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Greenfield data distorted

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

To the editors:

Your Fall 2003 issue provides a table showing that in 2002 Greenfield Elementary School admitted 41 students through the transfer process. In reality, Greenfield admitted over 150 students from outside the Greenfield boundaries last year, and this year we admitted over 180. At least 70 percent of Greenfield’s enrolled students come from outside the "catchment" area.

I assume that you used the number provided by the Office of Student Placement for the first round of transfer approvals in April. After this, many more students are admitted from the waiting list, as we get a better count of the number of students who will be transferring out of Greenfield. We also enroll a significant number of students who obtain "directed admissions" that come from various sources and may or may not have been cleared through the Office of Student Placement. Last year for the first time Greenfield also accepted 20 students through the school choice program.

Your article is misleading to parents who might want to apply through the transfer process, and contributes to an appearance of exclusivity that is not consonant with our reality.

Elizabeth Block

SSA, Greenfield School

Editors’ reply

There was a problem with our numbers, obtained from the School District. Greenfield did accept a much larger number of transfers than we reported. The discrepancy raised questions about the integrity of the District’s transfer system.

The School District Office of Student Placement provided the data we published in our Fall issue, in which we showed how difficult it was to transfer into a number of District schools that hold lotteries for transfer admission. We published numbers of student transfer applicants and numbers of transfers approved for Greenfield and other schools.

These same erroneous numbers appear in a District fact sheet for parents – a flyer published annually showing transfer acceptance rates for elementary and middle schools. This flyer is provided to guide families who are applying for transfers through the District’s student placement process each fall.

But the District’s published transfer numbers for Greenfield and at least some other schools this year and in previous years are in error, based on a Notebook review.

Greenfield’s fall 2003 enrollment data show that there are over 100 more new transfer students than the 34 transfer approvals reported by the District’s Office of Student Placement for 2003.

A month after the Notebook notified District officials about problems with Greenfield student transfer data, officials said they were still not able to explain the data error, nor say exactly how many transfers were approved or whether published transfer data for other schools were reliable.

"It’s a statistical glitch, and we’re committed to cleaning it up," said District spokesperson Cecilia Cummings.

District officials reported that this year’s transfers into Greenfield included not only students in the regular student placement lottery but also transfers under the District’s No Child Left Behind Act "school choice" transfer process and others from nearby Durham School, which closed in June.

On what Block’s letter refers to as "directed admissions," sources at several of the District’s most sought-after elementary schools confirm that these schools are periodically asked by the CEO"s office or Office of Student Placement to accept a student transfer who did not go through the formal process, and that in some cases political connections appear to be involved.

At Greenfield, District officials acknowledged that about 35 of the current year transfers could not be accounted for as being through any formal transfer process. In addition, they had no breakdown as to how many of the 45 out-of-area kindergartners at Greenfield had been placed there outside of the student placement lottery. They say the District does not require principals to follow the lottery process for kindergarten transfers, but Greenfield does conduct a lottery for kindergarten.

It is unclear how many students and schools citywide are involved in directed admissions. “It would be very naive to think that exceptions weren’t made to the transfer policy. Exactly how often and by whom, we don’t have a handle on," said Cummings.

She added, "Should it be happening? No."