As part of its Renaissance Schools turnaround initiative, the School District of Philadelphia has outsourced management of 17 struggling public schools over the past three years.

The result is a transformed educational landscape in which a patchwork of seven independent charter school management organizations has replaced the traditional school system in large sections of the city, as shown in this graphic by NewsWorks, the Notebook, and geospace analysis firm Azavea.

 

School catchment areas

In several of Philadelphia's lowest-income communities in North Central, West and South Philadelphia, Renaissance charters are now the default neighborhood school option – at least for some grade levels. In one large, contiguous swath of the city stretching from Girard Avenue in Lower North Philadelphia to Cheltenham Avenue in the lower Northeast, 11 former District schools are now under outside management.
Interpretations of the city's dramatically shifting landscape couldn't be more different.

District officials say it shows their effort to bring high-performing schools to the city's most disadvantaged neighborhoods is working. "The goal here is to create high-quality seats and make them available where there had not been that choice before," said District spokesman Fernando Gallard.

"We are very happy to see that we have been successful."

But critics see confirmation that the District is targeting high-poverty areas to experiment with privatization.

"Without a real education plan designed to mitigate the effects of poverty on learning, the only ones who benefit in the long term are the pockets of the charter school companies," said teachers' union president Jerry Jordan.

Former Superintendent Arlene Ackerman initiated the Renaissance initiative in 2010. Much earlier, the District had taken its first step in turning over a neighborhood school to charter management at Belmont Elementary in 2002, and then three neighborhood middle schools were taken over by Mastery Charter Schools.

A study by the independent nonprofit organization Research for Action found significant test score gains in the first round of six Renaissance charters during their first year of operation. A 2011 Notebook analysis found that the first cohort of Renaissance charters attracted more students from their surrounding communities while continuing to serve the students who previously attended the schools.

Officials estimate that the cash-strapped District must spend between $800 and $1,000 per student per year to convert a school to a Renaissance charter.

While Jordan wants to see a moratorium on new Renaissance charters, Gallard said the District wants to continue growing the initiative. No expansion plans have yet been determined.

"We are hoping to continue this path as quickly as possible," Gallard said, "but it's going to clearly be driven by finances."

This mapping project is part of Azavea's 2012 Summer of Maps program. Special thanks to Nse Umoh Esema for data gathering, analysis, and visualization.

This story was reported as part of NewsWorks' partnership in education coverage with the Public School Notebook.


Interactive map by Todd Vachon