Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Pennsylvania Education Policy Roundup for April 3, 2013: Are high-stakes tests wrecking our schools? “Why I won’t let my son take the PSSA” goes viral; strikes a chord with over 32,000 hits

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Keystone State Education Coalition:
Pennsylvania Education Policy Roundup for April 3, 2013:
Are high-stakes tests wrecking our schools? “Why I won’t let my son take the PSSA” goes viral; strikes a chord with over 32,000 hits

Opt Out Goes Viral
Yinzercation Blog April 2, 2013
We’ve gone viral again! And the Governor is listening. On Sunday, the Post-Gazette published Kathy Newman’s terrific Op Ed about why she is opting her son out of high-stakes-testing. [See “A Plague of Cheating”] In the past 48 hours, over 23,000 people have shared that story on Facebook from the paper’s website and it has generated an incredible nationwide discussion with over 300 public comments. Yes, over twenty-three thousand people have not only read about our grassroots movement but have shared the story (we know the actual number of readers is much, much higher and still climbing fast as I type).
So it comes as no surprise that Governor Corbett’s office is paying attention. The press secretary for the PA Department of Education, Tim Eller, has a letter-to-the-editor in today’s paper responding to the Op Ed. It is full of incomplete statements and rhetorical red herrings, and demonstrates the way in which this administration continues to purposefully mislead the public. So let’s take a closer look, shall we? [All references to Post-Gazette, 4-2-13]

"Why I won't let my son take the PSSA" goes viral
Philly Daily News by Will Bunch Tuesday, April 2, 2013, 8:32 PM
Last night I mentioned that at the same time as cheating scandals erupt in Atlanta and elsewhere, a rebellion is growing against excessive standardized testing of our schoolchildren, noting that some teachers in Seattle are refusing to administer the tests there. Tonight I came across a piece from right here in Pennsylvania (OK, it's western Pennsylvania...does that count?) that has gone viral, showing 26,000 "likes" on Facebook, which boggles the mind.
It's called "Why I won't let my son take the PSSA," although I especially like the sub-head, "The opt-out movement is growing because high-stakes tests are wrecking our schools." :Here's a particularly juicy snippet:

Here’s a response by Tim Eller, Press Sec’y for the PA Dept of Education….
PSSAs are valid
Post Gazette Opinion By TIM ELLER, Press Secretary, Pa. Department of Education April 2, 2013 12:10 am
Before addressing the flaws of Kathy M. Newman's thinking ("Why I Won't Let My Son Take the PSSA," Forum, March 31), a correction is necessary: Gov. Tom Corbett didn't cut $1 billion from education. Since taking office, the governor has increased state support of public schools by $1.25 billion.  The writer's critique of the PSSAs is quite disturbing. Expecting educators to be held accountable for student performance is unacceptable? Expecting students to graduate with the skills and knowledge to be successful in life is unheard of?

State Board of Ed drops graduation project requirement, leaves it up to districts
ANDREW SHAW / The York Dispatch  04/01/2013 01:16:19 PM EDT
The state Board of Education has made another change on the Keystone Exams.
The board gave final approval to the end-of-course high school assessments in mid-March, formally installing the Keystones as the replacement for the 11th-grade Pennsylvania System of School Assessment exams starting with the class of 2017.
While that was a formality - districts have been administering Keystones in a pilot phase for two years - the board also decided to remove the graduation project requirement. The state board wanted districts to focus on Keystones and not have to juggle the additional mandate of a graduation project, said Department of Education spokesman Tim Eller.
"Allowing that to be a local decision was more appropriate," Eller said.

Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials supports changing pension laws
By Eleanor Chute / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette April 2, 2013 10:55 am
The Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials today announced it supports making a "significant change" in state pension laws.  PASBO, which is made up of school employees who handle finances and operations, said it supports the restructuring of future benefits for current employees, which Gov. Tom Corbett advocated in his budget address in February.
"Without addressing both current and future costs of mandated pension expenditures for school employees, we will have to devote $2,500 per student by FY 2017-18 just for retirement costs," PASBO executive director Jay Himes, PASBO executive director, said in a press release.

