Monday, August 3, 2015

PA Ed Policy Roundup Aug 3: New PSSA levels: “all of a sudden they weren’t good teachers anymore and they weren’t good students”

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup for August 3, 2015:
New PSSA levels: “all of a sudden they weren’t good teachers anymore and they weren’t good students”

Note: PA Ed Policy Roundup may be late, intermittent or abbreviated this week depending upon the beach weather.

Interested in letting our elected leadership know your thoughts on education funding, a severance tax, property taxes and the budget?
Governor Tom Wolf, (717) 787-2500
Speaker of the House Rep. Mike Turzai, (717) 772-9943
House Majority Leader Rep. Dave Reed, (717) 705-7173
Senate President Pro Tempore Sen. Joe Scarnati, (717) 787-7084
Senate Majority Leader Sen. Jake Corman, (717) 787-1377

“Gov. Wolf has been very explicitly positive about HB504 and this may be our best chance in a generation for bipartisan compromise and an opportunity to achieve something that has been a top legislative priority for Republicans for years,” Stephen Herzenberg, executive director of the research center, said in a call with the media last week.”
Editorial: Is this finally the time for property tax reform?
Delco Times POSTED: 08/01/15, 10:04 PM EDT | UPDATED: 2 HRS AGO
Day 33 of the Pennsylvania state budget impasse, and neither side is budging.
Issues keeping apart Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and the Republican Legislature are as deep as the chasm of education funding shortfalls on which Wolf staked his campaign for governor and as entrenched as opposition to Marcellus hale extraction tax, liquor store privatization and the debate over the best way to solve the public pension crisis.  The differences are so sharp that it seems improbable the two sides can agree on anything.  But, in fact they agree in one area, and it’s an area of great potential for Pennsylvanians.  According to a report released last week by the Keystone Research Center, property tax reform holds promise as the one topic on which the two sides share common ground.  The goal that has remained elusive for three decades in Pennsylvania could be the catalyst to break the budget logjam, a guiding light to compromise and consensus.  The report comes from a study comparing House Bill 504, the property tax plan that recently passed the House, and Wolf’s property tax relief proposal included in his budget plan.

Pottstown a winner under competing property tax reform plans
By Evan Brandt, The Mercury POSTED: 08/02/15, 10:01 AM EDT | UPDATED: 2 HRS AGO
POTTSTOWN >> Homeowners in the area school district with the highest poverty rate and the lowest property values would receive the greatest relief under either property tax reform plan now under discussion in Harrisburg.  An analysis of the property tax reform plansproposed both by Gov. Tom Wolf, and the one approved by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, shows Pottstown as the area school district where homeowners would get the most relief under both plans.  This is likely because Pottstown is also the area school district with the highest student population living in poverty, the greatest local share of school funding, and the district where paying property taxes consumes the highest percentage of household income.  The analysis of both plans, which includes a breakdown of the two plans for each of Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts, was performed by the Keystone Research Center for the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center.

“Only in Pennsylvania is the extraction tax considered a partisan idea.”
Severance tax on gas drillers makes sense for Pa. opinion By Lance Haver POSTED: Monday, August 3, 2015, 1:06 AM
Lance Haver is director of civic engagement for Philadelphia City Council.
If you have been following the political question of whether Pennsylvania should pass an extraction tax on natural-gas wells, here are five things to keep in mind:
Under Gov. Wolf's proposed budget, the severance tax would be used to help fund our schools and develop sustainable energy. Without the tax, not only will our schools suffer, but we will lose an important opportunity to move toward a sustainable future.  Taxing natural-gas wells is not a contentious issue in other states. Pennsylvania is the only state that has large reserves of natural gas and/or oil that does not have a severance tax. States led by Democratic officeholders, like California, tax natural-gas wells, but so do states led by Republicans. Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma, all states led by self-described conservative Republicans, tax natural-gas wells. So do Wyoming, Alaska, Alabama, Arkansas, and Utah. Other states with a similar tax are Ohio, North Dakota, West Virginia, Colorado, and New Mexico. Even Kansas, which many believe has the nation's most conservative governor in Sam Brownback, has a severance tax on natural-gas wells. Only in Pennsylvania is the extraction tax considered a partisan idea.

