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Girls' High is a living monument to gender discrimination

By thenotebook on Feb 6, 2014 01:23 PM

by Larry Kalikow

For more than a quarter-century, the School District of Philadelphia has maintained a special-admission, academically superior high school exclusively for girls, the Philadelphia High School for Girls (aka "Girls' High"), without affording equivalent educational opportunity for boys.

On its website, the Philadelphia High School for Girls, for many years, unabashedly described itself as "a public, college preparatory school for academically talented young women drawn from the rich diversity of the city." It has further proclaimed that it provides, among other benefits, an "outstanding academic opportunity," an "unequaled art program," "outstanding AP opportunities" and "superb choices in the sciences, math and languages." Yet, the School District of Philadelphia has no corresponding boys-only school "for academically talented young men." Certainly, the diversity of the city is rich enough, and has been for the last 25 years, to include many such male students. 

The Philadelphia High School for Girls -- with its 1,100-plus spaces reserved for academically talented young women -- stands as a living monument to institutional sex discrimination. While former Superintendent Arlene Ackerman repeatedly professed her commitment to "ending inequity" in Philadelphia's public schools, she, incongruously, turned a blind eye to the manifest inequity of the District's operating a special admission, academically superior high school for girls without an equivalent school for boys. In its continued operation of Girls' High, the District is promoting a gender-based double standard of educational opportunity.

Moreover, in denying male students equal educational opportunity, the District egregiously violates federal and state anti-discrimination laws. These include Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the Equal Protection Clause of the federal constitution and, more significantly, the Pennsylvania Equal Rights Amendment, which has been the law of the Commonwealth for more than four decades. That amendment provides that "equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania because of the sex of the individual." As has been observed by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania: 

The thrust of the Equal Rights Amendment is to insure equality of rights under the law and to eliminate sex as a basis for distinction. The sex of the citizens of this Commonwealth is no longer a permissible factor in the determination of their legal rights and responsibilities. The law will not impose different benefits or burdens upon the members of a society based on the fact that they may be man or woman. 

That no other school district in Pennsylvania has a special all-boys or all-girls high school like Philadelphia High School for Girls, without a corresponding, equivalent school for students of the other sex is not surprising. Such asymmetry in educational opportunity is clearly unlawful. As indicated above, the Equal Rights Amendment of the Pennsylvania Constitution flatly prohibits discrimination "because of the sex of the individual" and will not countenance special benefits being conferred by a school district, or by any other governmental entity, based on gender.

There is simply no valid legal basis for contending that the prohibitions against sex discrimination, which required then-all-male Central High School to become coeducational in 1983, applies with any less force now to all-female Girls' High. (Anyone supporting the sex discrimination in education perpetuated by the Philadelphia High School for Girls should educate himself or herself by reading Newberg v. Board of Public Education, United States v. Virginia, and Mississippi University for Women v. Hogan.)

Surely, if the complained-of denial of equal educational opportunity were based on race, or if women or girls constituted the class being discriminated against, it would be strongly condemned and swiftly relegated to the dustbin of history. Notwithstanding any protestations to the contrary, the proponents of the status quo are guilty of both sexism and hypocrisy.

The School Reform Commission and the School District of Philadelphia should demonstrate respect for the law and for the principles of fairness and equality that the law seeks to uphold. (Tragically, the School District of Philadelphia's brazenly flouting federal and state anti-discrimination laws teaches a horrible lesson to the schoolchildren of Philadelphia -- a lesson that encourages disrespect for the law.) The SRC and the District should embrace, promote, and enforce the extant, legally mandated policy (applicable to all public schools) of equal educational opportunity for all of Pennsylvania's children, regardless of whether they are male or female.
 
For a start, Philadelphia High School for Girls should be brought into compliance with the law. Its name and enrollment should change. It should open its doors to boys and become a coeducational school, or its doors should be closed to all. The time has come to put an end to de jure sex discrimination in public education in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, which, of course, includes the School District of Philadelphia. Moreover, not one cent of Pennsylvania taxpayer revenues should be used to support a school district that continues to violate state anti-discrimination laws, including our Equal Rights Amendment, enshrined in the Declaration of Rights of our state constitution.

