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Brace Yourselves: Philly Cited As Model for Public Education

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In an Urbanite magazine article titled "Eastern Promises," Brennan Jensen (with reporting by Next American City's Alex Vuocola) makes a case for a partnership between Johns Hopkins and a public school in Baltimore by analogizing it to a Philadelphia public school. Naturally, we're conversant with the issues surrounding public education in Baltimore (cf. The Wire, season 4), so we weren't initially surprised to see the two cities compared. The school systems have a depressing number of similarities.

But in this case, Philadelphia get serious positive attention for its Penn Alexander School, with its "gaudy test scores" and "families clamoring for slots." We might beg to differ with the emphasis in the description of the neighborhood—"a part of town long synonymous with decaying Victorian homes, intergenerational poverty, and struggling schools"—simply because it's out of date now that you can score gluten-free cookies at neighborhood groceries.

David Andrews, dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Education, tells Urbanite that Elmer Henderson is "a very parallel type of model" to Penn Alexander—"a very high performing school as an anchor for redeveloping a community."

But what does redevelopment mean?

Indeed, property values in the Penn Alexander enrollment zone have tripled since the school opened, according to the Penn Institute for Urban Research. Along the way, the neighborhood's demographics have changed dramatically: The number of African American students living in the zone has dropped by 61 percent, while the population of white students has more than doubled... Penn Alexander also has half as many economically disadvantaged students as does Lea Elementary, its closest educational neighbor.

Jensen asks: "Will Henderson-Hopkins be as powerful an engine of gentrification?":

Back in Philadelphia, Penn Alexander's popularity could offer a glimpse of East Baltimore's future. In 2011, the Philadelphia school district announced that some of Penn Alexander's lower grades were at capacity and that children living in the catchment zone could be sent to much lower-performing schools nearby. The reaction was dramatic, with hundreds of residents protesting.

If that is East Baltimore's future, as inspired by Philly, we apologize. Because if that was the engine of gentrification, it sure was clanky.
Eastern Promises [Urbanite]