Counting on Masterman? Think Again.

The Inquirer reported yesterday that Philadelphia School District Superintendent Arlene Ackerman is proposing radical changes to the way that special admission schools, like Masterman and Central, admit students.  The Inquirer reported,

The plan would take admissions decisions away from principals and their committees, and select students for magnet and citywide-admissions schools centrally, using a computerized system, according to a “draft” obtained by The Inquirer.

District officials suggested a 1,000-point system, 600 points of which would be based on test scores and grades, according to the draft that was distributed to high school principals. Other factors would include behavior and attendance, and, for the first time, 200 points for “diversity” as measured by a student’s neighborhood or zip code and income level.

Though I celebrate the drive for more diverse schools and removing bias as much as possible from the process, the plan will make the already competitive nature of getting into “magnet schools” that much more challenging, as one Masterman parent put it,

“This admission policy threatens the very existence of special-admission schools,” said Amy Ashbridge, a parent on the Home and School Council at Masterman, the district’s top-performing school, where admission is very selective. “If our children were not in these special-selection schools, we would be taking ourselves and our tax dollars out of the city. You have to provide a way for middle-class people to be able to live in the city and not have to pay $25,000 a year in tuition.”

Inquirer readers seem to agree.  Alongside the article, a reader poll asked the question, “The admissions process to Philly magnet schools… with the possible responses of “should be changed to ensure student diversity” or “does not need changing.”  At the time of this post, the overwhelming response is for the latter by almost 90%.  I agree with the majority on that one.

I will be monitoring this proposal very closely.  Though I am most concerned right now about elementary schools, the cloudiness surrounding middle school and high school in Philadelphia that I wrote about before becomes that much more murky with this new development.  I certainly don’t want to be in a position to uproot my family in 10 years if I don’t have to.  The suburbs just got much more attractive.

BUT WAIT!

In a follow-up article today, [Article removed by Philly.com, but here is a related article from The Notebook *** edit 5/10/2011] the Inquirer reports that Ackerman said that she was only made aware of the proposal after she received a call from the Inquirer, and that the proposal is “totally off the table.”  While I am relieved that this is the case, the fact that the proposal had been circulated among special admission school principals and parents groups is disturbing.  I don’t know what’s going on in the superintendent’s office, but this debacle raises red flags for mutiny or some degree of mismanagement.  Though this proposal might be dead, the fact that it was even raised and got so much attention might be a harbinger of things to come.

For more on this topic, there is a very lively discussion going on on the Philadelphia Speaks Forums.  Here are some of the more colorful comments:

This is a horrible idea and it really pisses me off. Just leave the magnet schools alone, they’re the only thing that’s actually working in this sorry excuse of a school district. They already destroyed the magnet school at Northeast and force Central to take 20% of its kids from the neighborhood, now they want to go all the way and drive kids who want to get a quality education out of the school district completely. When I was at Central it was incredibly diverse, probably the most diverse school in the district. This woman is out of her mind.
Woohoo! My very pale kid from an overall very poor, largely black zip code will be a shoe-in for Masterman now. Because 19143 includes some of the worst of SW Philly, my kid is in like Flynn. If its really zip-code based, this would have unintended consequences for lots of other kids in my zip who probably aren’t actually the target.

She [Ackerman] will do more damage to the city than any tax increase.

The issue with the Philadelphia schools is that they are not white enough. I want to know how Ackerman plans to attract more white students to the district?

I think that is why the regional idea I threw out (sort of sad an idea I had after only 30 seconds of thought is more popular across more lines of people than what she took months to plan) would work. You have your city-wide magnets like Central and Masterman that cater to the whole city, then you have other regional magnets that cater to certain zip codes—That actually may be a way to create some “market based” competition in the public school system. Hell, imagine neighborhood pride. –”Our North Philly Vaux magnet chess club beat Masterman!” or “Our Vaux Magnet beat Central in a math competition”.

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