Go ahead, we dare you.
That's what schools all across Philadelphia – public, charter, private schools, and religious schools – say to parents when it comes time to apply for admission for the coming school year.
I am the executive director of Educational Opportunities for Families (EOF), and that's what we learned from more than 100 hours of outreach to parents and other stakeholders as EOF developed its latest report, "Finding a Seat: How Families Navigate the School Application and Acceptance Process in Philadelphia."
No matter what choice parents make in selecting a K-12 school in Philadelphia, they tell us that the process is often a nightmare of different deadlines, different acceptance dates, and indifferent support from the schools themselves. For parents, especially those in poverty, it feels like schools literally defy them to make the best choices for their children's education.
They tell us the system caters to the needs of the schools instead of the families they serve. And it is incredibly inefficient, because it incentivizes parents to "game" the system by applying to multiple schools and holding onto multiple acceptances until they hear from all of their selections. All of which really hurts public schools, where enrollment for the coming year often isn't known until school starts, which forces schools to engage in a costly "leveling" process that creates upheaval and inconsistent instruction across the city.
Let's simplify the process so that parents and families can make the best decisions for their children regardless of which schools they ultimately choose.
We can look to other cities as a guide. In Chicago, Indianapolis, Camden, and Washington, the enrollment process has benefited from common-sense reforms. Let's do the same in Philadelphia, and here's how to start:
Let's align all the deadlines for applying to K-12 schools in Philadelphia, instead of forcing parents to meet different deadlines of district, charter, private, and religious schools.
Let's create one application form that can be used at every school in the city. In other words, let's do what the great majority of colleges and universities do across the country – use a "common app" that makes life easier for everyone.
Just as important, let's devote resources to helping families – especially poor families – figure out the application process so that they can make informed choices for their children.
Some other common-sense solutions that would help: School leaders across the city should develop a single online portal where families can access information about individual schools, which would dramatically improve parents' ability to assess their choices. And the application process should be integrated into the school curriculum, so that, for example, children and families begin preparing in sixth or seventh grade for the process of selecting the right high school during the eighth grade.
Parents, especially those in poverty, tell us over and over again that they didn't have the information or resources to find a better option. And as a result, their children too often are trapped in failing schools.
Let's make it easier for them. No matter what school a child attends – at EOF, we don't care whether the choice is district or charter public schools, private or parochial schools – let's give parents the tools to make the best possible decision.
All of us win when they do.