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PCCY report highlights stark inequalities in District high schools

It says that choice is not a panacea and urges more resources for neighborhood schools.

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

Public Citizens for Children and Youth earlier this week released a report on District high schools, showing wide disparities in neighborhood schools compared to citywide and special admission schools. In District high schools as a whole, the vast majority of students live in poverty, but virtually all the neighborhood school students meet that definition.

The neighborhood schools still serve more than half the District’s students, including the majority of the most vulnerable – those in special education, English language learners, and young people who have had contact with the child welfare and juvenile justice system.

These schools are required to take all comers, and principals report that students arrive at all points during the school year, having washed out of both charter and the citywide and special-admit District schools. Principal turnover and teacher turnover is high. And despite their greater challenges, the neighborhood schools bore a larger share of budget cuts over the past several years.

PCCY concludes that the "strategy of creating new options has not proven to be a panacea," adding: "While the creation of small, specialized high schools, magnets and charter schools has created opportunity for some students, the effort to create these schools has diverted time, resources, and attention away from the hard and necesary work of improving the high schools where a majority of the District’s students were enrolled. In addition, it has exacerbated the concentration of poverty in the District.

The PCCY report mentions charter schools, but does not include data from these schools, which educate about one-third of the high school students in the city. That data would factor into the economic segregation and likely make it more stark.

PCCY has several recommendations, such as adopting a new funding formula that would send more money to neighborhood schools, having money follow students who leave other District schools midyear, easing difficulties in obtaining student records when they are returning from juvenile placement or coming from a charter, and taking steps to increase the proportion of ELL and special education students in special admission schools – something that is in any case required based on a longstanding court decision.

Other recommendations: Create more career-and-technical-education options, more remedial opportunities through summer school and other models, and more access to college prep courses, as well as arts and other electives, in neighborhood schools.

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