Education Options and Quality

Education Options – Public Schools
In the Kensington neighborhood, which we have established to be census tracks 143, 158, 159, 160, 161, 178, 179, 187, 188, there are several education options.  For public schools there are 32 that are currently in operation. They comprise of 9 high schools, 5 middle schools, 7 kindergarten through eighth grade schools and 11 elementary schools.  Combined these public schools serve 22,616 students, of which 43% are Hispanic, 37% are Black, 14% are White, and 2% are Asian.

Meaures and Results of Public Education Quality
Education quality is a very important component in measuring quality of life for any community. The ways to measure education quality varies depending on what a parent or student values, be that what goes into a wholesome educational experience or performance results on tests. Both are important, however for public schools especially, measuring wholesome experience is a very hard thing to do in a standardized way and isn’t as important or established as measuring performance results on certain tests like the state administered tests and the SATs. Graduation rates, drop-out rates and the percentage of seniors who are college bound are also measures I used to look into the quality of education available, as well as the percentage to students who are eligible for free lunches and reduced priced lunches, daycare accessibility and crime in schools.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education has an academic achievement report system called Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for all public schools. The AYP adheres to the No Child Left Behind Act which requires that groups of children reach proficiency in Reading and Math.  They measure three goals.  First, elementary, kindergarten through eighth grade and middle schools have attendance rates at 90%, and that high schools have a graduation rate of 85% or higher. Second, that 67% of the tested students within a school must achieve a proficient score or higher on the mathematics assessment and 72% of the tested students must achieve a proficient score or higher on the reading assessments.  Lastly, the goal is that 95% of the students within every school must take the tests.  For a school to meet AYP, all three measures must be met.  As it seems like a reasonable measure and expectation of the quality of education, achievement of the schools within our neighborhood seems to be struggling.

For 2011, in the whole neighborhood 19 schools did not reach the AYP goals, 10 did, and 3 schools had no data available.  For 2010, in the whole neighborhood 14 schools did not reach AYP goals, 15 did, and 3 schools again had no data available.

Separating out the data, for 2011 the 9 schools within Fishtown and Old Richmond (census tracts 143, 158, 159, 160), we found that more schools reached the goals than did not, with 5 achieving AYP measures and 4 not achieving AYP meaures.  However, for 2010 it was reversed with 4 schools achieving AYP measures and 5 schools not achieving the measures.

The 23 schools within Kensington and East Kensington area (census tracks 161, 179, 178, 188) for the 2011 year we find that only 5 schools achieved AYP goals, with 15 schools failing to achieve AYP goals, and 3 schools had no data available.  For 2010 the results looked better comparatively, with 11 schools achieving AYP goals, 9 schools not achieving AYP goals, and 3 with no results.

Before I go into what can be derived from this data, I will show you more data by taking a closer look at the high schools specifically and their SAT scores, rates of graduation, percentage of students who are college bound, and drop out rates.

In the whole neighborhood for 2010, SAT scores were horrendous with averages for all 9 high schools in the 350 range with the highest score possible being 800 for the 3 components of the test in reading, writing and mathematics. In the Fishtown and Olde Richmond area there are 5 high schools, for 2011 there was a 71% graduation rate, in 2010 there was only 50%.  For Kensington and East Kensington there are 4 high schools, for 2011 their graduation rate was 81% and for 2010 it was 58%. Kensington and East Kensington did much better comparatively to Fishtown and Old Richmond, a more gentrified neighborhood.  For 2010 the high schools in Fishtown and Old Richmond had an average of a 14% of students who were college bound, for Kensington and East Kensington there was a 27% of students who were college bound.

I couldn’t find the drop out rates of seniors in the specific high schools of our neighborhood, however the average drop out rates of seniors in the Philadelphia school district in general has fluctuated between 9 and 7 percent of the total students since 2005.  This is a concerning rate and has been an issue that craves attention, as youth organizations such as Youth’s United For Change which is made up of young people who are advocating for improvement in Philadelphia schools, have identified this issue as serious. They issued a report earlier this year on this topic called “Pushed Out: Youth Voices on the Drop Out Crisis in Philadelphia.” They identified factors that contribute to this issue, such as boredom and engagement, teaching and classroom, high discipline, out of school issues and alternative education options, all of which seem applicable to our neighborhood of Kensington.

