New Philadelphia Parents Face Our City’s Failing School System

As more 20- and 30-somethings decide to stay in the city to raise their children, Philly's school problem isn't just a big issue—it's the only issue.

If you’re a parent, and you take your kid to play in one of those toddler soccer leagues at Sister Cities Park just off the Parkway, and you sometimes notice a mysterious brunette who doesn’t have a child on the team watching the game, and if that ever freaks you out, then I’m sorry. Because that woman is me—an upstanding, tax-paying non-weirdo, I swear—and I’m standing there because Sister Cities Park on soccer Saturdays is a very reassuring place for me, and for all the other would-be parents in Philadelphia.

That park is sort of magical, I think, representing the best of both worlds for a certain swath of Philadelphians: a lush arena that could be taken right out of anybody’s leafy, kid-filled suburban childhood, set in the heart of the diverse, very non-suburban Philadelphia we’ve chosen to call home.

Of course, Sister Cities is hardly the only place one can find the reassuring presence of so many young families integrating themselves into city life. There are strollers everywhere you look these days, in every park and parklet, sitting in most every restaurant. The Center City District reported that in Center City alone, there were more than 21,398 births in the past decade, averaging to more than 2,000 kids a year. In 1990, just 272 kids were born in Center City.

And the stuff that’s come with them! The amenities servicing all these Gen Xers and Yers and their hordes of little post-millennials—like Sister Cities Park, yes, and mommy groups, and new playgrounds and children’s stores—have made having a toddler in Philly actually … cool.

Thus it’s pretty easy to be sold on the city as a place to raise a young family. It’s what comes after that I worry about—that many city-dwellers of a certain age worry about. We’ve heard the stories. We’ve seen the kindergarten registrations that look like one of those YouTube clips of Black Friday. The almost daily headlines addressing Philadelphia’s troubled public-education system say it all: The kid-ification of Philly has yet to really extend to our schools.

And so it’s much easier right now to focus on peewee soccer than it is to dwell on that anxiety rumbling just below the surface, the angst that hits nearly every city parent sooner or later: What are we going to do about school?