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New website to help parents choose a school in Philly

By the Notebook on Oct 15, 2012 11:24 AM

by Benjamin Herold, for NewsWorks, a Notebook news partner


Many Philadelphia parents want to take advantage of the city's varied school options but feel they need better information.

The Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP) wants to help.

PSP, along with Mayor Michael Nutter and Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite, will launch GreatPhillySchools Monday. The goal is to provide parents with a one-stop shop for information and quality ratings on the vast majority of Philadelphia's district, charter, and private schools, which number close to 500.

"Right now, you have many parents who don't realize the options available to them," said Mark Gleason, PSP executive director. "We've taken on the challenge of creating a multimedia resource that allows them to search for almost every school in the city of Philadelphia."

GreatPhillySchools will include basic data about each school's location, leadership, and program offerings, as well as ratings on academic performance and safety. At an event Monday afternoon at Shepard Recreation Center in West Philadelphia, Nutter will officially launch the project's website.

"We use a number system to say [some] schools are on average better than [other] schools," said Gleason. "But we have to be clear with parents – at the end of the day, this is your choice, and it's about your child, and we're trying to give you some tools to help."

A 2010 report by the Pew Charitable Trusts' Philadelphia Research Initiative found that 42 percent of Philadelphia parents found it difficult to get enough information about Philadelphia's school options. Many said they felt overwhelmed when trying to find the right school for their child.

Earlier this month, NewsWorks and the Notebook profiled Karen Lewis, a Philadelphia mother whose months-long search for a new school for her 8-year-old son left her feeling frustrated and angry. Gleason said GreatPhillySchools should help parents such as Lewis.

"To the extent that she's dissatisfied, or even just curious, she ought to be able to find information about how [a] school compares to other schools in her neighborhood [and] throughout the city," Gleason said.

In addition to GreatPhillySchools, the group also operates what it calls the "Great Schools Fund." In just over two years, PSP has raised more than $50 million to support the expansion of successful schools.

This story was reported as part of NewsWorks' partnership in education coverage with the Public School Notebook. The Notebook is a partner in GreatPhillySchools, participating on the advisory board and providing research on high schools and articles on the admission process.

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Comments (48)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 15, 2012 2:52 pm

This provides very little information. It is a score that is biased toward magnets / special admits and charters. If I'm going to make a decision about a school, I need much more than an 7/10 or 3/10.

Again, the Philadelphia School Partnership was created to destroy neighborhood, public schools.This is more fuel for their privatization drive.

Submitted by K.R. Luebbert on October 15, 2012 4:35 pm

Agreed. What is that quote often attributed to Einstein (though it may be apocryphal)? "Everything that matters cannot be measured and everything that can be measured may not matter."

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 16, 2012 9:13 am

Let me be clear: The Philadelphia Schools Partnership is not here to help the schoolchildren of Philadelphia, their parents or the people of Philadelphia. They are here to promote the privatization agenda of those who want to take over public schools for profit and promote their voucher agenda.

It is one of the many privately controlled organizations which have recently been created both locally and nationally to specifically promote the privatization agenda which is being promoted behind closed doors and imposed upon the people of Philadelphia. There is a concerted effort by these organizations which includes editorials in newspapers and radio programs to promote their agenda, and in doing so they are creating and perpetuating myths. They not only twist the truth, but they outright lie.That is part of their game plan and it is becoming increasingly obvious.

They do not promote real charter schools either. Their design is to eventually take them over, too. So this battle of truth threatens not only real public schools but real charter schools, too. The legitimate charter school leaders and parents better keep their heads out of the sand, too, and be sure not to be exploited by them.

They seek to influence everything with their money including the press. They wish to do this by hiding behind their fronts of secrecy. Mark Gleason will not disclose who is giving him all of the money he is throwing around. Neither will Jeremy Nowak.

Boston Consulting Group was hired by them to promote their agenda and that is exactly what BCG has done. They are part of the "pseudospeak" for the privatization agenda.

