Academic standards differ in Philadelphia

By Staff Writer
May 4, 2006

Like most eastern cities, Philadelphia is home to historical landmarks, beautiful architecture and rich museums. But the City of Brotherly Love also has a dark side. It has rough and tumble neighborhoods, far from the tourist attractions, where crime and drugs are common place. It is a place where, for many residents, innocence and youth are lost.

It is also a place where education is not a priority for many; in fact, it often takes the backseat to family problems, friends and the trappings of the inner-city. As a result, this disinterest in academics is most visible in high schools within the Philadelphia Public School System.

Eric Pendleton, a sophomore accounting major, is a Philadelphia resident and a product of the Philadelphia Public School District. Before transferring to one of Philadelphia’s top public high schools, Eric was an enrolled student at Germantown High School, a typical neighborhood school within the city.

“In a school like Germantown, there was no hope. Because it’s in a gang-infested area, outside influences and neighborhood problems were brought into the school constantly. It was definitely not a good learning environment. Most students didn’t care and the teachers could care less. And eventually that disinterest became contagious and rubbed-off on me,” Pendleton said.

The classroom environment created by both the teachers and the students made it impossible to learn in a comfortable environment. According to Pendleton, disrespect was just as rampant as disinterest.

Pendelton said, “There would be three of four kids sitting the front row with their notebooks open and a pen in hand. The rest of the class sat in the back, usually huddled in circles gambling on card games. But it was like the teacher didn’t see those kids. She or he would just teach directly to those three or four students in the front row.”

In March, 2005, the Philadelphia Inquirer featured its annual educational report, which showed a variety of statistics that applied to either public or private high schools within Philadelphia. These findings serve as proof of the amount of disinterest in education and educational advancement.

In 2005, only 54 percent of the applicable students were taking the SAT.

Germantown High School did not show in the lowest percentile; that position was filled by South Philadelphia’s Audenreid High School with a devastatingly low rate of 15 percent.

“I’m not really surprised that only 54 percent were preparing to take the SAT. I know Germantown is a school, but academics isn’t really stressed. Most of the students aren’t there to learn. The text books were in bad shape, teachers didn’t have control of the classrooms and tests were barely given. I don’t even think teachers prepared lesson plans,” Pendleton said.

Part way through his junior year,Pendleton was fortunate enough to receive a second chance at earning a proper education. He transferred from one of the city’s worst high schools to one of the highest ranked public high schools within the city of Philadelphia, Bodine High School for International Affairs.

Within the Philadelphia Public School System there is a distinguished group of schools which are often times referred to as magnet schools. These schools, though they are within the context of the public school system, are not restricted to residents of a particular area; instead, enrollment in these schools is based upon an application process. Students must be accepted in order to attend; due to the academic standards established by most of these schools, academic excellence is commonplace typically making them the highest ranked public high schools in the city.

For Eric, Bodine High School not only offered a change of scenery, it also offered him a change of attitude.

“At Germantown it wasn’t cool to learn or show interest in learning. But at Bodine everyone shared that interest. The teachers actually cared about teaching; it showed in the way they paced back and forth from the chalkboards to their podium. Teachers at Germantown usually taught from their desks.”

According to information cited by the Philadelphia Inquirer, Bodine High School had one of the highest percentages of students taking the SATs in the city. In regards to the number of eligible students who were preparing to take the SAT in 2005, Bodine showed a percentile of 98.

Eric said, “While I was at Germantown, I always felt like a high school diploma was the end. But, at Bodine I felt like I had to go to college. We were always in the auditorium for some sort of SAT course. When the time came, the guidance counselor would make her rounds from classroom to classroom handing out fee waivers for the SAT.”

As the statistics imply, Bodine High School for International Affairs and the other high-ranking schools have a curriculum that is geared towards educational advancement. The percentages of students taking the SAT are greater because the notion of higher education is being enforced, whether it may be at a vocational institute, a small liberal arts college or a state funded university.

The academic rankings of Philadelphia’s most esteemed public high schools appear to be, according to Philadelphia Inquirer, only in competition with those of private high schools. Like residents in other cities and townships, adolescents are not resigned to attending public schools, whether they may be the typical neighborhood high school or one of the more academically distinguished magnet schools. There are options.

In fact, there are a number of privately funded institutions throughout the city. These private schools are just as exclusive as the magnet schools of the Philadelphia School District. Though there is no application process, for most of these private schools, there is a fee.

Jessica Carrion, a sophomore nursing major at Temple University, spent 13 years of her academic career as a student of private Catholic institutions, eventually graduating from South Philadelphia’s St. Maria Goretti High School for Girls; she believes that the differences between public high schools and private high schools is generally a result of the tuition fees.

Another graduate from a private high schools agrees.

Gabrielle Salas, a graduate from West Philadlephia Catholic High School, said, “When considering the differences between private and public schools, you really have to consider that students at a private school have parents who are paying for their education. Therefore, there’s a sort of obligation to learn and behave properly. Sadly, students at most public high schools are there because they have to be, not because they want to be there. I guess that’s why kids at these magnet schools do so well. They want to learn. They want be at school.”

As of March, 2005, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that 83 percent of the applicable student population of St. Maria Goretti were planning on taking the SAT. It also stated that 80 percent of West Philadelphia Catholic High School’s eligible students were going to take the SAT.

Carrion said, “St. Maria Goretti really stressed college a lot. I remember everyone had to meet with an adviser. In addition to offering SAT prep courses, there were days when class sessions were dedicated to SAT preparation.”

Though private schooling does not guarantee a better education than public schools, the facts illustrated by the Philadelphia Inquirer certainly favor private institutions. For example, the lowest percentile of students preparing to take the SAT for private schools was 73 in sharp contrast to 15 percent at a public high school. With the few exceptional public high schools aside, Philadelphia public high schools are desperately in need of an awakening.

Pendleton said, “From my experience, neighborhood high schools are sad places to learn and it’s not always clear cut. There are not a few students who want to learn and a majority who don’t. There are many who are just lost in the middle how I was. All they need is the right type of environment, but unfortunately most of them aren’t as lucky as I was to have gotten that second chance. I probably wouldn’t be at Cabrini College had I not switched high schools.”

Loquitur welcomes your comments on this story. Please send your comments to: . The editors will review your points each week and make corrections if warranted.

Posted to the web by Shane Evans

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