The intense and often ugly conflict over student admission to Masterman was both predictable and preventable. Whenever a traditional practice is changed to rectify an inequity, the previously advantaged group is aggrieved. But the heart of this conflict over standardized test scores versus race and class equity was totally avoidable if Masterman had followed the example of Girls High.
Three years ago, the Philadelphia High School for Girls changed its admission requirements and instituted a mandatory summer enrichment program for students admitted with lower standardized test scores than previously required — but who also had good grades, attendance and behavior.
While the motivation for changing admission criteria differed between Girls High and Masterman — the former to fill empty seats and the latter to improve racial and economic diversity — both efforts centered on de-emphasizing the importance of standardized testing. The wisdom of that change are clear: Not only has Girls High filled 300 seats that would have otherwise remained vacant, but today, 81 percent of the first cohort of “at risk” students admitted with lower test scores are enrolled in Advanced Placement, honors and International Baccalaureate courses in their junior year.
Had the School District chosen to adopt the Girls High model when it changed the admission criteria at Masterman and other selective high schools, it could have avoided much of the current conflict. If he learns nothing more from the Masterman debacle, I hope Dr. Watlington will see the wisdom of replicating what already works in the system rather than searching for new unproven approaches.
Girls High should be seen as a model rather than a one-off or an exception to the rule.
Debra Weiner spent 45 years working in public education advocacy for high school reform, college prep, board accountability and early learning. She also designed and received funding for the Girls High program mentioned above.
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