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Get Schooled — Education Options in Philadelphia

Learn about educational options and what they mean!

In the city of Philadelphia, families have a variety of school options available to them, each with its own unique characteristics and educational philosophies. Some families have the need or desire to expand their school search beyond what they are assigned to based on their neighborhood. Maybe you’re new to Philadelphia, or just new to the education scene, but thought an overview of the different types of school options would be helpful to most parents! Learn more about local schools in our Education Guide, and be sure to tell us why you love your child’s school in our 2024 School Survey!

Public Schools

The School District of Philadelphia (SDP) funds and operates the public schools. These schools are open to all students in the city and are tuition-free. Public schools in Philadelphia offer a comprehensive curriculum that meets state standards and requirements. They serve diverse student populations and strive to provide equitable access to education for all children. Public schools may vary in terms of academic programs, extracurricular activities, and specialized services offered. Parents and caregivers can get more involved in their local public school by joining their Parent Teacher Organizations (PTO). Philadelphia public schools have a mandatory uniform, and all provide free breakfast and lunch programs.

Charter Schools

Charter schools in Philadelphia are publicly funded schools that operate independently of the local school district. These schools are granted charters by authorized entities, such as the School District of Philadelphia or the Pennsylvania Department of Education. They also have greater flexibility in terms of curriculum, staffing, and budgeting. Charter schools often have specific missions or educational focuses, such as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education, performing arts, or college preparation. Families must apply for admission to charter schools. A lottery system is used if demand exceeds available spots.

Criteria-based Schools

Also called Magnet schools, Criteria-based schools in Philadelphia are public schools that offer specialized programs or curricula designed to attract students from across the city. These schools often focus on specific areas of study, such as the arts, sciences, or languages, and may offer enriched or accelerated coursework. These schools aim to promote diversity and provide unique educational opportunities for students with particular interests or talents. Admission to magnet/criteria-based schools is typically based on a competitive application process. Students may need to demonstrate proficiency or interest in the school’s specialized area of focus.

Private Schools

Private schools in Philadelphia are independently operated institutions that charge tuition and fees for attendance. These schools may be secular or affiliated with religious organizations. They often have smaller class sizes and more personalized instruction than public schools. Private schools in Philadelphia offer a range of educational approaches and philosophies, including traditional, Montessori, Waldorf, and progressive methods. Families choose private schools for various reasons, including a desire for a particular educational philosophy, religious instruction, or a focus on academic rigor and college preparation.

Parochial Schools

Parochial schools in Philadelphia are private schools affiliated with religious institutions, such as Catholic organizations. These schools provide religious instruction along with a standard academic curriculum. They often emphasize moral and character development based on the principles of their faith. Parochial schools may offer smaller class sizes, a sense of community, and a values-based education. Tuition is required for attendance, with financial assistance or scholarships available to qualifying families.

The diverse array of school options in Philadelphia allows families to choose an educational setting that aligns with their values, priorities, and children’s needs. Whether opting for public, charter, magnet, private, or parochial schools, families can find opportunities for academic excellence. These schools will provide enrichment and personal growth within the city’s educational landscape.

Header image courtesy of Norwood-Fontbonne Academy.

Content Director, Main Line Parent & Philadelphia Family. Email me at pamela@familyfocus.org