This concerted corporate raid on our public schools has been going on for years and is now escalating before our very eyes by people who wish to circumvent the public and legally mandated public processes.

The best schools in our state and the most cost efficient schools in our state are the regular public schools within school districts which elect their school boards.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 15, 2012 4:19 pm

I think this tool is a great start towards clarifying what our "choices" are in Philadelphia. It's nice to see all the schools listed in one place.

Now the next phase to make this even more useful is to give some kind of measure of how hard it is to actually get into the school. For example, when I enter my zip code into the search, the top public elementary school listed is PAS. If I were moving to the area I would be thrilled, but in truth, I live a block outside of the catchment for PAS, so that is not at all an option for us, and even some in catchment kids don't get in. Some measure of the requirements for admission (Including tuition rates for private and parochial schools) and the "odds of getting in" (such as the number of lottery slots and applicants each year) is another important part of the school equation in this town. This would be a great addition to this tool.

Finally, it would be very useful if you could actually apply to ALL public schools (district and charter) through this or a similar site. Even though the district has the one "Voluntary Transfer Program" (which is an old-fashioned print form and must take thousands of man-hours for district staff to re-enter the applicant data)ourselves), each school has their own "secret" process for admitting out-of-catchment students, creating waitlists, etc. The process is patently unfair, and likely corrupt at many schools. And charters have been in the news lately for their own exclusive application procedures that disenfranchise Philadelphia kids. We need one common application for admission to all public schools in Philly.

Again, this is a great start and a huge improvement over what we had. But knowing what schools are good is only half the equation. We also need to know how to get into them.

Submitted by Ms.Cheng (not verified) on October 16, 2012 11:54 am

I agree it's a start, and I think you have some good suggestions. Also I think that the rating system, being one dimensional, only speaks to a portion of parents however. Other information that is missing is: details of the PSSA scores; student to teacher ratios; the school's budget/offerings/strong programs; the school's School Improvement Plan; and demographic (including percentage qualifying for "free or reduced lunch"). All of this info is supposed to be made readily available to the public (especially the SIP), and though can be gathered for the SDP (with some work), is not available for the charters and private schools.

I agree with commenters who say that much of the info offered is not new. Also, if you search "charter", there are quite a few that look academically as high achieving as SDP's flagship (highly competitive admission requirement) schools, Masterman, Hill Freedman, and Central. I wonder about the "sensitivity" of the data here, and yes, it looks to be biased towards the charters. What parent will have the time to contact a neighborhood school for the missing info, after he/she has contacted the schools rated higher on the list first?

From a technical standpoint, there are problems/bugs with the search function...hopefully to be worked out.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 17, 2012 8:14 am

I would prefer that such a rating system were done by an objective source such as Pew Charitable Trusts and not one done by PSP which has a clear agenda of privatization.

Submitted by Dina (not verified) on October 15, 2012 5:50 pm

I did a few searches. Turns out that the only schools they recommend are either special admit or Mastery Charter. Is this the way we are going to improve pubic education for ALL students?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 15, 2012 5:28 pm

I'm very suspicious with the Mastery Charter data. Many Mastery schools did not make AYP - even with the huge advantage given by the PA Dept. of Ed to charters ("grade spans" versus having to make all categories for AYP). The only thing Mastery seems to know how to do is prepare students for standardized tests. So, this looks good with this formula. Mastery also doesn't take all students - remember the "by any means necessary" paper work...

Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on October 15, 2012 9:24 pm

I have done a field experience at one of Mastery's charter schools. Their neighborhood schools take all of the kids in the neighborhood (although there is a waiting list at some of their schools). They cannot turn away kids because of behavior problems. The parents may sign the contract, but that doesn't mean that Mastery can automatically kick out the child if the parent doesn't comply. Most kids don't perfectly follow the Mastery Code of Conduct at all times. They don't kick out kids like people think they do. I'm not defending everything Mastery does, but I am telling the truth about how they enforce their Code of Conduct. The C of C is about expectations. Kids don't get kicked out for little things at Mastery Schools from my experience there. It takes history of egregious behavior problems to go to an alternative school. Examples would be repeated fighting or property destruction and these behaviors continuing after different interventions, suspensions, meetings with parents, contracts, etc. failed.

