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PhillySchoolApp site debuts

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A new website called PhillySchoolApp launched Friday, the first step in what eventually could be an overhaul in how students apply to high schools and to charter schools in the city.

Despite the name, the site is not yet itself an "app." For now it describes itself as "an online resource for applying to Philadelphia K-12 schools." 

It includes the District's high school application form, as well as a new common application for charter schools that so far is being accepted by 30 charters, including 11 high schools, and a Catholic school application form, allowing a student to select up to three city or suburban Archdiocesan schools.

The application process is not online, however. Anyone using the site must print out the application forms and send them to the relevant places. 

The initiative is backed by the Philadelphia Great Schools Compact, although that information is not on the site. In general, the site is still pretty bare-bones, with not much information besides the applications themselves and no live links to other online sources about high school options. It doesn't advertise the upcoming High School Fair, which will be held on Nov. 16.

The site gives brief descriptions of each sector of schools -- District, charter, and Archdiocesan. It does not note that, for students applying to selective District schools, there are separate admissions pools for students in special education or learning English. It also doesn't flag which selective District schools have additional requirements as part of their applications, including essays, interviews, or auditions.

The Philadelphia School Partnership, which staffs the Great Schools Compact, touted the launch in a mass email, calling it "a big step to make the application process easier for families." It said that the site would be tweaked based on parent and student feedback.

The District, charter, and Archdiocesan applications follow a similar format but differ in some ways beyond listing a different set of schools. For instance, the Archdiocesan application asks the student for information about any history of suspensions or expulsions, while the District's application asks simply, "Have you ever been expelled from a school?" The charter application does not broach that subject.

Despite the move to a similar application form and a common deadline of Dec. 6 for those using the application, the process for applying to schools has not changed in other respects. For instance, a student using the common application for multiple charters must still submit a separate form to each charter school.

PSP head Mark Gleason has said that the Compact's goal is to move Philadelphia to a universal enrollment system in which students would use a single form to apply to up to 10 schools and would be matched to a single school by an algorithm as a way to make it more fair. Ultimately, under PSP's plan -- which has generated controversy -- the matching process would be taken out of the District's hands and run by an entity called PhillySchoolApp.  Originally, the intent was to make PhillySchoolApp fully operative this year, but the District decided not to participate.

PSP is also reaching out to charter schools to use the common application. Of the 30 schools that have so far agreed, most are run by organizations that operate several charters, including Mastery, KIPP, Young Scholars, and String Theory. Few independent charters have so far signed up.

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Dale Mezzacappa

@dalemezz
Dale is a contributing editor at the Notebook. She has reported on education since 1986, most of that time with The Philadelphia Inquirer.