Friday, October 28, 2016

PA Ed Policy Roundup Oct 28: PA needs to update charter laws to ensure that entities that get public $$ also get public supervision & oversight on how they use that money

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PA Ed Policy Roundup October 28, 2016
PA needs to update charter laws to ensure that entities that get public $$ also get public supervision & oversight on how they use that money


Note: The House will be in voting session Thursday. The House and Senate then return to reorganize after the election-- the House on November 14, 15 and the Senate November 16. [Unless they change the schedule of course.] All bills then have to start over in January.
Thursday PA Capitol Digest Crisci Associates OCTOBER 27, 2016


“Nicholas Trombetta recently pled guilty to federal charges that he stole $8 million in public funds through his manipulations of PA Cyber, NNDS/LLS, and the for-profit entities he founded. Trombetta is an extreme example of what can happen in the absence of rigorous oversight but unfortunately he is not as much of an outlier as we might like to think. Some Pennsylvania CMOs have successfully argued that they are private entities who are not covered by the Right to Know laws. Pennsylvania needs to update its charter laws to ensure that entities that get public money also get public supervision and oversight on how they use that money.”
Charter Management Organizations and the Need for Reform
Voices @ Temple Law by Susan L. DeJarnatt Professor of Law Published on October 26, 2016 
Two recent audits and a guilty plea show strong evidence of the need for reform of Pennsylvania’s charter law to provide for more effective oversight of the substantial public money going to the charter sector.  The Inspector General of the US Department of Education and the Pennsylvania Auditor General have both recently concluded that Pennsylvania’s charter law does not provide sufficient oversight or control over charter management organizations. CMOs are organizations that manage charter schools. Although charter schools in Pennsylvania must be organized as non-profits, CMOs can be and often are for-profit organizations. The Pennsylvania charter law doesn’t mention them because the legislature apparently did not envision such entities in the late 1990s when it wrote the law. But they have become an increasingly important part of the charter sector. The two audits highlight challenges that the growth and operation of CMOs present to effective oversight of public funds going to charter schools.

Good News! HB530 Charter Expansion Bill Dies in Legislature in Pennsylvania!
Diane Ravitch’s Blog By dianeravitch October 27, 2016 //
A few days ago, I posted warnings about the stealth effort to expand charter schools in Pennsylvania, embedded in a bill called HB530. Exposed to daylight and to the righteous wrath of parents and school boards, the bill failed.  Good work by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA), teachers, and people who understand the importance of public schools managed to kill HB530, which was a sugarplum for the rapacious charter industry.

Just when it looked like the pension plan was dead, the House may have revived it
Penn Live By Jan Murphy | jmurphy@pennlive.com Email the author | Follow on Twitter on October 27, 2016 at 4:26 PM
Three votes.  That's how close House Majority Leader Dave Reed said the General Assembly came on Wednesday to passing a historic pension reform bill that would have changed the retirement savings plans for future state government and public school employees.  The measure would have created three new pension options from which new hires would choose, but its failure to see any legislative action on Wednesday most likely pushed it off to the next legislative session that starts in January.  However, the House voted on Thursday to send the legislation back to a House-Senate conference committee that reported it out on Tuesday, raising the remote possibility that this plan may have life left in it.  That procedural move by the House keeps the bill in play until Nov. 30 when the two-year legislative session ends. The Senate would also have to vote to send it to the conference committee for it to reconvene and try to work out a compromise that might garner the votes to pass both chambers.

The sound of a pension can being kicked ... again ... rings hollow: John L. Micek
Penn Live By  John L. Micek | jmicek@pennlive.com on October 27, 2016 at 11:14 AM, updated October 27, 2016 at 12:57 PM
There is some justice, I suppose, in the Legislature sending Gov. Tom Wolf a bill that finally allows beer distributors to sell six-packs.  It's now that much easier for the rest of us to drink away our sorrows over the Legislature's abject failure (again) to clean up their own mess and pass a bill fixing Pennsylvania's financially disastrous public employee pension system.  Yes, that public pension system, the one that two governors and counting, along with scores of legislators, have declared a fiscal comet on a collision course with the state Treasury.  That's the one they've repeatedly declared an extinction-level event and an issue so vexing and so serious that Something Must Be Done, lest we all go the way of early man, doomed to wander a financial ice age, with only the glow of our fading actuarial statements to guide us.

