We may remember a time when kids just went to their neighborhood school. But this isn’t Kansas anymore. There are lots of options and lots of different application processes for parents nowadays. We started school hunting at the dining room table and finally I threw my hands up…what are ALL the options?! Every time I thought I knew it all, another school popped up! I wanted to have all my options before deciding which schools to look at and which open houses to attend, so here is a brief Elementary School Options 101.
- Neighborhood Public School: There is a school for every neighborhood in Philly. Maps of the catchment areas can be found on our map page and through the city by address.
- Out-of-Catchment Neighborhood Public School: There are 174 public elementary schools. There may be great public schools that are not in your district. You can apply for admission to these schools through the School District of Philadelphia’s VTP (volunteer transfer) website. If you choose this path, be sure to read our “Primer on School Transfers” article.
- Charter Schools: There are 59 elementary charter school options (you can find a list on the Philadelphia School District’s website), each with strengths, weaknesses and performance numbers. Charter schools are public schools that admit students by completely random lottery, Waiting for Superman style. The application processes vary somewhat by school, so make sure to contact any school you’re interested in. If you are considering this option, be sure to read our article, “What is a Charter School Anyway” and download the charter directory.
- Religiously Affiliated: There are a variety of religious-based elementary school options – if there are more that are not included here, please let me know! There are 25 Christian elementary schools. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has 187 Catholic elementary schools. There are six Jewish Day Schools. There are two Muslim schools including Islamic Day School of Philadelphia and Al-Aqsa Islamic Academy.
- Friends Schools: Though there are private Quaker or “Friends” schools all over the country, there is a uniquely heavy concentration of them in Philadelphia. I didn’t include these in the religiously affiliated because over 95% of the students who attend these schools are not Quaker, but they do have a Quaker philosophy and usually require students to attend “Meeting for Worship”. Adherence to “strict Quakerism” (which many would consider to be an oxymoron) varies from school to school. Wikipedia has an exhaustive list of Friends schools throughout the world. Many are listed under the high schools. Be sure to read our article “The Friends School Mystique” and check out the Friends Council on Education website if you are considering this path. Take note–not all Quaker-affiliated schools have ‘Friends” in the name. Penn Charter (a private Quaker school, not a charter school) and the Westtown School are two examples.
- Private: This is where I get lost. These schools pride themselves on being different – unique educational theories, opportunities and communities. Finding a comprehensive list of these schools is difficult and often overlapping with the groups above – here is list from the Independent School Consortium of Greater Philadelphia and you can search the directory of the National Association of Independent Schools by metropolitan area. I am always finding new schools in this category: they tend to be smaller and heavily rely on community. Some examples not included elsewhere are: Miquon, Project Learn, Waldorf, but there are many, many others!
Did I leave anything out?