This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
The continuing change in Philadelphia’s high school landscape is grabbing public attention this fall because of the opening of four high-profile, new high schools. None of these was more anticipated than the school in East Parkside dubbed The High School of the Future, built by the District in a partnership with the Microsoft Corporation.
The High School of the Future is the only one of the District’s four new high schools not to have restrictive special admissions criteria, but it is by no means easy to get into. Admission is by lottery, with 75 percent of the slots reserved for residents of a large catchment area in West Philadelphia. The rest of the slots are available citywide. This year, 170 freshmen were selected from about 1,500 applicants.
The school was designed to be environmentally sound and technologically state-of-the-art, with “paperless classrooms.”
Three other high schools that will have an academically selective admissions process opened their doors in or near Center City.
- The Constitution High School, at 7th near Market Street, considers applicants with grades C and above and excellent attendance and behavior and reviews candidates for their interest in the school’s theme of law, civics, and government. The school’s college preparatory curriculum emphasizes service learning.
- The Academy at Palumbo, at 11th and Catherine Streets, is a small high school whose college preparatory program was modeled on Central High School. Criteria for admission are also modeled on Central’s and include TerraNova scores at or above the 88th percentile, high grades, excellent attendance, and a writing sample.
- The Science Leadership Academy, at 22nd and Arch Streets, was designed in partnership with the Franklin Institute, where ninth graders will have a weekly workshop. The school’s mission statement describes its “core values of inquiry, research, collaboration, presentation, and reflection.” The school also requires excellent test scores and grades and good attendance. Participation in an intensive, weeklong summer institute is required.
The District’s push to add high school options will continue next year, with planned openings including a school of international affairs in partnership with the University of Pennsylvania.
Meanwhile, the two student organizations that helped build momentum on the small schools issue, Philadelphia Student Union and Youth United for Change, continue to push for action on small high school conversions at West Philadelphia and Olney High Schools, respectively. The District is working to secure the land for construction of a new small-schools campus across the street from West.
For all District high schools, there is stepped up pressure to meet the adequate yearly progress (AYP) targets of the No Child Left Behind law. Schools that failed to make AYP are now assigned a “school growth coach” by the District.
Last year, the 10 high schools that met their AYP targets were all special admissions magnet schools. In 2006, the high schools making all their AYP targets also included two neighborhood high schools (Strawberry Mansion, Gratz), a vocational school (Bok), and 5 of the District’s new, small high schools (Motivation, Lamberton, Lankenau, High School of Business and Technology, and Swenson).
District test score results for high schools show modest improvement among 11th graders in both reading and math in 2006, but little change over a five-year period.