Citywide Education Progress Report

Key Takeaways: June 2018

In late 2017, the School District of Philadelphia (SDP) began the process to return school governance to local control after 17 years under state control, with a new, mayoral-appointed board taking the place of the School Reform Commission. New board members will have an opportunity to continue existing efforts to improve the school system for families. Over the past year, there has been progress toward simplifying the school choice system, improving school leadership, and supporting parent advocacy. Graduation rates have been on the rise. But the Mayor, the new board, and other city leaders must stay focused on supporting equity and success for underserved students. Looking forward, education leaders will need to work together to address uneven distribution of high-quality options, complex enrollment systems that limit students’ access to the city’s best schools, and low trust among families.


System Reforms

Do students have access
a high-quality education?

Transportation is working Exemplar
Array of school models Exemplar
Families have information Good
Enrollment is working Developing
Strategic school supply Developing

Is the education system
continuously improving?

Right leaders Good
Right teachers Developing  
Equitable funding Little in Place

Is the education strategy
rooted in the community?

Broad support Good
City engages families Developing
Variety of groups Developing
System is responsive Little in Place

Each indicator is scored with a rubric on a 4-point scale. We added the scores for the indicators to get an overall goal score. An arrow shows increase or decrease from the 2017 score.

Looking Deeper

Challenges Ahead

Continuing the push for progress under new, local governance

Philadelphia has just emerged from 17 years of state control, and the city is largely unified in its optimism and support of the shift back to local control. Ensuring continuation of the recent work to stabilize district finances will be first priority for Mayor Kenney and the new board. But the new leaders will also need to stay laser-focused on taking action to grow high-quality options for all students, especially those that are currently underserved. The board should proactively  seek input and real partnership with parents and leaders from underrepresented communities and low-performing schools and avoid capture by strong political interests in order to remain open-minded to solutions and truly representative of all families.

Accelerating the growth of high-quality options in every neighborhood

SDP collects data on performance, enrollment shifts, and other variables to determine neighborhood needs, and there are differentiated strategies for new schools, school improvement, and closures or consolidations laid out in the district’s System of Great Schools plan. But despite the availability and analysis of data, there is a perception from interviewees that the district is not taking enough action based on this data, as too many poor schools linger. On the charter side, the city’s only authorizer, the School Reform Commission (which will be replaced by the new board), has informed charter applicants about high-needs areas and priority school types, but under the state charter law cannot prioritize neighborhood need in authorizing decisions. The SDP Charter Schools Office has supported the SRC’s authorizing by improving quality oversight and evaluation practices with the goal of creating a stronger pool of charter schools overall, but is unable to encourage more strategic siting due to the state charter law. Given the gaps in achievement and access for low-income students, it is critical for both the district and charter sector to deepen community engagement to understand what families want, and rapidly increase options in high-need areas.  The new governance structure may open up opportunities for leadership on this issue.

Simplifying enrollment and supporting families through the school choice process

Interviewees cited confusing application timelines and processes as a significant challenge for families in accessing quality schools. In efforts led by the Philadelphia Schools Partnership, the charter sector has made progress on aligning enrollment timelines and is taking steps to build a common online application with the goal of going live next fall. But the district still uses a separate application for choice schools that is due much earlier than most charter applications. Short of fully unifying enrollment, the district could take steps to streamline the process by pushing their application deadline back to align better with most charters, and could consider providing information or links on how to apply to charter schools on their school selection website. To accompany these efforts, education leaders can expand support to new and existing organizations that help parents navigate the enrollment and school choice process in order to make sure that choice is working for families.


Training School Leaders to Improve Student Outcomes, Teacher Recruitment, and Their Own Skills

A group of leaders from district, charter, and parochial schools is taking steps to improve instructional practice and learn from one another through the Philadelphia Academy of School Leaders. The initiative, now in its fourth year, has trained more than 60 principals to improve their craft over the course of a two-year program tailored to the specific context of Philadelphia schools.

Leaders share strategies for addressing common problems, including teacher retention and student absences, alongside a professional development curriculum focused on leadership essentials.

Participants in the program report a higher principal retention rate than leaders in comparable schools. These successes have led to increased collaboration between the nonprofit, SDP, and other cross-sector talent pipeline efforts like PhillyPLUS. Together, these programs are beginning to partner more formally to build mutual understanding and create pathways for effective teaching and leadership in all schools.

Using Parent Perspectives to Achieve Academic Transformation

Over the past two years, SDP has created more meaningful pathways for community participation on the school and system level through newly redesigned School Advisory Councils (SAC) and a new Family Academy Courses and Training (FACT) program. The SAC program has existed for several years, but in 2016, the district shifted policy to require each school to include an SAC and expand the roles and responsibilities of members. SACs now advise school leaders on budget, academic improvement, and other school community issues.

The district is taking steps to train school council members through the new FACT program so members can more deeply understand school-level data, budgeting, curriculum, and other topics. Principals are given training and support on how to effectively partner with their SACs.

School advisory councils are a strategy that other cities are exploring, but SDP’s efforts to support these councils through training members and school leaders is a promising practice. While the new FACT program is still building capacity to meet parents’ needs, leaders report that in the long run they will know the program is successful if parents trust the district as a partner, and leaders are able to stand with parents to advocate for students. As the program grows, leaders will need to ensure that SACs are representative of the school community, and that they open up avenues to broader system engagement.

Student and School Outcomes

Graduation rates in Philadelphia have improved over time relative to the state, but remain below the state average. Low-income students in the city are performing at a slightly lower level in math and reading assessments than their peers nationally.

► The city’s graduation rate has increased over time, but in 2014-15 it was still behind the state’s.

► Students from low-income families in Philadelphia are performing somewhat lower in math and reading than low-income students in the average city. EEI scores in Philadelphia have decreased by 7% over time.

Data are for all charter and district schools within the municipal boundary. Graduation data from EDFacts, low-income performance data from the Education Equality Index. See Methodology & Resources for more detail.


About Philadelphia

In 2018, the School District of Philadelphia (SDP) returned to local control for the first time in 17 years, with a new school board replacing the School Reform Commission. Severe funding challenges have dogged Philadelphia for years which, combined with falling enrollment, forced SDP to close 10% of its schools in 2013. Charter schools have been operating in the city since 1997, and now account for nearly a third of total public school enrollment.  The SDP’s Renaissance Schools Initiative is a cooperative effort between the district and high-performing charter management organizations to turn around the city’s lowest-performing schools. Since its inception in 2010, 22 Renaissance schools have opened throughout the city.

School Choice in the City

Families can choose district magnet schools, citywide charter schools, or any district school outside of their neighborhood as long as enrollment at that school is under 85% capacity.

Governance Model

The mayor appoints board members who oversee SDP schools and authorize charter schools. The new board is replacing the School Reform Commission for the 2018-19 school year.

2015 District and Charter Student Body

Enrollment: 194,557 students
Race and ethnicity: 55% black, 19% Hispanic, 14% white, 12% other
Low-income: 85% free and reduced-price lunch

2017 School Composition 

Source: Enrollment data from EDFacts, 2014-15.
School data from researcher analysis of public records, 2016-17.

The Center on Reinventing Public Education is a research and policy analysis center at the University of Washington Bothell developing systemwide solutions for K–12 public education. Questions? Email