Friday, November 21, 2014

PA Ed Policy Roundup Nov 21: Wolf plans ‘to find funds’ to raise education spending

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PA Ed Policy Roundup for November 21, 2014:
Wolf plans ‘to find funds’ to raise education spending

Next PA Basic Education Funding Commission Public Hearing
Monday, November 24, 2014 at 10 AM IU#13 Lancaster

Reforming PA charters is no easy task
PLS Reporter Author: Alanna Koll/Thursday, November 20, 2014/Categories: News and Views
During the 2013-14 legislative session, Gov. Tom Corbett and the legislature eliminated the state's 50 percent pension reimbursement to charter schools, putting an end to what many called the pension "double dip.”  The elimination of the double dip marked the first time since the charter law was enacted in 1997 and the cyber charter law was adopted in 2002 that any reforms to those laws have been adopted.
“We’ve learned a lot in those 17/18 years about things that can be operated more efficiently, ways to do things better and a lot of that has been in a number of bills. Every year, in every session there has been a charter reform bill that has come up and every year it has failed for slightly different reasons in each case. Probably 85 percent of what is in the bill everyone agrees with and it is that 15 percent that has caused all the conflict and has stopped the passage of the bill,” stated Robert Fayich, executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools.
Jim Buckheit, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators (PASA), agreed that there has not been major reform to charters. “This has been a major political fight ever since the original bill was passed in ’97, there have been several attempts over 14 years plus to make some changes and every one of those has failed,” he stated. “It’s a very hard lift to do anything, any time there is a serious discussion about the issue. One side or the other rallies its troops and steps up and puts pressure on legislators. When legislators get heat from one side or the other or both sides they tend not to take action. That’s why we have been stuck in this current state for so long.”

 “If it is for a public service, for the interests of the children, why does money need to be made off their education?”
York City School District fends off privatization plan for now
Written by Emily Previti/Keystone Crossroads | Nov 20, 2014 4:22 AM
 (York) -- Governor-elect Wolf has said he’s against privatizing the city of York’s struggling public school district, and critics of the effort say there’s pressure to do that before he takes office.
If it happens, York City School District would be the first public school system in Pennsylvania, and one of just a few in the nation, to be converted entirely to charter schools.
Students, parents and teachers spent more than two hours last night protesting [the turnover of the city’s floundering public school district to a private for-profit charter school operator.
Vlonda Kearse was one of them.  “If it is for a public service, for the interests of the children, why does money need to be made off their education?” she said.
School board members delayed a vote on a contract with Charter Schools USA to allow time to get more information about the company’s plans.  But, they can do little more than stall, because they’re engaged in the state’s Act 141 program for distressed, under-performing public schools.
That law allows a receivership if district officials aren’t complying with their recovery plan.
York’s state-appointed Chief Recovery Officer David Meckley says that’s the scenario there, and that he’ll push for a receivership and then charterize the schools.

York schools poised for state’s first district-wide charterization
Keystone Crossroads/WHYY Newsworks BY EMILY PREVITI, WITF NOVEMBER 20, 2014
Students, parents and teachers spent more than two hours Wednesday night protesting the turnover of the city of York's floundering public school district to a private for-profit charter school operator.  "If it is for a public service, for the interests of the children, why does money need to be made off their education?" says teacher Vlonda Kearse.  Distrust was a common theme in the testimony of about three dozen people who testified – some, three or four times during the evening.  Desperation figured prominently, too; specifically, to keep the district intact and convey the social and educational benefits it's conferred upon students.  Ultimately, the school board did not vote on the proposed contract with Charter Schools USA. Instead, members unanimously moved to table the matter so they have time to get more information about the company's plans.

Who’s behind the York Community Foundation Charter School?
Cram Session Blog Posted on November 20, 2014 by Angie Mason
Some York City students attended last night’s meeting to oppose turning schools over to a charter operator.  At last night’s York City School Board meeting, questions came up surrounding a nonprofit entity that would be the charter holder if the school district’s buildings were turned into charter schools run by Charter Schools USA.  Charter schools in Pennsylvania have to be nonprofits. (They can then contract with other companies, which can be for-profit.)