Error corrected in school report cards, changing scores of 625 schools
Penn Live By Jan Murphy | jmurphy@pennlive.com Email the author | Follow on Twitter on October 27, 2016 at 6:20 PM
scoring error in the 2016 school report cards has been corrected and this information that helps parents and taxpayers track the performance of their local schools is once again accessible on the state Department of Education's school performance website.  On Thursday, the department announced that errors were found in a contractor's calculation of the academic performance scores of 625 of the approximate 1,200 schools that served 11th graders who took the Keystone Exams.  That prompted the department to remove the academic performance page from that part of schools' report card last week.  Most of the erroneous scores were within two points of the corrected scores, said department spokeswoman Nicole Reigleman. The largest was a 3.5 point change. The error did not impact the scores of schools that took the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment administered to students in grades three through eight.

Data error affects state report cards for majority of local schools
Beaver County Times By Katherine Schaeffer kschaeffer@timesonline.com October 27, 2016
The state Department of Education posted updated state report cards for almost every high school in the Times’ coverage area Thursday after a data-reporting error rendered the original scores inaccurate.  The 2015-16 building-level School Performance Profiles, initially released Oct. 13, are calculated based on a variety of metrics, with state standardized tests -- the Keystones for high school students and the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests for grades 3-8 -- weighed most heavily.  The data-reporting error affected ratings for 625 buildings where the high school Keystone exam was administered. Locally, this caused slight changes -- usually less than one point -- in overall scores for 15 high schools.

State releases updated school performance scores
Times Tribune BY SARAH HOFIUS HALL / PUBLISHED: OCTOBER 28, 2016
HARRISBURG — The state released updated School Performance Profile scores for 625 of 2,900 schools across the state on Thursday. Updates were required due to an inaccurate data element provided by a contractor and used for the original scores released earlier this month. Most affected schools only had slight changes to their scores in the system that looks at achievement and growth. Student test scores did not change. Only schools where students take the Keystone Exams — end-of-course exams in algebra I, literature and biology — were affected.

As PSSA scores improve, educators still work to improve results
Centre Daily Times BY BRITNEY MILAZZO bmilazzo@centredaily.com OCTOBER 27, 2016 8:24 PM
The Pennsylvania System of School Assessment scores were released earlier this month.
And the local trend is a similar one to the state as a whole.  The 2016 PSSA data indicates more students scored proficient or advanced than in the previous year, in almost all categories. Those statistics, however, didn’t take into consideration factors such as changing school population. While Centre County schools also are primarily seeing growth — largely with those students who tested at the advanced levels — many school administrators said there is still room for improvement.   “It is our intent to grow each student every day through quality interactions with our teachers,” State College Area School District Superintendent Bob O’Donnell said. “As students grow in terms of skills and achievement, scores on items such as standardized tests will also improve as a result. Our expectation is that our teachers get to know their students as learners and deliver our curriculum on a daily basis through the use of effective instructional strategies.”

PENNSYLVANIA STUDENTS, TEACHERS TO BENEFIT FROM EXPANSION OF CRP WITH $26 MILLION GRANT FROM EXXONMOBIL
National Math and Science Initiative On October 27, 2016 in GeneralNMSI in the News by Anna Gruber
Program Improving Student Preparedness Will Expand to Approximately 40 Schools and 60,000 Students 
Today, the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) announced a major expansion of its College Readiness Program in western Pennsylvania schools  with an investment of $26 million from ExxonMobil, made on behalf of its XTO Energy Inc. subsidiary. The three-year program empowers school communities to improve participation and success in rigorous coursework to better prepare students for college and the STEM-intensive careers of the 21st century. NMSI will partner with approximately 40 schools across the region over the next several years to enhance teacher effectiveness and student performance in the core subjects of math, science and English.  At the announcement event, hosted by West Allegheny High School near Pittsburgh, officials recognized the hard work of local educators and highlighted the need for community leaders to raise matching funds to reach every high school across the state in future years.  “Access to a high-quality education can be critical to a student’s academic growth and their future success,” said Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Pedro A. Rivera. “As the commonwealth works together to invest in students and Schools that Teach, the College Readiness Program is a standout model of how public schools, innovative educational organizations and committed businesses can partner to ensure that the next generation of scientific, business and civic leaders are prepared to succeed.”

