School District of Philadelphia

The School District of Philadelphia (SDP) is the school district that includes all school district-operated public schools in Philadelphia.[8] Established in 1818, it is the 8th largest school district in the nation, by enrollment, serving over 200,000 students.[9]

School District of Philadelphia
Philadelphia Schools Logo.png
United States
Coordinates39°57′39″N 75°09′46″W / 39.960752°N 75.162646°W / 39.960752; -75.162646
District information
Established1818; 205 years ago (1818)
SuperintendentTony Watlington
School boardBoard of Education[4]
Chair of the boardJoyce Wilkerson,[5]
Schools339 (2018–2019)[1]
Budget$4.3 billion (FY23)[2]
NCES District ID4218990[3]
Students and staff
Students202,538 (2018–2019)[1]
Staff18,299 (July 1, 2018)[6]
Other information
Teachers unionPhiladelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT)[7]

The school board was created in 1850 to oversee the schools of Philadelphia. The Act of Assembly of April 5, 1867, designated that the Controllers of the Public Schools of Philadelphia were to be appointed by the judges of the Court of Common Pleas. There was one Controller to be appointed from each ward. This was done to eliminate politics from the management of the schools.[10]

Eventually, the management of the school district was given to a school board appointed by the mayor. This continued until 2001 when the district was taken over by the state, and the governor was given the power to appoint a majority of the five members of the new School Reform Commission.[11][12] In July 2018, the School Reform Commission (SRC) was disbanded and control of the district was returned to the city and its newly selected Philadelphia School Board.


The School District of Philadelphia operates 151 elementary schools, 16 middle schools, and 57 high schools.[13]

The remaining 85 public schools are independently operated charter schools.[14] Charter schools are authorized by the School District of Philadelphia, and are accountable to it.


Enrollment in Philadelphia's district schools was 203,225 students as of September 2019.[15]

As of the 2014–2015 school year, there were 107 languages other than English spoken at home by district students. The largest group of students with families using languages other than English at home was the Spanish speakers, with 6,260 students, making up 52% of the school district's other than English at home population. The other languages, in descending order, were Mandarin Chinese, Arabic, Vietnamese, Khmer, various English and French-based Creoles and Pidgins, Russian, French, Portuguese, Nepali, Cantonese Chinese, Pashto, Malayalam, Ukrainian, Albanian, Bengali, and 82 other languages.[16]

Enrollment in the city's charter schools was 60,774 students (December 2013).[14]

Historical demographicsEdit

66% of all students of the School District of Philadelphia were black; this number was proportionally high since whites of all economic backgrounds had a tendency to use private schools, with wealthier whites using elite private schools and lower income whites using Catholic schools. Wealthier blacks chose not to use private schools because their neighborhoods were assigned to higher quality public schools.[17]


It is the sole school district in Philadelphia.[18]

Prior to August 2012, the district was organized into academic division (AD) offices, each with its own assistant superintendent. As a part of the Chief Academic Office Reorganization/Transition Proposal, the AD structure was abolished. Schools are organized into Principal Learning Teams (PLTs), each with its own peer-selected coordinator and all schools now report to the Chief Academic Office through the Office of School Performance Management.


The School District of Philadelphia is governed by a nine-member board of education. All members are appointed by the Mayor of Philadelphia and approved by Philadelphia City Council. The board of education was re-established in July 2018 after seventeen years of governance by a School Reform Commission.[9][19]

The School District of Philadelphia Education Center, the Philadelphia Board of Education Building at 440 North Broad Street in the right foreground



In 1967, high school students demonstrated in front of the board of education building, demanding better treatment, especially for African-American students, and better funding. The demonstrators were met with force by the Philadelphia Police Department, and the resulting riot left 22 injured and 57 arrested.[20]

