Friday, November 27, 2015

PA Ed Policy Roundup Nov 27: Past Chester Community Charter testing head disciplined in cheating scandal

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup November 27, 2015:
Past Chester Community Charter testing head disciplined in cheating scandal

Past Chester Community Charter testing head disciplined in cheating scandal
The state's largest bricks-and-mortar charter is operated for profit by a GOP power broker. Its test scores plunged in 2012 when security measures were tightened.
the notebook By Dale Mezzacappa and Paul Socolar on Nov 25, 2015 05:09 PM
A former testing coordinator at Chester Community Charter School, the state’s largest bricks-and-mortar charter with more than 3,000 students, has been sanctioned by the state for “systemic violations of the security of the PSSA exams” over the five-year period between 2007 and 2011.  The school was under scrutiny for testing irregularities by the Pennsylvania Department of Education as part of a statewide cheating scandal that broke in 2011.  CCCS is operated for profit by a company owned by Vahan Gureghian, a major Republican donor and power broker who was among the largest individual contributors to former Gov. Tom Corbett’s campaign and a member of his education transition team. During his term, Corbett visited CCCS to tout it as an exemplar of high-quality education for low-income communities.  Now with two campuses, CCCS has drawn more than half the K-8 students who live in the Chester Upland School District

"odds that erasure patterns were random…were between 1 in a quadrillion & 1 in a quintillion”
 The state’s overcautious approach may have been driven by fear. Contracts totaling $750,000 with the law firm Pepper Hamilton, obtained by the Notebook, reveal that lawyers attempted to discern whether the state had subpoena power, and noted that “some schools may resist PDE’s investigation, and litigation may ensue.” Most of the legal work appeared to involve Philadelphia schools and area charters — including Chester Community Charter School
The latter would make for a fearsome legal opponent. CSMI, a management company to which the school, according to a 2012 Inquirer article, pays $16.7 million (more than 41 percent of the charter’s budget), is run by businessman and political powerhouse Vahan Gureghian, Gov. Tom Corbett’s top campaign contributor and a member of his education transition team. The charter enrolls the majority of Chester Upland district’s kindergarten-through-eighth-grade students. In December, the chronically broke Chester Upland district was placed under state control; they had just exited 16 years of state control in 2010. 
Gureghian unsuccessfully sued the Inquirer over a 2008 investigation that examined “whether the school is spending too much of its budget on administration and too little on teaching.” The next year, he sued the 18-year-old proprietor of a blog, Homes of the Rich, for posting a photo of his 10-bedroom, $13.5 million, Main Line mansion. It is surrounded by a moat. So, it appears, is his school."
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 owner is a trust linked to Philadelphia lawyer and charter-school entrepreneur Vahan Gureghian and his lawyer wife, Danielle. Three years ago, she told town officials the house was the couple’s dream home, but their plans appear to have changed."
March 2015: North End Palm Beach mansion listed at $84.5M
By Darrell Hofheinz Daily News Real Estate Writer Posted: 5:03 p.m. Monday, March 30, 2015
Priced at $84.5 million, a direct-oceanfront mansion under construction on the North End has entered the market as the island’s most expensive property, according to the local multiple listing service.  Sporting its own bowling alley, the French-style house is rising on the double lot – expansive even by Palm Beach standards – that measures about 2 acres with 242 feet of beachfront at 1071 N. Ocean Blvd.

A backlash against pervasive testing
As parents and students statewide forgo high-stakes exams, a broader movement grows.
the notebook By Bill Hangley Jr. on Nov 25, 2015 04:29 PM
Janet Zheng, a Northeast High School junior, says the material she’s learned in class doesn’t align with two Keystone exams she has taken. “We just don’t have time,” she said.  Growing up in China, Janet Zheng got used to taking tests. But she also got used to getting the preparation she needed from her classes, which is why the American system makes no sense to her.  “You take this much test,” she said, holding her hands apart, “with this little knowledge,” pulling them together.  Zheng is a junior at Northeast High School. She’s aced the Algebra I Keystone exam and takes AP calculus. But the two other Keystones have been a struggle, especially Biology. The test material doesn’t line up with what’s taught in class, she said. Teachers try to help, but support is hit or miss, especially for English language learners like her.  And part of the problem, she said, is that everybody has so many other tests to worry about.  “Northeast is a good school, but we just don’t have time,” she said. “We don’t have, like, one month just for Keystones. PSATs is crazy enough.”  Zheng doesn’t think it’s fair to judge her or other students based on how she does on Keystones or similar tests. The way she sees it, if she does well on her SATs, she’ll be on her way to the college of her choice, no matter what.
“You didn’t pass the Biology Keystone, now you can’t go to college?” she said, shaking her head with smile. “That’s crazy!”