Distilled to its essence, this is a plea for adherence to the rule of law, which should never be trumped by either sexist traditions or political correctness.
 

Larry Kalikow is an attorney and a citizen of the United States and of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. 


The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

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Comments (48)

Submitted by Sincere (not verified) on February 6, 2014 1:58 pm

Dear Mr. Kalikow,

While I wholeheartedly disagree with your entire notion- full disclosure I am a (PROUD) Girls High grad- I will put aside my personal feelings to point out one thing you fail to mention. I will not fault you, because many people DO NOT know this. But once Central High School (which was the all-male equivalent before they were FORCED by factors OUTSIDE of the School District to turn co-ed sometime in the 80's I believe), the Philadelphia High School for Girls went along with the ruling and complied with new charters. Every year young male students apply for acceptance into Girls High - mostly as a dare or a "test" to the system. AND THESE BOYS ARE INDEED ACCEPTED INTO GIRLS HIGH. HOwever, those boys CHOOSE not to attend. This is not the fault of the school. Just as it's not the fault that there once was a school that offered the same privilege to boys as is offered by Girls High, and it was the people who decided to take that away from boys in this city. So, by your logic, we should deprive another demographic of the same, instead of trying to provide an equivalent for boys. That is a backwards way of thinking.
And, I would love to have the opportunity to talk about the wonderful experience that Girls High provided me and my classmates. The school made a believer out of me in terms of single-sex education. While I do not advocate, like some, that all eduction should use this system; a few schools that offer that option only enhance the breadth of educational options. But since, I've already taken up a significant chunk of comment space, I shall leave it there…

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 6, 2014 2:48 pm

I see the words "choice" and "options" in your rebuttal. Better be careful as the PFT trolls on here do not like those words.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 8, 2014 11:39 am

I, also, am a proud graduate of GHS, , as were my mother and grandmother. I appreciate the points you've raised about the willingness to accept boys. I also remember my senior year (1982) when girls from our freshman class raised the case for making Central co-ed. I was very confused by the need for such a drastic change when we were allowed to take any classes offered at Central that we're not available at GHS.

But my key point is more related to the reality of gender imbalance in our country's and corporate leaders. I still remember an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer written during the time the girls from GHS fought to attend Central. It pointed out the benefits of an all-girls' institution. There were many, but the key point that stayed with me was that EVERY position held in the school was held by a female....Class President, VP, editor of the yearbook, school newspaper, leaders of all the clubs,etc. it gave us all the opportunity to not just participate but to be the leaders. Often, in co-ed schools, leadership positions went to the boys (although they were not limited to boys). It shouldn't be but let's face it, most of our leaders in this country - in politics, business, etc. - are still male. All-girls' institutions can help cultivate the desire and skills we need to strive for and achieve leadership. Read Sheryl Sandberg's book, Lean In. Insightful.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 11, 2014 1:23 pm

Your comment is a strawman.

Boys will not attend a SCHOOL FOR GIRLS.

Change the name first. Change the motto. THEN boys will feel welcome.

All the male schools I knew of in the 1970s' dropped the name SCHOOL FOR BOYS. THAT is why women began to attend.

The same should happen here. First, change the name. Second, change the motto. Third: advertise for the boys, too.

Submitted by Mark Neil (not verified) on February 12, 2014 4:07 am

I notice your wording regarding how Central and GHS changed... Central was "forced" to change, while GHS made the choice to comply. You don't see the differing treatment of these schools, based on sex, to be troubling? Furthermore, the fact boys are applying as a dare or challenge, plus the fact you needed to clarify that boys are, in fact, allowed (how many actually attended? Were they really allowed, or was this just a claim that admissions managed to weed out in practice?), makes it clear that it's co-ed attribute is nether well known, let alone openly advertised... making it just as discriminatory in it's denial of male students, not due to policy, but due to it's misrepresentation. Hardly a position I'd be willing to defend if I claimed to support equality for the sexes.