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on October 16, 2012 4:53 am

One fight and Mastery kicks students out. They have zero tolerance for fighting. This NEVER happens in a neighborhood school. I've had students who were in a fight at Mastery. One fight and out.

No public school with a catchment can have a "waiting list." If you live in the catchment, you are in the school. Mastery keeps caps on class size which lets them have a waiting list.

Mastery also has additional funding thanks to their corporate sponsors. They have a drill and kill approach to instruction which focuses on testing. While this will increase test scores, it doesn't mean there is genuine learning.

We don't need more Mastery Corp. schools - we need the School District of Phila. to supports its schools for ALL students.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 16, 2012 9:22 am

"No public school with a catchment can have a "waiting list." If you live in the catchment, you are in the school."

-Penn Alexander is a public school that has a "wait list" of in-catchment kids every year.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 16, 2012 12:53 pm

Penn Alexander claims to be a neighborhood school but, in reality, it is a Univ. of Penn sponsored school. It gets to play by very separate rules because of it funder / sponsor.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 16, 2012 2:18 pm

Keep in mind that Penn sends crumbs over to Penn Alexander in comparison to what the TAXPAYER pays for that school and its construction.

Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on October 20, 2012 5:52 pm
At the Mastery school where I did my field experience, there was not zero tolerance when it came to fighting. There were students who had multiple fighting incidents and they still remained in the school. One student in elementary school instigated a fight with another student. The instigating student (Student A) spent a couple of days in in-school suspension. Then he was moved to a different class in the grade in order to separate he and the other student (Student B) with whom a direct conflict had developed. The Assistant Principal of Culture took into account Student A's personality and response to teacher discipline when reassigning him. Student A's teacher had a direct style of discipline which did not always work well with Student A. However, the direct style worked fine with Student B. Thus, Student B remained in the class while the AP of Culture requested that Student A move to another class in which the teacher had the ability to vary discipline to make it softer or more direct, depending on the student. At this same Mastery school, there were 2 full time social workers, a school counselor, and several deans. There were numerous student who were 2 to 3 years behind grade level in reading and/or math and Mastery did not try to get rid of these students. They tried to come up with supports to help them do better on their benchmarks which are test students take every 6 weeks in order to monitor progress in reading, math, and writing. This Mastery school also provided Second Step social skills instruction to some of their students. There was a real emphasis on helping students develop better social skills and to solve conflicts peacefully. The school always told students to seek the help of an adult instead of using physical force to solve problems. I also have some criticisms of the Mastery school where I spent time. There were more than 10 administrators at the school. This could be helpful, but also, some of the administrators/deans would put extra responsibilities on the teachers. Teaching at a Mastery school is very intense. I feel that teachers should be paid more there, even though the pay is close to what the SDP pays its beginning teachers. In general, beginning teachers should receive higher pay. In some subjects, particularly reading, one teacher in the grade had to plan the instruction using chidlren's literature because there wasn't a reading curriculum for the younger students. In the younger grades (K-2), there was a reading curriculum though. Mastery schools are very data driven. They use benchmark tests every 6 weeks, and these tests are 4Sight tests or tests that Mastery makes using old PSSA questions. Every student starting in grade 3 has to take the benchmark, at least at this school. I don't know what the policy would be for students with severe disabilities with regard to benchmarks. There were students who couldn't read the reading test who still had to take it. Adults could read the math and writing directions, but the directions on the reading test were part of the test. Thus, for students who were really below grade level, taking the benchmarks could be quite a frustrating experience. I think that some of the instruction could be considered drill and kill. However, I found that the teachers really tried to help the students develop conceptual knowledge in reading. For example, students read authentic children's literature such as Thank You Mr. Falker and Fantastic Mr. Fox. Using these stories, students had to learn to make inferences and identify story elements (characters, setting, sequence of events, problem, solution). Yes, questions on the PSSA focus on these parts of the story, but knowing how to make inferences and identify story elements are part of good reading instruction period. At this Mastery school, several of the school's teachers sent their own children to this particular school, and the school was in an inner city neighborhood. None of the administrators had children who attended the school, however. People have a lot of misconceptions about Mastery's schools. I personally believe strongly in publicly-run schools. There are some legitimate criticisms of Mastery. However, they do a lot of good things as well.
Submitted by Education Grad Student (not verified) on October 20, 2012 5:05 pm
*Clarifications to my initial post*: They tried to come up with supports to help them do better on their *classwork and* benchmarks which are test students take every 6 weeks in order to monitor progress in reading, math, and writing. This Mastery school also provided Second Step social skills instruction to some of their students. There was a real emphasis on helping students develop better social skills and to solve conflicts peacefully. The school always told students to seek the help of an adult instead of using physical force to solve problems. I also have some criticisms of the Mastery school where I spent time. There were more than 10 administrators at the school. This could be helpful, but also, some of the administrators/deans would put extra responsibilities on the teachers. Teaching at a Mastery school is very intense. I feel that teachers should be paid more there, even though the pay is close to what the SDP pays its beginning teachers. In general, beginning teachers should receive higher pay. In some subjects, particularly reading, one teacher in the grade had to plan the instruction using *children's* literature because there wasn't a reading curriculum for *students in some of the grades, starting in third grade*. In the younger grades (K-2), there was a reading curriculum though.
Submitted by annonymous (not verified) on October 20, 2012 6:15 pm
I consider the every 6 weeks benchmarks only on tested subjects a test prep approach to teaching. What opportunities were there for learning other than related to the PSSA? Social Studies? Science? music? art? Students who only experience test prep have a very experience. This type of education would not be tolerated in wealthy schools. If there are 10 administrators, that is a very top heavy school. It doesn't sound like there is much distributive leadership if all the leadership is at the top. I would not send my children to a Mastery School. Like Scott Gordon, I want my children to have a well rounded education. Unlike Scott Gordon, I can't afford a private school. Fortunately, not all charters and public schools are test prep factories.
Submitted by Truthsayer (not verified) on October 17, 2012 8:42 am

