PSAP Position Paper Details Disparity in Academic Performance in Philadelphia Public Schools

Data show economically disadvantaged students are unequally served by two very different systems of schools within the city; PSAP recommends reforms

PHILADELPHIA, PA – Using recently released School Performance Profiles (SPP) from the Pennsylvania Department of Education, Philadelphia School Advocacy Partners (PSAP), an organization started by the Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP), today submitted to the School Reform Commission a position paper that shows wide disparities in the performance of public schools in the city of Philadelphia.  The paper looks at the performance of two distinct ‘systems’ of public schools serving economically disadvantaged students in Philadelphia: one high-impact system of schools and one underperforming system that is not meeting the needs of students and families.

“In a sense, for low-income and minority students in Philadelphia there are two systems of schools: one effective and one ineffective,” said Mike Wang, executive director of PSAP. “We often hear people say that school academic performance is determined by demographics or by school type, but the data show there are sometimes vast differences in impact on students by schools that serve similar student populations. Notably, we find both charter and district schools in the high-impact and underperforming systems.”

The paper examines data from schools serving populations of 80 percent or more economically disadvantaged students and compares those that scored above 70 on the SPP (“on track” according to PDE) to those that scored under 40. The paper describes disparate academic and economic outcomes for students in each of the two systems. Compared to students in the underperforming system, students in the high-impact system are:

  • Three times more likely to read and do math on grade level;
  • One and a half times more likely to graduate and seven times less likely to drop out of school;

Additionally, in the underperforming system only 17 out 2,347 seniors—0.7 percent—are likely to be college-ready, according to ACT and SAT scores; only 0.3 percent passed an Advanced Placement exam. By contrast, in the high-impact system, 19.4 percent of seniors are likely to be college-ready, and 5.9 percent passed an AP exam.

These disparities have significant implications for students, the District and the city as a whole. For example, if students in the underperforming system graduated at the same rates as those in the high-impact system, they would collectively earn over $1.05 billion more in their lifetimes.

This year, the District will spend an estimated $150 million to educate students in the underperforming system– including both charter and district schools – according to building-level budget data. Given the District’s budget constraints and the poor performance of these schools in meeting student needs, the report argues that money could be used more effectively by expanding high-impact schools.

“Here in Philadelphia we need to stop debating the merits of district schools versus charter schools,” said Mark Gleason, executive director of PSP. “This is about choosing whether to invest our limited resources in schools that work for students and families or those that don’t.”

The paper contains four specific recommendations to ensure more students have access to high-impact schools as quickly as possible:

1) Aggressively expand enrollment in high-impact charter and District schools that are most effectively educating low-income students.

2) Set clear and transparent benchmarks for how many additional students will have access to high-impact schools for each of the next five years.

3) Close or intervene in charter and District schools with SPP scores under 40 or other comparable metrics (while weighing mitigating circumstances).

4) Simplify the confusing school transfer and application process so that low-income and minority families have better access to high-impact schools.

The full paper, “One City, Two Systems of Schools: An Analysis of Philadelphia Schools Using 2013-14 Pennsylvania School Performance Profiles” is available online here:

About Philadelphia School Advocacy Partners

Philadelphia School Advocacy Partners (PSAP) was created by the Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP) to advocate for policy and regulatory conditions, at both the state and local level, so that great urban schools of all types can thrive and grow

The organizations share a vision that every child in every neighborhood has access to a great school and graduates from high school prepared for college or a career. We believe that great schools come in all types and exist in all sectors and every great school starts with a talented leader and the belief that all children can learn and achieve at high levels.

Contact: Jacob Waters,