11/19/2010 - “This thing is a whole new monster now.” Those words were spoken by a North Philadelphia father during a focus group organized by Pew’s Philadelphia Research Initiative. And the “monster” he referred to was the dramatically different landscape of choices facing him and other parents as they guide their children to the right school.
The conversation was part of the initiative’s comprehensive study on education in Philadelphia, which also included a first-of-its kind poll of parents of school-age children attending the city’s charter, Catholic and district-run schools. The study, Philadelphia’s Changing Schools and What Parents Want from Them, found that K-12 education in the city is undergoing a sweeping transformation that has given parents a new array of choices about where to send their children to school. Forty-two percent of those polled said they found it “very hard” or “somewhat hard” to get enough information about education options.Even so, the new landscape has left 72 percent of parents thinking they still do not have enough quality choices.
The past decade has marked dramatic changes in Philadelphia’s schools. Traditional public schools lost 19 percent of their enrollment. At the same time, the district added more options than ever before, particularly at the high-school level. Today, there are 63 public high schools, many of them specialized schools open to students citywide. Enrollment in the charter schools grew by 170 percent, from 12,284 in 2000 to 33,107 in 2009, surpassing the Catholic schools—which experienced a 37 percent drop in enrollment—to become the city’s largest alternative system.
The report was the latest effort from the initiative to shine a spotlight on a major issue in Philadelphia. Launched by Pew in November 2008, the project regularly produces authoritative, impartial reports on issues facing the city, often comparing Philadelphia to other cities. It also tracks, through public opinion surveys, the attitudes of Philadelphians on important matters in the city and their assessment of the city as a place to live. All of the work is undertaken for the benefit of decision makers, the news media and the public at large and can be found at www.pewtrusts.org/philaresearch.