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Mothers Flee Philadelphia

We have some interesting thoughts for you to ponder this Mother's Day. It is not as lovely as flowers and not as flowery as we'd like it to be. But the truth is sometimes unpleasant and in this case is worth discussing this Mother's Day. Mothers are fleeing Philadelphia. They are packing up their families and heading to the burbs for a "better education" for their kids.

A whopping 25% of our listings are couples moving out because they have preschool-aged children and they wont send their kids into the Philadelphia Public School system. Why are they leaving when we have a Mayor and other politicians who boast that they have their kids in the Philadelphia school system? If it is good enough for them...

Our personal experience is this:  There is a definite flight out of Philly once a young employed professional couple's kid hits the preschool age. It is for the most part not even a question in their mind if they will stay in Philly. They won't stay.

Okay, so we know of one exception. A young couple that we know recently had their first child and plan to stay in Philly. At least that is their plan but unlike most Philadelphians, their income can sustain a private school education for their newborn. That is just not possible for a majority of the young families out there.

We have spoken frankly to clients and neighbors who have raised their kids in Philly. Most did so out of necessity. They simply did not have the luxury or an alternative choice. What does that say about our city? To us it says Philadelphia caters to the young single or couple without kids. Is it because they are cheap and easy to please? Is it because they demand less from the government yet pay the hefty city wage tax? The city has almost no accountability to this demographic.  Has the city of Philadelphia forgotten how much power and influence children have in the household and as consumers?

Let's give credit where credit is due. Philly has people who try to change the education reputation in the city with Charter Schools, as well as teachers and staff who are driven toward creating excellence in their schools. No excuses. But they are swimming against an epic tide of failure in the public school system.

"I will only do charter schools for my child," confirms Mary, mother of an energetic 9 year old attending FACTS - Folk Arts Cultural Treasures School in Chinatown. "The Philadelphia Public Schools cut out arts, music, gifted and talented programs. Charter schools don't cut those programs."

Elaine, a native of Kensington and a product of a Philadelphia Catholic school, is another local mom who put her children through the Philadelphia Catholic school system up until high school.

"One went to Lincoln and the other to Washington. There were fights every day. My son could not take it and dropped out only to get his GED. In hindsight, putting them through the public school system was a big mistake."

When Mothers Flee, the story typically goes like this: Angela, who now resides in Virginia, left Philadelphia as soon as she could.

"I had my first child in Philly, and after seeing what my brothers, sisters, and I went through being tossed around in the Philly system, I knew I would not stay."

There is the option of homeschooling, but for many parents, this can be a major time commitment that many with 9 to 5 jobs cannot fulfill.

As Realtors ushering in many young, excited new homeowners into the city, we can pretty much guarantee that most of them will be selling once a child enters the picture.  As residents of Philadelphia ourselves we take the good with the bad. That is easy for us  to say, having no children. But it pains us deeply to see such a weak link in the city that we love so much.

To the soon-to-be mothers and fathers out there: What do you think? If you plan to have children will you stay in Philadelphia? Is public school in your child's future?  And for the parents with kids in the public schools, what is your experience? So many of us want to know.

Comments (12) Trackbacks (0)
  1. There are a lot of good and improving public schools in Philadelphia, schools that rank right up there with good suburban school. Frankly, you do a disservice by not mentioning them here. Schools like Meredith, McCall, Greenfield, Cooke-Wissahickon, Dobson, Jenks, Penn Sadie Alexander, GAMP, Independence, Lab Charter, CAPA, Central, Girls, and Masterman. In my opinion, most parents are just lazy, and spend no time researching these options. There’s also a hint of veiled racism, though nobody would admit it. Poverty is higher in even the best Philadelphia public schools, and quite frankly, many parents want to “shield” their kids from that poverty. In reality, they’re doing their kids a disservice, because that’s how the real world is…Instead, they just assume the grass is greener and uproot their entire lives. Ironically, I know a lot of kids in my adult life who came up through this system, who went to schools like Central and Masterman and Roman Catholic (not expensive), and to be honest, they’re far more dynamic and down-to-earth and just as accomplished as any kid I’ve ever met from the Lower Merion School District.

    There was recently an article in the NY Times about this very topic, and the assumptions that white-natives make as compared to white and non-white non-natives.

  2. Thanks for the comment Phillyguy .

  3. @Donna —Masterman is a magnet school that is available to any students city wide based on academic merit. The exception i believe is students who live within the school’s cachement. On that note, while i can understand the frustration in finding good schools. Being a local resident that went to excellent schools in, this philly school hatred is common vitriol from gentrifiers that do absolutely nada in connecting and learning about the same city they love to party and live in.

    Masterman ranks is the best school period in the entire state of Pennsylvania, including all public, private, charter schools, etc. In no way am i saying that the entire Philly school system is great, but there are definitely options if you do your homework.

    FYI, attended pub and private school in Philly and stood head and shoulders with my peers at Drexel.

  4. Juliet, I never crunched the numbers as far as how much it would cost to send a child to a private school in Philadelphia compared to the cost associated with taxes in a county school district but I would guess they’d be close. But like you said piece of mind is not something you can put a $ amount on.