"In short, it’s time to rethink our testing system from top to bottom."
End of a nightmare?
Opinion By the Notebook on Nov 25, 2015 12:01 PM
High-stakes standardized tests are falling out of favor. From President Obama and Congress to School District leaders, we are finally hearing recognition of the unintended consequences of over-testing and overemphasizing test results.  Philadelphia schools have lived through 20 years of test-based accountability. At first, it involved rewards and some punishments for schools based on standardized test scores.  Over time, the stakes for schools, staff, and students were steadily raised. Punishments for low-scoring schools have included curtailing autonomy in decision-making and imposing a highly regimented, dumbed-down, remedial curriculum. Lately, the threat has been charter conversion or outright closing.  Some key architects of test-based accountability – from former Superintendent David Hornbeck in Philadelphia to Sen. Ted Kennedy in Congress – saw it as a way to enforce higher learning standards in schools that chronically underserved their students. Test-based rewards and sanctions were supposed to force schools once and for all to address deep-seated race and class inequities. Measuring the disparities and racial gaps in outcomes would go hand-in-hand with providing equal inputs.  But resources were seldom delivered where they were needed. Instead, schools were labeled as “failing” wherever teachers, parents, and students couldn’t achieve at high levels.

Editorial: Turn the tables on Harrisburg’s shell game
Delco Times Editorial POSTED: 11/26/15, 10:00 PM EST 
Two can play this game.  That’s the message being delivered to Harrisburg from officials in Bucks County.  They announced this week they would withhold all payments owed to the commonwealth until the state has a new budget in place.  Good for them.  Gov. Tom Wolf and Republicans in the state Legislature have been playing this financial shell game – Harrisburg’s own version of “Let’s Make a Deal” – for more than four months. The state constitution mandates that Pennsylvania’s elected officials have a new spending plan in place by July 1.  It’s one of the few things even his fiercest critics could agree on about former Gov. Tom Corbett. For four years he delivered a spending blueprint on time.  No one expected the same thing when voters send him packing and threw their lot behind York businessman Wolf.  But no one realistically predicted this – Thanksgiving Day has come and gone and still no spending plan in place.

News Release: Survey shows schools’ growing fiscal insecurity due to budget impasse
PSBA News Release November 25, 2015
Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) released a Budget Impasse Impact report this week based on a survey of public school leaders in Pennsylvania. At this time, districts are without 30% of anticipated state subsidies and largely dependent on tax revenue, fund balance and borrowing options to continue day-to-day operations in schools. The survey shows, as expected, that districts most heavily reliant on state aid are quickly approaching a very perilous precipice.  PSBA’s report analyzes data collected from a survey of Pennsylvania school leaders that was conducted in October and again in November for the purpose of gauging how deeply the lack of state funding has impacted school districts. The November survey update was distributed statewide, generating responses from school leaders in 225 (45%) of Pennsylvania’s public school districts. More than a quarter of those surveyed indicated that non-receipt of state subsidies has had a direct, negative impact on programs and services within their districts.

Councilwoman-elect vows to work for education, 'quality life' for all Philadelphians
One of the newly elected members of Philadelphia City Council says she will have a "laser focus" on several priorities, not just the one she's known for.   Education activist Helen Gym, who will take office in January, said she will continue to crusade for the issues she cares about as an at-large member of Philadelphia City Council.  "A quality life for every Philadelphia resident," she said. "Including, and most importantly, for schoolchildren in the city, for workers and for people who are really struggling.  I think that's a  very important aspect of why I ran and something I hope to bring some energy to on City Council."  Combating poverty, hunger and a lack of housing are all near the top of the list, she said.  She is one of five new members who will join Council in January.  Most, like Gym, are Democrats, but one is Republican.

"It's a bad bill for a number of reasons. For one thing, it does not raise enough money to cover the entire bill of eliminating property taxes - in fact, it falls several billion dollars short. No one is saying where that money will come from.
For another, it gives a windfall tax break to businesses, who do pay property taxes but not income and sales tax. At the same time, the sales tax is regressive, increasing the tax burden on middle- and low-income people.
Finally, it cements the inequity in the way school subsidy money is doled out in the state - using a discredited formula that favors rich districts at the expense of poor ones."
SB76: DN Editorial: Diversionary taxes
Philly Daily News Editorial Updated on NOVEMBER 23, 2015 — 3:01 AM EST
STORM CLOUDS are gathering in Harrisburg over the deal to settle the long state budget impasse.  While one group of legislators is still working with Gov. Wolf on hammering out the details of the $30.6 billion plan, another group has launched a maneuver that could kill the whole deal.  If that happens it will mean no state budget for the foreseeable future and almost certainly a shutdown of schools and social-service agencies across the state beginning in January - which is when they run out of time and money.  Instead of hashing out their problems with the existing budget, several conservative Republicans in the state Senate, along with a few Democrats, have taken a different tack and are pushing a bill that would eliminate local school property taxes.

