Thursday, August 9, 2012

“Unless state policymakers change direction in a hurry and focus on providing adequate resources for teaching and learning in every school and for every child, more cuts are on the way for all our public schools. But students, parents, and teachers shouldn't be blamed for failing to swim when our leaders have emptied the pool.”

“Only public schools, operated by school districts with elected school boards are open to all children and fully accountable to all taxpayers.”
Baruch Kintisch, Director of Policy Advocacy, Education Law Center, in testimony before the PA House Democratic Policy Committee, July 17, 2012

Daily postings from the Keystone State Education Coalition now reach more than 1600 Pennsylvania education policymakers – school directors, administrators, legislators, legislative and congressional staffers, members of the press and a broad array of education advocacy organizations via emails, website, Facebook and Twitter.

These daily emails are archived at
Follow us on Twitter at @lfeinberg by Miriam Hill WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 8, 2012
Is momentum for public schools building in Philadelphia? Or will families largely continue to flee to the suburbs once their children reach school age? This story by my colleague Kristen Graham about Jill and Mark Scott and son Henry offers hope that for the first time in decades, families will stay in the city and send their children to the local public school.

“Unless state policymakers change direction in a hurry and focus on providing adequate resources for teaching and learning in every school and for every child, more cuts are on the way for all our public schools. But students, parents, and teachers shouldn't be blamed for failing to swim when our leaders have emptied the pool.”
Posted: Thu, Aug. 9, 2012, 3:01 AM
City schools' real problem Opinion By Baruch Kintisch
Baruch Kintisch is director of policy advocacy for the Education Law Center.
Local and state education officials have been pretending that school results are independent of school resources - that children can swim in a pool that's been drained. Policymakers have focused on test scores, restructuring plans, and other outwardly visible factors. But they don't seem to be asking the more fundamental questions: What resources do Philadelphia children need to succeed? And how can we give those resources to every child?

“Across the nation, charter schools have struggled to produce results which are believably better than their Board of Education competitors. Meanwhile, problems with corruption and fraud are rife. And no wonder. If you put a pot of government money on the sidewalk, while ordering the government not to oversee its spending, because government can’t possibly know what it’s doing – then don’t be surprised if a lot of that money walks off.”

CHARTER SCHOOLS: A School For Scandal?

Philadelphia Public Record BY TONY WEST/ Last week the FBI charged one of the pioneers of the charter-school movement, June Hairston Brown, and four colleagues with defrauding $6.5 million from three Philadelphia schools she had founded: Agora Cyber Charter School, Planet Abacus Charter School and Laboratory Charter School of Communication & Language – all taxpayers’ money.
In April, the School Reform Commission terminated the charters of three more city schools – Truebright Science Academy, Arise Academy and Hope Charter School – citing poor academic performance and unqualified personnel. One of them, Truebright Science Academy, turned out to be a disguised unit in a national chain of charter schools run by a secretive Turkish Muslim preacher, Fethullah Gulen, whose “science” teachings include creationism.
Trouble was brewing in other charter schools even earlier – literally, in the case of the Harambee Institute of Science & Technology Charter School, which in 2010 was caught running an after-hours club in the school cafeteria.
Last Friday, the School District’s overseer of charter schools Thomas Darden was forced out after a steamy School Reform Commission meeting — a move the School District kept secret for three days.
The time has come to start asking hard questions about an educational revolution which may have gone sour.

Pennsylvania's cyber charters have had problems with academic performance for years. Only two of the 12 cyber charters operating in the state in 2010-11 met the academic standards under the federal No Child Left Behind act. Achievement House has not met those standards for the last seven years, and the state said the school had only a 24 percent graduation rate.”
Posted: Thu, Aug. 9, 2012, 3:01 AM
State presses Chesco cyber charter for improvements
By Martha Woodall Inquirer Staff Writer
Pennsylvania's education secretary has told a cyber charter school based in Chester County that it must address deficiencies in its operations to obtain a new, five-year operating charter.
In a decision last week, Secretary Ronald Tomalis criticized the Achievement House Cyber Charter School in Exton for poor academic performance. He said the charter would be renewed but ordered the school to tackle shortcomings in curriculum, teacher evaluations, and technology policies; provide audits and other financial information; and submit plans for improving academic performance and the graduation rate by Oct. 31.
If the actions are not taken by the deadline, he said, the Education Department would begin proceedings to revoke the charter.

