Editorial: Parents want more

Posted: July 07, 2010

City School Superintendent Arlene Ackerman would do well to consider the findings of a new study that questions the appeal of charter schools.

A recent survey conducted by the Pew Charitable Trusts indicates that parents want more alternatives to failing city public schools than charters, which have seen tremendous growth in Philadelphia in the last 10 years.

The Pew findings offer valuable insight on how parents view traditional public, charter, and Catholic schools just as Ackerman is proceeding with her Imagine 2014 initiative, which turns some underperforming schools over to charter-school operators.

The poll of 802 city parents with school-age children found that school safety was a major concern. Less than a third of parents gave their children's schools high marks for handling safety. The district's own violence statistics support their concerns.

The percentage of parents satisfied with school safety more than doubled for those with children in charters (67 percent) and Catholic schools (73 percent). Those numbers acknowledge that any plan to improve student achievement must include an aggressive strategy to curb the violence that impedes learning.

White parents (87 percent) were more satisfied with their children's schools than African American parents (63 percent) - a likely indication of who attends the better schools. Parents under age 30 were least satisfied, with 58 percent rating their children's schools as fair or poor.

Described as a first of its kind, the Pew study, "Philadelphia's Changing Schools and What Parents Want From Them," should be a useful tool for the district.

One notable discovery is that 62 percent of district parents have actively considered sending their children to a charter, Catholic, or private school. But those parents weren't wedded to any one alternative. They simply want schools that are good and safe. Those are reasonable expectations.

The Pew study shines more light on the city's changing education landscape and the role that charter schools can play as the district seeks to turn around its many failing schools.

Charters have already carved out an impressive niche, enrolling more than 33,000 students - a 170 percent increase since 2000-01. Charters have replaced Catholic schools as the top education alternative by successfully adopting the Catholic school model without the tuition payments, which keep many parents away.

But charter schools are no panacea. Some are poorly managed and perform no better than district schools. That's probably why many parents in the Pew study are still looking for better options to educate their children.

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