Distressed Districts: Judge names Paul Long receiver of Duquesne City School District
By Mary Niederberger / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette  April 2, 2013 4:20 pm
Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Judith L.A. Friedman appointed Paul Long as the receiver for the Duquesne City School District, paving the way for him to carry out his plan to send the district's K-6 students to another district, possibly Pittsburgh.  The Pennsylvania Department of Education petitioned the court in March to name Mr. Long receiver. He has been serving as the district's chief recovery officer under the state Financial Recovery Act for school districts.

 “Our district’s 80-plus online courses — in all core areas, electives, honors and AP subjects — are taught by certified public school teachers. Some students come to the high school for the full day, some for a handful of class periods and others not at all. Students can choose which learning environment best meets their needs, and they are supported by their teachers in whatever venue they pick. Cyber students are eligible to participate in extracurricular activities and interscholastic sports.”
Delivering Instruction Online
What to expect when your schools blend traditional and cyber learning
AASA School Administrator BY LISA ANDREJKO April 2013
Lisa Andrejko, president-elect of Urban Superintendents Association of America, is superintendent of the Quakertown Community School District
Three months into our school district’s inaugural venture in online course delivery, the board of education used a live, remote connection on an oversized projection screen at its evening meeting to see and hear one of our first high school cyber students describe her virtual learning experiences.

Guess who’s funding the “parent trigger”? Hint: save more, live better, dismantle democratically governed public education……
Parent Trigger - Public Schools, Private Agendas: Parent Revolution
Frying Pan News by Gary Cohn on April 2, 2013
Gary Cohn is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who has worked for the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun and Wall Street Journal. Reach him with comments or ideas at
At first glance, it is one of the nation’s hottest new education-reform movements, a seemingly populist crusade to empower poor parents and fix failing public schools. But a closer examination reveals that the “parent-trigger” movement is being heavily financed by the conservative Walton Family Foundation, one of the nation’s largest and most strident anti-union organizations, a Frying Pan News investigation has shown.
Since 2009, the foundation has poured more than $6.3 million into Parent Revolution, a Los Angeles advocacy group that is in the forefront of the parent-trigger campaign in California and the nation. Its heavy reliance on Walton money, critics say, raises questions about the independence of Parent Revolution and the intentions of the Walton Family Foundation.

Jersey Jazzman Blog Tuesday, April 2, 2013
Who Runs The Reformy Campaign Money Machine?
The reformy-minded campaign finance machine is becoming a fact of American political life. Michelle Rhee's political giving around the country has been well-documented, as have the lobbying efforts of members of the educational-industrial complex such as K12, Inc and Jeb's Bush's FEEWhat I don't think we've really determined, as of yet, is just how well-coordinated and far-reaching this reformy intrusion into politics is. Case in point: through sheer coincidence, a reader set me on a trail of a series of coordinated campaign donations that is simply astonishing in its breadth and depth.

Scandal in Atlanta Reignites Debate Over Tests’ Role
New York Times By MOTOKO RICH Published: April 2, 2013
There are few more contentious issues in public education than the increased reliance on standardized testing.  In the context of a fiery debate, the Atlanta school cheating scandal, the largest in recent history, detonates like a bomb, fueling critics who say that standardized testing as a way to measure student achievement should be scaled back.

Texas Parents Join Forces to Reduce Testing
Education Week K-12 Parents and the Public Blog By Michele Molnar on April 2, 2013 4:15 PM
Many Texas moms are giving their state's 15 mandatory tests for high school graduation a resounding "E" for "excessive," and it looks like the legislature is ready to listen to them.
Organized as Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment (TAMSA), the moms (and some dads, too) scored their first victory on March 27 when a bill that would reduce the number of mandatory "end-of-course" tests in Lone Star State schools passed the House, and now they are pressing on.

