Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Senator Leach: Public Ed in Jeopardy/ End Keystone Exams?/ NCEE on US Reform Agenda

State Senator: Public education in jeopardy
By LOIS PUGLIONESI, Times Correspondent
HAVERFORD — State Sen. Daylin Leach, D-17, of Upper Merion, outlined his concerns about four pending pieces of legislation when he addressed the school board and parents at Haverford Middle School. 
Currently a member of the Senate Education Committee, Leach maintained that Senate Bill 1, Senate Bill 911, the budget Gov. Tom Corbett initially proposed, and another bill requiring a two-thirds vote on school boards to raise property taxes, "when taken in total present a serious threat to the concept of public education."



Some York County representatives want to end Keystone Exams

Updated: 05/26/2011 11:06:40 AM EDT
Here's a test question. The Keystone Exams, a series of tests to prove a student's readiness for graduation, have:
A) Been rolled out in a pilot mode in the past year as an eventual replacement for the 11th-grade PSSAs;
B) A price tag of at least $160 million over the course of seven years;
C) Possibly met their demise, with House Republicans proposing to cut its $25 million funding in next year's budget;
D) All of the above.

Education Week Published Online: May 27, 2011

U.S. Reforms Out of Sync With High-Performing Nations, Report Finds

Premium article access courtesy of Edweek.org.
The United States' education system is neither coherent nor likely to see great improvements based on its current attempts at reform, a reportRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader released this week by the National Center on Education and the Economy concludes.
The NCEE report is the latest salvo in a flurry of national interest in what can be gleaned from education systems in top-performing or rapidly improving countries. It pushes further than other recent reports on the topic by laying out an ambitious agenda for the United States it says reflects the education practices in countries that are among the highest-performing on international assessments.

Testing Students to Grade Teachers

What do we know about using student achievement tests to judge teacher performance?

Too Much For Tests to Bear

New York Times May 30, 2011, 07:00 PM
You could almost hear a collective groan in the city's schools when the Department of Education announced it would require still more tests.
Parents, teachers and certainly the children are weary of the standardized tests that have sapped so much of the joy from the classroom and pushed so many teachers to replace creative, imaginative lessons with timid and defensive ones.
And to what purpose? Principals, parents and even the children know perfectly well who the good teachers in any school are: 

The Service of Democratic Education

The Nation, Linda Darling-Hammond   
At the commencement ceremony for Columbia University's Teachers College on May 18, Stanford education professor Linda Darling-Hammond—a nationally renowned leader in education reform and former education adviser to Barack Obama's presidential campaign—was awarded the Teachers College medal for distinguished service. Professor Darling-Hammond marked the occasion by delivering the following address.

Follow us on Twitter at @lfeinberg

Monday, May 30, 2011

FreedomWorks, Rhee, Gureghian

FreedomWorks pressures Pennsylvania lawmakers for action on school vouchers
Patriot News Sunday, May 29, 2011, 6:30 AM
Pat Vance, R-Cumberland County, said she would vote against the school voucher bill as it's written now. She said she has concerns about affordability. Over the next month, lawmakers will grind their way toward a final state budget. ...

Embrace change in Pennsylvania education system
Published: Sunday, May 29, 2011, 2:47 PM
Michelle Rhee By Patriot-News Op-Ed The Patriot-News
In cases where there aren't enough spaces in good charter schools, and in which neighborhood schools are failing to provide a quality education to kids, I believe we should allow publicly funded private school vouchers for poor children. ...

Email trail shows Pottstown schools chief was in talks with charter magnate
"Should that new paradigm involve Gureghian's takeover of Pottstown's elementary education, it would also have meant, by Lindley's estimates, a $19.2 million windfall in Pottstown tax dollars for Gureghian's company."The Pottstown Mercury, Published: Sunday, May 29, 2011;
Andrew Dinniman, D-19th Dist. told The Mercury that with Harrisburg battling over school vouchers and a difficult state budget that it is unlikely any action would be undertaken on the charter school reform bill before the fall. ...

Follow us on Twitter at @lfeinberg

Friday, May 27, 2011

NAS: “no positive effect” from testing/ Finnish schools/ Hammond on Evaluations/ Superman Inconvenient Truth

Education Week Published Online: May 26, 2011

Panel Finds Few Learning Gains From Testing Movement

Premium article access courtesy of Edweek.org.
Nearly a decade of America's test-based accountability systems, from "adequate yearly progress" to high school exit exams, have shown little to no positive effect overall on learning and education and have not included enough safeguards against gaming the system, a blue-ribbon committee of the National Academies of Science concludes in a new report.

