Monday, March 10, 2014

PA Ed Policy Roundup for March 10, 2014: PA charter school bill gets an ‘F’

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Keystone State Education Coalition
Pennsylvania Education Policy Roundup for March 10, 2014:
PA charter school bill gets an ‘F’

Stand Up for America’s Public Schools  On Twitter@4PublicSchools

Did you catch our weekend postings?
Saturday, March 8, 2014
PA Ed Policy Roundup March 8: March Madness Begins in Our Schools: It's Test Prep Time/Keystone Exams: Chapter 4 revisions now final and effective/ NYT: Court Orders Kansas Legislature to Spend More on Schools

"SB 1085 entirely dismantles local control over charter school authorization and growth, and tilts an already uneven playing field further in favor of rapid and aimless charter expansion."
Charter school bill gets an ‘F’
Lancaster Online Letter BY DAVID LAPP Sunday, March 9, 2014 6:00 am
David Lapp is a staff attorney with the Education Law Center, a statewide legal advocacy organization dedicated to ensuring all of Pennsylvania’s children have access to a quality public education.
Significant problems exist with Pennsylvania’s current charter school policy, and we agree with state Sen. Lloyd Smucker that charter school reform is needed in the commonwealth.  We recognize the significant effort that has gone into both SB 1085, which the Senator is sponsoring, and HB 618. But neither bill addresses the fundamental problems with Pennsylvania’s current charter school law and both would do more harm than good. Specifically, the bills would spread already inadequate state funding even thinner and further damage neighborhood schools, the very choice depended on by most families in the state.  Charters schools, quite simply, have not been the panacea that many predicted. Some charters are excellent, just like some traditional public schools are excellent. But the charter sector taken as a whole is doing no better, and by many measures is doing worse, than school districts.

Parents join forces to opt kids out of standardized tests
Lancaster Online By KARA NEWHOUSE | Staff Writer Sunday, March 9, 2014 6:00 am
Last year, Manheim Township momRenee Heller was one of 15 parents in Lancaster County to opt her children out of PSSAs, the state-mandated tests for elementary and middle schools. This year, if her efforts with a new group are successful, she'll be one of dozens.  Lancaster County Opt Out held its first public event last month and administrators at four local school districts have already reported increased numbers of parents opting their kids out of the upcoming PSSAs. Some say that trend could wind up hurting schools.  It all started with a movie screening. "Standardized," a documentary about standardized tests and public schools, played at Zoetropolis theater in Lancaster in January. The discussion afterward turned to the little-known provision of state education law that excuses students from state assessments if parents object to them for religious reasons.  A small but growing number of local parents, like Heller, have used that exemption as a vehicle to express frustration with standardized tests in recent years.

Can opponents of standardized school tests succeed?

By Eleanor Chute / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
By virtually any measure, the movement to opt out of state standardized tests in Pittsburgh is small.  In Pittsburgh Public Schools last year, about 20 parents refused to let their children take state standardized tests.  One of them was Squirrel Hill North parent Kathy Newman, who thinks the number could double this year, but still will remain small.  Ms. Newman and others affiliated with Yinzercation (a movement focused on improving public education in Pittsburgh) are hoping to build awareness of the testing issue rather than focusing on the number who opt out.
Yinzercation will host a showing of the movie "Standardized: Lies, Money & Civil Rights: How Testing is Ruining Public Education," at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at McConomy Auditorium at Carnegie Mellon University. The presentation is free although a donation is requested. It will be followed by a discussion.

Philly Schools: It's the principal of the thing
To paraphrase a saying that I heard once, “If you can bind up the strong leader, you can plunder the whole house.”  That’s what I see happening in the Philadelphia School District, where principals are being told they must agree to drastic cuts in pay and benefits or be subject to even more Draconian measures. The contract they’ve been offered is barebones, to say the least.
Among the details: The School District has asked principals to take a 15 percent pay cut. The principals are currently year-round employees, but under the new pact, they would be forced to take what amounts to an annual two-month furlough. The principals would also have to begin paying toward their healthcare benefits.  The principals shouldn’t feel unfairly targeted, however. The cuts are part of the District’s five-year strategy to reap $130 million in savings from the principals' union and four other district unions, including the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.
New School Reform Commission Chairman Bill Green, an appointee of Gov. Tom Corbett, has indicated his willingness to use the SRC's powers to impose terms on unions that won’t deal. In other words, the contracts being offered to the people who run our pubic schools are “take it or leave it.” The negotiation part is simply window dressing. 