I really love your zeal EGS but just the fact that they have a waiting list means that they do not take all of the children in their catchment area. All of the real public schools do take all students in their catchment area who walk though their doors. Real public schools exclude no one.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 17, 2012 8:26 am

Anything the Philadelphia School Partnership puts out is suspect.

Submitted by Joe (not verified) on October 15, 2012 8:32 pm

The agenda is to make the already rich, richer. It has nothing to do with Public Ed. except for the money the Privateers can make on the backs of the children.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 17, 2012 8:58 am

And that is exactly why Philadelphia School Partnership is here. Why do you think Mark Gleason came here from North Jersey? Because of his life long love for Philadelphia's schoolchildren?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 17, 2012 9:24 am

Agreed. Where were these "reformers" when they couldn't make money off the backs of the kids. Elmer Gantry would be proud of them as would Jim and Tammy Baker. Hard to believe it continues with no resistance in any real way except for Jordan being socked 24/7. It makes me wish for the days of Robert Archie---not really.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on October 15, 2012 6:50 pm

There are way more regular public schools which are more successful than charter schools and privatized "charter operated" schools. Why isn't Mark Gleason along with his PSP backers attempting to expand those regular public schools which are so successful?

Also, it does not matter if there is a successful school in the city if there is not one in every child's immediate neighborhood. That is what parents want. They have said that over and over again at the facilities planning meetings.

What Mark and everyone must know is that most students cannot get into the successful schools because most of the successful schools are "select" schools who choose their students based on their already pre achieved academic talent.

Are you going to explain that to parents? Or are you going to pretend there is choice when really there isn't very much choice at all -- that is, choice for students.