Ads seek to mobilize public opinion in Pennsylvania budget battle
Lancaster Online By TIM STUHLDREHER | Staff Writer Posted: Sunday, August 2, 2015 5:45 am
 “Don’t raise taxes on Pennsylvania-made energy,” urges an ad from Citizens to Protect PA Jobs.  “Tell the legislature to get serious and pass a real budget,” says one from America Works USA.  With Republican legislators and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf stalemated on the state budget, interest groups on both sides are waging ad campaigns to win the hearts and minds of voters.   Citizens to Protect PA Jobs is an offshoot of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry. America Works USA is affiliated with the Democratic Governors Association.  The two organizations have each spent more than $1 million so far on their Pennsylvania media campaigns, primarily on television spots, spokesmen said.

“They were able to pass and do well last year and the teachers were able to teach last year and do well, but all of a sudden they weren’t good teachers anymore and they weren’t good students,” she said.  In a letter recently sent to state lawmakers, Rivera said comparing this year’s scores with previous year’s is not a “valid” comparison and may not “provide an accurate depiction of student learning or school performance,” and that scores will steadily rise in the future as students and staff get accustomed to new standards and resources.
“It is important to remember these scores represent a snapshot in time and meant to determine a baseline for measuring future growth,” Rivera stated in the letter.”
Upper Darby PSSA proficiency level at 41 percent
Delco Times By Kevin Tustin, on Twitter
POSTED: 08/02/15, 11:37 PM EDT | UPDATED: 49 SECS AGO
Only 41 percent of Upper Darby’s elementary and middle school students from the past year have performed at the proficient level on the spring Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests based on data released early to the district.  Of the approximately 5,000 third- through eighth-grade students tested in English/language arts and math on the standardized tests, 47 and 23 percent, respectively, were proficient. This equates to 2,400 and 1,100 students who earned passing marks on the respective sections.  The science test portion of the test yielded its highest proficiency score of the three subjects. Taken only by fourth- and eighth grade-students, 53 percent (897 students of 1,700) scored proficient or advanced. Fourth-grade students were 63 percent proficient while eighth-graders were 43 percent proficient.  The PSSAs administered in the spring were the first to fully incorporate the more “rigorous” PA Core Standards, which were adopted in the fall of 2013.  Pennsylvania Department of Education Secretary Pedro Rivera had expected the scores to be lower due to these new core standards, but said the department was “committed” to help increase student achievement.

“The reason for the downgrade is our lack of fund balance,” said Mid Valley Board Vice President Paul Macknosky. “The lack of a fund balance exists because the commonwealth owes us nearly $1 million in back payments.”
Mid Valley School District bond rating plummets
Scranton Times-Tribune by KATHLEEN BOLUS, STAFF WRITER Published: August 1, 2015
Facing rising pension costs and delayed state reimbursement for a construction project, Mid Valley School District saw its bond rating significantly downgraded by a major rating agency.
Mid Valley’s rating fell three notches from A3 negative, a prime rating, to Baa3 negative, which is still an investment grade rating, but in the lower medium grade category. A bond rating is an evaluation of credit risk that grades the chance of a bond defaulting. Bonds with the highest rating — AAA — carry the least amount of risk and the lowest interest rates.
In a Moody’s Investor Service Report released July 20, Mid Valley was highlighted along with eight other districts across the state for its severe financial stress.

Hazleton Area awaits $2.5M PlanCon payment from state
Standard Speaker by MARIA JACKETTI Published: July 30, 2015
Pennsylvania still does not have a budget, and for school districts such as Hazleton Area that are waiting for reimbursement on building projects, it means no checks are in the mail — and won’t be until the stalemate is resolved.  Robert Krizansky, the district’s assistant business manager and treasurer, said the PlanCon payments are figured into the district’s budget and normally would have been received in June.  Hazleton Area is awaiting approximately $11 million in reimbursement for work done on Maple Manor Elementary/Middle School, McAdoo/Kelayres Elementary/ Middle School and Hazleton Area Academy of Sciences.  “We don’t get all the money back at one time,” Krizansky said, “but we have a $2.5 million scheduled reimbursement coming for the new academic year.”

