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August 16, 2018 – Michael Imburgia’s Testimony Before the Philadelphia Board of Education

Posted 08.16.2018

Good Evening Dr. Hite and Board Members,

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to you this evening.  In my role as Director of Research, Data & Analytics at Excellent Schools PA, I spend a lot of time examining information about the ways things work in our public schools, and how they can work better.

Tonight I would like to share with you what we’ve learned about enrollment practices in our schools, and how to improve them for families all across the city.

The most recent School Progress Report showed that nearly 40 percent of schools in the neighborhood networks had an overall score in the Intervene category. In three of the nine neighborhood networks, over half the schools were in need of intervention.

Families are paying attention, and many of them are concluding that they can no longer wait for schools to improve so, many families are looking for better options.  However, the Charter application and District transfer policies can be overwhelming, especially to those who may not know what options exist and are in the poorest-performing schools. Families facing this circumstance deserve a clear and transparent process if they choose to look for other options.

In January, WHYY reported that nearly 20 percent of all District students in kindergarten through 8th grade attended a school other than their neighborhood school. These students, along with the 50,000 attending Charter schools in the same grades, are proof that many families are attempting to navigate their way out of neighborhood schools to find an alternative that they feel best meets their needs.

In addition to families in lower grades opting out of their neighborhood school, thousands of students apply to various high schools each year. A 2017 Pew study described the high school application process as having “elements that were complex and potentially challenging for students and parents to navigate.” The study also showed that a student’s zip code can be a determining factor even in high school admissions. In five, mostly high-income parts of Center City and Northwest Philadelphia, more than half of the eighth grade students were enrolled in special admission schools compared to below 25 percent in North, West and Northeast Philadelphia.

With an increasing number of families choosing schools outside their catchment area, it’s time to rethink how enrollment takes place in Philadelphia. As efforts continue to improve schools and increase opportunities for all students, there also needs to be clear and transparent system for families who can no longer wait for their neighborhood school to improve. While families would benefit greatly, both District and Charter schools also would be better served by a more streamlined system. Cities around the nation, including Denver, Washington D.C., New Orleans and others, have adapted their enrollment systems to change along with the the educational landscape. The Center for Reinventing Public Education reports that cities adapting their enrollment practices have seen “greater transparency and consistency around admissions, better school information, and a more manageable and efficient enrollment process.”

This is an issue where Charter and District schools share common ground.  Streamlining the enrollment process makes sense for all students and families, and we urge you to consider doing so.

Michael Imburgia
Director of Research, Data, & Analytics
Excellent Schools PA

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