"As soon as we are convinced that we have the extra two votes that we need, we'll find another bill to amend (the proposal into)," said Sen. David G. Argall, a Schuylkill County Republican who represents parts of Berks.
SB76: Lawmakers, advocates vow to continue fight to eliminate school property taxes
Reading Eagle By Liam Migdail-Smith  Wednesday November 25, 2015 12:01 AM
Activists who want to see the end of school property taxes say they're not viewing the plan's razor-thin defeat in the state Senate as the pinnacle of their work.  Supporters said Tuesday they're hoping the exposure generated by the vote and supporters' frustration that it didn't pass will buoy their efforts to finish the job.  Past attempts to advance the proposal failed to gain traction or met overwhelming defeat. On Monday, senators reached a 24-24 tie on a bill which would shift school funding to higher sales and income taxes. Lt. Gov. Mike Stack cast a deciding no vote.  "I don't think we're ready to just pack up and go away over a tie vote in the Senate," said Ron Boltz, an organizer with the Pennsylvania Coalition of Taxpayer Associations. "Because really, this is forward progress for us."  The proposal has attracted friends and foes of both parties and has long been a top issue for Berks lawmakers. Lawmakers behind the effort said they won't ease up. 

Incentive to finish the #PABudget? Trump set to headline Pa. Society Event: Friday Morning Coffee
Penn Live By John L. Micek | Email the author | Follow on Twitter on November 27, 2015 at 8:25 AM
Good Friday Morning, Fellow Seekers.
Gov. Tom Wolf and legislative Republicans were making encouraging noises earlier this week about having a budget finished sometime in the first week in December.  But did a billionaire presidential candidate just hand the GOP some extra incentive to move things to an expeditious finish?  Maybe ...One-man Quote Machine and GOP hopeful Donald Trump is set to headline this year's Commonwealth Club Luncheon at the swank Park Plaza Hotel on Central Park.

Districts feel substitute shortage
York Daily Record by Angie Mason, amason@ydr.com2:31 p.m. EST November 24, 2015
Being a substitute teacher can have its challenges, Richard Muldrow III acknowledges.
It can take a while for students to get used to you, said Muldrow, who substitutes each day at Ferguson K-8 School in York City. They're accustomed to their own teacher, and gaining their respect can take work.  Muldrow -- who previously played football in the Arena Football League -- is at Ferguson every day, and he fills in wherever needed, from the library to the gymnasium. And while there are challenges, he said, there's good, too.  "It's a blessing because you get to work with kids where you're from," he said.  Muldrow, 26, who has a degree in history and emergency certification, wants to follow in the footsteps of his grandmother, the late Julia Hines-Harris, a longtime, well-respected city educator. He plans to study more to become a full-time educator and says substituting is a good way to get a feel for the role.

Midstate students affected by closing of cyberschool's learning centers
Education Plus Academy, a Delaware County-based cyberschool, announced this week it was closing its learning and tutoring centers and is reported as attributing the state budget impasse as a factor behind that decision.
By Jan Murphy | Email the author | Follow on Twitter on November 25, 2015 at 5:22 PM, updated November 25, 2015 at 5:52 PM
Students from several midstate school districts who attend the Philadelphia area-based Education Plus Academy cyber charter school learned this week the school's learning and tutoring centers were closing.  A letter sent out to parents cited the state budget impasse as a factor behind that decision although a story in the Philadelphia Inquirer suggested the school, based in Wayne, Delaware County, had encountered other challenges since it opened in 2012.   That story indicates the school's CEO Nick Torres said some of the school's teachers from six of its learning centers would remain on staff to provide online education to students. 