Are Finnish schools the best in the world?

They have no uniforms, no selection, no fee-paying and no league tables. Yet Finland's education system consistently tops global rankings.
Belfast (Ireland)Telegraph
Richard Garner finds out what we can learn from them
Thursday, 26 May 2011
There are 16 candidates for every vacancy and somehow the 2,000 applicants have to be whittled down to 120 by the time the course starts. We are not talking about law and medicine at Britain's most prestigious universities, though. This is Finland and the applicants are desperate for a job in what is the most sought-after profession in their country: teaching.

NBC News Education Nation
Linda Darling-Hammond //May. 25, 2011 // 12:54 PM

NYC Teachers Counter 'Waiting For Superman' With Film Of Their Own

Huffington Post: 05/24/11
What did "Waiting For 'Superman'" get wrong?
A grassroots group of parents and teachers pokes big holes in last year's blockbuster documentary about America's schools -- insisting that real reform will require more than brand-conscious initiatives such as increased testing standards and access to charter schools.
The result is a new documentary, wryly titled "The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting For Superman."
"It says ... we're mad as hell and we're not gonna take it anymore," said Diane Ravitch, a New York University education historian and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education, during a speech after a recent screening. "Teachers across this country are ... demoralized."

The film site is:

And the Grassroots NYC site is:

Schools of Hard Knocks/ HB 1326/ NCLB Rewrite/ Vicki Phillips on Gates:NYT

Pennsylvania school organizations say districts face tougher choices if voters gain more power to reject property tax hikes
Published: Wednesday, May 25, 2011, 11:44 PM
Two statewide school organizations warn that school districts could face tougher choices in future years if lawmakers give voters more power to reject property tax increases.  Pending bills in the House and Senate would require voter approval of all school property tax increases exceeding a level set by the state. The cap, which changes annually, is 1.4 percent for the next school year.

Thanks again for you advocacy efforts opposing HB 1326; consideration of the bill has been delayed until after the Memorial Day holiday.

Education Law Center Analysis of House Bill 1326 and Opposition to Repeal of Certain Act 1 Exceptions

The Education Law Center emailed this analysis of HB 1326 to all members of the PA House yesterday.

Delco Times Education Issues Series: Schools of Hard Knocks (updated 5/27)
The Delaware County Daily Times has been running a series this week covering current education issues (Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi's Senatorial District incorporates six Delco school districts; all three of House Appropriations Chairman Bill Adolph's school districts are also in Delaware County)

Posted at 05:00 AM ET, 05/26/2011

A sensible way to rewrite No Child Left Behind

By Valerie Strauss, Washington Post Answer Sheet Blog
Here are recommendations made by a coalition of organizations called the Forum for Educational Accountability to help guide Congress — should it be willing to listen — in any rewrite of of the flawed law known as No Child Left Behind. The forum is chaired by the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, or FairTest, a nonprofit organization dedicated to stopping misuse of standardized tests.

Vicki Phillips was a former PA Secretary of Education prior to moving to the Gates Foundation


Students Lose When the Debate Is Polarized

Gates Foundation Blog, Posted by Vicki Phillips on May 23, 2011
In a story published on May 22, 2011, the New York Times examined the foundation's education advocacy grantmaking. This blog post helps provide context for that article. The reporting behind the story relied heavily on documents and information that the foundation itself has made public, either in our Form 990, published every year, or on the grants database on our website. Transparency is critical to good philanthropy and makes reporting such as this possible.


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Education Law Center Analysis of House Bill 1326 and Opposition to Repeal of Certain Act 1 Exceptions

May 25, 2011

TO:      Honorable Members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives
FR:      Education Law Center
  Baruch Kintisch (215-238-6970 x 320, bkintisch@elc-pa.org)
  Sandy Zelno (412-255-6414, szelno@elc-pa.org)
RE:      Analysis of House Bill 1326 and Opposition to Repeal of Certain Act 1 Exceptions

The Education Law Center acknowledges that Pennsylvania faces tough choices to meet its obligations to taxpayers and to public education.  However, we believe that House Bill 1326, repealing the exceptions to the Taxpayer Relief Act (Act 1), will not allow either the state or school districts to meet their obligations in a responsible manner.  We respectfully request that serious attention be given to several provisions of HB 1326 that may harm the interests of vulnerable children and struggling schools. 