What do we know about the nonprofit board?

"Told of the lower scores, Ron Cowell, president of the Education Policy and Leadership Council, said that it is difficult to prove causation but noted school districts had about $850 million less when they opened their doors in fall 2011 than they did the previous school year.  While some money has been restored, particularly to pay for increased pension contributions, Mr. Cowell said that school districts still are operating with hundreds of millions of dollars less than in 2010-11 for classroom spending.  “In the poorest school districts where we often find the largest concentrations of students who are English language learners and who are in circumstances of economic disadvantage, those kinds of school districts disproportionately lost greater amounts of state money,” Mr. Cowell said."
Pennsylvania student scores declined with reduced funding, test results show
By Eleanor Chute / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette November 21, 2014 12:00 AM
With school districts across the state now in their fourth year of facing fewer state and federal resources, statewide results of the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests show declines in every grade level in nearly every subject tested.  The pattern of lower scores on the 2014 PSSA tests holds true for subgroups of students who are white, black, economically disadvantaged, English language learners or are in special education.  Overall on the assessments tests, there were these declines in the percentage of students scoring proficient and advanced in grades 3-8:

Economics a factor in results of School Performance Profiles
By Clarece Polke / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette November 20, 2014 12:00 AM
The recently released state School Performance Profiles once again show a correlation between the economic makeup of top-performing districts and those in the bottom of the academic rankings in Allegheny County.  "You didn't even need to look at the scores,” acting Wilkinsburg superintendent Dan Matsook said. “All you need to look at is the market value of commercial and industrial buildings in the district and wealth-to-aid ratio to see how well those students perform."
Released earlier this month, the School Performance Profiles show academic scores of up to 107 — counting seven extra credit points — measuring factors such as student performance on state standardized tests, graduation rates, attendance rates and participation in Advanced Placement courses.  Less than a week after the profiles were released, six school districts, parents, the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools and the Pennsylvania state conference of the NAACP filed a lawsuit against the state.  The lawsuit contends the state has not sent enough money to schools and, in doing so, has turned quality public education into “an accident of geography.”

Wolf plans ‘to find funds’ to raise education spending
By Karen Langley / Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau November 21, 2014 12:00 AM
HARRISBURG — After warnings from his team about Pennsylvania’s nearly $2 billion projected shortfall, governor-elect Tom Wolf says he still plans to push to increase education funding next year, but the newly elected Democrat acknowledges the end result will depend on negotiations with the General Assembly, which even larger Republican majorities will control in January.
“The key is that we have a $29 billion budget, and with that amount of money, part of what any governor needs to do is look at priorities,” Mr. Wolf said in a telephone interview Thursday. “There’s still plenty of money to make sure that our commonwealth is spending whatever dollars it has intelligently and that we establish the right priorities.”
“Education has to be a priority,” he said. “We’re going to have to find the funds.”

"Leaders of both parties said they appreciated the overtures, which some said amounted to more communication than they got from Gov. Corbett before or even after he took office four years ago."
Wolf extends an early olive branch
AMY WORDEN, INQUIRER HARRISBURG BUREAU Thursday, November 20, 2014, 6:54 PM
HARRISBURG - There are no doubt partisan battles ahead, but for now Gov.-elect Tom Wolf is trying to set a positive tone with Republicans who control the state legislature.  Wolf, a Democrat, surprised some legislative leaders on the other side of the aisle with a phone call shortly after his election.  Then he sent a handwritten introductory note that was read aloud to Republican and Democrats in both chambers during caucus meetings.
Then he called some top lawmakers a second time.

Wolf hopes to have Cabinet in place by Jan. 20 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS POSTED: Thursday, November 20, 2014, 3:55 PM
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Pennsylvania Gov.-elect Tom Wolf says he hopes to have his Cabinet picked before his Jan. 20 inauguration.  In a brief telephone interview Thursday, the Democrat said his transition team is still in its formative stages, but that two months should be enough time to choose his top advisers.  Wolf says he hasn't ruled out keeping some of Republican Gov. Tom Corbett's Cabinet members and that the party affiliation of a candidate doesn't matter as much as his or her competence and integrity.