“To sum up: The taxpayers of Pennsylvania are paying for school advertising, lobbying, high CEO salaries, shareholder profits , Michael Milkin and bad education.”
Cyber charter schools not good for Pennsylvania
York Daily Record Letter to the Editor by SANDRA GORDON 08/07/2012
Charter schools are needed in failing school districts. Maybe even in non-failing districts. Hopefully they will be effective, well run and nonprofits. They give choices. They can focus on the interests of certain students -- art, sciences, music, even community participation. They have a real advantage in that the parents sending their children to these schools have a strong inclination to participate in their children's education.
But cyber charter schools present a host of problems and are, I believe, overrepresented in Pennsylvania. They are, however, strongly supported by Gov. Corbett and his administration.

“There is no high stakes testing in Finland, no charter schools, no vouchers, no merit pay. All schools have nurses and regular checkups and serve three meals a day.”

Charter Schools and Kudzu

Posted: 08/08/2012 5:34 pm
On this, the 20th anniversary of the opening of the first charter school, kudzu comes to mind.
In the 1930s the Soil Conservation Service (SCS) paid farmers $8 per acre to plant this Japanese vine whose deep root structure helps reduce erosion and enrich a depleted soil.  Farmers planted more than 1.2 million acres.  Twenty years later the SCS declared kudzu a virulent, parasitic weed.  Its rapid growth shades the native flora, blocking their access to life-sustaining light. As these plants die, nutrients previously used by them become available to kudzu.

“This new law shifts limited state funds away from public school districts, by siphoning valuable dollars from the general fund, via tax credits, that could otherwise be used for public schools.  As a result, millions of dollars will not be available to restore funding levels of important education programs,”
EITC 2.0: Education tax credit means easy money by staff writer Damon C. Williams August 7, 2012
Application process to fund scholarships simple for Pa. businesses
It just got that much easier for businesses participating in the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Program to recoup a portion of the $50 million Governor Tom Corbett earmarked for the initiative. The plan represents an expansion of sorts to the Earned Income Tax Credit plan, also referred to as “EITC 2.0.”  The front end of the program is designed for parents and caregivers to easily transfer students from perennially low-performing schools to better learning institutions, while reimbursing them for the costs related to the move. On the back end, the program allows for companies to receive tax credits for donating funds to eligible schools.

A student already enrolled in private or cyber school could receive scholarships simply by living in that area.  "The first concern I have is that the language of the bill doesn't say that students are currently attending the schools that are on the list," said Susan Spicka, who is running for Kauffman's seat in the House. "The scholarships can go to a student already attending private schools. That doesn't seem like a good faith effort to help students in struggling schools."

EITC 2.0 Scholarship program gets mixed reviews

Chambersburg Public Opion Online By BRIAN HALL, @bkhallPO 8/8/12
Supporters of the state's new scholarship program for students in underachieving schools say the program gives children a chance for a better education. Others say it's just a scaled-back version of an earlier voucher program state legislators have been unable to pass.
The new Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit program will provide students who live within the boundaries of determined "low-achieving" schools a chance to apply for funding to attend a school approved by Pennsylvania Department of Education.

EITC 2.0 Few takers for would-be transfer students from ‘low-achieving’ schools
Norristown Times-Herald By TONY FIORIGLIO Posted: 08/07/12 05:45 pm
NORRISTOWN — Despite a ' border=0 v:shapes="_x0000_i1025"> request by the Pennsylvania Department of Education for schools not ranked among the bottom 15 percent in the state to “open doors to students trapped in low-achieving schools,” the majority of local schools will not be participating in the program and will not be accepting transfer students from schools designated as “low-achieving.”
While a formal list of districts that are participating in the program has not yet been posted, representatives from multiple districts in the area have already confirmed the lack of participation from their districts. The formal list will be posted on the website of the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development after Aug. 15.