Tennessee bill: Welfare benefits depend on child’s school performance
theGRIO by Carrie Healey | April 1, 2013 at 1:58 PM
A new piece of legislation, if passed, will penalize low-income families in Tennessee by reducing their welfare benefits if their child performs poorly in school.  Sponsored by Sen. Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville)and Rep. Vance Dennis (R-Savannah), the bill“requires the reduction of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) payments for parents or caretakers of TANF recipients whose children fail to maintain satisfactory progress in school.”
Should a low-income family’s child not meet satisfactory levels in the subject areas of mathematics and reading or language arts, the family’s welfare benefits will be reduced by 20 percent.  The legislation (Senate Bill 132, House Bill 261) applies to low-income families, with no mention of penalties to middle or high-income families whose children perform poorly in school.

The racket with standardized test scores
Washington Post Opinion By Eugene RobinsonPublished: April 1
It is time to acknowledge that the fashionable theory of school reform — requiring that pay and job security for teachers, principals and administrators depend on their students’ standardized test scores — is at best a well-intentioned mistake, and at worst nothing but a racket.
I mean that literally. Beverly Hall, the former superintendent of the Atlanta public schools, was indicted on racketeering charges Friday for an alleged cheating scheme that won her more than $500,000 in performance bonuses. Hall, who retired two years ago, is also accused of theft, conspiracy and making false statements. She has denied any wrongdoing.

Crucible of Change in Memphis as State Takes On Failing Schools
New York Times By MOTOKO RICH Published: April 2, 2013
…..Tennessee’s Achievement School District, founded as part of the state’s effort to qualify for the Obama administration’s Race to the Top grant, is one of a small handful of state-run districts intended to rejuvenate chronically struggling schools. Louisiana’s Recovery School District, created in 2003, is the best-known forerunner, and this year Michigan also set up a state district for failing schools. In February, Virginia legislators passed a measure to set up a similar statewide district.  The achievement district is a veritable petri dish of practices favored by data-driven reformers across the country and fiercely criticized by teachers’ unions and some parent groups.
Most of the schools will be run by charter operators. All will emphasize frequent testing and data analysis. Many are instituting performance pay for teachers and longer school days, and about a fifth of the new district’s recruits come from Teach for America, a program in which high-achieving college graduates work in low-income neighborhood schools. And the achievement district will not offer teachers tenure.

Districts Struggle To Purchase Materials For Common Core
By Gavin Paterniti ( , The Jamestown NY Post-Journal April 1, 2013
For school districts attempting to meet the abundance of new education mandates set forth by the state, anticipated expenditures continue to rise.
It has been found that the funding received by districts implementing these mandates, such as Annual Professional Performance Review plans and the new Common Core Learning Standards curriculum, is being far outpaced by the costs required to do so.
In Chautauqua County, the full effect that Common Core implementation will have on school budgets remains to be seen. However, the consensus is that, much like their APPR plans, area districts will not have sufficient funding to implement the standards without redirecting their current resources.

Network for Public Education
Webinar: How to Organize a Grassroots Group; Saturday, April 13 at 2:30 pm EDT
Many of those who have joined our network want to get involved in grassroots work to change the direction of education in our communities. We are now planning a series of web forums to share concrete ways to do just that. The first will focus on how to organize grassroots groups.
Phyllis Bush and members of the North East Indiana Friends of Public Education will share their experiences in getting organized. Formed just two years ago, this group helped elect teacher Glenda Ritz as state superintendent of education.
The webinar will take place on Saturday, April 13, at 2:30 pm Eastern time, 11:30 am Pacific time. You can register here. You will be emailed a link to the webinar a day or two before the event.

Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School FAST FACTS
Quakertown Community School District

Keystone State Education Coalition Prior Posting from Monday, May 21, 2012
PA Charter Schools: $4 billion taxpayer dollars with no real oversight
Charter schools - public funding without public scrutiny
Proposed statewide authorization and direct payment would further diminish accountability and oversight for public tax dollars

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