Top Senate Republican: We're not ruling out lame-duck session
Penn Live By John L. Micek |  on November 20, 2014 at 3:23 PM, updated November 20, 2014 at 3:43 PM
New Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman said Thursday that he's not ruling out a lame-duck session during the final two weeks of Gov. Tom Corbett's term so that lawmakers can push through bills before Gov.-elect Tom Wolf takes office.  "Tom Corbett is governor for four years, not three years and 10 months," Corman, R-Centre, said in remarks taped for broadcast Sunday on WHP-TV's "Face the State"program. "We get sworn into office on the first Tuesday [in January] and we might go to work."  Corman said he's "looking at the schedule" to determine if there's enough time for lawmakers to pull off the long-shot legislative session. For the past several years, the Legislature has sworn-off holding lame-duck sessions.  Corman was far from definitive about a legislative session, but he did hold the option open during the interview.

Task force to help Gov.-elect Tom Wolf understand, overcome a $1.85 billion shortfall next year
Penn Live By Christian Alexandersen |  on November 20, 2014 at 2:43 PM
With Gov.-elect Tom Wolf expected to face a $1.85 billion budget shortfall next fiscal year, transition staff is working to prepare him for what he will have to face during his first year in office.
The Budget Deficit and Fiscal Stabilization Task Force is being led by Mary Soderberg and Josh Shapiro. Wolf Spokesman Jeffrey Sheridan said the task force will help the governor-elect understand the complexities of the fiscal crisis his administration will face.  "The challenges that are going to face his administration and the challenges that lie ahead are really very deep and very serious," Sheridan said. "He needs people to help him understand the depth of that hole."  To understand that "hole," Shapiro, chairman of the Montgomery County Commission, said the task force must start out with the Independent Fiscal Office's long-term economic and budget outlook.

Will the GOP stop Wolf and hold Philly back?
Citypaper By Daniel Denvir  Published: 11/20/2014
Tom Corbett has bequeathed Dem­ocratic Gov.-elect Tom Wolf not only wrecked public schools, but also a projected state budget deficit of nearly $2 billion, according to last week's report from the state Independent Fiscal Office. Conservative government, that chimeric realm of low taxes and high living, was just a marketing scheme. And given Corbett's historic loss, a low-quality one.
Wolf has a mandate — low voter turnout prompts some to question how large — to reverse Corbett's deep cuts to public education. Wolf says he wants to do this partly by taxing natural-gas extraction (not ending it, to environmentalists' chagrin) and making the state income tax progressive, which translates to higher rates on the wealthy.
But Corbett's deficit means that Wolf must first dig out before he rebuilds — he cannot let deeply cut programs get cut once again. Republicans, who in the very same election expanded their majorities in the state legislature, will make that difficult. This is a more conservative iteration of a Republican legislature that mostly refused to pass a Republican governor's agenda.

Community Schools: Demonstrators rally in Oakland to support community schools across U.S.
By Eleanor Chute / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette November 20, 2014 1:08 PM
Great Public Schools Pittsburgh today rallied in favor of community schools outside the headquarters of Pittsburgh Public Schools in Oakland, one of about 15 such demonstrations across the country.  About two dozen people attended the rally, which was part of a week of action under the national umbrella of the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools. Community schools help to address social service and other needs and connect with families and community organizations to help children learn, according to rally organizers and participants.
"We cannot and will not accept the status quo," said Pamela Harbin, a Point Breeze resident with two children in city district schools. "Poor education policies that destabilize our communities is the status quo."  She said, "Research shows that sustainable community schools work because a community understands what their children and their families need."
She called for the federal government to put all new School Improvement Grants toward community schools.

Beers, bars and babies: The next generation of Philly school parents gets serious
Dark bars, craft beers, cooing babies and a basic philosophical belief in the power of public education: Meet the new generation of urban-professional parents who just may be crucial to the long-term success of the Philadelphia School District.  At two separate evening events in the city this week, throngs of young, civically minded parents gathered at bars to drink in the pros and cons of sending their not-yet-school-aged children to the district's oft-beleaguered neighborhood public schools.  For Tom Wyatt, an attorney by trade, that neighborhood school would be Andrew Jackson Elementary.  "If you visit that school, and you go talk to the leader of that school, and you interact with the teachers and you see the vibrancy of that school community, I think anyone would agree it's a wonderful place to be and it's the keystone of our neighborhood," said Wyatt, who chairs the education committee of Passyunk Square Civic Association in South Philly.