"Investing in school readiness isn’t just the right thing to do — it’s the smart thing to do. Every dollar spent to improve early education saves at least $7 in special education costs, public assistance support, corrections expenses and lost taxes. That’s the return on investment Lancaster County taxpayers are looking for. And even more important, investing in early childhood learning will improve opportunities for disadvantaged students, and help prepare them for happy, productive lives."
We need to make sure children are ready for school
Lancaster Online Letter BY CAROL PHILLIPS and SUSAN ECKERT Sunday, March 9, 2014 6:00 am
Carol Phillips is vice chair of the Hourglass Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank based in Lancaster County. Susan Eckert, principal of the Eckert Group, is a member of the Hourglass board of directors.
There is no better investment opportunity than early childhood learning. While Lancaster County has a strong public school system, too many of our youngest children aren’t prepared for success in school, and consequently won’t be prepared for success in life. The problem is most troubling for young children in low-income families, where a slow start often translates into poor academic performance and lack of motivation throughout their entire school experience.
Consider the facts. Did you know?
• Nearly two-thirds of American children living in poverty have no books in their homes.
• A child from a high-income family will experience 30 million more words within the first four years of life than a child from a low-income family.
• Children who do not read at their grade-level by third grade are four times more likely to drop out of school.
These facts are really important to know because a child’s brain is 90 percent developed before age 5.

Debate on property tax reform continues to swirl in Harrisburg

James Murphy has watched in frustration as his school property tax bill has risen year after year.  “It goes up $200 or $300 a year,” said Murphy, of Media. “There’s no control over it. With them, it’s just spend, spend, spend, spend.”  Murphy is a member of the Rose Tree Media Taxpayers United, a grassroots group that advocates for controlled school spending and property tax reform. The group supports efforts to eliminate school property taxes while raising other state taxes.  “We would like to see ... where the taxpayers don’t have to pay the real estate taxes anymore,” Murphy said. “It should be controlled by the state to equally fund all of the public schools in Pennsylvania.”  Property tax reform is hardly a new issue, nor is it one lacking ideas for change. Agreeing on practical solution, however, has troubled the state Legislature for years

This chart shows the revenue mix for Allentown, Philly, Reading, Pittsburgh, Cheltenham, Lower Merion and Radnor school districts
Chart: Revenue Decomposition (2009-2011) of Advantaged & Disadvantaged School Districts in Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
School Finance 101 Blog by Bruce Baker

WSJ: GOP Trouble in Pennsylvania
Wall Street Journal ALLYSIA FINLEY Feb. 27, 2014 3:38 p.m. ET
Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer plans to play in the Florida and Pennsylvania governors' races this fall, which not incidentally are the most likely Democratic pick-ups. New polling suggests Pennsylvania might be a slam dunk for Democrats regardless of Mr. Steyer's contributions.  Just 34% of Pennsylvanians believe Gov. Tom Corbett deserves to be re-elected, according to a new Quinnipiac poll. By a 2-to-1 margin voters disapprove of how he's handled jobs, taxes, education and government spending. Sixty-eight percent rate Pennsylvania's economy as not-so -good or poor. Just 19% believe the economy is improving.

Corbett dismisses Wall Street Journal criticism of his record as unfounded
Gov. Tom Corbett is defending himself after an opinion piece posted on The Wall Street Journal website criticized him for having few legislative accomplishments to show for his three years in office.  The piece knocked Corbett most specifically for not achieving overhauls of Pennsylvania education policy, pensions, and taxes.  At a news conference last week, Corbett said the piece was "obviously wrong."  "Frankly, aren't you all embarrassed that somebody writes a blog like that and they haven't done their research?" he said.

West Chester charter Sankofa in disarray, district says
WEST CHESTER When West Chester's Sankofa Academy opened in 2005, its founders touted it as an African American charter school where students would excel under a curriculum infused with their history and culture.  Though some in the district harbored concerns about segregation, those at Sankofa saw an opportunity to close the racial achievement gap - starting with 400 students they predicted would enroll in the first five years.  Nearly a decade later, those numbers haven't materialized. And administrators from the West Chester Area School District - who last week recommended revoking Sankofa's charter - say the fifth-through-12th-grade school appears to be in financial and academic disarray.
District administrators cite a litany of concerns: recent test scores that show just 5 percent of students are proficient in math and 10 percent in reading, unpaid bills sent to the district's offices, and not a single progress report from the school to the district in four years.
Enrollment this year peaked at 67 students.

11 key questions on standardized testing for Congress to answer
Washington Post Answer Sheet Blog BY VALERIE STRAUSS March 9 at 12:00 pm
The nonprofit Network for Public Education, a coalition of education organizations fighting the privatization of public schools, has asked key congressional committees to hold formal hearings on the overuse of high-stakes standardized tests as a result of federal and state laws.  The advocacy group was founded last by activists including education historian Diane Ravitch, who has become the leader of a national movement opposing corporate-inspired school reform in which student standardized test scores have become the chief metric for evaluating students, educators and schools.  Here is the letter that the network sent to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee; letters are also being sent to other committees and individual legislators:

They still don’t get it: Obama’s new Race to the Top contest for ‘equity’
Washington Post Answer Sheet Blog BY VALERIE STRAUSS March 7 at 11:14 am
They still don’t get it.
The Obama administration still apparently thinks — despite evidence to the contrary — that it can achieve “educational equity” by holding a contest with winners and losers.  When the $4.35 billion Race to the Top was first announced in 2009 as the administration’s chief education initiative, it was promoted as an effort to ensure that every student was “college and career ready” and to achieve “educational equity” by aggressively  ”turning around” the lowest-performing schools (or by closing them if they didn’t turn around fast enough.)

