Community members debate 'common enrollment' for city schools

Posted: January 15, 2014

WITH A CHILD in seventh grade, Philadelphia resident Sarah Forrest has already begun navigating the high-school application process. Although it's fairly simple for district-run schools, she said, the process can be anything but for charters.

She said information on the charter application process is available, but the schools have different timelines, "and it's kind of all over the map," said Forrest, who also has a third-grader in the district.

Forrest is hardly alone. She was among a few hundred community members who debated a proposal for a single application and common enrollment for district-run, charter and parochial high schools last night at a School Reform Commission meeting.

The proposed changes - developed out of the Great Schools Compact, which brings together administrators from various school models - would theoretically allow students to list their top choices and get an answer from all the schools at the same time. Advocates say it would cut down on waiting lists at some charters and get rid of the gray area some families encounter.

The audience was fairly united in the opinion that the current system has flaws, especially for charters, but there was little consensus on how to resolve them, although many said common enrollment is not the answer.

"My concern is the enrollment end of it," Forrest said. "I think there should be a common application for public and charter schools. I don't think parochial schools should be part of it."

Parent Kevin Greenberg called the proposal "a solution in search of a problem."

"It's a mistake, and it does not accomplish what it's set up to do," he said.

Parents and others also raised questions that remain unanswered, including who would be in charge of storing the sensitive data, who would manage the process and how would it be funded. They also expressed concern that the system would take more money from schools.

Commissioners and district officials insisted that no decision has been made and that they are open-minded.

"As much work as has been done, we are really at a very early stage in terms of thinking about what the characteristics of a different kind of enrollment approach might be, what its advantages and disadvantages might be . . . and what is the benefit to our families and students," Commissioner Feather Houstoun said.

Officials said other public meetings will be held on the topic, although no sessions have been scheduled.

Twitter: @ChroniclesofSol

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