Charter debate rages on at SRC meeting
THE SCHOOL Reform Commission got an earful last night from school-choice supporters as it voted not to renew one charter and gets ready to consider applications for dozens of new ones.
The commission voted 4-1 for non-renewal of Imani Education Circle Charter in Germantown. Sylvia Simms was the lone dissenting vote. Officials cited poor performance on state standardized tests and financial woes at the K-8 school, which serves roughly 450 students.

SRC votes to close Imani charter school
MARTHA WOODALL, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER LAST UPDATED: Friday, November 21, 2014, 1:08 AM POSTED: Thursday, November 20, 2014, 10:21 PM
Despite pleas from board members and parents, the School Reform Commission voted, 4-1, Thursday night to close another Philadelphia charter school for alleged academic and financial failings: Imani Education Circle in Germantown.  Commissioner Sylvia Simms cast the dissenting vote.  Imani officials challenged the commission's findings and vowed to take the case to the state's Charter Appeal Board in Harrisburg.

SRC violated Pa. Sunshine Act, court complaint alleges
The Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools has filed suit about the SRC's action in voiding the teachers' contract last month.
the notebook Paul Socolar's Blog November 20, 2014
Advocates have filed a complaint in Philadelphia court charging that the School Reform Commission violated the state Sunshine Act when it met Oct. 6 and voted to cancel the contract of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.  The suit was filed by the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools in the Court of Common Pleas. In a statement, Lisa Haver of APPS, a plaintiff in the case, said, "The public should expect that the SRC would give adequate advance notice of such a major action, not take pains to shut the public out."  The School District has not offered a response and generally declines to comment on pending litigation.

School chief: China wants to invest in Chester-Upland
After buying the Waldorf-Astoria, the General Motors Building, and billions of dollars of U.S. Treasury bonds, the Chinese may be looking to invest in something completely different - a broke and struggling school system.  The head of the Chester Upland School District announced Wednesday that he would travel to China to work out a deal in which an elite school would pour up to a billion dollars into the Delaware County district, which is in state receivership, and the communities it serves.  The state Department of Education has expressed grave reservations about the plan, which might seem too surreal for even Hollywood. It calls for Chinese benefactors to put up staggering amounts of money to turn low-performing schools into elite academies that send students to top universities.  "If we're successful in making this work, it would change the way our district looks," said Joe Watkins, who was appointed the district's receiver by Gov. Corbett.

Prudent changes to Pennsylvania's school performance assessment are needed
Post Gazette LTE by Susana Montoya November 21, 2014 12:00 AM
The Pennsylvania school performance score was designed as an indicator of school quality but has had unintended consequences including focusing curriculum on test content and resources toward test preparation. Changes are needed to improve the assessment system.
All schools would benefit from timely notification of test results and specific feedback on test performance before the start of the next academic year. The state assessment also requires evidence of academic growth as measured by performance on PSSA and Keystone tests. Some schools are being penalized on their overall academic score for not continuing to improve even though more than 90 percent of their students score proficient or advanced on each of the state-mandated tests.  Currently, 40 percent of the school assessment score is based on indicators of academic growth. This measurement was developed to determine if underperforming schools show improvement over time. The misguided emphasis on growth for all schools results in higher-performing schools spending inordinate time and effort on test preparation. Some suggest a better model may require growth data only for underperforming schools and even decrease test frequency for higher-performing schools.

