Monday, May 23, 2016

PA Ed Policy Roundup May 23: How can I be rated based upon people I barely pass in the hallway?

Daily postings from the Keystone State Education Coalition now reach more than 3900 Pennsylvania education policymakers – school directors, administrators, legislators, legislative and congressional staffers, Governor's staff, current/former PA Secretaries of Education, Wolf education transition team members, Superintendents, PTO/PTA officers, parent advocates, teacher leaders, business leaders, faith-based organizations, labor organizations, education professors, members of the press and a broad array of P-16 regulatory agencies, professional associations and education advocacy organizations via emails, website, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup May 23, 2016:
How can I be rated based upon people I barely pass in the hallway?

Make the new funding formula permanent; pass a budget for 2016-17 that increases funding for public schools by at least $400 million
Pennsylvania has the widest funding gap between wealthy & poor schools in the country.
Contributing only 36%, PA is ranked 46th in the US for its share of education funding.
Campaign for Fair Education Funding Website

UPDATE: Last week the state Senate passed HB 1552, which would make the Basic Education Funding Formula permanent, by a vote of 49-1.  The formula would remove politics from state school funding decisions, directing money to school districts based on objective factors, such as student enrollment, the needs of the student population, school district wealth and capacity to raise local revenue. 

The House is expected to consider and possibly vote on HB 1552 as early as Monday, May 23.  Ask your state Representative to vote 'yes' for House Bill 1552, which would make the BEFC's school funding formula permanent.

“Lucas said 15 percent of total teacher evaluations are based on a score given to the school by the state based on some student test scores.  Lucas teaches social studies to juniors and seniors.  She said the school’s score is based on test scores of students who she hasn’t taught yet.  “How can I be rated on based off of people I barely pass in the hallway?” Lucas asked. “Now they (wanted) to possibly furlough me for that rating. I think the real lowdown on this bill is that they (wanted) to furlough the highest paid teachers and save more money.”
Teachers back Wolf on furlough bill
Centre Daily Times BY BRITNEY MILAZZO May 22, 2016
Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed a piece of legislation passed earlier this month that would’ve put teachers’ job security in the hands of the state, the governor’s spokesman Jeff Sheridan said.  It was something lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-Benner Township) urged the governor not to do, but an action backed by some Centre County area teachers.   At least one teacher said she thought the bill was made as more of a cost-cutting mechanism than an idea to provide schools with the best teachers.  And other educators said there are bigger issues to address.  A report from the state House of Representatives said the Protecting Excellent Teachers Act “would end the practice of seniority-based layoffs in Pennsylvania and instead require teacher performance to guide furlough and reinstatement decisions.”  “This is common sense ,” Corman said. “We should have a system in place that protects the most highly effective teachers. If the governor is genuinely concerned about providing our children with quality public education, then he should join us in moving to protect excellent teachers. It’s in the best interest of our students.”  But the governor, according to Sheridan, doesn’t think it’s about removing underperforming teachers, but rather how school districts should handle mass layoffs.

Editorial: Gov. Wolf serves Big Labor, not kids, in vexing veto
BY THE TRIBUNE-REVIEW | Sunday, May 22, 2016, 9:00 p.m.
In a sickening sop to unions, Gov. Tom Wolf made good on his promise to veto commonsense legislation that would have placed public school teachers' performance ahead of how long they show up for work when jobs are on the line.  And while Mr. Wolf relentlessly presses for millions of dollars in more public school funding to feed the teachers union Leviathan, he stubbornly resists a constructive reform.  Wolf says he objects to using “high-stake test scores as a benchmark for teacher quality.” Yet under the statewide evaluation system he chastises, 98.2 percent of Pennsylvania's teachers are rated as “distinguished” or “proficient,” according to the Commonwealth Foundation. The Protecting Excellent Teachers Act, authored by Rep. Stephen Bloom, R-Cumberland, would go after teachers who don't make the grade when districts are faced with furloughing staff.