Another measurement in effort to better understand the educational quality of public schools is student eligibility for lunch assistance or reduced priced lunches. This reflects the extent to which schools are offering support to low-income students outside of the classroom.  The number of students within the Kensington neighborhood whose family income is within 130 percent of the poverty line are therefore eligible for free lunches or reduced priced lunches is over 83 percent of the total students.  For the Fishtown and Olde Richmond areas of the neighborhood the percentage is 96, and for the Kensington and East Kensington areas of the neighborhood the percentage is 80.

We felt as though daycare accessibility was also a measure that is important to education quality as it signifies the extent to which a community supplies these services to working mothers of soon-to-be students in the area.  There are 7 active child care facilities within the Fishtown and Olde Richmond area, and 6 listings for the Kensington and East Kensington areas.  2 out of the total of 13 advertise as offering subsidized services to qualifying mothers. There are also database websites that show profiles of available nannies in the area, along with their rates and their reference information. There were many nannies available in the Kensington neighborhood, and rates were between $10 to $65 dollars per hour.

Crime is something else that can be assessed as a measurement to educational quality in that every parent wants their children to be safe and unharmed while attending school.  In a report by the Metropolitan Philadelphia Indicators Project (MPIP), for the 2007 to 2008 school year there were more than 20 reports of violent incidents for every 1,000 students in the Philadelphia School District.  These violent incidents can range from bullying, threats and intimidation to fights and assaults on either faculty or staff.  Also for that school year in Philadelphia, they reported that there are more than 2 reports for every 1,000 students of incidents involving weapons that are either knives, guns or explosives.

Education Options – Private Schools
For private schools there are 12 that are currently in operation in the Kensington neighborhood, 4 of which are in the Fishtown and Olde Richmond area and 8 of which are in the Kensington and East Kensington areas.  They are mainly Roman Catholic in affiliation except for one Baptist school and one Friends school, and all of the private schools are not in association with any organization. With a little more than modest income requiring, there are private schools that are available for families that do not want to send their children to public schools with poor performance ratings.  The private schools comprise of 10 kindergarten through eighth grade schools and 2 high schools serving a total of 3,262 students, of which 52% are White, 36% are Hispanic, 11% are Black, 6% are Asian.  Unfortunately, I was unable to find any assessment of these private school’s educational quality. However, according to a report by the Metropolitan Philadelphia Indicators Project based on data from the 2000 census report, they found that over a fifth of school-aged students are attending private schools in the Philadelphia area, which is high in comparison to other metropolitan areas that are similar to Philadelphia, like Baltimore at 16 percent or Boston at 13 percent of school aged students.  They also found according to a Temple University survey that in 2004 over 50 percent of people living in condensed urban areas would like to send their children to a private school. The appeal for sending one’s child to private school is therefore relatively high in the Philadelphia region, and it seems reasonable to argue that that is because of the correlation with the poor performance levels of the Philadelphia city public school district.

Discussion of Data Results for Public School
What can be derived from the AYP data is that even though Fishtown and Olde Richmond has more influence from gentrification, it doesn’t mean that influence will carry over into school performance necessarily, at least not initially.  But to even think that gentrification would have an influence on education, let alone the education system within a city, at least for this component of life, is arguably far-fetched. Even within a two year period when the data for the AYP was collected, there was great fluctuation in the measured results for the two full school years within each area of the Kensington neighborhood as a whole. There are other, more gentrified areas of the city and the public schools in that area also fluctuate greatly with performance results of the AYP, as the district average for graduation rate is at 79%. A huge factor that goes into this fluctuation is the funding behind the schools, which for Philadelphia has been low compared to other school districts in the surrounding areas.

SAT scores for the previous year within our neighborhood were in the 350 range for each component, which is no better or worse than other neighborhoods within the Philadelphia city school district.  In fact, since 1999, which is the earliest I could find data on SAT scores within Philadelphia, to the present day Philadelphia has been among the worst SAT scoring school districts in the region. As SAT scores are used for college applications to gauge a students education level and readiness for a higher education, SAT scores being as low as they are for our neighborhood and Philadelphia in general is not a good sign.