“Mr. Regal said about a dozen of the 42 school districts in Allegheny County are eligible to offer kids free lunch and breakfast, but that the House bill would make it more difficult for schools to participate in that provision. He called directly on the congressmen from Allegheny County — Republicans Keith Rothfus and Tim Murphy and Democrat Mike Doyle — to forego that version and “come up with something much better.”
Advocates seek changes in school lunch programs
By Molly Born / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette October 28, 2016 12:00 AM
A trio of child hunger advocates called on Congress Wednesday to make all school lunches and breakfasts free, challenging them to pass a law that, as one put it, “takes the issue of children nutrition more seriously than it has taken it in many years.”  Ken Regal, executive director of  Just Harvest, a South Side-based poverty- and hunger-fighting nonprofit, criticized the “ongoing failure” of legislators to reauthorize the federal legislation that governs the meal programs and other similar initiatives.  “These are essential parts of the safety net that protects American children from hunger, and it’s long past time that Congress takes action to make sure that children are well-fed in this country as a matter of right and not a matter of privilege,” he said at a press conference at the Kingsley Association in East Liberty.  The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 expired last year. The House and Senate child nutrition bills have both move out of committee and are currently awaiting floor action.

York Suburban considers full-day kindergarten
York Dispatch by Alyssa Pressler , 505-5438/@AlyssaPressYD11:06 a.m. EDT October 27, 2016
Kindergarten sure isn't what it used to be.  As young as the students are, they are already working to develop skills for Common Core standards, which is one reason why York Suburban School District is looking into changing its half-day kindergarten program to a full-day program.On Tuesday night, the district held a public meeting to discuss research with the community and hear feedback on the idea before making its final recommendation to the school board in November. Currently, students in kindergarten attend school for 2½ hours each day. One group of students goes in the morning while another group attends in the afternoon.

Pottstown School Board adds more than $300,000 to payroll with 4% raises
By Evan Brandt, The Mercury POSTED: 10/26/16, 6:19 PM EDT | UPDATED: 17 HRS AGO
POTTSTOWN >> With a quiet 5-2 vote Monday night, the Pottstown School Board added more than $300,000 to the district’s payroll, The Mercury has learned.  Before voting Monday, school board member Kurt Heidel was at least willing to inform the public that most of the raises work out to about 4 percent.  He expanded upon the information available to the public Tuesday in apost on The Mercury’s Facebook page where he wrote, in part: “The raise is an across the board 4 percent increase, for one year, retroactive to July 1 2016. The reason the raises were not given until now was due to first completing the negotiations with the Federation of Teachers. All of the raises are paid for as part of the district’s 2016-17 budget. This is the same budget that raised taxes 0% for the districts taxpayers.”

Here's a novel way to fund education in Pa: Colin McNickle
PennLive Op-Ed By Colin McNickle on October 27, 2016 at 11:00 AM
Colin McNickle, the former Editorial Page Editor of The Tribune-Review, is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy 
"Men are entitled to equal rights -- but to equal rights to unequal things,"  said 18th- and early 19th-century British statesman Charles James Fox.  Might a form of that counterintuitive sentiment be the key to resolving Pennsylvania's long-running debate over "equitable funding" for the Keystone State's system of public education?  Two researchers at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy see it as a possibility.  Richer school districts, because of their more robust tax bases, can spend more per pupil. Poorer districts, with more anemic tax bases, spend less. They rely on the state to close the gap. But it is seldom, if ever, "equalized."  Poorer districts long have complained that the commonwealth has failed to abide by the state Constitution's mandate to see to "the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth."

