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This week, I have had the chance to explore issues of school quality. I have conducted an interview and participated in a round-table discussion. One topic that was particularly important was the difference between the quality of education in different schools.

Felly, a fellow BAYM participant, talked with me about her experiences at Christopher Dock High School, a private school which she attended on scholarship, as compared to South Philadelphia High School. She told me about how there was a campus with several buildings, and grass that you can relax on. “At Christopher Dock, you can actually get so excited going to class, and you get excited coming to school…. Every day is a new day. You will learn something new. But at South Philly, you don’t learn anything.” She said that the teachers were great and fully qualified, and that they can teach you as both teachers and parents. You can actually sit down with them and talk about personal issues. She also talked about other great things about the school, such as the lunch food. “They have home-cooked meals…. It’s not like junk food; it’s a healthy meal… that you actually like.” Overall, she said that Christopher Dock provides a quality education, one that far exceeds that offered by South Philadelphia.

Later in the day, I had a chance to participate in a round-table discussion about school issues, facilitated by fellow BAYM participant Sadae. We talked about many issues regarding education, such as teacher quality, school funding. We also talked about how these can relate to issues of socioeconomic class.

When the topic of teacher quality came up, people’s experiences at city public schools did not seem to be that great. Gianni, a former Parkway West student, said, “I feel that it is poor … The teacher quality was extremely horrible.” Danielle, a student at Masterman, a magnet school with stricter teacher standards, said “For the most part, the older teachers are better.” But in reference to a number of new teachers, she said “some teachers are just really bad.”

One participant, Danielle, was clearly annoyed with the differences in the quality of schools in different areas. She explained: “I have to move somewhere just to get a good education…. I have to pay more just to get an education that I should be able to get in the city.” The reason for this is that a large portion of the money that is used to fund schools comes from property taxes, and areas with nicer properties (like the suburbs) are able to collect more money, and thus have better schools. But remember – the people who need good schools the most are those who cannot afford homes in nicer areas. Similarly, private school is, for the most part, only an option for those who can afford the high tuition.

Much could be done with more funding. One problem that currently plagues the district is teacher retention. Often, teachers will stay for only a couple years, then go to another school with more resources, often in the suburbs. Philadelphia’s school buildings are in bad condition. Many were built before World War II, and suffer from a number of problems. My school, Masterman, lacks air conditioning in most rooms, and has problems with mice and cockroaches. Our curriculum is very limited. Many district schools do not have enough textbooks for an entire class. Class sizes tend to be large, and teachers often have little support. With more money, these problems could be fixed.

Ben offered some comments regarding the relationship between public school education and socioeconomic class. “The education system basically serves to perpetuate the class system, which keeps the rich people on top and the poor people on the bottom.” He explained that people with more money have more opportunities, and that they can pay go to better schools. He continued: “It’s just a question of what the society is going to decide. Is [education] going to be something that everybody has a right to, regardless of how much money they make?"

Statements like these really make you think about what purpose education is supposed to serve. We keep hearing about how education can lift people up (out of poverty, for example), but it is hard for that to really happen when the very people who are supposedly being lifted up are forced to attend schools which do not provide a quality education and do not really give people more opportunities. Furthermore, the people who attend nicer schools, except for a small number who receive scholarships, are people who already have a better standing in society.

West Philadelphia High School, with 1120 students and 60 teachers.

Gianni, a former Parkway West student, discussed teacher quality in public schools.

PSU’s reporter, Greg, shakes hand with Felly in appreciation of her opinion and experiences.

PSU’s reporter, Greg, sits with Felly, discussing her perspective in the quality of her schools.

Ben, a former member of PSU, expressed his opinions about school quality during the round table discussion with other PSU members.

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