Takeover by the stateEdit

The state takeover of the district had its roots in the chronic low test scores of district students and a history of inequitable financing which left the district with substantial and perpetual deficits.[21] In 1975, Pennsylvania provided 55 percent of school funding statewide; in 2001 it provided less than 36 percent.[22] An analysis determined that increased district spending was limited by a state system which relies heavily on property taxes for local school funding. As a result, wealthier school districts with proportionately more property owners and more expensive real estate have more funds for schools. The result is great disparities in school system expenditures per student. In 2000, the Philadelphia school district spent $6,969 a year per student. Seventy percent of Philadelphia's students are at or near the poverty line. This contrasts with expenditures per student in wealthier suburban school districts: Jenkintown, $12,076; Radnor, $13,288; and Upper Merion, $13,139.[22]

In February 1998, then-superintendent David Hornbeck threatened to close the city's schools if the state did not provide the funds needed to balance his proposed budget.[23]

State lawmakers responded to the threat with fast-moving legislation, Act 46,[24] on April 21, approving a school funding package that included a takeover plan.[25] The legislature's plan was a reaction to Hornbeck's threatening to shut down the schools because of a financial crisis.[26][25]

"Holding students and their parents and teachers hostage in an effort to gain additional funding is certainly bold but not very wise", commented Representative Dwight Evans, Democratic chair of the House Appropriations Committee and prime architect of the takeover bill.[25]

Two lawsuits were filed by the city and the Philadelphia School District in 1997 and 1998 to address what they considered inadequate funding levels. The first, filed by the school district, the city and community leaders, contended that Pennsylvania did not provide a "thorough and efficient" education; it was dismissed outright by the state court. The second case, a civil rights suit filed in Federal District Court, by the district, the city, and other interested parties, contended that the state's funding practices discriminated against school districts with large numbers of non-white students; the School District of Philadelphia was a key complainant in this case. The city agreed to put this case on hold when Mayor Street negotiated the "friendly" state takeover of the district, with the promise of additional funding from the state.[21]

In June 2000, under increasing pressure to find a solution to the fiscal and academic problems facing the district, school superintendent David W. Hornbeck ended his six-year tenure. Hornbeck said he did not have the financial support of state and city officials to continue his school reform program (and a year later launched a statewide advocacy organization, Good Schools Pennsylvania, to mobilize citizens in support of improved state funding for public education). He called improving public education "one of the great civil rights battles of this generation."[27] The board of education then implemented a new management structure, replacing the superintendent's position with two new positions, a chief academic officer, Deidre Fambry, and a chief executive officer.[27]

In 2001, the district had a projected deficit of $216.7 million in its current $1.7 billion budget. There was a crisis in making the school payroll and paying $30 million in vendor bills.[22] In recognition of the assistance, Mayor Street agreed to postpone for three months a 1998 federal lawsuit brought by the city claiming racial discrimination in the way the state funds the Philadelphia school district. In a study released in July by the Harvard Civil Rights Project, Pennsylvania was ranked as having the sixth most segregated schools in the United States.[22] Under the legislation enacted in 1998, in 2001 Governor Mark Schweiker took control of the schools. The state takeover of what was then the fifth largest school district in the United States was seen as the most radical reform ever undertaken in a large urban school district.[22] This move was opposed by Mayor John F. Street and many members of the city of Philadelphia.[28] The negotiations dragged on because of the state's insistence that the city pay its fair share, while the city fought to retain some control over the governance.[29] Also at stake was the control of patronage jobs controlled by the mayor in the district's central administration.[30]

In the end, the city put up an additional $45 million for the schools instead of the $15 million initially offered and the state provided an additional $75 million. In return, the mayor gets to appoint two commission members rather than just one under the governor's initial plan.[26][31]

The schools were clearly failing, but the state and the city could not agree on reform and local governance issues.[32] As negotiation continued, a coalition of labor unions and community groups called the "Coalition to Keep Our Public Schools Public", filed a lawsuit to stop the state from signing a contract for Edison Schools to manage city schools. The state backed off on a hostile takeover and negotiated with the city. One of the chief concerns was the complete privatization of the school district.[33]

The reform plan was opposed by the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.[25] Protestors like J. Whyatt Mondesire of the NAACP vowed "... to shut down the streets", in protest. Members of the NAACP and a group of black ministers blocked an intersection in front of City Hall during rush-hour traffic. The day before, several hundred students walked out of classes.[34][35] And earlier a crowd consisting mostly of unionized district employees marched on City Hall, where they disrupted the Christmas tree-lighting ceremony and drowned out the choir with their chants.[28]

