The Laboratory Charter School, Part 1


I recently attended an open house of the Laboratory Charter School, a local charter school that has several sites, one of the largest being in my neighborhood of Northern Liberties. The Northern Liberties school goes from K to 8. I had urged a few of my friends with toddlers to attend and consider the charter school a possible venue for their children’s education. I myself attended out of professional curiosity.

I was impressed. In fact, I’d say that the school does a lot of things that are worth emulating in any urban school. I was going to discuss them in one post, but it got insanely long, so I’m actually going to start my first post series: “Things I Like About the Lab School, Or Some Reflections on Urban School Reform.”

Stay small.

sigh by weaker vesselThe average class size is 20 to 25 students, and there is only one class per grade, setting the total school population at around 200.

While I’m well-versed in all the support for the small-school reform movement, I do remember that there’s research suggesting that 200 is a threshold in terms of community familiarity; a population below 200 generally allows everyone to at least recognize and see with some regularity everyone else in the community, above 200 that overall face-recognition is lost. It seems to me that staying, then, that staying within that boundary could be pretty advantageous in cultivating the culture and spirit of a school.

Interestingly, a parent remarked that a class of 25 could be considered unwieldy. At my private school, my class sizes tend to range from 15 to 20. The principal made the point, however, that the problems of a larger class size are circumvented when you have a well-managed class within a culture of orderly protocol.


14 thoughts on “The Laboratory Charter School, Part 1

  1. Nicole Robinson

    I must say I am too impressed with the Lab School mission. This school should be used as a model for the Philadelphia School District.


  2. Mona Lafosse

    I registered my children for Kindergarten at the Laboratory Charter School and I was very impressed. Those of us in the group for kindergarten registration were informed that we would have a greater chance at acceptance considering the empty slots for kindergarten. I have not received a letter or anything regarding acceptance and you never get a human at the main phone #. I have driven to the site at Bryn Mawr ave and the doors are always locked. Do you know if they have closed or not? Your help is greatly appreciated.


  3. Sorry. I don’t have any official ties with the school. I suspect their unavailability may simply be because it’s the vacation season, and a lot of their staff and faculty aren’t around.

    I’d just keep persisting until you get an answer.


  4. Teacher

    I was a teacher at the Lab School as it is known to those who attend it. While the classes are small, safe, and they have fabulous scores, I would not recommend it.

    As a teacher from 4th-8th Grade here are my observations, The kids have a test in EVERY subject on Fridays. They have at least 3 hours of Homework a night for those in 4th-8th grade. There is No Recess (no matter what they actually say) even for Kindergarten, Kids line up to use the bathroom (a whole class at a time, and during that time there is no talking and they are handed toilet paper as they are not trusted with it in the stalls).

    I found it to be more of a military school with little warmth or wiggle room for individuality. If students don’t do well (80% or higher) on their Math and Reading tests, they are removed from some of their specials like PE or Art for extra help. Students have 2 hours of Test Prep every day so they can do well in the Standardized tests.

    In general teachers are over stressed, and are encouraged to be mean and yell at the kids when they are not being perfect little automatons. Coming from a Private School background I felt ill at having to work for this school. If you want your kids to be exceptional students and get into excellent High Schools, it is a great place. If your child needs a challenge and is willing to work hard, a great school. If you want your child to enjoy his afternoons, have a loving environment in which to grow, and have a childhood, then this is not the school for you.

    If you want a bit of both, send your child to this school for 6th grade to 8th grade, but not for Elementary School.


    • Former Lab School Parent

      I commend you for speaking up and telling the truth about the Lab School. Although the children are academically exceptional, they suffer greatly socially, mentally, and physically. My son attended Lab School from Kindergarten to the fourth grade. In the early grades K-2, he did fine, but I suspect that was because he had really great teachers who knew how to balance work and squeeze in some fun without alerting the other teachers or management. Starting in the 3rd grade, he began to have headaches and stomachaches all the time. He was miserable. To make a long story short, I took him out and put him in another Charter School, he still got high marks, but had recess, gym, music, art, and lunch periods. He is now in High School, another Charter School, it is challenging, but he is doing well. He even told me not to put my other son who is due to start kindergarten in the Lab School, he says that he never wants to see the school or any of the teachers again. As a parent I now feel like I allowed my son to be abused in a way. He now tells me how they spoke to him like he was trash, how they had to eat lunch at their desks in 10 minutes as punishment of not getting the scores the school wanted and that they were made to run up and down a flight of steps as punishment. I would not reccomend this school to anyone, I don’t care how high their test scores are.


  5. I must admit I’m torn about how I feel about the school. On the one hand, I feel the teaching practices and policies of the school are effective; far more effective than what we see in most other schools in the district. For kids who come from backgrounds of want struggling to catch up to the cultural advantages of more affluent peers, they may need to be asked to hunker down and work harder and sacrifice more.

    But the cost to their childhoods does seem high, perhaps unreasonably so. What may seem like an either/or proposition may not necessarily turn out to be so. We need, perhaps, to look rigorously for “alternative energy” sources for the classroom. I stress “rigorously,” though, even as I cringe at the preponderance of charlatans, pollyannas, and nincompoops in the field of progressive education.


  6. Teacher

    I am a former teacher of the Lab School. I will say that the admistration makes working at the Lab School not enjoyable. They do not care about the teachers, only test scores. We have professional development days where all we do is talk about test scores. The rules are so ridiculous that I am surprised all children do not have anxiety issues. The children are really great and I feel sorry for them that they do not have recess every day. They also have some of their special classes taken away from them to have more reading and math help. Some of these kids that are receiving extra help are really smart students that are missing out on gym, art, and music. I decided not to return to the Lab because the it cares too much about test score then the actual teaching staff and students. This is a place where a kid can not even act like a kid.


  7. Teacher

    I am also a former student of the Lab School. It was a nightmare. Inches of dust everywhere, children stuffed into desks that were way too small for them, no lockers but 20 pounds of books to haul around all day, no recess, teachers who never smiled (because you were encouraged to be mean all the time). I would never send my child here. Forget going to an open house. Ask to see a classroom in operation. And all they care about are tests, test prep and scores. I would never teacher there again!


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