Submitted by Joe (not verified) on October 15, 2012 6:48 pm

And the worst part is the "fix" is in so transparency, honesty and real choice aren't even considered. Of course, as long as we sit on the sidelines as though we have no dog in this fight, Nutter, Pedro and the boys will continue to move ahead with their ALEC motivated agenda. Jerry?????????

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 15, 2012 9:00 pm

Yes, Diane Ravisch said the Chicago Teachers Union proved what a concerted and galvanized Union can do. Guess she hasn't been to Philly !

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 15, 2012 10:49 pm

Don't forget, in the Chicago union teachers several years ago organized an opposition called CORE and threw out their business oriented leadership. It did not happen over night. It is very late in the game to do something in the PFT to deal with the locomotive careening down towards us.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 15, 2012 8:33 pm

I agree with Joe. This city and school district continue to tear apart the public school system and no one says a word. Nothing from Jerry Jordan, Ted Kirsch, Randi Weingarten. We all just sit back and they have at it. Does anybody in their right mind think that this scheme is out there to promote the public school system equally with their charters and special admits. There's less than a year left before the contract is up and between now and August they are going to do whatever they can to reduce what's left of the school district to rubble. This is not real choice.
What I want to see is what's going to happen to the Philadelphia School District when Harrisburg takes control of handing out the charters. There will be charters all over the place. But this could also work in their favor. That way they can fast track the process of closing all the remaining public schools. My daughter gets one choice of where she is to go to school. I can't go down to my local school board and pick from a grab bag any school I want my kid to go to. One choice, that's it.

Submitted by Joe (not verified) on October 15, 2012 8:56 pm

I agree with you too. The inactivity to combat this hostile takeover is stunning and of course, by design in my eyes. Just compare what we're doing against what The Chicago Teacher's Union did, and start banging your head against the wall. We sit, they acted and won. We're an embarrassment and it starts with our leader, Jerry whom I believe has another agenda and it ain't about what's best for our kids.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 15, 2012 8:57 pm

They should include teacher turnover rates as well.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 15, 2012 8:33 pm

And how many students are "counseled out" / leave and are returned to a neighborhood schools. While they are at it, include the percentage of ELLs and students with an IEP are served.

Submitted by rob (not verified) on October 15, 2012 8:41 pm

does anyone know where they get their numbers from?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 16, 2012 11:15 pm

Look under Data Sources -- it's pretty transparent. Aside from PSSA and data reported to the state and the NSC, "Most other numbers on GreatPhillySchools were provided by the schools themselves or by the School District. These include Advanced Placement participation rates and SAT scores."

Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on October 17, 2012 4:58 am

According to the "Great Schools" web site, they use the following categories to get the overall number (out of 10):

Academics (reading and math performance, measured against grade-level standards)
Safety (based on fewest reported serious incidents)
Student Attendance (an indicator of student engagement and school culture)
Achievement Gap (an indicator of a school’s record in helping students of limited financial means learn)
College Bound (how many high-school graduates enroll in 2- or 4-year college in the year after high school)

All of these are self reported other than PSSA scores. It is easy to manipulate the results. For example, how was the "achievement gap" determined? To increase "College Bound," a school can ensure that every student apply to CCP. How reliable is the "college bound" number? ("College bound" is different than actually attend/finish). The site admits that "student attendance" is not calculated the same at all schools. Obviously, there is not a consistent way to report "safety" across the district. (Do schools count, for example violence that occurs outside their building? Mastery Lenfest, for example, had a very visible "incident" in 2011 where student beat up a man on the sidewalk. Does that count? What about non-physical bullying? The list could be endless.)

As others have pointed out, we now have a web site that lets us know magnet / special admit high schools and apparently Mastery (again, most data is self reported) have a better score. Neighborhood high schools have lower scores. No surprise in a city where there is extreme tracking of students at the high shcool level. (This is compounded by the many ways charters control who gets in and who they get rid of each year.) Are politicians going to use this data to further diminish support for public (non charter) schools? While the web site authors tell us to "Use Ratings as a Guide, Not as a Determining Factor," the reality may be quite different.