Submitted by JMH (not verified) on February 6, 2014 1:59 pm

Two things...First, I'm thinking that if a guy wants to go to Girl's High, he probably could...might be a little bit of an uphill battle, but make the application and let the chips fall where they may....I wonder how many might choose to apply.

Second, and probably more importantly, single-sex education has it's place in many systems and it is well known to be much more beneficial for young women. Just in terms of leadership opportunities, it is beneficial. Girl's High is an excellent school with long and storied history...leave it be...it is not hurting anyone.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 6, 2014 10:14 pm

I think the major objection (and one that would be kinda hard for the SDP to defend if anybody ever actually sued on this) is that there is an all-girls school but no all-boys school. Even if boys are permitted to attend "Girls High," it might be fairly persuasive if someone argued that the SDP provides single-sex options designed for girls, but not for boys. That is really hard to justify, legally or otherwise.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on February 6, 2014 1:25 pm

I find your points quite interesting. Especially since you raise the issue of the "Equal Protection Clause" of the U. S. Constitution.

You seem so concerned about the gender issue as being discriminatory, but you and few others, are concerned at all about the "discriminatory nature of Act 46."

Act 46 is a law which is imposed on no other Pennsylvania citizen other than Philadelphia and its minority population of public school students.

Equally important is the fact the public schools of minority children are being financially "starved" in the words of many of our most respected colleagues. Some have said that is purposeful.

Some have said that we are now a "colony" and we have no right of self determination as what happens to our public school students, their families and their teachers.

Are they not violations of the Equal Protection Clause?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 6, 2014 10:37 pm

Mr. Migliore,

You often have very interesting things to say. But this is probably off base. Residence in Philadelphia isn't a protected status, like sex, gender, etc. And the Supreme Court has been fairly clear that municipalities are creations of the state, to do with as they wish (include dissolve them completely completely). There is no constitutional right to local representation. (See Hunter v. Pittsburgh). There are sometimes issues of home rule autonomy that complicate it, and Romer v. Evans complicated it a bit too, but it's still basically the case that there's no Equal Protection problem with singling out a municipality (or, in fact, dissolving the municipality completely. As a legal matter, cities derive all of their authority from state law).

Singling out a particular city may be bad policy. It might be inappropriate. It might be driven by ill motives. But under the current state of constitutional law, it's not unconstitutional. And the current U.S. Supreme Court is extremely resistant to expanding the scope of the 14th Amendment.

The fact that Philadelphia's schools serve a mostly minority population might give some basis to a race-based equal protection argument. But it's indirect. And the fact that the law doesn't apply to other minority-majority districts (i.e. Pittsburgh), it's probably a hard case.

State control of SDP is a disaster. But it's probably not illegal. If this challenge were launched, the courts are almost certain to have the same reply they almost always do when a city doesn't like what a state did: tell the city to get their desired changes in the legislature.

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on February 7, 2014 8:56 am

Thanks for the kind words and for responding with good discussion points.. However, the state take over of our schools was race based and national origin based. Let's not be blind to reality. The last straw and arguably the catalyst sealing the state takeover was when David Hornbeck called Governor Ridge's school funding policies "institutional racism," essentially calling him a racist.That was the end of David Hornbeck and the end of the School District as we knew it.

Since you have read some cases, you know that the issues, and arguments, can become complex, and of course Supreme Court Opinions are just that -- Opinions. They are very often influenced by "the context of historical moments in time." I assure you that there are many arguments to get before a court whether it is a state court or federal court.

We all know that the unequal funding of our public schools is based on more than just residency. We also know that our constitution is a living, breathing, growing, and sometimes, contracting document. But it is still the fabric of our brotherhood.

Our Constitution sets into law the ideals which we agree to live by and which sets the pillars of our democracy.

Equality is an ideal, which is not only part of that document, but I submit, it is an ideal we need to live by and govern ourselves by. Inequality is a major issue today and Act 46, on its face, and as applied, creates inequality. The proof is all around us.

