schools they would prefer to attend the next year. In 2006, 70 percent of 8th graders took up that option, listing up to five choices each from among the district’s 60 high schools. Yet only 45 percent of those students ended up enrolling in any of the schools on their lists, the report says.

The report blames the district’s high school selection process for contributing to a stratified school system. It also says the current process works against the district’s 31 neighborhood high schools, which typically have the lowest graduation rates and the highest dropout rates.

The report also finds that, while disconnected fragments of reform efforts once aimed at improving schooling in the freshman year still can be found in the city’s schools, efforts are needed to bring more of a focus on 9th grade, a make-or-break year for many high school students.

A Tiered System

Of the three types of district-managed high schools in Philadephia—special-admissions schools, citywide-admissions schools, and neighborhood schools—the highly selective special-admissions schools enroll the smallest percentages of male students, African-American students, low-income students, English-language learners, and special education students. To get into those schools, students must meet certain academic criteria and undergo interviews. At the citywide-admissions schools, students are admitted by lottery once they meet a minimum academic threshold.

By comparison, the neighborhood schools, which take all comers, enroll the smallest percentages of white, Asian, and female students, according to the report.

A smooth transition to high school is also being thwarted in neighborhood schools by the timelines used in the school-selection process, the report says.

“Because our selection process doesn’t end until May, there’s often a lot of activity that goes on over the summer as students come off waiting lists, ... so that registration for neighborhood schools doesn’t occur until August or September,” Ms. Gold said. “So essentially those schools don’t know who’s coming in their doors until September.” In Research for Action’s study, 17 percent of the students in neighborhood schools entered after the first day of school, compared with 2 percent at the citywide schools, and 1 percent for the special-admissions schools. The shifts in schools’ student populations, in turn, led to school-to-school shifts in teaching staffs, which means that, for many neighborhood schools, the instructional year may not truly get under way until October, Ms. Gold said.

The district reportedly responded to the study’s findings on the selection process, which it learned of in February, by drafting guidelines aimed at broadening access to more-selective schools. But after protests at those schools, city schools Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman in mid-March seemed to put a stop to that effort, canceling a meeting in which the changes were to be rolled out.

District spokesman Fernando A. Gallard did not respond to requests from Education Week for the district’s further reactions to the study.

A version of this article appeared in the March 31, 2010 edition of Education Week as Study: Top High School Choices Elude Phila. Students

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Webinar
From Chaos to Clarity: How to Master EdTech Management and Future-Proof Your Evaluation Processes
The road to a thriving educational technology environment is paved with planning, collaboration, and effective evaluation.
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Budget & Finance Webinar
Innovative Funding Models: A Deep Dive into Public-Private Partnerships
Discover how innovative funding models drive educational projects forward. Join us for insights into effective PPP implementation.
Content provided by Follett Learning
Budget & Finance Webinar Staffing Schools After ESSER: What School and District Leaders Need to Know
Join our newsroom for insights on investing in critical student support positions as pandemic funds expire.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Principals Have a Lead Role in the ‘Science of Reading.’ Are They Ready?
The push to shifting schools to the science of reading has often neglected the vital role of the principal.
9 min read
School & District Management Quiz What Do You Know About the Most Influential People in School Districts? Take Our Quiz
Answer 7 questions about the superintendent profession.
1 min read
Image of icons for gender, pay, demographics.
Canva
School & District Management Opinion I Invited My Students to Be the Principal for a Day. Here’s What I Learned
When I felt myself slipping into a springtime slump, this simple activity reminded me of my “why” as an educator.
S. Kambar Khoshaba
4 min read
052024 OPINION Khoshaba PRINCIPAL end the year with positivity
E+/Getty + Vanessa Solis/Education Week via Canva
School & District Management The Complicated Fight Over Four-Day School Weeks
Missouri lawmakers want to encourage large districts to maintain five-day weeks—even as four-day weeks grow more popular.
7 min read
Calendar 4 day week
iStock/Getty