On December 21, 2001, Secretary Charles Zogby of the Pennsylvania Department of Education signed a Declaration of Distress for the district. This triggered the state takeover of the school district from the City of Philadelphia. The state of Pennsylvania formed the School Reform Commission to oversee the troubled public school system.[26]

This action was the end result of a months long negotiation under the legislation enacted by the Pennsylvania General Assembly in April 1998. The takeover plan had six main elements: putting the district under the control of a School Reform Commission; hire a CEO; enable the CEO to reform the teaching staff by hiring non-certified staff, reconstitute troubled schools by reassigning or firing staff; allow the commission to hire for-profit firms to manage some schools; convert some schools to charter schools; and reallocate and redistribute school district resources.[26]

At the time of the takeover, it was expected that Edison Schools, Inc. would be one of the prime beneficiaries of the partial privatization. It had been involved in developing the plan for privatization commissioned by then governor Tom Ridge.[26] Edison was not given as many schools as it had hoped, primarily because of conflict of interest concerns[26] Youth organizers from the Philadelphia Student Union staged protests, and engaged in civil disobedience to prevent the school district from handing over control of the central administration to Edison. Youth leaders were ultimately successful in preventing a takeover of the central office, and also prevented the take-over of any high schools by for-profit companies. As of 2007 the company had not delivered the promised improvements.[36]

After the state takeover, the district adopted what is known as the "diverse provider" model, turning over the management of some of the lowest-achieving schools to for-profit and nonprofit organizations and two local universities and providing additional resources to the private managers.[36] The most controversial of the 2001 reforms the partnership program saw "educational management organizations" (EMOs) Edison Schools, Foundations Inc., Victory Schools, Universal Companies, Temple University, and University of Pennsylvania brought in to manage some of the district's lowest-performing schools.[36]

To date, the schools managed by private providers were doing neither better nor worse than district-wide achievement trends. District-managed schools given additional resources but no specific intervention were likewise doing about as well as other schools in the district. In contrast, district-managed schools given additional resources and a "restructuring" intervention showed larger achievement gains in mathematics.[36]

2013 Hunger StrikeEdit

In June 2013, the school district cut over three thousand employees. Two thousand and two of them were aides that ensured the safety of the students during the school day.[37] This budget cut angered parents, students, and employees. Governor Corbett had until the end of the month to approve the budget, so many took to protesting outside his office. UNITE HERE, the union which represented the laid off workers, helped organize a hunger strike.[37] On June 17, two parents and two cafeteria workers began a hunger strike and the protest was named "Fast for Safe Schools".[37] The protesters received a lot of support from the community as well as politicians. On June 28 fifteen politicians fasted for twenty-four hours to show their support.[37] On the same day members of the community delivered a petition with more than one thousand signatures to Governor Corbett.[37] Governor Corbett did finally add $140 million to the budget even though it was less than what was requested by the community.[37] The community celebrated this victory that they achieved through nonviolent protest. However, by the time school was starting in August, the safety staff had not been hired back. On August 14, over one hundred community members resumed the hunger strike for a twenty four-hour period.[37] As a result, most of the staff was rehired.


Beginning in 2001 the district required all schools to enact school uniforms or strict dress codes. Some schools had already adopted uniforms prior to 2001.[38]

Classifying schoolsEdit

The Philadelphia School District rates and categorizes schools based on performance. Vanguard schools are considered the leading performing schools within the district and require a special admission process for students. Non-vanguard schools that make adequate yearly progress are considered traditional district schools. Empowerment schools are schools that are struggling. Traditionally, failing schools are privatized and are called renaissance schools.[39]

Staff hiring and performance measureEdit

Under the strategic plan, the district allows principals to hire teachers and staffs and create incentives for high performing teachers and schools, such as tenure. The district also created tracking tools, performance indicators, to gauge the progress of schools and how schools affect student achievement. The district increased the staffs and accessibility of its call centers to provide services and allow parents and community to report directly to the headquarters..

