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Philadelphia schools consider enrollment shift

PHILADELPHIA — When it is time to enroll in school in Philadelphia, students face a bewildering array of choices: Neighborhood public school? Cyber school? Charter? Private or religious school? What about a specialty district school focused on science?

Then, applying for admission can entail reams of red tape. Forms, requirements, and due dates vary depending on the number and kinds of schools involved.

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District officials are now wondering if universal enrollment can simplify things. The increasingly popular but contentious model would offer families a central online gateway to research their options and submit one application with ranked preferences, regardless of school type.

Opponents say the system actually reduces choice because a computer algorithm generates a single match for students. But supporters contend it can streamline planning for districts and level the playing field for residents without the means to master the registration process.

“There’s many different deadlines, many different applications, and it really privileges the parents who have the time resources and connections to make that work,” said Lori Shorr, the city’s chief education officer.

Rolled out during the past few weeks in Washington, D.C., and Newark, N.J., universal enrollment has also been adopted in cities such as Denver and New Orleans. But the concept has met a lot of resistance in Philadelphia.

Opposition stems partly from a proposal that enrollment would be managed by a private education reform group. Critics wonder about possible bias favoring charter schools; they also object to giving students’ personal data to a third party.

Philadelphia students can attend their neighborhood schools with no problem. If they want to attend a school elsewhere in the city a paper application is required. About 60 percent of students apply to special-admission high schools.

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