As the number of students attending charter schools nationwide rises, Penn is witnessing a surge of applicants from these schools.
This year, admission officers will add a code to track charter schools for the first time, Dean of Admissions Eric Furda said.
This decision to track charter school applicants coincides with a bill — the Empowering Parents through Quality Charter Schools Act — passed by the House of Representatives last week, which supports the expansion of charter schools.
In the past, Penn admissions has coded applicants’ high schools by “public, private or parochial,” but now, with more applicants from charter schools, it will need its own code, Furda said.
Since many charter schools are new, they are often unknown and the admissions office has the “responsibility to learn more about that school,” he added.
Administrators at the top charter schools are determined to prove to colleges that their graduates received a high-quality education.
“We are sending students through college at four times the rate of students from other low-income areas,” said Jonathan Cetel, director of Strategic Initiatives for Knowledge Is Power Program schools in Philadelphia.
At KIPP, the largest chain of charter schools in the country, 33 percent of graduates attain a college degree, beating the national average of 30.6 percent and surpassing the 8.3 percent of low-income students who attain the same level of education, Cetel said.
“We have our mission aligned,” he added. “Getting kids to and through college.”
For Wharton freshman Blake Englehard, attending a charter school, Riverwood International Charter School in Atlanta, provided him with many opportunities, such as participating in the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program.
Each subsequent year since Riverwood became a charter school in 2007, more and more students have been accepted into Ivy League schools, Englehard said. In 2010, one student was accepted to Penn. Last year, Englehard was one of three who got into Penn.
“Twelve kids in my grade got into Ivy Leagues,” Englehard said. “That’s a crazy amount for a public school in Atlanta.”
Some charter schools succeed because they give more autonomy to local professionals, Penn Graduate School of Education professor Michael Johanek said.
“Charter schools give parents more options, which is great,” Johanek said. However, he added that “there is an idea that charter schools will fix all inequities in education, and that is not the case.”
GSE professor Sigal Ben-Porath agreed that although many people believe that “charter schools will solve the gap in educational opportunities,” studies on current charter schools offerings show, on average, they do not perform better than traditional public schools.
Ben-Porath said that she does not believe charter schools alone can support their graduates through college. Instead, the government must have “greater social involvement to decrease poverty” and bridge inequalities in education.
“Can [charter schools] be part of the solution? Sure,” Johanek said. “But they are not really a part of general school reform.”
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