    I believe once you have experienced a formal education in a “good school district”, it is hard to impossible to accept, trust, believe in the Philadelphia Public School System as the place of choice to educate your child.

    And doesn’t it go deeper than just education? I hate to say it but I believe that many of the mothers that flee Philly for the sake of their kid’s are doing so because the social structure is broken in Philly as well and it is tolerated in the schools. It is a hard enough battle to teach your child the values that you believe in during those formidable years. It is that much more of a challenge if a child is unequally yolked at school.

    The one thing that is missing in the county schools is real cultural diversity. You can be taught that people are different from you on paper. But there is no way to experience living in a community where people really are different yet they come together for a unified goal. Our hope is that all kids grow to understand that is possible whether they get a Philly education or not.

  5. I agree with mot of you. I myself am from Bucks County and for me there is “no place like home”. My daughter is entering into kindergarten this year at Independence Charter. Everything was hinging on the lottery process that takes place in Phila. if my daughter had not been chosen, we were “outta here”.
    Yes, the savings in taxes is significant but, at the end of the day piece of mind is not cheap. On the other hand, ther are some amazing private schools in Phila., for example, Penn Charter and Friends. Tuition is high but so are taxes in the burbs. It is definately a trade off to think about, grass vs. concrete?

  6. Anita- what a great suggestion for Blatstein. How fantastic would that be, having Tower Development pop the Pop Culture Bubble and create a hub for young families including a day care facility. But if you think it would be cheap, think again!

  7. I am a mom to a 10 month old and often blabber about moving out the the city by the time my daughter approaches kindergarden. One thing to consider that we often and easily overlook is that we as Philadelphians pay much less tax than our fellow suburban friends/family. I hope to take tax breaks into consideration when sending my daughter to private $$$ school….PS: for the love of god, can’t Bart Blatstein promote a developmental project involving a state of the art day-care > elementary school in ‘the libs’.

  8. We are in that boat and have to admit that when we bought our house in port fishington we had no plans of staying more than a few years. We knew we would be moving out as soon as we moved in. As much as we like the neighborhood here, there are things we really dislike about it that are amplified by many degrees once our little one came along. The crime culture (especially theft, drugs and prostitution), the illiterate people, the attitude of welfare dependence, non-work, prolific trash litter and other pollution, and the long time resident’s sense of entitlement are a huge turn off to people like us with opposing values. Convenient location but lacking in ways that make it really way more challenging to think of raising kids here. I feel sorry for and give anyone here major props for raising their kids here. If things were different and we weren’t prepared to make a move out to greener pastures, you had better believe I would be the most involved parent the philadelphia public school system had ever seen.

    There are terriffic towns in our outlying burbs and far cry from the suburbia of my youth. Places where you can ride a bike to a train station and be in center city within 20 min. When we were young and unfettered this neighborhood was perfect. Now we desire more and have worked very hard, saved and sacrificed to be able to make a move. Our realtor is Sean Conroy and has been there for us every step of the way. I am also confident that if we are unable to get an offer close to our asking price we will have no problem finding someone to rent our house and pay off the rest of our mortgage for us should the time to move hit and our place still hasn’t sold. That was actually my plan all along, since owning property has been such a great investment so far I would like to see where it goes. It also wouldn’t be too bad to have a place in the city to come back to as empty nesters way down the line.

  9. Being from and growing up in bucks county.(moved to philly at 24, but spent my summers here since 13 due to divorce). Id never raise my kids here in the city.. Its great for being single.. but IF i ever settle down and have some rug rats.. straight to the burbs ill be… There’s too much to a kid having grass and playing baseball/football on their front lawn.. Add that to the school systems, and the general negativity of most Philadelphians… and you have a pretty crappy place to raise the kids. The public school systems out in the burbs are plenty good if the kids actually apply themselves, which obviously takes interaction from the parents also.

  10. I stayed in the City with my kids because my husband is under contract to live in the City. I’ve bought a second house for what I’ve paid in private school and catholic school tuition for my 2 kids. Had the job not forced us to stay here, I’d have fled.
    I live a few blocks from Lincoln HS and Austin Meehan Middle School. The kids curse at the teachers in the middle school, we see regular arrests at the high school. I’ve seen police officers bikes stolen by students, witnessed countless arrests. A few years ago they found AK47’s in 2 kids lockers. Nick went to the private Christian school across the street and the kids would routinely throw bottles and stuff at them in their schoolyard. One day, they followed my daughter right to our front door when she picked her little brother up, throwing things & cursing her because she had a Hubert’s uniform on. I know there are many good kids there, but the bad kids make it undoable.
    The Mayor has his kids in Masterman. Not available to us Northeast residents.

  11. Great article Chris!!! I agree ! This mommy is leaving the city for a better education for my son!! So this means that we’ll be calling you soon = )

  12. I grew up in a “good” school district in Bucks County and moved to Philly in 1988 when I was 18 years old. I now have a 4 1/2 year old and there is NO WAY I would leave the city to raise my daughter. I think she has been exposed to more interesting and enriching experiences in her <5 years here in the city than I did up until Jr. High. The 'burbs are no place to raise a child.

    We applied to 11 schools in total for Kindergarten and picked a very affordable Friends school. But even if would couldn't afford to send her there we would do whatever it took to stay in our Philly neighborhood that we love.

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