This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Military programs are coming to two more Philadelphia neighborhood high schools this fall, while three high schools will launch military academies – self-contained programs centered around the Junior ROTC unit at each school.
JROTC is an elective course taught by retired military personnel in over 3,000 high schools nationwide (and 11 in Philadelphia), using a curriculum provided by the U.S. Department of Defense.
Bartram High School is starting up such a program this fall, which will cost the District $97,500. Martin Luther King High School’s new education manager, Foundations Inc., is paying to start up a similar program, called National Defense Cadet Corps.
The three military schools-within-schools are at Germantown, Bartram, and Franklin High Schools.
CEO Paul Vallas says that military programs are a positive option that should be offered to public school families. Critics of JROTC argue that schools should not encourage students to be soldiers, and that military programs siphon off scarce funds as well as class time from music, arts, and academic programs that are more appropriate for high schoolers.
"If the military wants to have a program, it does not have to be in the schools during the school day – that’s not what’s needed at high schools that are offering limited options for students," said Dennis Barnebey of Philadelphia Citizens for Children and Youth and a former teacher at Germantown.
Lt. Col. Russell Gallagher, who heads the District’s JROTC programs, maintains that JROTC is primarily a leadership and character development program and says "there is no recruiting involved with it." National surveys of the JROTC program, however, have found military enlistment rates of about 40 percent among high school seniors in JROTC, according to a report by the American Friends Service Committee.
The School District has announced plans for a free-standing military high school to open in 2004.