Still think that CCSS was a teacher and state-led endeavor?
Follow the Money: How Bill Gates Bought the Common Core (in one Graphic Image)
Created by Erin Osborne Honest Practicum Blog

"For a nation that has long resisted a nationalized education system, the result of this alliance among the College Board, colleges and curriculum is a convoluted, sideways approach to exactly that: a structure that teaches students a curriculum, tests them on their success, and funnels them into varied forms of higher education based on that success or the specific areas of that success."
Like the Common Core? Then You’ll Like the New SAT
New York Times Parenting Blog By KJ DELL'ANTONIA MARCH 6, 2014, 3:41 PM  8 Comments
The SAT is undergoing a major redesign, ending its longstanding reliance on knowledge of obscure vocabulary words as well as the penalty for guessing wrong, and removing the essay requirement added in 2005. It is returning to the old 1,600-point scale and reinstating the bragging rights of generations of parents who found their high scores reduced to apparent mediocrity when an additional 800 points were tacked onto the exam taken by their children.
The redesign is intended to align the test with what students learn in high school — now, in most states, based on a set of standards known as the Common Core—eliminating the need for and benefits of expensive and time-consuming prep for a test that seemed to measure nothing so much as a student’s preparation for the test. For students whose schooling might not give them the access to solid instruction and a meaningful education on those basics, the College Board, which administers the SAT, will form a partnership with the educational website Khan Academy to offer free online courses designed to help students to learn and prepare in the areas the test examines.

Kansas K-12 Funding Unconstitutional, Supreme Court Rules; Orders Review

Education Week State Ed Watch Blog By Andrew Ujifusa on March 7, 2014 11:29 AM
In a high-profile legal battle over school funding, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the state's funding system was unconstitutional because it did not provide equity in public schools, and ordered a lower court to go back and determine proper levels of funding. The supreme court did not set a deadline for this determination, however.   Plaintiffs in Gannon v. Kansas have sought major boosts to school funding on the order of $440 million in additional annual funding. The state's highest court did not order any specific increase in K-12 funding in its March 7 ruling. But it did require a state disrict court panel to make sure that inequities in the current funding system are changed. It also required legislators to restore funding to two programs aimed at providing additional aid to relatively poor districts, the Associated Press reported.  "[T]he State failed to meet its duty to provide equity in public education as required under Article 6 of the Kansas Constitution," the ruling read in its conclusion, upholding the view of the District Court of Shawnee County in Kansas.

Leading Educators Support Chicago Test Boycott

Jesse Hagopian, Teacher, 206-962-1685
Brian Jones, Teacher and Doctoral Student, 646-554-8592
Wayne Au, Professor of Education, 425-352-3797
In a public petition released today, more than fifty educators and researchers, including some of the most well-respected figures in the field of education, pledged support for the boycott of the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) by teachers at two elementary schools in Chicago, Saucedo Scholastic Academy and Drummond Elementary School and called on Chicago’s mayor and schools chief to rescind threats of punishment for those who participated in the action. 
Among the signers of the statement are former US Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, and activist and educator William Ayers. They compared the teachers’ decision to civil rights activism. “Like early participants in the Civil Rights Movement,” they wrote, “the teachers at Saucedo and Drummond who have refused to administer the ISAT have taken an enormous risk for what they believe is right.” 

PILCOP Special Education Seminars 2014 Schedule
Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia

Register Now! EPLC’s 2014 Education Issues Workshops for Legislative Candidates, Campaign Staff, and Interested Voters
EPLC’s Education Issue Workshops Register Now! – Space is Limited!
A Non-Partisan One-Day Program for Pennsylvania Legislative Candidates, Campaign Staff and Interested Voters
Wednesday, March 19, 2014 in Monroeville, PA
Thursday, March 27, 2014 in Philadelphia,PA

Auditor General DePasquale to Hold Public Meetings on Ways to Improve Charter Schools
Seeks to find ways to improve accountability, effectiveness, transparency
The the last of five public meetings will be held:
  • Philadelphia: 1 to 3 p.m., Friday, March 14, City Council Chambers, Room 400, City Hall
Time is limited to two hours for each meeting. Comments can be submitted in writing by Wednesday, Feb. 19, via email to Susan Woods at:

2014 PA Gubernatorial Candidate Plans for Education and Arts/Culture in PA
Education Policy and Leadership Center
Below is an alphabetical list of the 2014 Gubernatorial Candidates and links to information about their plans, if elected, for education and arts/culture in Pennsylvania. This list will be updated, as more information becomes available.

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