Did you catch our weekend postings?
PA Ed Policy Roundup May 22: House could vote on HB 1552, which would make the new Basic Ed Funding Formula permanent, as early as Monday May 23

The state budget; will things be smoother this time around?
WITF Written by Radio Pennsylvania | May 22, 2016 9:31 AM
 (Harrisburg) -- While budget talks continue in Harrisburg, Governor Tom Wolf says both sides are hoping to avoid a repeat performance from last year.  With just 6 weeks to go until the start of the next fiscal year, Wolf says state budget talks are off to a better start than last year, which of course included a 9-month long impasse.  "The tone seems to me to be very different from last year. We are, and have been, engaged in conversations for some time now and I think there is a real interest in getting this done.  I don't think anybody wants to have the kind of impasse we had last year,"  Wolf said.   The governor says there are differences, but the two sides are working hard to resolve them before June 30th.  Meanwhile, counties, school districts and social service agencies are holding their collective breath, waiting to see if Harrisburg has its act together this time around. 

Blogger note: While I agree that pension reform needs to be part of the discussion, I am not aware of any pending pension reform legislation that would have any impact whatsoever on school districts rising pension costs in the short term.  Districts will pony up an additional $500 million+ this year, just as they did last year, to meet mandated pension obligations.
Additionally, the average per pupil spending figures quoted below belie the fact that Pennsylvania has the widest funding gap between wealthy & poor schools in the country, with our wealthiest districts spending 33% more per student than our poorest districts.
Pension important part of education funding debate
The Sentinel Opinion by Gene Barr President & CEO, Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry May 22, 2016
As the end of the 2015-16 fiscal year quickly approaches, the topic of the state budget continues to dominate the conversation in the state Capitol building. And along with the debate about whether new taxes should be generated and what the final spending number should be, the question over how much to spend on education funding is sure to play a significant role in budget negotiations.  Most people will agree that having a high quality educational system is in everyone’s best interest. But we need to have an honest conversation about how to go about making sure our students are getting the most out of our investment. Simply throwing more money at the issue, without looking at growing cost-drivers and the effectiveness of programs, isn’t a responsible solution and doesn’t guarantee that students will be better off. In fact, Pennsylvania already has a strong record of funding education.  According to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data, PA ranks among the top 10 in the nation for overall K-12 per-pupil spending, and is above the national average in state-specific K-12 education spending. What tends to get lost in the conversation over how much to spend on education is the role of teachers, which are an integral part of the educational experience and it is tremendously important to attract and retain high quality educators. Pennsylvania has some of the highest average teacher salaries, and the best teacher-to-student ratios in the nation. In fact, a recent university study cited Pennsylvania as the top state to teach in the country.

Oh, those Pennsylvania taxes!
Philly Daily News by John Baer, Political Columnist Updated: MAY 23, 2016 — 3:01 AM EDT
THINK Pennsylvania taxes should be fairer, more sensible?
Think every sector of the economy should be taxed equally?
Think our CNI (corporate net income) tax rate, the nation's second highest, has anything to do with a job-growth ranking of 41st among states?  Well, a new book, Pennsylvania Illustrated: A Visual Guide to Taxes & the Economy, dips into the complex stew of state tax structure and suggests ours could use some stirring.  The gist? Our evolution over 50 years from a goods-based economy to a service economy hasn't been matched by our tax system, which pretty much stayed the same.  The result is a tax structure in need of reform.  The book, from the D.C.-based Tax Foundation, an independent think tank around since the 1930s, is offered as a tool for our policymakers in case any are inclined to do something positive.  (I know, right?!)  The timing's good. It comes just ahead of another state budget fight certain to focus on taxes. And it was sent to Gov. Wolf and all 203 state lawmakers.

Area school districts join forces to focus on student equity
Michelle Merlin Of The Morning Call May 22, 2016
Saucon Valley School Superintendent Monica McHale-Small wants to make sure all her students have an equal shot at reaching their highest potential no matter their background.  She is bringing that viewpoint to the district's plan to revamp its gifted program, making make sure students aren't passed over because English may be their second language or their parents aren't aware that such opportunities exists.  "We need to be proactive and not necessarily wait for parents to ask if their child needs something more," she said. "We're going to go out and find those kids and make sure they're getting what they need."  The district's efforts are part of a movement to create equity in schools, something McHale-Small is endorsing not just as a superintendent, but as a co-chairman of the Greater Lehigh Valley Consortium for Excellence and Equity.