The recent Commonwealth Court decision where it ruled that the Voter ID law is unconstituional is a major step in the right direction. Judge McGinley made it clear that, in their view, voting is a "fundamental right."

But I certainly agree that the way to repeal Act 46 is to first work through the General Assembly and the electoral process -- starting with the gubernatorial elections.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 6, 2014 2:36 pm

Agreed. The government has no business funding a school system that blatantly discriminates based on sex. Either Girls High should change or the funding should be pulled.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 6, 2014 6:01 pm

If you look at trends in Education you will also see that single sex education has been returning to high schools. There are needs and issues that are directly addressed. In addition, women are not on an equal footing with men. While, women have broken the glass ceiling and have reached high levels, the pay scales, and percentages of women in top positions is not equal to men. Furthermore, in reaction to the article, written by a lawyer, perhaps instead of open a legal brief in an article, you should spend more time doing your research behind the scenes. We have tried to homogenize education to death. Girls' High is a unique atmosphere which is design to support young women in the class room. It is an environment in which they support each other to be able to advance and compete in the college setting. You state money is funding charters that revolve around Islam, and African Americans Students, why is that not discrimination? If you believe that a school with a 166 year tradition of teacher young women should not be funded then why are we also funding Imhotep and Universal charter with the same monies, as well as Boys Latin?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 10, 2014 11:39 am

Very cavalier in attitude to destroying an institution that actually works in the district.

I suspect you'll then be part of the chorus whining about charters and suburban schools getting more resources when the 1000+ students currently well served by this district-run institution head for charters, the suburbs, or anywhere other than an ill-disciplined, chaos factories you expect these girls to attend.

After this suburban shyster collects his fees for suing the district, such idiot cheerleaders and enablers can take credit for yet another self-inflicted wound by the district. Mostly proving that parents DO need a way to escape a thoroughly incompetent system that places the utmost priority on false, politically correct notions of equality and cares little about offering safe, high-quality learning environments that serve Philly's population.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 6, 2014 3:37 pm

I would like to point out that there was both a single gender girls' and boys' high school in the city until a lawsuit was won to admit girls to Central High. Most everyone was happy that way.

Submitted by JMH (not verified) on February 6, 2014 3:28 pm

Charter School Boy's Latin? Anyone???

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 6, 2014 4:51 pm

This is absolutely insane. I went to Girls' High and have benefitted tremendously. At that time, Central was the all boys counterpart. How is it Girls' High's fault that Central is now co-ed? And it is not discrimination to have an all girls school! The truth is that there is always a "reason" not to provide funding.....

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 6, 2014 4:35 pm

Give me a break!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 6, 2014 5:37 pm

Snooze

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 6, 2014 5:12 pm

Yes, Girls' High is a high school for girls, but maybe you should go to the source before writing an article putting a school down and calling it illegal. Girls' High has had boys apply AND attend the school!! When I attended the school in the '90's, boys did attend class to learn Chinese as a foreign language. Yes, they only attended for one class, but they did attend the school; therefore, they received the same state funding for their education as the girls who attended the same classes.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 6, 2014 10:29 pm

The boys attending Chinese classes in the 90s did so as Central students-- it was offered AT Girls' HIgh for both Central and Girls' High students.

Having attended Central as a female in the first fully integrated class, I can attest that boys did in fact apply to Girls' High and were turned down due to gender. None of the those that I know of cared to make a big deal of it, because they had been accepted into Central. As the courts found, in opening Central up to girls, Girls' High provided an inferior education compared to that at Central.

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on February 7, 2014 4:08 am

Today Central has more female students than male students. That alone could be an argument for opening a public all boys school. In general, female academic performance is better than male performance. Maybe males need a similar environment provided for females at Girls High.

Submitted by Veteran of the West Philadelphia "Renaissance" (not verified) on February 6, 2014 5:20 pm

Is this a joke?

