Sandra Dungee-Glenn: The real issue is equity
Mar 7, 2013 | News Archive

Please check out Sandra Dungee-Glenn's views on today's SRC Meeting!

Thursday's School Reform Commission vote on the recommended closure of nearly 30 schools will undoubtedly have a major impact on the future of the city's public school system. In advance of the vote, the Notebook asked prominent Philadelphians to offer their thoughts, using new data and maps on school attendance patterns in the city as a starting point.

by Sandra Dungee Glenn

At the heart of school closings and school choice in Philadelphia is the question of equity -- or lack of it. For the last three decades, parents have been migrating to what they perceive as better options for their children, largely as a result of the neglect of schools in neighborhoods of color.

As urban districts around the country, including Philadelphia, have gone through major shifts and changes in population, we have seen large disparities among different schools, depending on where they’re located and who attends them. As various neighborhoods in Philadelphia became majority African American, and later Latino, their schools received less attention, support, and investment from “downtown.” Across the country, 70 percent of African American children still attend schools with high teacher turnover and a disproportionate number of inexperienced teachers. Their schools are more likely to have outdated facilities, constant principal churn, more safety issues and inadequate access to technology, libraries, counselors, and extracurricular activities.

Why wouldn’t parents seek alternatives?

But, practically, different communities have long had different options. In myriad ways, the District and local institutions invest in schools that mostly serve the middle class. Take Penn Alexander. The University of Pennsylvania created an upper-middle-class enclave in West Philadelphia by investing an extra $1,300 per child in a special neighborhood school. It has small classes, music, art, teacher coaches, and many other amenities. Housing prices doubled and tripled; many poor residents, mainly renters, were forced out. Middle-class families, mainly White, flocked in. I would argue that the Penn Alexanders don’t help the children who need it most.