Many parents give new mind-boggling report cards an F
Inquirer by Kathy Boccella, Staff Writer Updated: MAY 22, 2016 — 1:08 AM EDT
As a lawyer, Dennis Weldon has to make sense of tortuous legal papers. But a year ago, the Plumstead Township resident opened a nine-page document that left him flummoxed.
It was his child's report card from Gayman Elementary School in the Central Bucks School District.  Gone was the traditional A-B-C-D-F report from the teacher. Instead, parents were sent to their computers to click open a nine-page digital document with row after row of learning standards and success indicators for specific reading or math skills. Grades ranged from a high of E (exceeding standards), through M (meeting standards) and A (approaching standards), down to LP (limited progress).  Weldon said his wife, also a lawyer, struggled to comprehend the new "standards-based" report card, too. Another Central Bucks parent, a lawyer as well, told Weldon: "I don't even open it. . . . It's information overload."  The district has posted a 10-page handbook and seven videos on its website on how to interpret the evaluations, introduced in 2014 and used only in the elementary schools.  Many parents give the leading-edge system an F in the most important subject: telling them how their children are doing.  The largest suburban school district in Pennsylvania, with 20,000 students, Central Bucks has been struggling to successfully join the nationwide revolution in the way teachers assess their charges. The complaints of parents such as Weldon - elected to the school board last fall - point up some of the pitfalls in remaking an education icon.

Exercising its power
Philly Daily News Editorial Updated: MAY 23, 2016 — 3:01 AM EDT
IMAGINE A FEW students whose year-end report cards show so many failing grades that the teacher recommends that they not graduate. Now suppose the principal intervened and said, "Not so fast, let's give them another chance."  This would not be good for the students, or for teachers, or for the school system, and it would be bad for education overall.  In a way, that's what happened last week during the process of renewing a handful of charter schools, during a meeting of the School Reform Commission. The district's Charter Schools Office recommended nonrenewals for four schools; Vare and Audenreid, run by Kenny Gamble's Universal Companies, and Stetson and Olney High School, run by Aspira.

Erie district faces funding decision
By ERICA ERWIN erica.erwin@timesnews.com23 May 2016 — Erie Times-News
The prospect of a $4.3 million budget deficit in 2016-17 that could prompt massive cuts throughout the largest school district in the region isn't the only challenge facing Erie School District administrators.  The district received less revenue than officials anticipated in 2015-16 and will end this school year with a negative fund balance of $2.5 million. Without a short-term loan, the district won't be able to make payroll in July, district Chief Financial Officer Brian Polito said.  The district routinely takes out such loans -- TRANs, or tax revenue anticipation notes -- each summer to cover costs while waiting for property tax revenue and state education dollars for the following year to roll in.  The challenge this year is that the district's financial situation is so poor that it is unlikely to secure a TRAN with favorable terms, Polito said. The loans are usually backed by the state, but ratings agencies during the 2015-16 budget impasse decided to pull their ratings; when seeking loans the district now has to rely on its own rating, which Polito expects to soon be downgraded to junk status.

PENNCREST to cut 35 jobs to help reduce budget gap
Titusville Herald By Stella Ruggiero | 0 comments Posted: Saturday, May 21, 2016 3:00 am
SAEGERTOWN — PENNCREST School District’s preliminary budget documents for 2016-17 were posted on its website, Friday, and the public was able to see exactly where the district is proposing to cut 35 jobs to help shrink the budget gap down to about $1.8 million.  As of Thursday, the district’s budget had more than $51 million in expenses, and about $49 million in projected revenue. The previous draft budget had a gap of approximately $5.5 million.  The district arrived at the new number through approximately $3 million in expense cuts, which eliminated jobs and reduced budgets. The district includes Maplewood, Saegertown, and Cambridge Springs elementary and high schools.  On Friday afternoon, the district also used Facebook to issue a call for budget ideas and suggestions. You can email
The 2016-17 budget documents can be found at

Wilkinsburg school board to vote Tuesday on budget
By Molly Born / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette May 23, 2016 12:11 AM
The Wilkinsburg school board will vote Tuesday on a 2016-17 preliminary budget that includes no tax increase, and it also is expected to approve the resignation of the district’s acting superintendent.  Joseph Petrella, who has been on sick leave since Feb. 2, sent a letter in early May notifying the district he would step down. John Frombach, a facilities consultant working with the district and the retired director of services for the Baldwin-Whitehall School District, has been substitute superintendent since Feb. 16.  School directors are now seeking a new top administrator for what will be a pre-K-to-6 school system of about 550 students this fall. School board president Ed Donovan called it a unique opportunity for a candidate with an interest in primary education who wants “to make a difference with a district that wants to be transformed.”