Western Pennsylvania school districts brought down by pension debt
By Yaël Ossowski  /   July 31, 2015
A frank assessment from Moody’s rating agency this week has given several Pennsylvania school districts sour financial notes, and western PA’s schools top the list.  Schools in Allegheny, Washington, and Fayette County have all been downgraded to junk status, according to the rating service’s latest report, deemed “unlikely to recover” and it seems exploding pension costs may be to blame.  Allegheny County alone has four separate school districts that have been downgraded since March, including McKeesport Area, East Allegheny, West Mifflin Area and Penn Hills school districts. They, along with the other school districts mentioned in Moody’s report, have a particular problem with mounting costs mandated by law.  The Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators and the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials put out a report last month detailing costs for the state’s school districts. They took special note of the costs that are mandated, including charter payments, health benefits, special education and costs related to retirement plans of school district employees.  According to school districts surveyed, pension costs account for 22 percent of all mandatory spending increases. Charter school spending, the next highest category, is set to increase by 11 percent on average.

Beaver County judge temporary stops seven PA Cyber school layoffs
Beaver County Times By David Taube  Posted: Friday, July 31, 2015 5:00 pm | Updated: 9:15 pm, Fri Jul 31, 2015.
MIDLAND -- A Beaver County judge has temporarily stopped layoffs for seven of 43 employees let go last week from the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School after questions were raised on whether its board executed the action properly.  Beaver County Judge Deborah Kunselman temporarily nullified part of the layoffs Friday after a hearing  between the employees and the Midland-based school.  The school announced layoffs for 43 people on July 21, and a group of three individuals filed a motion for injunctive relief on Thursday with attorney John Havey. That group was extended to seven people, which ranges from administrative to teaching staff, who are nonunion employees, Havey said.  Havey said the layoffs were improperly conducted. In the initial petition, he argued the board violated state open-meeting law by taking a vote behind closed doors July 20 on the layoffs, thereby leading a director of technology, Carl Humes, and another PA Cyber employee to shut down computers of the laid-off individuals the following day.
The school also announced the layoffs in an email to employees that morning, according to an email provided by Havey.

Pa. Teacher of the Year finalist makes sure kids have a ball while they're learning
Yoga balls have helped one Delaware County teacher become a finalist for this year's Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year.  Pam Gregg, a language arts teacher at Springton Lake Middle School in Media, is among a dozen teachers up for the honors.  As class begins, Gregg's students bounce on yoga balls as they wait for the team activity that will soon have them running around the room. The ball chairs and academic lessons that include physical activity help the students become less fidgety and more focused, Gregg said.  "I incorporate movement into the lessons because, you know, they're middle school -- they need to move," she said. "They'll be more engaged and take in more information when they can move."

Op-Ed: Gov. Wolf – Politics before People
North Central PA  By Sen. Gene Yaw (R-23) JULY 31, 2015
Like many of my colleagues in the Pennsylvania Senate, I was deeply disappointed that Governor Wolf chose to veto a $30.18 billon, no-tax, balanced state budget plan that would have made new investments in education, improved the funding mechanism for our schools and provided funding for critical state services. The Governor’s impractical veto of the entire spending plan leaves us no closer to an agreement now than when he first introduced his budget proposal in March, which is a true disservice to the people who elected him on the promise of a “fresh start.”  The real question here: What is the Governor’s motive?  The only thing to be gained by threatening an interruption of government services is political leverage. To put the well-being of millions of state residents at risk for the sole purpose of getting his own way is unbelievably arrogant and thoughtless. In pursuing this scorched-earth policy, the Governor has jeopardized funding for numerous programs and services relied upon by millions of state residents. He has done so not for the sake of good public policy, but rather for the worst of reasons – politics and a perceived political advantage.