Submitted by Equality Joe (not verified) on February 6, 2014 9:40 pm

The hypocrisy of those attacking the writer for stating the obvious is breathtaking. Whatever "benefits" an all girl school might provide to, the same argument could be made to an all boys school, or, more insidiously, an all (insert race) school. Some things are just too clear cut to tinker with making exceptions for, and the legal prohibitions on this kind of discrimination, no matter how benign it might be in conception, is one of them.

Submitted by Annonymous (not verified) on February 7, 2014 4:11 am

There are many Philadelphia charter schools that were created for one ethnic/cultural group (Imhotep, Nueva Esperanza, Eugenio Maria De Hostos, Harambee Institute of Science Technology, Pan American Academy, etc. This is part of their mission to serve a particular group. If the charters are allowed to do it, why not public schools? Boys Latin (which has many barriers to entry) was opened for boys and serves African American and a few Latino boys.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 7, 2014 4:22 pm

How about an all white school?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 6, 2014 9:52 pm

Putting ideology over kids welfare is a big part of why public education is a mess.

Single sex education works for many people. It works here. Why should it be limited to the rich who can pay $30k a year for a top tier private school? So some dbag lawyer can exert some power over those without that option.

All the problems in philly schools and some jerks can only find something good to destroy. After they destroy institutions that are effective, their 'equality' leaves everyone with an equal helping of rubbish. They pat themselves on the back then send their kids elsewhere.

Submitted by Al Maunus (not verified) on February 6, 2014 9:51 pm

Hey Larry, business must be slow.

Submitted by D (not verified) on February 7, 2014 12:13 am

Although I honor the fact that you're against discrimination, please do take the time to research in depth about the school itself before you release your angst. I apologize if I say something factually incorrect, as I do not know these laws. As another person commented, there are many boys who apply to Girls' High each year to test the system for discrimination, and choose not to attend for various reasons. I have seen acceptance letters from quite a few friends who simply chose not to attend because that was not their top choice, just like many other female students who apply and reject the offer. In fact, I have met a male alumni from Girls' High, who has graduated many years ago. He shared his experiences with me and included that he received no discrimination while enrolled at the school, and remains a proud alumni of the Philadelphia High School for Girls.

Although I cannot say I am a proud alumnae of the school, there would be no other school that would have made me feel as comfortable as I did in that environment. The education offered there is no different than what is offered for co-ed schools, coming from one who has attended a co-ed school before and after Girls' High. All are welcome to choose whether or not to enroll him/herself into the school. It seemed fine the way it was, and even had a club in which promoted No Place for Hate, which meant discrimination. In fact, Girls' High receives more discrimination from everyone else than it seems to be discriminating. Because it's an all girls school, there's a stigma that they are all incompetent and that the school has to be careful when choosing a mascot in fear of the names we might get called.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but Central did not change its name when it became a co-ed school. I understand that it says "Girls" in the name, but it remains a tradition for the school. Tradition for the Philadelphia High School for Girls is important, and changing the name would cause controversy for the students and faculty of the school.

Agree to disagree, but saying that Girls' High is discriminating is far from the truth as it does accept and welcome all students of any race, gender, sex, religion, and all sorts of backgrounds as long as they meet the school's requirements. Plus, the application does not say you have to be female to apply. Good day to you.

Sincerely,
D.

Submitted by Jessica (not verified) on February 7, 2014 12:29 am

If you're so concerned about equality, Mr Kalikow, why not start a movement to create an all male equivalent of Girls' High, rather than try to close a wonderful school out of pure spite?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 7, 2014 10:44 pm

Dirt bag ambulance chaser. That's why.

They don't actually help or build an institutioms. Just play a gotcha game and collect their fees.

Someone has to pay for private school after all.

Submitted by Jessica (not verified) on February 8, 2014 12:39 am

Good point. The guy has an @aol.com email address. Hard to take him seriously.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 7, 2014 1:54 am

Boys Latin?