Youth advocates share model policies with Pa. schools on LGBT identity
By Michael A. Fuoco / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette May 23, 2016 12:00 AM
The Pennsylvania Youth Congress, a statewide LGBT youth advocacy organization, on Friday sent a model policy for supporting transgender and gender-expansive students to the 50 largest school districts in the commonwealth.  Additionally, the PYC launched a “Dignity for All” project as an online resource for school districts in supporting transgender students. Both the online resource and the model policy are available at http://​  The release of both follows by a week a letter sent by the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education to every school district in the country offering their guidance that gender identity is a protected class under Title IX.  “A school may not require transgender students to use facilities inconsistent with their gender identity or to use individual-user facilities when other students are not required to do so,” the letter said.

Why Do Massachusetts Public Schools Lead the Nation?
Education Writers Association MAY 23, 2016 ALIA WONG OF THE ATLANTIC FOR EWA
When it comes to the story of Massachusetts’ public schools, the takeaway, according to the state’s former education secretary, Paul Reville, is that “doing well isn’t good enough.”
Massachusetts is widely seen as having the best school system in the country: Just 2 percent of its high-schoolers drop out, for example, and its students’ math and reading scores rank No. 1 nationally. It even performs toward the top on international education indices.  But as Reville and others intimately familiar with the Bay State’s school improvement efforts emphasized in a panel at the Education Writers Association National Seminar earlier this month, the “Massachusetts story” is complicated. The Bay State’s famous successes are juxtaposed with stubborn achievement gaps and concentrations of poverty that have made across-the-board strides all but impossible. Income-based disparities in academic performance have actually grown over the last decade or so, and last year the state’s achievement gap was the third highest in the nation.

More than five years after adopting Common Core, Kentucky’s black-white achievement gap is widening
Now the state is rolling out new ideas for closing it
Hechinger Report by LUBA OSTASHEVSKY May 22, 2016
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The second-graders in Sarah Bowling’s class at Dunn Elementary were on a scavenger hunt to find “arrays.”  The bookshelf had a picture of three rows of five fish. The door had an image of four rows with three beach pails in each. Several other pictures were strategically placed in different corners of the brightly decorated classroom. The students cradled clipboards with a worksheet as they moved from spot to spot, writing out mathematical expressions such as: 5+5+5 = 15 and 3+3+3+3+3=15, to convince themselves that three fives is the same as five threes.  But three of the students were seated on the carpet in the middle of the room. They were getting “Dolphin time” — individualized instruction with Bowling, who was talking them through the difference between rows and columns.  Two dolphins on the rug are African-American. While the classes at Dunn Elementary have kids of all skill levels mixed together, there is, on average, a persistent gap between many kids of color and the rest of the students.

2016 Building a Grad Nation Report Release Date: 05/9/16
Written annually by Civic Enterprises and the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University, and released in partnership with America’s Promise Alliance and the Alliance for Excellent Education, this report examines the progress and challenges the nation faces in reaching the GradNation goal of a national on-time graduation rate of 90 percent by the Class of 2020.
The nation has achieved an 82.3 percent high school graduation rate – a record high.
Graduation rates rose for all student subgroups, and the number of low-graduation-rate high schools and students enrolled in them dropped again, indicating that progress has had far-reaching benefits for all students.  This progress, however, has not come without its challenges.
First, this year the nation is slightly off pace to reach a 90 percent on-time graduation rate by 2020.
Second, at both the national and state levels, troubling graduation gaps remain between White students and their Black and Latino peers, low-income and non-low-income students, and students with and without disabilities.
Third, low-graduation-rate high schools – a key focus of the recently passed Every Student Succeeds Act – pose a significant roadblock to the national goal of a 90 percent graduation rate for all students. While the number of low-graduation-rate high schools has declined considerably over the past decade, in some states they still predominate.
The 2016 Building a Grad Nation report is the first to analyze 2014 graduation data using new criteria established by ESSA and the first to show the impact of additional time on graduation rates.