Finding common ground against Common Core
City & State Pennsylvania By: DORIAN GEIGER
In 2012, Amy Roat was teaching a class of English language learners in Philadelphia. It was spring – better known in the halls of Pennsylvania’s public schools as test season.
For months, Roat had worked tirelessly to boost her students’ English proficiency in preparation for the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA), the state’s version of Common Core applied to students from third through eighth grade.  But on exam day, Roat saw her efforts fall drastically short. One of her students, a seventh-grader from the Dominican Republic who had recently arrived in the United States, was visibly struggling with the PSSA. He kept calling over to Roat and her assistant for help  “The questions were too complex – it was too long, you know,” Roat recalled. “He just couldn’t wrap his brain around it.”  But Roat was helpless to assist – PSSA rules prohibited her from offering any type of structural support.

Black Boys in Crisis: How to Get Them to Read
Education Week Education Futures Blog By Matthew Lynch on October 26, 2016 6:38 AM
The statistics point to a startling, yet simple, truth: black boys who cannot read are already in trouble. So if we know that black boys aren't reading the level they should, what can we do to improve that? It starts with awareness and extends to: Customized reading plans
A large part of improving the reading rates of black boys is to provide curriculum plans that are a little less rigid and a little more nuanced. As adults, the reading materials we pick up for the pure joy of reading are as varied as we are and it's acceptable for individuals to prefer certain genres over others. Kids don't have the same freedom. In fairness, before kids can determine what reading materials they will love, they must first have exposure to a wide variety. Still. When reading is uninteresting, it's hard. That's something that doesn't change into adulthood. Early learning teachers, from preschool through the rest of elementary school, must have a diverse knowledge of the reading materials available for their age groups and try, try, and try again until a certain subject or genre clicks.

Wall Street Firms Make Money From Teachers' Pensions — And Fund Charter Schools
International Business Times BY DAVID SIROTA @DAVIDSIROTA AND AVI ASHER-SCHAPIRO AND ANDREW PEREZ (MAPLIGHT) ON10/26/16 AT 10:49 PM
When Massachusetts public school teachers pay into their pension fund each month, they may not realize where the money goes. Wall Street titans are using some of the profits from managing that money to finance an education ballot initiative that many teachers say will harm traditional public schools.  An International Business Times/MapLight investigation has found that executives at eight financial firms with contracts to manage Massachusetts state pension assets have bypassed anti-corruption rules and funneled at least $778,000 to groups backing Question 2,  which would expand the number of charter schools in the state. Millions more dollars have flowed from the executives to nonprofit groups supporting the charter school movement in the lead-up to the November vote. Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, himself a former financial executive, is leading the fight to increase the number of publicly funded, privately run charter schools in Massachusetts — and he appoints trustees to the board that directs state pension investments.  “This is a morally bankrupt situation,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, which opposes the ballot measure. “These managers are using money they’ve earned from teacher pensions to try to destroy the same public education system that teachers have worked in mightily to help children.”

The Privatization of Public Education is Failing Our Kids
The Progressive by Mark Pocan Posted: October 25, 2016
Having served fourteen years in the Wisconsin state legislature before coming to Congress, I had a front-row seat to witness the growth of the nation’s first and largest taxpayer-funded voucher experiment. Our state was an unfortunate leader in the current march toward corporations and wealthy individuals privatizing our public education system.  Wisconsin now has more than 32,000 students statewide enrolled in its voucher plan, even though approximately three-quarters of the new students receiving that public money werealready attending private schools. Now they are just doing so on the taxpayer’s dime. States across the country are draining funds from public schools that educate the vast majority of our children and diverting it to a few students in private schools.  And while state governments are spending millions of taxpayer dollars on these schools, there is virtually no proof that voucher programs are effectively educating our kids. These schools have far less accountability and lower standards than public schools.

