4.22.2010

Discouraging Parents from the Get Go: Why Restricting Pre-K and K is a Bad Idea

It's been awhile since I've posted my thoughts on the blog, my apologies. This time of year, there is a lot going on, both at work and at school - well, you know the drill.

At any rate, I did want to comment on the story about Penn Alexander. I do think that there is a fundamental problem with the way that schools accept students in Philly that has to be addressed, or the district will never really thrive in the way that I (and parents like me) believe that it can.

Here's the problem, as I see it. Parents are more willing than they have been in a long time to give Philadelphia public schools a shot. The easiest way to "experiment" is in the lower grades because if things don't go well, you can make other arrangements while your children are still young and finding their way in the system. And yet, Philadelphia makes it hard to give it a try because of outdated rules meant to "equalize" education across the district.

The situation at Penn Alexander isn't an isolated one. There are variations on a theme all over the city. We have a similar problem at my neighborhood school, starting in pre-kindergarten. Our area offers pre-kindergarten but it is income-restricted, meaning that only low income families qualify. And while I cheer the notion that kids are given a head start (pardon the pun), the real outcome of the decision to limit entry at the youngest age to those with lower incomes is that you are giving those children "preference" for kindergarten at the same school. The reality is that it has made getting your child into kindergarten a real chore for those who live nearby - though those from outside the immediate area may have no problem.

And here's what happens. Those parents who can't get their kids into the pre-kindergarten or kindergarten programs enroll their children in private school for what they tell themselves will be one year. Or two, max. But it becomes three and then four. And since they had been planning on sending their kid to Masterman in the fifth grade anyway - and thus not continuing at our school - the fifth and sixth years at private school become easier to justify.

And just like that, parents who had been willing to give public schools a chance are effectively given an escort out of the system.

Nice, huh? It has that same vibe as the first-come, first-serve selection process for Penn Alexander.

I understand that kindergarten is not mandatory in Pennsylvania. And I know that the school district has to be judicious about its offerings because of the budget. But it's all so short-sighted. Why not get parents - ALL parents, regardless of income or location - excited about the prospect of their kid going to kindergarten in public school?

6 comments:

  1. I agree with you about letting everyone attend pre-K--the income requirements are hurting us. But I believe you may not understand kindergarten admissions (it is convoluted). At neighborhood public schools, they MUST take you IF YOU LIVE IN THE CATCHMENT AREA. That is how we operate at Bache-Martin. We do not have to take anyone from OUTSIDE the catchment area EVEN IF THEY ATTENDED PRE-K. Really, enrollment in pre-k and kindergarten have nothing to do with each other. Many people think if they go to pre-K at Bache, they can attend kindergarten. The truth is that they are only guaranteed a spot in kindergarten IF THEY LIVE IN THE CATCHMENT AREA. If you sign up before the deadline and live in the catchment area, you will be able to attend your neighborhood school. Those are the stated rules of the District.

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  2. Thanks for your comment. I checked out the district policy and you're right: http://www.phila.k12.pa.us/offices/administration/policies/201.html

    Interestingly, this is not the experience of parents that I know - but then maybe they're not hitting that June 1 deadline (I'll bet most don't even know about the deadline).

    What is also interesting is that the policy doesn't state what happens to the pre-K kids from outside of the catchment. I know anecdotally that those kids will not be asked to leave the school after pre-K if they're not in the catchment which means that the school has to "make room" for any overflow of kids from the catchment. I don't know the official policy is - but the practical aspects are both frustrating and confusing.

    Your comment also raises another point that will make it into a separate post: how to figure out whether you're in the catchment in the first place. Outside of Center City, I don't believe the info is easily available.

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  3. Actually---Apparently, kindergarten can "fill up". We have always been able to open a new class if we need it. As for Penn Alexander, they should open up as many K classes as they can fill--after all they have money and support from Penn, and they have to take all the kids in first grade anyway. I thin parents of young kids should get really active and protest to the District, regions, and the mayor. After all, the city should have a vested interest in getting kids into public schools.

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  4. They have just made that easier. See the District website, scroll down to the right side, see "school lookup", put in the school's name, click on the school, then click on demographic data. One of the links will be "map of school catchment area"--that is a pdf file you can download. It was only recently added. You can also wander into the school office and ask the secretary to see if you live in the catchment area. She/He can plug your address into the computer and it will name your neighborhood school.

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  5. I just checked the District website, and miracle of miracles, they have updated it! So, after you get to the school you looked up on "school lookup", you will see a school profile page. On that page, on the very bottom left is "additional information". One of the links there is "school boundary map". Of course, nobody publicizes this!

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  6. Thanks so much for that! We have been begging for years for better catchment information (since before my kids were in school) and we have always been told that we have to go into the school to find out. One of my friends went into a local school to find out which of two schools her son would go to and was told that she needed to make an appointment - nice, huh?
    But this is fab, so THANKS!

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