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Independent. Reader-Supported

A new partnership on school selection




One of the Notebook’s key objectives is to support families in making informed decisions about schools through products such as our annual Fall Guide to High Schools. To support that goal, the Notebook has signed on as a partner in an ambitious new initiative to provide more comprehensive information about school choice in Philadelphia.

The new project, called GreatPhillySchools, was initiated by Philadelphia School Partnership, or PSP. It will debut this fall.

This new project aims to address a problem identified in a 2010 study by Pew Charitable Trusts, which found that 42 percent of Philadelphia parents surveyed said it is hard to get enough information about the school options for their children. The Notebook has been committed to providing more information at the high school level, because we know that large numbers of students try to exercise school choice but don’t get any of their options.

GreatPhillySchools aims to be a comprehensive source for information about K-12 school options, including private and parochial schools. It will include both web and print resources. The project aims to examine and present school options in the framework of preparation for postsecondary success. PSP has been able to secure funding for this project to develop multimedia materials on school choice, including a robust website that will be accessible by smart phone, printed guides, and translations of materials into additional languages.

Deciding to collaborate in this endeavor was a complicated decision that the Notebook did not take lightly, because our mission is to provide information and to support conversation and engagement specifically about public schools in Philadelphia. The Notebook’s mission reflects a belief that a strong public education system is critical in a democratic society and that a news organization such as ours can play a role in ensuring that this system is accountable to the public.

Our decision to cooperate reflects a compromise and a desire on our part to create the best possible information source for making school-choice decisions, rather than having two dueling organizations and resources compete with each other. Part of our understanding with PSP is that we will continue to print a Fall Guide to High Schools, and we maintain independent editorial control over that. In the three years that we have published the guide, it has become our most popular and widely used print product. The focus of that guide will remain the same – District and charter schools serving the high school grades.

While we will continue to focus the Notebook’s energies on reporting about public schools – District and charter – we will also be trying to make the resources and presentations of school data produced by GreatPhillySchools the best they can be.

Reflecting our collaboration, this year our research for the “school profile” section of the Notebook’s Fall Guide is being done in collaboration with PSP. The Notebook is receiving funding from PSP to support our annual survey, which was jointly developed, and the data collected will be shared with the GreatPhillySchools project. The Urban Affairs Coalition is being funded by PSP to do similar work on K-8 schools. Coordinating our information-gathering is an important step, because none of us wanted to subject principals to multiple, detailed surveys about their schools and their programs.

The Notebook, Urban Affairs Coalition, and several other organizations sit on the advisory council for the GreatPhillySchools project, where we have an opportunity to advise PSP on the types of information to present, the organization of the website, and how to make the project as accessible and parent-friendly as possible.

Much work remains to be done in the next few months. There are important and difficult decisions to make about the measures best used to define a “great school.” But we are all hopeful that the product will be a better school-choice information source than has previously existed.

Getting support for this project through PSP is not the first time the Notebook will be receiving funding from an organization that is a significant newsmaker in Philadelphia. In this case, PSP plays a lead role in the Great Schools Compact, staffing it and managing the submission of funding requests to the Gates Foundation and other organizations. PSP has also made large donations to managers of Renaissance Schools and has contributed to supporting the work of Boston Consulting Group in Philadelphia, as reported by the Notebook.

For the Notebook, receiving contributions – and advertising dollars – from organizations that we write about is a constant reality. Our news organization would have virtually no money if we did not take funding from foundations, organizations and individuals with their own education agendas for the city. We sometimes obtain funding that is earmarked to supporting a particular topic, as we are doing in this case to assist with the production of our high school guide.

But our pledge to our readers, and our message to our funders, is that we are determined not to be influenced in how we approach our news coverage by who gives us money. We strive to maintain a diversity of funding sources so that we are not overly dependent on particular funders. That is one reason why we are working so hard to increase our individual memberships and why we run an annual fundraising event.

In the case of Philadelphia School Partnership, the funds committed this year represent about 2 percent of the Notebook’s total budget.

Stay tuned for more information about GreatPhillySchools, which we hope will be a valuable addition to the resources available to parents.

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Paul Socolar

Paul is the Notebook's former editor and publisher and also one of its founders in 1994.

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