Submitted by Dr. Rosalind R. Gann (not verified) on February 7, 2014 8:48 am

As another comment notes, the Philadelphia High School for Girls emerged from an era when Central High School was not open to young women. For more than approximately 150 years, it has prepared women for leadership roles in society.

While great strides in gender equity have been made since the 19th century, there is not full equality between men and women in America at this time. We still Girls High is needed in our society, just as we still need affirmative action.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 8, 2014 8:31 pm

What's your doctorate in? It sure isn't economics.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 7, 2014 1:01 pm

If boys started attending GHS, should the school be required to change it's name?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 7, 2014 1:23 pm

If boys start attending GHS, should the school be required to change it's name?

Submitted by Jessica (not verified) on February 8, 2014 12:41 am

Nope.

Submitted by linda (not verified) on February 7, 2014 4:27 pm

I will solve the gent's problem.

I went to Friends Select School for middle and highschool. Yes, is and was private but you could and now even still hardly find a Quaker kid for all of the Jewish kids and yet the school graduates educated folks......nice an peaceful like and no one is or was forced to become Quaker.

I went from there to an HBCU aka HISTORICALLY Black College Univerisity.

The High School for Girls can become the Historically High School for Girls and boys can attend nice and peaceful like without having to change gender.

Can we move on back to find funding equity for the PUBLIC schools please?
Linda K.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 7, 2014 4:57 pm

Gotta keep your eyes focused on your piece of the pie. OK.

Submitted by linda (not verified) on February 7, 2014 5:10 pm

meaning?
Linda

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 8, 2014 9:03 am

My opinion of the Notebook has lowered as a result of this opinion piece being posted.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 8, 2014 8:13 pm

Absolutely. This article is not quite in alignment with the narrow self interests of the liberal, reverse racist and reverse sexist, PFT.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 9, 2014 10:17 pm

current junior, best decision i ever made. going to a school without boys gives you a different sense comfortability in a learning environment. I'm sure that i would be as academically focused or myself in class room filled with boys. But I'm a feminist anyway. The first female president? GIRLS' HIGH GRAD!

Submitted by Morrie Peters (not verified) on February 10, 2014 12:07 pm

Segregation in any form is discriminatory.It is time to evolve.

Submitted by Caleb (not verified) on February 12, 2014 5:57 pm

It is essential that all students, no matter what race, religion or gender, should have an equal opportunity at a quality education. It is sad that in many areas across the country that this opportunity is not given to all of out children. We need to focus on educating our youth and giving them the tools needed to succeed and help our country progress.

Submitted by J.Hahn (not verified) on February 17, 2014 9:49 pm

I am a teacher at The Philadelphia High School for Girls. I went to a huge suburban high school out in the Philadelphia Suburbs. I loved my educational experience there but not because it was co-ed. It was the great teachers and academics taught there that I appreciated.

I have to say that being a place for single sex education is also not the day to day focus at Girls High, it is focusing on providing a rigorous, supportive educational experience by staff and getting the most out of their education by the students . It is a special, wonderful school offering a unique experience. I do not think anyone at Girls wants to deprive male students of anything or wants to be sexist, however young men are not trying to knock our doors down to get into our school. If they were, then I think it would become a real issue but it just has not been happening.

Submitted by Wendy Harris on March 11, 2014 11:56 am

Hi J. Hahn:

The Notebook would like to reprint your comment to this blog post in the "From our readers" section of our next print edition. From our readers is a section of the paper much like letters to the editor, where we list comments and opinions to our content. Please let us know if we have permission to reprint this comment in our next edition, which is the April-May edition. We do edit the entries for space and grammar, and would need to include a tagline at the end of the comment that includes  your first and last name, and how you would like to be identified. For example, the tagline would say J. Hahn is a teacher at Philadelphia High School for Girls.

Please let me know if we have permission to reprint your comment. We would need to know by Thursday of this week as we need to send this section of our paper to the designer by the end of the week. You can email me at wendyh@thenotebook.org letting me know if we have permission to reprint.

Thanks very much and I hope to hear back from you soon.

Wendy Harris, Managing Editor

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