Peters teachers, students return to school today after month-long strike
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette November 27, 2015 7:51 AM
Peters Township students and teachers returned to the classroom this morning after a 21-day strike ended without any resolution to a contract dispute in the district.  By state law, the 4,300 students had to return to class today in order to receive the mandated 180 instructional days during the school year. The lost time will be made up by canceling all non-mandatory holiday breaks and other previous scheduled days off, and students will be in class until June 15 — six days later than planned.  Despite more than 20 negotiating sessions since January, the district and the teachers union have been unable to reach any meaningful agreement on a host of issues.  The 285 teachers in the district have been without a contract since their last five-year pact expired in August.  State law calls for nonbinding arbitration to follow the first strike. Afterward, if an agreement isn’t reached, teachers can strike a second time, but it will be of shorter duration than the first because the second strike must allow 180 days of education by June 30.

School lunch group hopes to revise rules it calls impractical, too restrictive
Trib Live By Mary Pickels Thursday, Nov. 26, 2015, 11:30 p.m. Updated 10 hours ago
On a recent school day, Belle Vernon Area High School students picked up lunch trays featuring ziti, breadsticks, a tossed salad, fruit and milk.  No chips.  No cookies.
For the last five years, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 has strictly mandated the levels of sodium, calories and whole-grain foods American students consume in school lunches.  “School lunch is truly the most regulated meal in America,” said Amy Keeler, food service director with the Brownsville Area School District.  The act funds the $12 billion-a-year National School Lunch Program and provides $3 billion annually for school breakfasts.  But the legislation expired in September and its reauthorization is being negotiated, a situation the School Nutrition Association — with more than 55,000 members — sees as an opportunity to revisit and possibly revise some of the rules they see as restrictive and impractical.

The Gift of Reading
New York Times Opinion by Frank Bruni NOV. 25, 2015
The list of what a child needs in order to flourish is short but nonnegotiable.  Food. Shelter. Play. Love.  Something else, too, and it’s meted out in even less equal measure.
Words. A child needs a forest of words to wander through, a sea of words to splash in. A child needs to be read to, and a child needs to read.  Reading fuels the fires of intelligence and imagination, and if they don’t blaze well before elementary school, a child’s education — a child’s life —may be an endless game of catch-up.  That’s a truth at the core of the indispensable organization Reading Is Fundamental, a nonprofit group that provides hundreds of thousands of free books annually to children age 8 or younger, in particular those from economically disadvantaged homes, where books are a greater luxury and in shorter supply.  I shine a light on Reading Is Fundamental, or R.I.F., for several reasons.  We’re in the midst of giving thanks, and this group deserves plenty. It has distributed more than 410 million books to more than 40 million American children.

Days Could Be Numbered for No Child Left Behind
Education Week By Alyson Klein Published Online: November 25, 2015
After more than a decade, Congress appears to be on the verge of leaving the almost universally unpopular No Child Left Behind Act ... well, behind. Lawmakers have spent months behind the scenes crafting a deal that would scale back the federal role under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act—the 14-year-old NCLB law is the latest iteration—for the first time since the early 1980s. The compromise, the Every Student Succeeds Act, sailed through a conference committee this month, with just one dissenting vote, from Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who is running for president. It's expected to be on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives next week. The measure's prospects in the Senate are rosy, but it could run into trouble with House conservatives.  The bipartisan agreement seeks to give states miles of new running room on accountability, school turnarounds, teacher evaluation, and more, while maintaining No Child Left Behind's signature transparency provisions, such as annual testing in reading and math in grades 3-8 and once in high school.

Project to recognize ‘high schools of opportunity’ for all students goes national
Washington Post Answer Sheet Blog By Valerie Strauss November 11  
Last year, a project called Schools of Opportunity was launched as a pilot effort to honor high schools that work hard to offer all students a chance to succeed. Spearheaded by two veteran educators, it was different from other efforts to rate and rank schools through the use of student standardized test scores and data points. Instead, the Schools of Opportunity project sought to identify and recognize public high schools that seek to close opportunity gaps through practices “that build on students’ strengths” — not by inundating them with tests and obsessing on the scores. Seventeen schools were selected, and this blog spotlighted each winner.  Now, the pilot project that was concentrated in Colorado and New York is going national for the 2015-16 school year. Applications are welcome from public high schools in every state; you can find out how to submit one at the website, here, and in the post below.  The people behind the project are Carol Burris and Kevin Welner. Burris is  a former New York high school principal who is now executive director of the non-profit Network for Public Education Fund. A frequent contributor to The Answer Sheet, she was named the 2010 Educator of the Year by the School Administrators Association of New York State, and in 2013, the same organization named her the New York State High School Principal of the Year. Welner is a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder’s School of Education who specializes in educational policy and law. He is director of theNational Education Policy Center at UC Boulder, which produces high-quality peer-reviewed research to inform education policy.  In this post, Burris and Welner talk about taking their project nationwide for the current school year. When the winners are selected in 2016, The Answer Sheet will write about each one.