Pa. House committees to vet proposed pension reforms
Central Pennsylvania Business Journal By Jason Scott August 07. 2012
The state House Finance and State Government committees will hold a joint hearing next week to discuss several proposals to reform the public pension system.
The 1 p.m. hearing Aug. 14 will be held in Room 140 of the Main Capitol.
In June, Chester County Republican Rep. Warren Kampf introduced twin bills that would move state pensions toward market-driven 401(k) plans. House Bill 2453 would make changes for state employees. HB 2454 would address school district employees.
The bills would most immediately address the expansion of pension plans by requiring all new state and school employees to be enrolled in defined contribution plans, such as 401(k) plans, that shift more burden of paying for it onto the employee.

Prior to her work with the Gates Foundation Vicki Phillips was PA Secretary of Education under the Rendell administration

The Gates Foundation Writes: How Do We Consider Evidence of Student Learning in Teacher Evaluation?

 Anthony Cody  
Guest post by Vicki Phillips.
This post tackles the second topic in a five part dialogue with representatives of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It is also posted over at the Gates Foundation's Impatient Optimist blog. A response from Anthony Cody will come tomorrow.
Education debates are often characterized wrongly as two warring camps: blame teachers for everything that's not working in our schools or defend all teachers at all costs.
But there's actually serious work going on in the middle, where there's a lot of common purpose around helping teachers improve their practice and students improve their learning. The fundamental question is how do we reliably measure learning and use a range of quality feedback to provide great support for teachers to continually improve.

Privatizers Bare Their Faces Without Shame
Diane Ravitch’s Blog August 8, 2012
Last week we saw a report from Reuters about the conference for equity investors held at the posh University Club in Manhattan.  And we learned there about the many new frontiers for making a buck by jumping into the public education marketplace.
Here is another article from the same conference, this one in Education Week, reporting with a straight face that the equity investors see new opportunities to make money when the new national tests inevitably produce low scores.

How Online Learning Companies Bought America's Schools
The Nation by Lee Fang  November 16, 2011
Standing at the lectern of Arizona State University’s SkySong conference center in April, investment banker Michael Moe exuded confidence as he kicked off his second annual confab of education startup companies and venture capitalists. A press packet cited reports that rapid changes in education could unlock “immense potential for entrepreneurs.” “This education issue,” Moe declared, “there’s not a bigger problem or bigger opportunity in my estimation.”
Moe has worked for almost fifteen years at converting the K-12 education system into a cash cow for Wall Street. A veteran of Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch, he now leads an investment group that specializes in raising money for businesses looking to tap into more than $1 trillion in taxpayer money spent annually on primary education. His consortium of wealth management and consulting firms, called Global Silicon Valley Partners, helped K12 Inc. go public and has advised a number of other education companies in finding capital.

Posted at 06:00 AM ET, 08/09/2012

New school year: doubling down on failed ed policy

Washington Post Answer Sheet Blog By Valerie Strauss
This was written by Lisa Guisbond, a policy analyst for the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, known as FairTest, a Boston-based organization that aims to improve standardized testing practices and evaluations of students, teachers and schools.
By Lisa Guisbond
Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt credited his teammate, Jamaican runner Yohan “The Beast,” Blake, with helping him improve by beating him in earlier races. The defeats forced Bolt to reflect on what he needed to do differently to improve. Bolt’s victory modeled a powerful lesson: Always try to learn from your mistakes, rather than repeat them.
President Obama and Arne Duncan (AP)As children head back to school after a decade of No Child Left Behind, will they benefit from lessons learned from this sweeping and expensive failure? Will schools do anything differently to avoid NCLB’s narrowed curriculum, teaching to the test and stagnant achievement? Sadly, instead of learning from the beastly NCLB, the Obama administration is doubling down on a failed policy.

Fairtest: Testing Reform in the News July 31 - Aug. 7, 2012

Testing Reform Allies:
After reading this week's installment of clips, remember to take advantage of the many excellent fact sheets, some recently updated, on all facets of assessment reform available for free at  They are designed to support your grassroots public education work, including writing letters to the editor about these articles, posting on blogs and communicating with policy makers.

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