Philadelphia School District Magnet Schools Undergo Admission Criteria Changes to Ensure Fairness

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The Philadelphia School District selective admission system changes fundamentally and immediately, with magnetic schools moving away from the a system where principals influence a system that relies on a centralized lottery and, in some schools, favors students from historically under-represented postcodes.

The changes – announced by district officials on Wednesday morning – will affect tens of thousands of families and are being made in the name of fairness. Historically, it has made it harder for black students and other colored children to enter the city’s 39 magnetic schools, a reality district leaders have said they are forced to change.

It’s a polarizing move that some say brings the necessary changes to a district that tries to accommodate issues of race, class and resources, and that others say is a corner that will lead families. with more resources. out of the district and out of Philadelphia completely.

The school selection window for student placement for fall 2022 open wednesday afternoon and will close on November 21.

“As a district, we are committed to being an anti-racist organization,” said Sabriya Jubilee, district director of diversity, equity and inclusion, adding that “we recognize that there will be people who will be uncomfortable, but we are leaning into that discomfort, and we’re going to do what we need to do to do our schools well.

Officials said the changes were made after a “fairness lens review” of admissions practices and with input from a committee of students, parents, teachers and central office staff. .

In the past, school principals and, more recently, some school committees, had the final say over who entered the city magnets, the best schools that have historically been heavily populated by the children of city residents. well connected and children from a handful of schools in privileged neighborhoods.

Now, “principals will not make final decisions or manage the waitlist for this process,” said Darnell Deans, district executive director responsible for student enrollment and placement.

Demographically, magnetic schools do not have corresponded to the whole school system.

In the district as a whole, black students make up 47% of the students in the district; Hispanic students are 23%, White students 15%, and Asian students 10%.

The magnet student body, Masterman, however, is 43% White and 27% Asian, 15% Black, and 6% Hispanic; and while almost all Philadelphia students are economically disadvantaged, only 33% of Masterman students are. In another, Central, the student body is 62% economically disadvantaged, 39% Asian, 30% white, 18% black, and 8% Hispanic.

Karyn Lynch, the district’s head of student support services, said the move would increase transparency and remove any notion that “there was an assistant behind the screen making a decision about the process.”

Philadelphia has two types of criteria-based schools, or magnets: there are the better magnets like Masterman and Central, which require good grades, good attendance and behavior grades, and sometimes other qualifications, such as students who took Algebra I before grade nine; and city-wide admission schools, which have certain admission standards but are less demanding. The city’s vocational and technical schools, like Dobbins and Swenson, use city-wide admissions, as do a number of smaller schools like Robeson and the Workshop School.

In this new process, qualified students participate in a lottery, but those with historically under-represented postcodes would be given preference in five of the criteria-based schools: Central, Masterman, Academy at Palumbo, Carver High School of Engineering and Science and Parkway Center City.

(It was not immediately clear why these five schools were chosen for postal code preference and not others; officials did not respond to requests for comment on this process.)

In an email to staff, Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said letters of recommendation and interviews would not be required for eligibility. (Some special schools will always have additional criteria – performance-based schools like the High School for Creative and Performing Arts will have auditions, and the Science Leadership Academy, a project-based learning school, will ask applicants for presentations. project-based.)

Some schools will ask students for a handwriting sample that will be computer scored, a process that was piloted at Parkway Center City Middle College, officials said.

In the past, some magnets required students to complete Algebra I and a language, a problem for children in underprivileged schools that did not offer these courses. Lynch said the language requirement had been dropped and that Algebra I would be available in all schools in the district, and that this work will continue to ensure that students across town have access to the type of course that prepares them for the Magnet experiments.

Wednesday’s announcement is not the first time that changes have been made to the admissions process at Magnetic Schools. In 2010, administration officials under then-superintendent Arlene Ackerman pitched the idea of ​​a centralized lottery that would remove the admissions process from schools and weigh diversity into decision-making. admission.

This change, which sparked an immediate backlash, was quickly scuttled. City officials at the time said they wanted to make sure the standards at Magnet schools remained high.

Officials said on Wednesday that details of the new criteria-based admissions policy were not set.

“We will continue to critically review our school selection process,” Lynch said.

The announcement sparked both applause and concern.

Edwin Mayorga, associate professor of educational studies, Latin American and Latin American studies at Swarthmore College, said that while he applauds and appreciates efforts to address long-standing admissions imbalances, people should stay focused on the bigger picture.

“We cannot lose sight of the importance of ensuring that all secondary schools in fact have equitable resources,” Mayorga said. Most of the city’s children, he noted, do not attend special admissions schools but underfunded neighborhood schools.

Kristin Luebbert, a teacher at U School, a small city-wide admission school in Philadelphia, said the policy changes appeared to be a good step. Luebbert was teaching at Bache-Martin, a K-8 school in Fairmount, and remembers the trying months when eighth graders were trying to get into a handful of better schools that didn’t have room for every qualified child.

“The process favored people with a lot of resources, whether it was parenting resources or the time to call the counselor three and four times to write the essay well,” Luebbert said. “It favors privileged people of all kinds. Anything we can do to smooth this out is good, because there are great kids in every school in every neighborhood in this city who don’t have access to the same resources as kids in other schools.

But the announcement stunned some families who have built their urban lives around the likelihood of their children being admitted to better public schools.

The mother of an eighth-grader of Masterman said she felt the rug was torn from under her child, who has good grades and is hoping to earn a spot on one of the many magnets. Finding out about the opening day of the high school selection, in the midst of the pandemic, was “shocking”, said the relative, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals for her child.

“Children who have worked their buttocks might not have room. If so, we’ll move, ”said the parent, who at the end of the day had also already scheduled a visit to a private school, just in case.

The Philadelphia Inquirer is one of more than 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push for economic justice. Find all our reports on breakinphilly.org.


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