Submitted by Ken Derstine on October 15, 2012 8:28 pm

I attended the SRC meeting this evening. It was about Special Education services in the public schools. There was a presentation about Challenges the School District faces with Special Education. Buried in a list of bullet points (none of which were explained) were these challenges:

•Implementation of recommendations from the Council of Great City Schools reports.

•impact on District school budgets upon transition of students with disabilities from charter to District schools after 12/1.

What does this mean? The question period was brief and I did not want to interrupt the parents who were raising heartwrenching stories about how special ed services are not meeting the needs of their children.

Submitted by K.R. Luebbert on October 15, 2012 9:22 pm

That second point is concerning, Ken. Are charter schools sending all, or most, or many Special Ed students back to the district after 12/1? We need to ask what this means. Will their money come back with them?

Also buried in the bullet points was the statement that Renaissance Charters MUST take all SPED students in their catchment "up to enrollment limits". As you know, regular district public schools MAY NOT (unless you are Penn Alexander) have enrollment limits. I wonder if they are always "full" when a kid with an IEP tries to register?

Submitted by Joe (not verified) on October 15, 2012 9:59 pm

K.R. You sound as if you already know the answers to your questions. They'll do whatever they can get away with and as of now, it's plenty and will likely only get worse. They ain't giving back money, no way, no how, just kids.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 16, 2012 10:49 am

12/1 is the date that Penn Data must be submitted. Federal Idea Part B funding is based on that data. That money will be distributed to the school a child attends on that date. The state special ed allotment follows the child from school to school.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 15, 2012 10:04 pm

This is anecdotal but maybe true at other schools. Last year, we received students with an IEP in January from two charters. I had the students in a reading class. They not only were well below grade level in reading but often disrupted the class. I assume the charters took the funding and "counseled out" the students.

I am concerned at the high school level that more and more charters and special admits will "counsel out" students who do not perform well on the Keystone Exams. The Keystones will be given when a student completes a course (e.g. Algebra 1). They have a couple times to score proficient. There no longer will be a modified (special ed) test. The student's scores don't count for AYP until they are a junior. Will neighborhood schools get more students from charters and special admits now that the Keystone must be "passed?" (The tests are required by the Class of 2017). Then, the so-called "Great Schools" will spout their numbers while neighborhood schools will be threatened because we have a higher percentage of students who aren't "proficient."

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 15, 2012 9:08 pm

Ken's posting would seem accurate. Through the establishment of charters, The school district has found a way to implode the public school system. Unfortunately, the charters are not obligated to educate students with IEP's who eventually end up in the neighborhood, public schools. These are the most expensive students to educate.

Joe, in the end, what can the PFT really do. The Chicago Public School System is still run by an elected school board. Because of that fact, they are not bound by the same legislation that restricts School Districts like Philadelphia that have been taken over by the state. Which, by the way, is nothing more than a scheme to prevent such actions as striking and work stoppages. What are they going to do, have some ridiculous informational picket 1 hour before school starts, that's a joke. The state knows that once the Philadelphia Federation crumbles, the rest of the teacher's unions out in suburgatory will fall in kind.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 15, 2012 11:24 pm

I am very disappointed in the notebook's involvement in this "grading" of schools. What this boils down to is how much poverty is in the school (less = good) and how much zero tolerance is in the school (more = good). This tells us absolutely nothing about what schools are doing a good job serving difficult student populations, even though that is the most important measurement we need to know.

Parents can find out which schools have rich kids or will kick out the "bad" kids without this "tool."

Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on October 16, 2012 5:34 am

Well said.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 16, 2012 10:45 am

I think there is some use in the grading so that we know what schools are failing our kids too. For example, if I look at the public elementary schools in the city that score an overall 1/10, I can see that what they all have in common is a high percentage of black or Hispanic students and 98%+ of free or reduced lunch (i.e. poor). Providing a good education to these children is an equal rights issue. What are we going to do about it?