“Though hundreds of people have contributed modest amounts of money this past year, the average contribution on both sides is about $40,000.”
Where The Money Comes From In The Fight Over MA Charter Schools
WBUR By Max Larkin October 27, 2016
Both sides in the ballot fight over the charter cap are out knocking on doors in the run-up to Election Day. The public faces of each campaign are students, parents and teachers, pleading for fairness and excellence in every child’s education.  Behind the scenes, though, an unprecedented clash of titans is taking place.  Supporters of Question 2 — the ballot measure that would raise the cap on the number of charter schools allowed to operate in Massachusetts — have contributed $19.5 million to the campaign; opponents have kicked in $13.4 million, according to filing data kept by the state Office of Campaign & Political Finance.  Together that makes almost $33 million — more than twice the $15 million spent, mostly by gaming interests, in the 2014 casino debate, which had been the state’s most expensive campaign on a ballot question.
And very little of that money comes from small, Bernie Sanders-sized donations.

Why do Finnish pupils succeed with less homework?
BBC by Sean Coughlan Education correspondent 27 October 2016
How do Finnish youngsters spend less time in school, get less homework and still come out with some of the best results in the world?
The question gets to the heart of a lot of parental angst about hard work and too much pressure on children in school.  Parents facing all those kitchen table arguments over homework might wonder about its value if the Finns are getting on just fine without burning the midnight oil.
As the OECD think tank says: "One of the most striking facts about Finnish schools is that their students have fewer hours of instruction than students in any other OECD country."

Divide, then rule: How the weird science of U.S. gerrymandering works
Employing voter algorithms and modern mapping software, writes Marcus Gee, American politicians have made gerrymandering planned and precise
MARCUS GEE ASHEVILLE, N.C. The Globe and Mail Last updated: Friday, Oct. 21, 2016 2:14PM EDT
A year after governor Elbridge Gerry’s radical (and self-serving) redrawing of the Massachusetts political landscape inspired the Boston Gazette cartoonist’s ‘Gerry-Mander,’ this version appeared in the April 2, 1813, edition of the Salem Gazette. Here’s the original page; you can also read the accompanying editorial below.  Donald Trump says the election is rigged. His enemies are trying to steal it from him. That’s nonsense, of course. Out-and-out cheating at the ballot box is vanishingly rare in the United States, thanks to a host of safeguards.  But he’s right in one sense.
American politics is rigged. Both parties do the rigging, and they do it in plain sight, shamelessly and legally and even democratically.  They draw the boundaries of the country’s electoral districts to their own advantage, grouping voters in a way that gives their party the greatest number of wins in Congress and in state legislatures.  Instead of the voters choosing the politicians, the politicians, in effect, choose the voters.  The process is called gerrymandering and it’s as old as the United States. Patrick Henry, a hero of the American Revolution, is said to have colluded in redrawing a Virginia district in an attempt to thwart his rival, James Madison.

These three maps show just how effectively gerrymandering can swing election outcomes
Daily KOS By Stephen Wolf  Thursday Oct 27, 2016 · 9:01 AM EDT
North Carolina is perhaps the ultimate swing state in 2016: It’s the only one with truly competitive races for president, Senate, and governor. Remarkably, though, not a single seat is expected to change hands in the state’s House delegation, where Republicans hold a lopsided 10-to-three advantage over Democrats. While there are many reasons for this, gerrymandering is one of the most important. In this post, we’ll examine why, using the three different maps shown above to demonstrate how wildly divergent outcomes are possible for congressional elections in the very same state.  American congressional and legislative elections almost all take place under a system of single-member districts, where only one candidate can win. That requires breaking up a state into smaller parts to create a redistricting plan. However, voters from each party aren’t equally distributed throughout a state. Although North Carolina is roughly evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans as a whole, big cities vote heavily Democratic while many rural areas lean strongly Republican. Consequently, many districts naturally will favor one party or the other even if we didn’t intend to draw them that way.

Education Bloggers Daily Highlights 10/27/2016


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