There are many different types of schools in Philadelphia, and there are great schools of every type. There are also less than great schools of every type. To help you search and find a school, we have grouped together schools that have many things in common, like the admission process and cost. Every type of school has a different application process, which are outlined in our articles on Applying to Elementary and Middle Schools and Applying to High Schools.
Public Charter Schools
Charter schools are an increasingly popular option for Philadelphia families who want educational alternatives for their children but want to stay within the public system.
Charter schools are public schools that operate with a greater level of independence from district schools. This means they have greater freedom to design classes and to hire and fire teachers. They often have longer school days and sometimes more days than district schools. Many require students to wear uniforms or follow a dress code.
Many charter schools admit students via lottery. Others, called Renaissance Schools, are neighborhood schools that must admit all students living within specified boundaries. By law, there can be no restrictions on which students can enter a school lottery. Charter schools cannot set minimum grades or test scores for admission. (However, they can give preference to younger siblings of currently enrolled students and for certain other special factors.)
As of December 2012 there are about 80 charter schools in Philadelphia. About one of every four students in the city attends a charter school (including almost 5,000 students who attend cyber charter schools; see more on cyber charter schools here). The types of students vary considerably from one charter school to another. You can learn more about the student body of each charter school by reviewing the school's profile.
Charter schools and district schools are both listed as public schools on GreatPhillySchools. You will know which schools are charter schools in many cases by their names, or by reading the mission section on a school's profile page.
A charter school education
Like any public school, charter schools focus on providing students with a strong education in the core subjects of math, reading, science and social studies. They also typically provide instruction in art, music, physical education and other subjects. However, charter schools operate with the freedom to design their own academic programs, and many accordingly offer a unique approach. For example, in Philadelphia there are charter schools focused on technology, multiculturalism, the environment, bilingual education and African studies. The diversity of educational approaches is one reason it's important to do your research before deciding to apply to a specific charter school.
Some charter schools have school days longer than those of regular public schools (sometimes starting as early as 7 a.m. and running as late as 5 p.m.) and mandatory summer sessions. Some charter schools also require students to attend classes on select Saturdays. Charter schools also often insist ona high degree of parental involvement.
Charter school students are eligible to play sports and participate in clubs offered at other public schools if those activities are not available at their school.
Charter School Networks
In Philadelphia there are several “Charter Management Organizations” (or CMOs) that run more than one charter school. Here’s a quick rundown of these organizations:
Together, these CMOs operate nearly half of all Philadelphia charter schools. The other half consists of standalone, single-location charter schools.
Are charter schools better than traditional public schools?
Academic performance at charter schools varies from school to school, just as it does at traditional public schools. Some charter schools are among the best schools in Philadelphia, and some are among the worst. Given the difference in performance, it is important to learn about the academic results of the schools you may be considering. Visit schools if you can, and ask the staff what will be expected of your child if he or she enrolls there. Also be sure to ask how the school will support your child if he struggles in class.
The School District of Philadelphia’s Charter School Directory.
For more information about Renaissance Schools, visit the District website or call 215-400-5847.