Penn GSE in Philadelphia

Our commitment to active, on-the-ground engagement in Philadelphia is a reflection of the University-wide values expressed in the Penn Compact 2020. Penn GSE is not just located in Philadelphia—it is of Philadelphia. 

Dean Pam Grossman stands outside the Penn Graduate School of Education.


“Philadelphia is at the heart of national conversations about education reform and the future of public schools. At Penn GSE, we’re committed to putting our research to work to develop teachers, leaders, and resources that can help unlock opportunities for the children of Philadelphia.

We partner with schools in small and large ways to work towards social justice—always endeavoring to leverage the expertise of the larger research university in service of a better education for all.”

Penn GSE Dean Pam Grossman

What We Do

The University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education is deeply involved in Philadelphia schools. It is crucial to our mission that Penn GSE faculty and students engage in all levels of education, both formal and informal, in traditional and alternative settings, to better learn how we can solve the challenges of urban education and contribute to the growth and well-being of our citizens. More than a third of our faculty work in or with Philadelphia public schools on issues ranging from improving the quality of writing instruction to teaching coding as part of the elementary school curriculum.

In any given year, we are involved in about 500 activities in almost 250 schools across Philadelphia. Additionally, we take part in over 70 community activities in over 65 locations.

Where We Are

A map of Philadelphia showing school catchment areas with darker shades of red to indicate areas where Penn GSE has students or researchers working

View a map of our activities in Philadelphia

Who does the work highlighted on the Penn GSE in Philadelphia maps?

  • Our students bring a wealth of personal and professional experiences to Penn GSE. We have master’s and doctoral students taking part in Penn GSE training partnerships in more than 110 schools and 54 community organizations across the city.
  • Our alumni often stay in the city of Philadelphia to continue the work begun at Penn GSE. Our alumni include teachers and leaders in the School District of Philadelphia and city charter networks.
  • Our faculty and staff include expert researchers, policymakers, and practitioners addressing the local, national, and international educational issues of our time. Over one third of our full-time faculty and staff are working with local schools, community organizations, and the School District of Philadelphia to contribute to the knowledge, skills, and understanding of effective educational approaches to address the needs of urban schools, students, and communities.

About Philadelphia: Challenges & Successes

The challenges faced by those living and learning in our city are many, and include …

  • High rates of child and family poverty: Of major U.S. cities, Philadelphia has the largest proportion of families living in deep poverty in the nation.
  • An increasing emphasis on alternative education systems: In 2017-18, less than half of the city’s 202,538 public school students were enrolled in District K-12 schools, with over one third of all Philadelphia public school students enrolled in charter schools, according to the School District of Philadelphia.
  • Elusive progress on student achievement: Sixty-seven percent of students graduate high school in four years, according to the District. That is an increase from a few years ago, but according to Federal data, still rates behind other large U.S. cities and well below the state average of 86.1% and national average of 84%.
  • In Philadelphia alone, an estimated 245,000 adults lack basic literacy, but there is only one education opening for every 430 low-literate adults who aren’t proficient enough to tackle high school–level work, according to federal and city data. 

Despite these and many other challenges, examples of excellence and hope abound. In recent years, citywide programs have had a powerful impact:

  • High school dropout rates have decreased.
  • Unemployment in the city has dropped by half—from 12% in 2012 to 5.2% in fall 2018—with higher wages for professionals and larger numbers of available entry-level jobs.

Within this complex social and political context, the need for quality educational programs that have an enduring impact on learning and achievement, and upon future opportunities, has only become clearer. The investment of Philadelphia’s powerful institutions of higher education is essential to the well-being and success of its youth.

Penn Futures Project: Investing in Children & Communities

The Penn Futures Project is an ambitious and unprecedented initiative by three professional schools at the University of Pennsylvania—the Graduate School of Education, the School of Nursing, and the School of Social Policy & Practice—to collaboratively address pressing social issues that affect Philadelphia’s most vulnerable young people and their families.

Launched in 2015, the Penn Futures Project was born of the knowledge that solutions to our country’s most complex challenges require a multifaceted approach. Rather than continue to seek answers for vulnerable populations in isolation, faculty, students, and staff are working on cross-professional teams, identifying synergies and learning how education, healthcare, and social well-being intersect in practice.

The project is also fostering innovative collaborations with community organizations, local businesses, and government agencies across Philadelphia. The success of the initiative will make the University of Pennsylvania a national hub for integrating public data, which is currently collected and analyzed by field, so that it can be used more effectively in the service of children and families.

The Penn Futures Project is a model for graduate education around the country. It represents the future of professional practice and strives to improve the lives of Philadelphia children and families, enriching neighborhoods and our city as a whole.

Exterior and playground of the Lea School in West Philadelphia.


Office of School & Community Engagement

The Office of School and Community Engagement (OSCE) at Penn GSE directly supports the mission of the School and the University in engaging meaningfully and intentionally with the city of Philadelphia—and with documented impact. Our aim is to facilitate and support partnerships with schools and communities in order to improve the educational outcomes and overall well-being of children and youth in Philadelphia.

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