"As you can see, four of the original six schools are still in the bottom 5% while the other two have now ‘catapulted’ to the bottom 6%.  Perhaps this is one reason that Chris Barbic recently announced he is resigning at the end of the year.
Throughout the country, there are states that are considering creating their own ASD based on the supposed success of this one and the Recovery School District in Louisiana, on which this one is based.  Senate Democrats actually tried, and failed, to get an amendment into the reauthorization of the ESEA that would mandate that the bottom 5% of schools in each state become an ASD, essentially.  I hope that my very simple calculations are compelling evidence that the ASD does not live up to the hype.  Getting two out of six schools from the bottom 5% to the bottom 6% has not earned them the right to replicate around the country."
The Underachievement School District 2015 Edition Part I
Gary Rubenstein's Blog Posted on July 31, 2015by garyrubinstein
Three years ago, the Achievement School District (ASD) in Tennessee began their mission, summarized in the statement on their website under the heading ‘Building the Possible.’
“The Achievement School District was created to catapult the bottom 5% of schools in Tennessee straight to the top 25% in the state.”  The timetable for this goal is just five years from the time the school enters the ASD.  As I wrote to current ASD superintendent, Chris Barbic, who I’ve known for over 20 years from back in the days when we were both TFA teachers in Houston at the same time, this is not a feasible goal.  It isn’t that I don’t think schools or teachers are capable of improvement, I just think that there is a limit to what can be accomplished by only focusing on replacing teachers and giving schools over to charters.

Childhood Trauma: What’s Missing in Education “Reform”  ?
Lucid Witness Blog by Daun Kauffman 2014
The child  – the customer –  is what is missing from Education “Reform” discussions.  
Specifically, the massive incidence of childhood trauma, and its laser-like connection to cognition and education is missing.  The scope of childhood trauma is measured in a range, from  25%  to 50% of children, seemingly highest in urban settings, as detailed below.  (Also see “Failing Schools or Failing Paradigm ?”).  Not only is the child missing,   but Education “Reform” is often  ANTI-child in its effect,  at least for our most vulnerable children.  (See  “Danny goes to school”)

Conference Process to Rewrite ESEA Gets Underway
Education Week Politics K-12 Blog By Lauren Camera on July 30, 2015 11:43 AM
The conference process for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act began in earnest Thursday morning, as a bipartisan "Gang of Four" met to lay out the groundwork for brokering a proposal that can pass both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.
All the expected characters were at the table: Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., chairman and ranking member of the Senate education committee who co-authored the bipartisan bill that passed the Senate with overwhelming support, and Reps. John Kline, R-Minn., and Bobby Scott, D-Va., the chairman and the ranking member of the House education committee.  The four released a statement after their meeting, which didn't contain too many specifics, though that didn't stop us from reading between the lines.  "There is a lot of work to do in the coming months, and I am confident we will be able to craft a bicameral education bill that reduces the federal role, restores local control, and empowers parents and education leaders," said Kline. "Those are the kind of education reforms the American people expect and we must deliver."  Alexander went a step further, throwing down the gauntlet with a fall deadline.

Books in home as important as parents' education in determining children's education level
Science Daily Source: University of Nevada, Reno May 21, 2010
Whether rich or poor, residents of the United States or China, illiterate or college graduates, parents who have books in the home increase the level of education their children will attain, according to a 20-year study.  Whether rich or poor, residents of the United States or China, illiterate or college graduates, parents who have books in the home increase the level of education their children will attain, according to a 20-year study led by Mariah Evans, University of Nevada, Reno associate professor of sociology and resource economics.  For years, educators have thought the strongest predictor of attaining high levels of education was having parents who were highly educated. But, strikingly, this massive study showed that the difference between being raised in a bookless home compared to being raised in a home with a 500-book library has as great an effect on the level of education a child will attain as having parents who are barely literate (3 years of education) compared to having parents who have a university education (15 or 16 years of education). Both factors, having a 500-book library or having university-educated parents, propel a child 3.2 years further in education, on average.  Being a sociologist, Evans was particularly interested to find that children of lesser-educated parents benefit the most from having books in the home. She has been looking for ways to help Nevada's rural communities, in terms of economic development and education.  "What kinds of investments should we be making to help these kids get ahead?" she asked. "The results of this study indicate that getting some books into their homes is an inexpensive way that we can help these children succeed."

