School Choice in Philadelphia is a Myth

I named this blog “Search” instead of “Choice” for a reason.  I have been fortunate enough to have choices, and my search has been exploring those choices. I’ve spent years writing about deciding whether to move, stay where I am, send my kids to a public, private or charter school.  I know how fortunate I am.  For many, perhaps most Philadelphia families out there, school choice is an illusion, a myth.  Cost is an insurmountable obstacle for many who want to relocate to a neighborhood with a better school or choose private or parochial education.  VTP and charter school lotteries are lotteries, after all, with seats only being offered to a few lucky families.  You can take steps to maximize your chances at getting into a charter (apply to a lot) or being offered a seat via the voluntary transfer program (VTP) (apply to less trendy choices), but still your chance of winning a seat in either lottery process is only marginally higher than in the traditional “Mega Millions” lottery.  A recent commenter on this blog summed it up this way, remarking that

…for most families in Philadelphia, even middle class families, school choice [is] a pipe dream. Of course we’re all looking for the ‘best fit.’ But there aren’t enough spots at the better public schools to accommodate every child. There aren’t enough good charter schools or enough spots at those schools. There aren’t enough private schools. Private school kindergartens are crowded with pre-school carryovers (a good bet for schools, since those families clearly can pay the tuition) and siblings, and even if you get a spot in one, it’s possible there won’t be enough aid to allow your child to go….

For many parents in this situation it’s catchment school or nothing.  In that kind of climate, the concept of choosing a ‘best fit’ or deep examination of educational philosophy are foreign concepts.  Following the political machinations of school budget deficits and superintendent scandals is just a depressing exercise.  Many parents choose to take matters into your own hands to improve your neighborhood schools, but depending on the school, that can be a daunting effort that may take years to realize any gains.  Of course, I am an advocate for expanding choice across the city as most of you are, but I am not in a position to effectively advocate for policy shifts that would enable that.  I admire folks who are active advocates for education reform in Philadelphia, but advocating for reform is a long term process.  I am not willing to make a school choice as an attempt to change the system–educating my child is priority one, advocating for school reform is secondary.

Which brings me back to this blog.   I write honestly about my own experiences and try to serve as a platform for parents to share theirs (share yours!).  I am among the fortunate minority who has choices, and all I can do as a blogger trying to create a useful resource for Philadelphia families is to help everyone maximize their own potential options.


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