Parent and community engagementEdit

The district's many parent and community engagement policies are combined in a central office called the Office of Parent Family, Community, Engagement, and Faith-Based Partnerships. Between 2004 and 2009, outside funding for parent engagement was provided by the William Penn Foundation for the Parent Leadership Academy (PLA) and The PA Department of Education for the Parent Volunteers Program (PVP). The district has implemented various different programs to engage families in the education of their children. In collaboration with the PA Parent Information Resource Center (PIRC), the district designated October as Parent Appreciation Month beginning in 2006. Parent Appreciation Month activities included Parent Appreciation Day, Superintendent's Closet Fashion Shows, Take a Parent to Work Day and Superintendent's Home Visits. Parent Assistance Desks (PADs) offered a way for parents to feel welcomed upon entering schools by having a parent from the community sit in an office or at a desk at the front door to provide needed resources and information. The Title I Parents 'R' Equal Partners (PREP) Program helped PREPare parents for effective partnerships with principals and administrators by conducting monthly workshops and trainings. In 2009, The Superintendent's Roundtable discussions were held to hear (firsthand) from many parents who felt that their children were not receiving the quality education they deserved. In 2010, School Advisory Councils (SACs) were modeled after the PA Governor's Institute of Parental Involvement to invite parents, family and community members to share decision-making with school-based staff.

The Parent University of Philadelphia, offered a variety of free courses to parents, such as basic computer skills, lessons on legal rights of parents, English as a second language, and other evidence-based knowledge and skills enhancement courses. Parent University was funded heavily by Federal Stimulus grant. The district also set up citywide resource centers where parents can get resources seek help from the district on issues that could not be resolved at the school, such as bullying problems or complaints. The number of Parent Ombudsmen, school based staff who works directly with parent, were increased to serve 173 schools. Many of the programs have received local and national attentions for pioneering the field of parent engagement.[40]

Art in the public schoolsEdit

The school district has an art collection that contains about 1,125 paintings, photos, sculptures and other pieces that are displayed in schools or are stored in an undisclosed facility. The estimated worth was $30 million in 2003, but district spokesperson Fernando Gallard estimates the collection is worth $2 million in 2013. Much of this art disappeared when Paul Vallas was Superintendent of the Philadelphia School District.[41]