Askar was 'target' in Trombetta probe; wiretap comment goes unexplained
Beaver County Times Online By J.D. Prose  November 19, 2014 7:45 pm
According to the testimony of an FBI agent in federal court last week, Beaver County Solicitor Joe Askar was considered a “target subject” in the investigation that led to the indictment of Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School founder Nick Trombetta.  And, Askar was heard on a secret recording played in court warning Trombetta not to say anything before telling him, “I’m supposed to be representing the county and I’m representing you,” while the two discussed private office arrangements, potential tenants and lease agreements for an office building at 1000 Third St., in Beaver.  That building is owned by the county, according to county assessment records, but the National Network of Digital Schools (NNDS), which Askar also represents, holds a lease-buy agreement on it. Vince LaValle, the county commissioners’ chief of staff, said NNDS is paying back almost a quarter of a $4 million nearly 10-year-old bond directly to the bank so no money comes into the county.

"At one point, Askar warned Trombetta not to say anything before telling him, “I’m supposed to be representing the county and I’m representing you.”  Askar was also heard discussing responses to a media organization’s request for information regarding NNDS. “Those are great talking points,” Trombetta told him. “You got it down good.”
During one call, Askar tells Trombetta, “If we had anything to worry about, the IRS would be up our asses, believe you me."
Misconduct complaints filed against Askar, three other attorneys in Trombetta Probe
Beaver County Times Online By J.D. Prose Posted: Thursday, November 20, 2014 5:30 pm
A former business associate of indicted Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School founder Nick Trombetta has filed complaints with the state Supreme Court’s disciplinary board against Beaver County Solicitor Joe Askar and three other attorneys with whom Trombetta claims to have had privileged conversations that were secretly recorded by investigators.
Moon Township resident Michael Barney filed the complaints of professional misconduct Nov. 14 against Askar, who also represents the Trombetta-created National Network of Digital Schools in Rochester; former PA Cyber attorney Tim Barry; and Leo Daly and Ralph Monico, lawyers with the Pittsburgh firm Grogan Graffam, who used to represent NNDS.
Barney asked the board to send an investigator to monitor proceedings at next Tuesday’s continued hearing in Trombetta's case. “The evidence forthcoming will assist in having a thorough investigation into the professional conduct” of each of the attorneys, Barney wrote.
Trombetta, who faces 11 federal charges, is trying to get a federal judge to toss recordings made by the FBI involving discussions with the four attorneys. Trombetta is claiming that the attorneys represented him so those recorded talks should fall under attorney-client privilege.

"Another central challenge for Williams’ candidacy is education. Williams may be the most prominent Democratic education reform champion in the state. His failed 2010 gubernatorial bid was centered on his charter-friendly reform agenda, and bankrolled to the amazing tune $3.65 million by an education reform PAC known as Students First.
Which direction to take Philadelphia’s public schools is an explosive and divisive question, with many passionate adherents on either side of the debate. My sense, though, is that education reform advocates have lost a bit of momentum in Philadelphia over the past 18 months or so, as the financial struggles of district-run schools have received extensive attention, and many Philadelphians have concluded (for good reason) that the rapid expansion of charter schools has played a critical role in those struggles. To be clear: That’s just my read on the city’s mood. I’ve seen no polling data either way on this question. But if Williams is on the wrong side of public sentiment now on the schools question, he could be in for a long race. At minimum, he’ll have to contend with a fired-up Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, which sees him as a poster child for education reform."
Tony Williams’ Fragile Juggernaut of a Campaign
The veteran state senator enters the race with a lot of support, and a lot of vulnerabilities.
State Senator Anthony H. Williams launched what looked like a juggernaut of a mayoral campaign last night in a large hall at the visitor’s center on Independence Mall packed with elected officials, fundraisers, lobbyists, operatives and other assorted power players.
With Alan Butkovitz bailing, and City Council President Darrell Clarke still on the sidelines, Williams has become the mayoral front-runner almost by default (though Lynne Abraham’s strong opening yesterday bears watching). When political insiders talk about Williams, they talk about tactical advantages like establishment support, a credible base in West Philly, the prospect of big outside money and, as Dave Davies just put it, “very favorable racial math” as the only high-profile black candidate in the race (so far).

Allentown School District cuts graduation project requirement
By Sara K. Satullo | The Express-Times on November 20, 2014 at 8:18 PM
The Allentown School Board voted to eliminate its graduation project requirement starting with the class of 2017.  Students graduating this spring and next school year still have to complete a project, according to the district.  With the advent of the Pennsylvania Common Core standards and the Keystone Exams, the Pennsylvania Department of Education has eliminated the requirement starting with the class of 2017.

