March 3 — 1:02 pm, 2009

New admissions policy threatens equal enrollment opportunities

To the editors:

The School Reform Commission’s new enrollment policy giving Center City residents preference for Center City schools is a setback for school choice in the District and should alarm city families seeking access to Center City’s most sought-after schools. This controversial policy risks isolating thousands of Philadelphia K-8 students in struggling schools. These students deserve equal access to the District’s most prospering schools.

Under the old admissions policy, children within a school’s immediate boundaries always had a guaranteed seat. But everyone else in the District, whether they lived in Center City or not, had an equal opportunity to fill the remaining seats. Now everyone outside the Center City Region is being pushed back. All of the regions in the District will have this “regional preference” enrollment policy by 2010.

The Center City Region is where most parents living near failing schools are likely to turn. Many of the city’s most desirable schools are located there, and these schools have more developed academic and enrichment programs than the other regions. That’s why parents send students to the region in droves. Thirty-five percent of its students live outside of the region, more than in any other region. Getting Philadelphia’s children from worse-off regions into these desirable schools just got that much harder.

What is left for those children who can’t get by the new admission priorities? They risk being stuck at the bottom end of Philadelphia’s unequally performing district. In spite of the District’s welcome efforts to equalize educational opportunities, the city’s schools are hardly on an equal playing field. Even a Herculean effort by the District will not equalize the quality of education offered across the District by the time the new policy is in full effect. Given these realities, it’s clear that poorer families with fewer resources now face fewer choices.

The rushed and secretive process with which this policy was enacted did not adequately include the input of city parents and education advocates. The commission should have taken the time to address their questions and concerns before going forward with a policy change of this magnitude.

In spite of the District’s attempts to downplay the impact of this policy, parents should be concerned. It is their children’s educations that will suffer if the District is wrong.

Blondell Reynolds-Brown
City Council
Philadelphia

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