This grading system can be a useful tool for choice, but it can be a useful tool for change too.

Submitted by Paul Socolar on October 16, 2012 9:16 pm

The Notebook was a content partner on this project, providing information about high schools that we have traditionally gathered through our annual high school guide. We also sat on an advisory board that got to weigh in on some questions about how schools were rated. We were and are hopeful that this site can be a useful tool for parents.

But ultimately the Notebook had only an advisory role in decisions about how schools would be ranked. We have always shied away from ranking schools. Our primary concern about this project, which we communicated, was that a rating system that ends up giving high grades to most of the city's low-poverty schools and low grades to the high-poverty schools is not helpful.

Like you, we are just getting to see the results of the GreatPhillySchools ranking system. We're interested in further analysis of it and reactions of users like yourselves. And we continue to provide feedback to the folks at Philadelphia School Partnership.

We explained our decision to collaborate on this project here. One significant issue was that we did not think that the school system could handle two groups simultaneously producing school guides, and it was important to us to maintain our annual high school guide, which is our most popular print product. Our collaboration with the GreatPhillySchools project on gathering high school data was helpful in allowing us to successfully gather more information about the city's public high schools than ever before.

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on October 16, 2012 4:36 am

Numbers are easy to manipulate. How are scores created? Whose data is included? It appears the Great City Schools - and the Notebook - are doing the work of the privateers. We need a holistic review of schools - not a quick and easy "grade" which provides little help to families. As one poster noted, so many of the schools limit access, what difference does the score make?

Submitted by Paul Socolar on October 17, 2012 3:32 pm

The methodology for the site is a little hard to find but there's a link on the home page. In that document, there is a link to a spreadsheet with the raw data.

The Notebook is now correctly listed as a content partner on the site - we shared with them information on high schools and articles that we gathered. We had an opportunity to offer input on how the scores are created but did not have a vote on that. We did not view the site before its launch and are just getting to see how things shook out. We will continue to advocate for more thorough and nuanced ways of evaluating schools. We're also interested in getting more thoughts on how this could be done better.

Submitted by ConcernedRoxParent (not verified) on October 16, 2012 1:14 pm

Where is the data from.

Example - School "scored 8/10" in safety. Was the fact that the school lost it's school police officer even taken into consideration? My guess is no. Just a push for Charter Schools

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 16, 2012 11:37 pm

Why is there no score for academic GROWTH? From these numbers, we cannot tell how much progress the students make from year-to-year.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on October 17, 2012 10:39 am

There is no score for academic growth because there is no test presently given to students which measures student growth in any valid and reliable way. It is amazing to see the collective lack of knowledge of how to measure reading ability and its growth accurately, validly and reliably.

I will bet you that the PSP does not employ any certified reading specialist who has an actual background of experience in both the assessment of reading ability and the teaching of reading.

That is what happens when you do not have true educators running things and when you do not collaborate with actual practitioners in the field. That is a systemic illness.

That is one of the reasons why I supported Dr. Hite to be our new leader -- because he actually taught reading at one time in his career.

Submitted by Annony. (not verified) on October 18, 2012 5:15 am

It would be helpful if the "Great Schools" list would consider adding the following when evaluating a school:

up to date web site / traditional communication with families on a regular basis

rating for welcoming family involvement

pedagogical approach of staff (e.g. textbook driven versus multiple sources, standardized test driven versus whole child learning, objective tests only versus project based, writing intensive, etc.)

regular communication between teachers and parents (e.g. return email; teacher web sites)

extra curricular activities (range of options)

mental health / school climate support services (including how school climate is handled)

REAL partnerships with outside agencies / organizations (not just on paper)

I'm sure others could add more ideas. The criteria for the "Great Schools" in insufficient. With all but one category (standardized tests) self reported, it also is easy to manipulate the data. A high school, for example, can make all students apply to CCP and all will be accepted. This is not to denigrate CCP but to show the "stat" doesn't tell a parent very much about the school.

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