"More than two dozen other candidates and lawmakers across the political spectrum received Gülen-linked donations that appear questionable, including Clinton and Jeb Bush. The movement runs more than 100 charter schools and dozens of Turkish cultural centers and "intercultural dialogue" groups around the country. Employees move around among the schools and among the non-profit groups, so it is hard to keep track of who is working where at any given time.
This feature of the Gülen movement has been called "strategic ambiguity" by Joshua Hendrick, a professor at Loyola University Maryland, and it makes it impossible to trace the root source of funding for any Gülen activities."
U.S. lawmakers got suspect Turkish campaign cash
Paul Singer, USA TODAY10:13 a.m. EST November 23, 2015
WASHINGTON — A Turkish religious movement accused of illegally financing congressional travel abroad may have also provided hundreds of thousands of dollars of improper campaign donations to congressional and presidential candidates during the past several years, a USA TODAY investigation has found.  USA TODAY has identified dozens of large campaign donations attributed to people with modest incomes, or from people who had little knowledge of to whom they had given, or from people who could not be located at all. All the donors appear to have ties to a Turkish religious movement named for its founder, Fethullah Gülen. USA TODAY reported last month that the movement has secretly funded more than 200 foreign trips for members of Congress and their staff.

USA Today: Gulen Charter Chain Giving Campaign Cash to American Politicians
Diane Ravitch's Blog by dianeravitch November 25, 2015
I am not sure why one of the largest charter chains in the U.S. is run by foreign nationals. But the Gulen chain has over 100 schools, which operate in many states under different names. One way to tell a Gulen school is that every member of the board is a Turkish man.  How did they proliferate? The old-fashioned way: By making friends in key places.  USA Today reports that Turkish men with modest incomes working for the Gulen chain made donations to members of Congress and Presidential candidates. If USA Today digs deeper, it will find contributions to state legislators as well as free trips to Turkey, all expenses paid.

PSBA New School Director Training
School boards who will welcome new directors after the election should plan to attend PSBA training to help everyone feel more confident right from the start. This one-day event is targeted to help members learn the basics of their new roles and responsibilities. Meet the friendly, knowledgeable PSBA team and bring everyone on your “team of 10” to get on the same page fast.
  • $150 per registrant (No charge if your district has a LEARN PassNote: All-Access members also have LEARN Pass.)
  • One-hour lunch on your own — bring your lunch, go to lunch, or we’ll bring a box lunch to you; coffee/tea provided all day
  • Course materials available online or we’ll bring a printed copy to you for an additional $25
  • Registrants receive one month of 100-level online courses for each registrant, after the live class
Nine locations for your convenience:
  • Philadelphia area — Nov. 21 William Tennent HS, Warminster (note: location changed from IU23 Norristown)
  • Pittsburgh area — Dec. 5 Allegheny IU3, Homestead
  • South Central PA and Erie areas (joint program)— Dec. 12 Northwest Tri-County IU5, Edinboro and PSBA, Mechanicsburg
  • Butler area — Jan. 9 Midwestern IU 4, Grove City (note: location changed from Penn State New Kensington)
  • Allentown area — Jan. 16 Lehigh Career & Technical Institute, Schnecksville
  • Central PA — Jan. 30 Nittany Lion Inn, State College
  • Scranton area — Feb. 6 Abington Heights SD, Clarks Summit
  • North Central area —Feb. 13 Mansfield University, Mansfield

NSBA Advocacy Institute 2016; January 24 - 26 in Washington, D.C.
Housing and meeting registration is open for Advocacy Institute 2016.  The theme, “Election Year Politics & Public Schools,” celebrates the exciting year ahead for school board advocacy.  Strong legislative programming will be paramount at this year’s conference in January.  Visit for more information.

PASBO 61st Annual Conference and Exhibits March 8 - 11, 2016
Hershey Lodge and Convention Center, Hershey, Pennsylvania

The Network for Public Education 3rd Annual National Conference April 16-17, 2016 Raleigh, North Carolina.
The Network for Public Education is thrilled to announce the location for our 3rd Annual National Conference. On April 16 and 17, 2016 public education advocates from across the country will gather in Raleigh, North Carolina.  We chose Raleigh to highlight the tremendous activist movement that is flourishing in North Carolina. No one exemplifies that movement better than the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, who will be the conference keynote speaker. Rev. Barber is the current president of the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, the National NAACP chair of the Legislative Political Action Committee, and the founder of Moral Mondays.

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

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