Save the Date: School Funding Forum in Pittsburgh August 6th
School Funding Forum in Pittsburgh, PA Thursday August 6th 2-4pm
With Hear Me and our western PA partners in the Campaign for Fair Education Funding, the Education Law Center is convening a school funding forum with a focus on the most at-risk students. Join us to hear stories of students directly impacted by a lack of education resources and to discuss the latest updates from Harrisburg. While fighting for fair and adequate school funding impacts all children, we’re excited to use this forum to highlight the importance of school funding for the most at-risk students whom ELC serves, including students experiencing homelessness or in foster care, English language learners, and students with disabilities.
Location: Gates Hillman Center at Carnegie Mellon University. Room 8102. Suggested parking is in the East Campus Garage. Here’s a map of walking directions from the garage to the room.
To join us, please email Staff Attorney Cheryl Kleiman at

Nominations for PSBA's Allwein Advocacy Award now open
PSBA July 7, 2015
The Timothy M. Allwein Advocacy Award was established in 2011 by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association and may be presented annually to the individual school director or entire school board to recognize outstanding leadership in legislative advocacy efforts on behalf of public education and students that are consistent with the positions in PSBA’s Legislative Platform.  The 2015 Allwein Award nomination process will close on Aug. 28, 2015. The 2015 Allwein Award Nomination Form is available online. More details on the award and nominations process can be found online

Slate of candidates for PSBA offices now available online
PSBA website July 31, 2015
The slate of candidates for 2016 PSBA officer and at-large representatives is now available online, including bios, photos and videos. According to recent PSBA Bylaws changes, each member school entity casts one vote per office. Voting will again take place online through a secure, third-party website -- Simply Voting. Voting will openAug. 17 and closes Sept. 28. One person from the school entity (usually the board secretary) is authorized to register the vote on behalf of the member school entity and each board will need to put on its agenda discussion and voting at one of its meetings in August or September. Each person authorized to register the school entity's votes has received an email on July 16 to verify the email address and confirm they are the person to register the vote on behalf of their school entity. 

Save the Date for PASA-PSBA School Leadership Conference Oct. 14-16, 2015 Hershey Lodge & Convention Center
Save the date for the professional development event of the year. Be inspired at more than four exciting venues and invest in professional development for top administrators and school board members. Online registration will be live soon!

Register Now – PAESSP State Conference – Oct. 18-20 – State College, PA
Registration is now open for PAESSP's State Conference to be held October 18-20 at The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel in State College, PA! This year's theme is @EVERYLEADER and features three nationally-known keynote speakers (Dr. James Stronge, Justin Baeder and Dr. Mike Schmoker), professional breakout sessions, a legal update, exhibits, Tech Learning Labs and many opportunities to network with your colleagues (Monday evening event with Jay Paterno).  Once again, in conjunction with its conference, PAESSP will offer two 30-hour Act 45 PIL-approved programs, Linking Student Learning to Teacher Supervision and Evaluation (pre-conference offering on 10/17/15); and Improving Student Learning Through Research-Based Practices: The Power of an Effective Principal (held during the conference, 10/18/15 -10/20/15). Register for either or both PIL programs when you register for the Full Conference!
REGISTER TODAY for the Conference and Act 45 PIL program/s at:

Apply now for EPLC’s 2015-2016 PA Education Policy Fellowship Program
Applications are available now for the 2015-2016 Education Policy Fellowship Program (EPFP).  The Education Policy Fellowship Program is sponsored in Pennsylvania by The Education Policy and Leadership Center (EPLC).  With more than 400 graduates in its first sixteen years, this Program is a premier professional development opportunity for educators, state and local policymakers, advocates, and community leaders.  State Board of Accountancy (SBA) credits are available to certified public accountants.  Past participants include state policymakers, district superintendents and principals, charter school leaders, school business officers, school board members, education deans/chairs, statewide association leaders, parent leaders, education advocates, and other education and community leaders.  Fellows are typically sponsored by their employer or another organization.  The Fellowship Program begins with a two-day retreat on September 17-18, 2015 and continues to graduation in June 2016.
Click here to read about the Education Policy Fellowship Program.

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