Missing ACT tests are found
Inquirer by Susan Snyder POSTED: THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 20, 2014, 5:42 PM
Remember those missing ACT exams?
They’ve finally shown up at the Iowa-based testing service’s headquarters, but officials there say they have no idea where the test sheets have been all this time.  Their whereabouts over the last two months remain a mystery - at least as far as ACT officials are saying.  Test results for 182 students who took the college readiness exam at Upper Darby High School on Sept. 13 were declared missing late last month, though parents had been asking questions for longer than that.

Opinion: UNC Students should be skeptical of Teach For America
Daily Tarheel November 20, 2014
Teach For America is ubiquitous at UNC. In 2013, 57 Tar Heels joined the corps, making UNC the sixth-largest provider of teachers for the program in the country that year. In recent years, between seven and eight percent of graduating seniors at UNC applied to join the program.
Are these students making a mistake? Given the decision of the Durham Public Schools system not to renew its contract with TFA, and with the next program application deadline approaching on Dec. 5, the UNC community needs to have an open conversation about the value and shortcomings of the program.  TFA teachers are imbued with the best of intentions; however, we believe that TFA is a highly flawed program.  Many UNC students will do great work through TFA, but all students should tread carefully before submitting their next application to an on-campus recruiter.

Guess the percentage of cable news education guests who are actually educators
Washington Post Answer Sheet Blog By Valerie Strauss November 20 at 7:07 PM  
Can you guess the percent of evening cable news guests who are brought on camera to discuss education issues who are actually educators? Well, someone did the math and came up with this: Nine percent. Yes, 9 percent. And that was high if you looked at the results for single networks.
Media Matters, a progressive nonprofit, analyzed how many educators were included in substantial discussions of U.S. education policy on evening cable news shows between January 1, 2014 and October 31, 2014. They looked at shows on CNN, MSNBC and Fox, including The Situation Room, Erin Burnett OutFront, Crossfire, Anderson Cooper 360, CNN Tonight, The Ed Show, PoliticsNation with Al Sharpton, Hardball with Chris Matthews, All In with Chris Hayes, The Rachel Maddow Show, The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, The Five, Special Report with Bret Baier, On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, The O’Reilly Factor, The Kelly File, and Hannity.

“Circuit Rider” Lawrence Feinberg to visit LMSD on 11/25 to speak about PA school funding
Lower Merion School District Announcements Posted: November 18, 2014
With school funding a hot issue in the Pennsylvania gubernatorial race, an alliance of state education leaders is engaged in a campaign to build support for changing the way the state pays its school bills. During the yearlong campaign, 11 "circuit riders" will attempt to build support among current superintendents, business managers, and school board members for a movement for education-funding changes.  Please join us on Tuesday, November 25 at 8:30 AM as "circuit rider" Lawrence Feinberg will speak at the District's Legislative Committee meeting in the District Administration Building Board Room.
Click here for a recent article on about the circuit riders.

Register Now – 2014 PASCD Annual Conference – November 23 – 25, 2014
Please join us for the 2014 PASCD Annual Conference, “Leading an Innovative Culture for Learning – Powered by Blendedschools Network” to be held November 23-25 at the Hershey Lodge and Convention Center in Hershey, PA.  Featuring Keynote Speakers: David Burgess -  - Author of "Teach Like a Pirate: Increase Student Engagement, Boost Your Creativity, and Transform Your Life as an Educator", Dr. Bart Rocco, Bill Sterrett - ASCD author, "Short on Time: How do I Make Time to Lead and Learn as a Principal?" and Ron Cowell. 
This annual conference features small group sessions (focused on curriculum, instructional, assessment, blended learning and middle level education) is a great opportunity to stay connected to the latest approaches for cultural change in your school or district.  Join us for PASCD 2014!  Online registration is available by visiting

January 23rd–25th, 2015 at The Science Leadership Academy, Philadelphia
EduCon is both a conversation and a conference.
It is an innovation conference where we can come together, both in person and virtually, to discuss the future of schools. Every session will be an opportunity to discuss and debate ideas — from the very practical to the big dreams.

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