Education in Philadelphia is taken seriously, and many of the state's best schools are situated in the city. Philadelphia has a number of both public and private schools that are nationally recognised for the quality of their education, from elementary schools to universities.
Public schools in Philadelphia
All children in the US, including expats, are able to attend public school free of charge. As is the case with most large cities, the quality of public schools in Philadelphia varies. Since they are funded by property tax, schools in more affluent areas tend to offer a better standard of education.
By law, children are entitled to attend public school in their area, a fact that parents should bear in mind when choosing where to live in the city. It's therefore recommended that parents figure out where the best schools in the city are located before picking a neighbourhood.
Charter schools are privately run but funded through a performance-based contract with the government. As a result, they are tuition-free but are able to have more control over their academic programmes while teaching the national curriculum.
All children, including expats, can apply for admission to charter schools, with preference given to those who live in the area around a school. Again, if there are too many applications for the school to admit everyone, admission is determined by a lottery.
Magnet schools are specialised public schools that focus on specific subject areas – for example, science, languages or the performing arts – or employ alternative teaching styles, such as Montessori. Attendance at these schools isn't limited by zoning, with the result that the student bodies of magnet schools are generally diverse and varied. If there's not enough space for all the students who apply, they are selected through a lottery.
See Education and Schools in the USA for more on the national education system.
Private schools in Philadelphia
As is usually the case, private schools in Philadelphia have better student-to-teacher ratios, advanced facilities and a more comprehensive selection of extracurricular activities than their public counterparts. Of course, this comes at a price, which parents should be prepared for.
It almost goes without saying that the best private schools in Philadelphia are also the most selective. There's a high level of competition around admissions. Parents should apply early and carefully check the admissions process for each school they are considering.
International schools in Philadelphia
The city's only strictly 'international' private school is the bilingual French International School of Philadelphia. Both the French and American national curriculums are taught at the school. As with all international schools, admissions are competitive and school fees are exorbitant.
Alternatively, there are several public schools that offer the International Baccalaureate curriculum in Philadelphia. Pennsylvania's neighbouring state of New York also has a larger variety of international schools.
Homeschooling in Philadelphia
Parents in Philadelphia will be happy to know they can legally homeschool their children. It's essential to ensure they comply with Pennsylvania's education laws.
The person who will be acting as the educator needs to have at least a high school diploma or its equivalent. Parents must also file a notarised affidavit with the local superintendent before starting the homeschool programme. The affidavit should, among other things, assure that subjects will be taught in English and outline the proposed education objectives by subject area. Parents of children with special needs must also get their education plan approved by a state-certified special education teacher or licensed clinical or school psychologist.
Children have to be taught 180 days a year, and there are various compulsory courses that need to be taught depending on the student's school level. Parents must also keep a portfolio that includes documentation like a log, student work samples and standardised testing. This portfolio must be submitted annually to be evaluated by a licensed psychologist or a teacher certified by the state.
Alternatively, parents can choose to employ a private tutor to take on the homeschool responsibilities. They can also choose to enrol their child in a satellite of an accredited day or boarding school. These two options still allow children to be taught at home, but it lowers the responsibility placed on parents.
Special-needs education in Philadelphia
The School District of Philadelphia provides an extensive range of educational services and support for students with special educational needs in public schools. These services include learning support, emotional support, autistic support, life skills support and multiple disabilities support. While all public schools are required to admit children with special needs, parents should consider the standard of facilities and support available in the schools in each area and choose a neighbourhood accordingly.
Outside the public school system, Philadelphia has a number of excellent private schools that practise inclusive education. The city also has several schools that cater to specific disabilities, such as schools for students with visual or hearing impairments or students with other educational needs.
Tutoring in Philadelphia
Tutoring is common among students in Philadelphia. There are a vast number of options available to students who require extra help with specific school subjects or general school support. Some of the top tutoring companies in Philadelphia include Philly Tutors (Tutor Delphia) and Sylvan Learning of Philadelphia. Parents who don't want to work through a tutoring service will find that there are also a number of private tutors in the city, ranging from retired teachers to university students.
►Learn more about the best family-friendly Areas and Suburbs in Philadelphia
Are you an expat living in Philadelphia?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Philadelphia. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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