How to rig elections, the legal way
The Week Staff May 22, 2016
Political parties use gerrymandering to give themselves a big edge on Election Day. Here's everything you need to know:
What is gerrymandering?
It's a tactic used by political parties to redraw voting districts to give themselves an electoral advantage. Whether Republicans or Democrats control the process in a given state, the trick is to create irregularly shaped districts that segregate as many of the opposition's supporters as possible into a small handful of seats — leaving their own candidates with a much better chance of winning everywhere else. To simplify, in a state with 100,000 Democratic and 100,000 Republican voters and six districts, a GOP legislature would group 80,000 Democrats into two districts. That would leave just 20,000 Democrats spread over the other four districts, which the GOP could then easily win. This process has left most states with oddly shaped districts, often with strips of land jutting out in several directions. It's perfectly legal, unless it can be proved that districts are deliberately drawn to disenfranchise minorities — a practice outlawed by the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Republic of Turkey Targets Houston-Based Charter School
Texas Tribune by Kiah Collier May 19, 2016
The Republic of Turkey, where President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is waging a well-documented war against critics, hired London-based Amsterdam & Partners last fall “to conduct a global investigation into the activities of the organization led by moderate Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen,” according to the firm's website. Gulen is a reclusive Turkish expatriate living in Pennsylvania whom news reports have linked to Harmony and other U.S. charter schools. Harmony, which focuses on science and math education, is the second-largest charter network in the United States and the largest in Texas. It operates 46 schools here where nearly 31,000 students are enrolled.

This 2015 Business Insider piece was at the top of the reddit education hot list this morning:
The Walmart family is teaching hedge funds how to profit from publicly funded schools
Business Insider by Abby Jackson Mar. 17, 2015, 12:44 PM
Charter Schools are drawing promoters from a place you might not think of: Walmart.
The Walton Family Foundation — the philanthropic group run by the Walmart family — sponsored a symposium at the Harvard Club for investors interested in the charter school sector, last week.  The event, hosted in Manhattan, was called "Bonds and Blackboards: Investing in Charter Schools," and was cosponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  With the explicit intent of helping investors "Learn and understand the value of investing in charter schools and best practices for assessing their credit," the event featured experts on charter school investing from Standard & Poor's, Piper Jaffray, Bank of America, and Wells Capital Management, among others.

Education Bloggers Daily Highlights 5/23/2016

Nominations now open for PSBA Allwein Awards (deadline July 16)
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 2016 Allwein Award nominations will be accepted starting today and all applications are due by July 16, 2016. The nomination form can be downloaded from the website.

Join the Pennsylvania Principals Association at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, June 21, 2016, at The Capitol in Harrisburg, PA, for its second annual Principals' Lobby Day.
Pennsylvania Principals Association Monday, March 21, 2016 9:31 AM
 To register, contact Dr. Joseph Clapper at by Tuesday, June 14, 2016. If you need assistance, we will provide information about how to contact your legislators to schedule meetings.  Click here for the informational flyer, which includes important issues to discuss with your legislators.

2016 PA Educational Leadership Summit July 24-26 State College
Summit Sponsors: PA Principals Association - PA Association of School Administrators - PA Association of Middle Level Educators - PA Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development 
The 2016 Educational Leadership Summit, co-sponsored by four leading Pennsylvania education associations, provides an excellent opportunity for school district administrative teams and instructional leaders to learn, share and plan together at a quality venue in "Happy Valley." 
Featuring Grant Lichtman, author of EdJourney: A Roadmap to the Future of Education, Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera (invited), and Dana Lightman, author of POWER Optimism: Enjoy the Life You Have... Create the Success You Want, keynote speakers, high quality breakout sessions, table talks on hot topics and district team planning and job alike sessions provides practical ideas that can be immediately reviewed and discussed at the summit before returning back to your district.   Register and pay by April 30, 2016 for the discounted "early bird" registration rate:

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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