Looking into the rates of graduation and rates of students that are college-bound is another indicator of quality of education, and as explained before, for our neighborhood the Fishtown and Olde Richmond area had lower graduation rates than Kensington and East Kensington together, which is puzzling because Fishtown and Olde Richmond is much more gentrified.  We see this again with students who are college bound in Fishtown and Olde Richmond being only an average 14% of students going to college and students in the Kensington and East Kensington an average of 27% going to college, both for the 2010 year.  And once more with the percentage of students in the Kensington and East Kensington areas as having lower (but still significantly high) percentages of students who are eligible for free or reduced priced lunches than in the Fishtown and Olde Richmond areas, which is 96% versus 80%.  What can be derived from these facts, coupled with the SAT scores is that despite these findings being counterintuitive to our argument that Fishtown and Olde Richmond are more affluent than the Kensington and East Kensington areas of the neighborhood, this affluence and the positive effects of gentrification can not be seen in the quality of schools that are available.  This counterintuitive finding is concerning as quality education should be available to everyone as it can enables students to succeed in life, but if the schools are failing to offer a quality education, as with the schools within the Kensington neighborhood, then it is perpetuating an impoverished lifestyle in an impoverished neighborhood.  Even with the influence of gentrification and affluence in parts of the neighborhood, this influence has yet to be reflected in anyway in school performance and measures of quality.

The crime measurement in Philadelphia schools is among the highest in the surrounding areas, especially in neighborhoods along the Delaware River, which loosely applies to Kensington.  The MPIP report on crime in Philadelphia schools points to trends on a national level which show that students who attend school in large urban districts with low household incomes are much more likely to be victims of violence than students who go to school in wealthier communities.  Because of the high crime rate in Philadelphia schools, school officials resort to installment of metal detectors, x-ray machines to scan student’s bags, security cameras and even random locker checks.  While these sorts of measures to insure safety in schools is important it simultaneously reminds students that there are reasons to be afraid within their own school.  In light of this, the reality of crime within Philadelphia schools is a serious hindrance in the effort to offer a quality educational experience for its students. It makes teachers and faculty members resort to higher discipline on students such as issuing more suspensions and detentions to be safe, but it actually hurts these student’s academic performance significantly and results in hindering students more than it does aiding in their education and safety.

In summary, the fact that over 83% of students within our neighborhood are eligible for free lunch, and accounting for the great fluctation of achieving or failing AYP measures, the consistent below average SAT scores, the graduation rate that fluctuates greatly and that is well below the state average of 91% and the very low percentage rate of college-bound students, the drop out rate, and the presence of violence in public schools tells us that the Kensington neighborhood is struggling to overcome its circumstances which are the limitations within a school district that has limited funding and is burdened by the expectations of performance measures such as AYP and the SATs, all of which is coupled with the burden of the high amount of crime and the negative effects on education that arise from this presence of violence.  Even though we believe that there are effects from gentrification for the Fishtown and Olde Richmond area within Kensington, those effects can’t be seen in education options and quality that are available because a school district is only as strong as its weakest school. These layered and dynamic problems in the Kensington neighborhood are reflections of the failings of the school district as a whole which will greatly effect the lives of the students who attend public schools now and into the future.

Works Cited

Metropolitan Philadelphia Indicators Project, N.p., Web. 16 Dec. 2011. <http://mpip.temple.edu/&gt;.

National Center for Educational Statistics Common Core of Data. University of Pennsylvania. Web. 16 Dec. 2011. <http://nces.ed.gov/ccd/&gt;.

New Kensington Community Development Corporation. Business Directory and Neighborhood Resource Guide 2011. Philadelphia: Northern Liberty , 2011. Print.

Pennsylvania Department of Education, N.p., Web. 16 Dec. 2011. <www.education.state.pa.us>.

The Census Bureau, N.p., Web. 16 Dec. 2011. <http://2010.census.gov/2010census/>.

“Pushed Out: Youth Voices on the Droupout Crisis in Philadelphia.” Youths United For Change. Web. 16 Dec. 2011. <http://youthunitedforchange.com&gt;.

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