  1. ^ a b "School Profiles, District View, General Information". Retrieved July 23, 2018.
  2. ^ "FY2022-23 Consolidated Budget" (PDF). School District of Philadelphia. Retrieved May 23, 2022.
  3. ^ "Search for Public School Districts – District Detail for School District of Philadelphia". National Center for Education Statistics. Institute of Education Sciences. Retrieved June 2, 2012.
  4. ^ "Board of Education". Retrieved July 23, 2018.
  5. ^ "About, Our Leadership". Retrieved July 23, 2018.
  6. ^ "District Performance Office, Open Data". Retrieved July 23, 2018.
  7. ^ "AFT Pennsylvania".
  8. ^ "Contact Us." School District of Philadelphia. Retrieved March 31, 2010.
  9. ^ a b "School District of Philadelphia About". School District of Philadelphia. Retrieved July 23, 2018.
  10. ^ Edmunds, Franklin Davenport (1917). "The Public School Buildings of the City of Philadelphia from 1853 to 1867".
  11. ^ Rieser, Len. "Analysis: do Philadelphians still have a voice at the School District? Understanding the state takeover of Philadelphia's schools". University of Pennsylvania, Graduate School of Education. Retrieved February 20, 2007.
  12. ^ Favro, Tony. "US mayors are divided about merits of controlling schools". Retrieved February 20, 2007.
  13. ^ "Schools (2021-2022". Philadelphia School District. Retrieved October 29, 2021.
  14. ^ a b "Charter Schools". Philadelphia School District. Retrieved October 29, 2021.
  15. ^ "Enrollment – District Schools". Philadelphia School District. Retrieved October 21, 2019.
  16. ^ Windle, Greg (October–November 2016). "Consortium helps educators examine ESOL programs" (PDF). Philadelphia Public School Notebook. p. 16.
  17. ^ "Blacks in Philadelphia." (November 1976). Black Enterprise. Start p. 36. CITED: p. 44.
  18. ^ "2020 CENSUS - SCHOOL DISTRICT REFERENCE MAP: Philadelphia County, PA" (PDF). U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved July 22, 2022. - Text list
  19. ^ . City of Philadelphia Retrieved April 11, 2019. {{cite news}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  20. ^ Ron Whitehorne. "1967: African American students strike, survive police riot to force change". Retrieved June 27, 2011.
  21. ^ a b "Philadelphia School Reform: Historical Roots and Reflections on the 2002–2003 School Year Under State Takeover (reference replaced 2015-09-15)". University of Pennsylvania, Graduate School of Education. June 28, 2003. Retrieved February 20, 2007.
  22. ^ a b c d e Bishop, Tom (November 15, 2001). "Pennsylvania prepares privatization of Philadelphia public schools". World Socialist Web Site. International Committee of the Fourth International. Retrieved February 20, 2007.
  23. ^ Clowes, George (June 1, 1998). "Philadelphia Schools Face State Takeover". Heartland Institute. Retrieved February 20, 2007.
  24. ^ "Overview and Introduction to the Education Reform in the 21st Century". Philadelphia Social Innovations Journal. April 2011. Retrieved March 30, 2014.
  25. ^ a b c d Clowes, George (June 1, 1998). "Philadelphia Schools Face State Takeover". The Heartland Institute. Retrieved February 20, 2007.
  26. ^ a b c d e f "State Takes Over Philadelphia's Failing Schools". The Heartland Institute. Retrieved February 20, 2007.
  27. ^ a b "Philadelphia School Chief Ends Tenure of 6 Years". The New York Times. August 15, 2000. Retrieved February 20, 2007.
  28. ^ a b "City of Brotherly Thugs". The Wall Street Journal. December 3, 2001. Retrieved February 20, 2007.
  29. ^ Steinberg, Jacques (December 22, 2001). "In Largest Schools Takeover, State Will Run Philadelphia's". The New York Times. Retrieved March 31, 2014.
  30. ^ Bishop, Tom (November 29, 2001). "Deal to privatize Philadelphia schools". World Socialist Web Site. International Committee of the Fourth International. Retrieved February 20, 2007.
  31. ^ "PHILADELPHIA MAYOR, PENNSYLVANIA GOVERNOR DECLARE TRUCE; TALKS ON SCHOOL DISTRICT TAKEOVER RESUME". The Philadelphia Inquirer. December 17, 2001. Retrieved February 20, 2007.
  32. ^ "Philadelphia". The Wall Street Journal. November 14, 2001. Retrieved February 20, 2007.
  33. ^ Bishop, Tom (December 6, 2001). "State takeover of Philadelphia schools temporarily delayed". World Socialist Website. Retrieved February 20, 2007.
  34. ^ "The Philadelphia Student Union". Z Magazine. October 2002. Archived from the original on October 22, 2006. Retrieved February 20, 2007.
  35. ^ Bishop, Tom (December 29, 2001). "State takeover of Philadelphia schools paves way for privatization". World Socialist Website. Retrieved February 20, 2007.
  36. ^ a b c d Brian Gill; Ron Zimmer; Jolley Christman; Suzanne Blanc (n.d.). "State Takeover, School Restructuring, Private Management, and Student Achievement in Philadelphia". RAND Corporation. Retrieved February 20, 2007.
  37. ^ a b c d e f g Promrat, Ploy (May 4, 2017). "Philadelphia residents hunger strike for safe schools, 2013 | Global Nonviolent Action Database". Retrieved October 1, 2017.
  38. ^ Giordano, Rita. "Shift to mandatory dress policy fairly seamless in Phila. schools Students are nattily attired. Parents are just tired." (Archive). The Philadelphia Inquirer. September 7, 2001. Retrieved November 28, 2015.
  39. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on May 24, 2012. Retrieved October 27, 2011.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  40. ^ Cruz, Gilbert (November 8, 2009). "To Help the Kids, Parents Go Back to School". Time. Archived from the original on October 25, 2009.
  41. ^ Otterbein, Holly. "Philadelphia School District Considers Selling Million Dollar Art Collection for Cash". NBC Philadelphia. Retrieved March 31, 2014.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit