Thursday, January 8, 2015

PA Ed Policy Roundup Jan 8: Odds just "less than 1 in 100 million"? At 1 in a quadrillion+ you get to investigate yourself…

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup for January 8, 2015:
Odds just "less than 1 in 100 million"?  At 1 in a quadrillion+ you get to investigate yourself…

Let's stop this talk of 'great' or 'failing' schools and talk about student needs
the notebook Commentary By Elliot Seif on Jan 7, 2015 11:22 AM
Elliott Seif is a longtime educator, author, trainer and School District volunteer. He has a master's degree in Social Science Education from Harvard University and a PhD in curriculum research from Washington University. Teaching and learning policies, resources, and ideas can be found at his website.
Charter school proponents often suggest that the ills of urban education can be solved by simply creating more charter schools. And even more people believe that, if we could just have better teachers in all urban public schools, we could increase student achievement and success for all students.  But are schools and teachers really at fault? My own examination of urban children and their families suggests a very different reality.

Fund schools to meet standards
Letter by Kathy Manderino By The Tribune-Review Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2015, 9:00 p.m.
The writer, a former Democrat member of the state House from Philadelphia, manages the Campaign for Fair Education Funding.
Regarding The Associated Press news story “Gap between rich, poor schools in Pennsylvania doubled in 4 years” : It is becoming increasingly clear that our commonwealth confronts a significant public policy question that lawmakers and Gov.-elect Wolf must tackle: How should our commonwealth fund public education? This latest analysis, conducted by the AP, is one in a long line that drives home the point that our state's current approach to funding schools just does not work.  Across the state, class sizes are getting bigger and bigger. Programs are being cut and student performance is stagnating. School districts are in crisis. The existing funding system places untenable burdens on local taxpayers. Students and taxpayers need a sustainable, predictable and long-term funding method based on the real costs necessary to meet state academic standards.  The good news is that leaders across a wide array of interests and from every corner of the commonwealth are joining together to help lawmakers address this challenge. The Campaign for Fair Education Funding ( ) includes more than 40 education advocacy organizations, teachers and administrators, representatives of charter schools and traditional public schools, urban and rural interests, business groups and organized labor, faith-based groups and community groups. Our members agree that every public school must have the resources necessary to enable every child to meet state academic standards, be prepared for post-secondary success and become productive, knowledgeable and engaged adults.
Education spending was a key piece of the Wolf campaign; now can he deliver? by DAVE GARDNER Published: January 6, 2015
Governor-elect Tom Wolf may find himself caught between a rock and hard place with his pledge to “fully fund” Pennsylvania’s public educational system due to an expanding state budget deficit which could top $2 billion by inauguration day.  Jeffrey Sheridan, Wolf’s press secretary, stands by Wolf’s pledge to channel more money to the schools, and that the governor-elect’s pledge was simple but firm. Sheridan calls education the foundation for sustainability, and as a result he says Mr. Wolf will find a way to fund the school budget pledge.  Sheridan accuses the Corbett administration of making $1 billion in educational cuts. Mr. Wolf, he says, must now restore this funding. Mr. Corbett’s supporters point out that much of this funding was temporary stimulus money that the state declined to make permanent — not a “cut.”  During the campaign, Mr. Wolf’s commercials said that money from a natural gas severance could provide the revenues needed to restore school funding.  “Governor-elect Wolf also wants to create a fair funding formula that considers the unique needs of each school district,” adds Sheridan.

Back to work: The Legislature and Tom Wolf have much to do
Post Gazette By the Editorial Board January 8, 2015 12:00 AM
Pennsylvania’s General Assembly took the oath of office Tuesday, creating a political copy of Congress: Just as a Democrat sits in the Oval Office and Republicans preside over both the U.S. House and Senate, so too a Democrat, Tom Wolf, soon will take the governor’s chair while Republicans hold solid majorities in both chambers of the Legislature.  Let’s hope the result won’t resemble the gridlock and acrimony that have paralyzed Washington. There is too much at stake in Harrisburg.

After banner year, PA school pension fund still deep in red
By Eric Boehm | PA Independent  January 5, 2015
Even after a fantastic year on the stock market, the pension fund for Pennsylvania’s public school employees is deep in the red.  The Public School Employees Retirement System reported in December that it earned 14.91 percent for the past fiscal year, nearly doubling the fund’s 7.5 percent annual benchmark for investment earnings. As a result of the robust year in the market, PSERS’ unfunded liability has declined slightly, but the fund is still owes $35 billion in benefits beyond what its assets can cover.

Booze, pensions are linked, Turzai says in TV interview
By John L. Micek |  January 7, 2015 at 3:54 PM
Legislation that would reform Pennsylvania's cash-strapped public pension system and get the Keystone State out of the booze business will play a key role in a final agreement on next year's state budget, new House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, said Wednesday.  In an interview taped for broadcast Sunday on WHP-TV's "Face the State" program, the House's new presiding officer gave the bills equal weight and called them "of equal importance to the people of Pennsylvania." 

Eighth Philly educator charged in standardized test cheating scandal
Another Philadelphia educator has been charged in the widespread standardized-test cheating scandal that's been the subject of continued investigations by Attorney General Kathleen Kane.
In an official release, Kane said Wednesday that a grand jury recommended charges against Lolamarie Davis-O'Rourke, 43, of Williamstown, New Jersey – the former principal at Alain Locke Elementary in West Philadelphia.  The A.G.'s report says Davis-O'Rourke "allegedly created an environment ripe for cheating" from 2009 to 2012 by helping students change answers, directing teachers to help students switch answers, and "changing the locks to a storage room so that only she and the building engineer could access stored test booklets."
She also changed students' answers and instructed teachers keep track of student performance to identify so called "bubble students"– those to target in the cheating conspiracy. 
Arrested Wednesday, Davis-O'Rourke was charged with tampering with public records or information; forgery; tampering with records; and criminal conspiracy.

Blogger Commentary: Attorney General Kathleen Kane's press release on the arrest includes the following:
"PSSA tests and grades are produced by Data Recognition Corporation (DRC), which flags improbable answer change patterns for the Department of Education. DRC found that in 2011 when Davis-O'Rourke was principal, the probability that erasure patterns occurred naturally for four grades and subjects was less than 1 in 100,000,000, according to the presentment."
Just 1 in one hundred million?
"A state forensic analysis found that the odds that erasure patterns were random on the reading portion of Chester Community Charter School seventh-graders’ 2009 PSSAs were between one in a quadrillion and one in a quintillion. Analyses done in 2010 and 2011, according to the Department of Education, also found “a very high number of students with a very high number of wrong-to-right erasures.” But the state left the charter to investigate itself."
Citypaper July 2013: How Pennsylvania schools erased a cheating scandal
Tainted scores throw an entire way of running schools into question.
Citypaper By Daniel Denvir  Published: 07/18/2013
The odds that 11th-graders at Strawberry Mansion High School would have randomly erased so many wrong answers on the math portion of their 2009 state standardized test and then filled in so many right ones were long. Very, very long. To be precise, they were less than one in a duodecillion, according to an erasure analysis performed for the state Department of Education.
In short, there appeared to be cheating — and it didn’t come as a total surprise. In 2006, student members of Youth United for Change protested being forced out of class for test-preparation sessions and won concessions from the district. In 2010, principal Lois Powell-Mondesire leftStrawberry Mansion; after her departure, test scores dropped sharply. 

Charter opinion expected at Erie School Board meeting
Erie Times-News By Erica Erwin  814-870-1846 January 7, 2015 09:29 AM
An Erie School District lawyer this evening is expected to offer an opinion on whether the Erie School Board should renew the charter for the Erie R.I.S.E. Leadership Academy Charter School.
Tim Sennett is expected to make a recommendation to the School Board at a special meeting set for 5 p.m. at the district's administration building, 148 West 21st St., said Matthew Cummings, the district's director of communications. The board can vote on the renewal as early as tonight.
The School Board notified the school in April that its charter might not be renewed after an interim audit by the state Auditor General's Office found concerns, including lack of financial oversight, missing records and poor student academic performance. An internal investigation by the district found similar problems.  The final audit from the Auditor General's Office, issued in September, highlighted the same concerns but also noted changes in policies and procedures the school has made to improve since April.

Koch Bros-backed group to push "3 P's" - pensions, paycheck protection and booze privatization: Wednesday Morning Coffee
Penn Live By John L. Micek | Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on January 07, 2015 at 8:47 AM, updated January 07, 2015 at 8:52 AM
Good Wednesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.
The American Future Fund, a super PAC founded by ex-Mitt Romney aides that has ties to the billionaire Koch Brothers, has come to play in Pennsylvania.  The group plans a statewide multimedia and advocacy blitz during the coming legislative session aimed at "[reminding] legislators of their commitments to support “3 Ps:” pension reform, paycheck protection, and liquor privatization,"according to a statement posted to it s website.

Former charter school staffers claim they've been stiffed
THE NOW-SHUTTERED Walter D. Palmer Leadership Learning Partners Charter School doesn't have a phone, and that's making life quite messy for the school's former employees, one ex-staffer said yesterday.  The lack of a phone means the state's unemployment office can't verify the many claims filed by staffers seeking relief now that they're jobless, said Sultan Ashley, who worked in community relations and partnership development for Walter Palmer.

Real estate agents get upbeat tour of city schools
KRISTEN A. GRAHAM, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER LAST UPDATED: Thursday, January 8, 2015, 1:08 AM POSTED: Wednesday, January 7, 2015, 4:37 PM
The grand houses of Northwest Philadelphia aren't a tough sell for real estate agents. The schools are another matter.  Lifelong West Mount Airy resident Rich McIlhenny, a RE/MAX real estate agent, had not set foot inside a neighborhood public school until Wednesday, when he and others whose job it is to sell the city toured five of its schools.  The aim was to show that, very real budget crisis aside, the city schools can be a solid option for many families.
"I do a lot of my work in this area, and people are always asking, where are the good catchments?" McIlhenny said outside Emlen Elementary in East Mount Airy.

The Latest News about the York City Situation
Diane Ravitch's Blog By dianeravitch January 7, 2015
The public schools of York City, Pennsylvania, are on a precipice. They have a deficit. The state, contrary to its constitutional obligation, refuses to help. The district is in receivership. A judge approved the receiver’s plan to hand the schools over to a Florida-based for-profit corporation. How the corporation can make a profit from a district in financial distress is not clear. The district school board wants to appeal. The judge will decide in the next week whether he will permit an appeal from his ruling.

School board rejects Delco labor report
Inquirer by Kathy Boccella LAST UPDATED: Thursday, January 8, 2015, 1:08 AM
Ridley school board rejects labor report
RIDLEY PARK The Ridley school board unanimously rejected a state fact-finder's report on how to end its stalemate with the teachers union, which had accepted the report.  The Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board fact-finder recommended that the district and teachers split the difference on what each side proposed in wage increases.

Baldwin-Whitehall to post all school employees' salaries on website
Post Gazette By Margie Smykla January 8, 2015 12:45 AM
The 2014 salaries of all Baldwin-Whitehall School District employees will be posted on the district's website in early February, or after W-2 wage statements are distributed.
Board member Martin Schmotzer, who made the motion to approve the posting at Wednesday's school board meeting, said it was in the interest of transparency, and not malice.
The posting is to be repeated every year. 'Taxpayers have a right to know,'' Mr. Schmotzer said.

Classical: Acclaimed Charter High School for the Arts choir performs at Cathedral Church
By Steve Siegel Special to The Morning Call January 7, 2014
The Lehigh Valley has fine choirs, and the Touring Choir of the Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts, one of the youngest in the area, ranks up there with the best of them.
A 30-voice mixed choir with students chosen by audition, the touring choir serves as artistic ambassador for the school. It's performed in such hallowed venues as the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., King's Chapel in Boston and Avery Fisher Hall in New York.
While Cincinnati might not rank quite as hallowed, it certainly proved provident for the touring choir, which was awarded third place in the seventh annual World Choir Games hosted by that city in summer 2012. The choir was the highest ranking high school choir in the Mixed Choir Youth Division, against a field of high school and college choirs representing nine countries.

Grammy Foundation recognizes General McLane music program
Erie Times-News By Erica Erwin  814-870-1846 January 7, 2015 11:42 AM
EDINBORO -- Bruno Mars.  Lorde.  Michael Bublé.
General McLane High School?
The high school isn't being honored with a golden Grammy gramophone like those awarded every year to artists who dominate the airwaves. But it is being recognized on a national stage.
The Grammy Foundation, which works to highlight the value of music and arts education, among other issues, has selected General McLane High School as a semifinalist for the Grammy Signature School Award. The school is one of 120 schools nationwide to receive the honor and is the only one in northwestern Pennsylvania to be recognized.
"We are pleased to have our music program recognized among the best in the nation," district Superintendent Richard Scaletta said. "Our instructors do an incredible job of developing talent within our students. Our community fully supports our arts program and is proud of its success."
The Grammy Signature Schools program, created in 1998, recognizes top U.S. public high schools that are making an outstanding commitment to music education during an academic school year. General McLane High School joins some of the best music programs in the country, including those offered at performing arts schools.

Cashing In On Kids website January 6, 2015
In a year-end wrap-up in Salon, Jeff Bryant pulls together a list of the year's charter scandals that, if evidence mattered to self-proclaimed education reformers, would change the minds of those who continue to fight every effort to rein in unchecked charter school expansion and to provide better oversight.  Bryant reports that in 2014 the public learned that certain badly run charter schools:
·         are used by unscrupulous operators in Michigan as a tax-funded piggy bank and
·         are running amok in Florida (here and here), Pennsylvania (here and here) and Ohio (hereand here)
Most important, the year 2014 saw:
"the steady drip-drip from local news sources turned into a fire hose in May when a blockbuster report released by Integrity in Education and the Center for Popular Democracy revealed, “Fraudulent charter operators in 15 states are responsible for losing, misusing, or wasting over $100 million in taxpayer money.”
So, what's up for 2015? We know we'll see charter school lobbyists offering lip service and recommending various self-policing measures, but behind the scenes they will fight every effort to rein in abuses. What we also hope to see -- and what taxpayers and students deserve -- is a serious effort by public officials to protect taxpayers' and students' interests by providing adequate oversight of charter schools.

In Wisconsin, GOP bill would make failing public schools charters
By Jason Stein and Erin Richards of the Journal Sentinel Jan. 7, 2015
Madison — The state would convert failing public schools to independent charter schools and cut off all state payments to failing private schools for at least four years, under a draft bill offered by Assembly Republicans Wednesday.  The sweeping measure would create a new board to assign letter grades of A through F to all publicly funded schools in the state and then lay out eventual penalties for those receiving D's and F's. In a shift from current law, the measure would allow private schools to use a different exam from the state test to measure student learning, though it would create a process for comparing those differing tests.

ED and Dept of Justice release guidance to help ensure English learner students receive equal access to a high-quality education
NSBA website January 7, 2014
In an effort to remind states, school districts, and schools of their legal obligations to ensure all students have equal access to a high-quality education, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and Department of Justice today issued guidance specifically addressing English learner students and their families with limited English proficiency.    To help schools better serve these students, the new guidance includes tools and resources and contains a fact sheet on the federal law, information about schools’ obligations, and a toolkit for effectively identifying English learner students.  Noting the increase in number of English learner students, ED’s press release states that almost 5 million students in the United States are English learners—about 9 percent of all public school students. From 2002 to 2011, the percentage of English learners in public schools increased in 40 states and the District of Columbia, and currently three out of every four public schools enroll English learner students.

Study Finds Reading to Children of All Ages Grooms Them to Read More on Their Own
New York Times By MOTOKO RICH JAN. 8, 2015
Cue the hand-wringing about digital distraction: Fewer children are reading books frequently for fun, according to a new report released Thursday by Scholastic, the children’s book publisher.
In a 2014 survey of just over 1,000 children ages 6 to 17, only 31 percent said they read a book for fun almost daily, down from 37 percent four years ago.  There were some consistent patterns among the heavier readers: For the younger children — ages 6 to 11 — being read aloud to regularly and having restricted online time were correlated with frequent reading; for the older children — ages 12 to 17 — one of the largest predictors was whether they had time to read on their own during the school day. 

Pennsylvania Earns a B-Minus on State Report Card, Ranks Eighth in Nation
Education Week STATE HIGHLIGHTS REPORT January 2, 2015
After a one-year hiatus from issuing state grades, the 19th annual edition of Quality Counts—Preparing to Launch: Early Childhood’s Academic Countdown—resumes Education Week’s long-standing tradition of grading the states on their performance. This year, those grades return in a newer, leaner form that focuses on outcomes rather than on policy and processes. A state’s overall grade is the average of its scores on the three separate indices tracked by the report.
This year, Pennsylvania finishes eighth among the 50 states and District of Columbia, with an overall score of 80.1 out of 100 points and a grade of B-minus. The nation as a whole posts a grade of C.

Adams Co. PSBA Basic Education Funding Listening Tour Breakfast
JAN 14, 2015 • 8:30 AM - 10:30 AM
Jan. 14, 8:30-10:30 a.m. at the Gettysburg Area Middle School, 37 Lefever St., Gettysburg, PA
PSBA Members Register online:

PILCOP Special Education Seminar: Dyslexia and Other Learning Disabilities
Philadelphia Tuesday, January 20, 2015, 1:00 - 4:00 P.M.
United Way Building 1709 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, 19103
Tickets: Attorneys $200  General Public $100   Webinar $50   
"Pay What You Can" tickets are also available    
Speakers: Sonja Kerr; Kathleen Carlsen (Children’s Dyslexia Center of Philadelphia) 
This session is designed to provide the audience with information about how to address 1) eligibility issues for children with learning disabilities, including dyslexia and ADHD, 2) encourage self-advocacy and 3) write and implement meaningful IEPS (what does Orton-Gillingham really look like?)   This session is co-sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania School of Policy and Practice. The University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy & Practice is a Pre-approved Provider of Continuing Education for Pennsylvania licensed social workers. 
Questions? Email or call 267-546-1316.

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.

PSBA Master School Board Director Recognition: Applications begin in January
PSBA website December 23, 2014
The Master School Board Director (MSBD) Recognition is for individuals who have demonstrated significant contributions as members of their governance teams. It is one way PSBA salutes your hard work and exceptional dedication to ethics and standards, student success and achievement, professional development, community engagement, communications, stewardship of resources, and advocacy for public education.
School directors who are consistently dedicated to the aforementioned characteristics should apply or be encouraged to apply by fellow school directors. The MSBD Recognition demonstrates your commitment to excellence and serves to encourage best practices by all school directors.
The application will be posted Jan. 15, 2015, with a deadline to apply of June 30. Recipients will be notified by the MSBD Recognition Committee by Aug. 31 and will be honored at the PASA-PSBA School Leadership Conference in October.
If you are interested in learning more about the MSBD Recognition, contact Janel Biery, conference/events coordinator, at (800) 932-0588, ext. 3332.

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