This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Welcome to our annual fall guide, the first of the Notebook’s six print editions for the new school year. Each September we try to provide you with vital information in an edition designed to be kept as a reference.
Because of the overwhelming response to last year’s guide, we are again
spotlighting public high schools. For 8th graders, decision time for applying to high school comes up very quickly – this year the deadline is Oct. 29. And for younger students and the adults who care about them, it’s never too early to start thinking about high school.
With so many District options and the expansion of charters, high school selection seems to get more complicated each year. Breaking it all down for you is a priority because finding the right high school is one of the most important decisions that students and families make.
In Philadelphia’s tiered system, not all options are created equal. Inequities are readily apparent from the statistics in the center spread of this guide. For instance, in some high schools nearly every entering ninth grader graduates four years later, but in others barely one in four makes it through. Our profiles of District and charter schools show that some have rich arrays of programs and activities, while others have few special offerings, either academic or extracurricular.
Last fall we reported that Superintendent Arlene Ackerman expressed concern that the high school selection process may not be fair to all students. Like us, she took note of the Research for Action finding that while most students participate in the application process, fewer than half of those were admitted to and enrolled in any of their chosen schools.
But earlier this year, a draft proposal designed to help level the playing field leaked out and stirred opposition from some at the city’s most selective schools. In the ensuing storm, Ackerman yanked it and the conversation ended.
We hope that this guide can revive a dialogue about how to make it possible for more students to enroll in a high school they want to attend.
This guide tries to supplement the wealth of information in the District’s annual high school directory. One way is by helping our readers to access and understand the publicly available data about school performance. Unlike the District, we cannot require schools fill out our survey. We regret that we don’t have responses from all schools. Look for more complete information and additional tools for examining the data online.
If you find this guide valuable, we encourage you to become a member of the Notebook. As a reader-supported, nonprofit news organization, we depend on your contributions to maintain our independent watchdog role. We welcome your feedback. Thanks for reading!