The exceptions originally adopted in Act 1 were designed and carefully limited to address particular, narrowly circumscribed situations where schools have little or no control over the factors driving up costs.  The Law Center agrees that local tax increases must not result from careless spending, but the exceptions currently in Act 1 do not allow this.  We also agree that the Commonwealth is badly in need of comprehensive reform of the property tax system, but eliminating the Act 1 exceptions is neither a substitute nor a viable solution for this problem.  In fact, HB 1326 will only further complicate the current over-reliance on local taxes to fund public schools.  Real property tax reform is a critical issue that cannot be ignored, but the pending legislation does not provide such reform and will only serve to further jeopardize the fiscal sustainability of school districts and local governments. 

In short, while the Law Center shares the frustrations of the bill’s sponsors about the unfair burden of property taxes, we strongly believe that eliminating the Act 1 exceptions will only make things worse for struggling schools and communities.

Our intent in this memorandum is to focus on a few of the exceptions now contained in Act 1 that we feel deserve to be analyzed much more closely, and retained or perhaps amended to confirm the true costs involved.  Since this legislation would not take effect until next year’s budget cycle for school districts, we encourage the House of Representatives to hold additional hearings and consider alternative approaches that can better address the underlying issues.  We would be pleased to work with you on this.  The following provisions deserve this attention:


The Act 1 exception for special education costs should be maintained and not repealed.

·         This is a reasonable exception and applies only to actual cost increases exceeding the inflation index for students with disabilities enrolled in a school district and in need of legally-mandated services and supports.

·         Federal and state laws mandate that all children with eligible disabilities receive a “free appropriate public education”— that is, special education and supportive services based on individualized assessments and plans.  Special education services can be costly, and school districts have only limited control and often cannot anticipate or plan for these costs.  Elimination of this exception in Act 1 would be a mistake.  For example:

o        Families can move into a school district and enroll children with significant and costly disabilities. 
o        Some districts develop good reputations for quality special education programs and become destinations for families in need. 
o        Other districts have high levels of poverty, often associated with higher-than-average special education student populations. 
o        The budget for a small district can be severely impacted by just one child with disabilities in need of expensive services in order to learn with her peers.

·         By repealing this Act 1 exception, HB 1326 would force districts to make a choice between violating the special education laws or cutting services for other students who do not have disabilities.  A school district’s failure to pay for and adhere to legal standards for special education would violate state and federal law and could result in litigation and legal fees.  Maintaining the Act 1 exception for special education is the only fair way to give districts the budget flexibility needed to make adjustments from year to year without abruptly cutting programs, both for students with disabilities and for all students.

·         It is worth noting that another exception that would be eliminated by HB 1326 is for “costs to implement a court order or an administrative order from a Federal or State Agency.”  A special education dispute can result in an order from a Special Education Hearing Officer or a judge that can be quite costly to implement.  Caught between a binding legal order and voter resistance, a school district (and in some cases the Commonwealth) could be subject to expanded liability, contempt citations, fines, and additional legal fees.  Most importantly, the student and family could encounter implementation delays or denial of needed services, harming the child's opportunity to learn.
·         The special education line item in the state budget has been flat-lined with no increase for the last several years.  And the state's system for funding special education is broken, relying on an inaccurate statewide average of student enrollment and not taking into account the real programmatic needs of students with disabilities.  Local school districts currently bear most of the fiscal burden for special education, with the state and federal governments contributing far less.  The special education exception in Act 1 needs to be maintained at least until the state funding system for this area is reformed.

·         These problems are not resolved by the Special Education Contingency Fund.  The Fund provides limited state support for the extraordinary special education program expenses of some school districts.  Districts can apply to the Department of Education to receive contingency funds to meet the extraordinary needs of an individual child with significant disabilities who requires a highly specialized program or services.  The state does not approve all applications and only partly funds most requests.  The Contingency Fund has also been flat-funded at 1% of the total statewide basic education appropriation and its use is subject to many significant limitations.  For example, the cost of an “extended school year program” or the cost of a residential private school placement for a child is not eligible for payment through the Fund.


The Act 1 exception for growing school districts should be maintained and not repealed.

·         The Act 1 exception being repealed – Section 333(f)(2)(vii) – allows a school district to raise property taxes without a voter referendum if growth in student enrollment exceeds 7.5 percent over the last three school years and if the increased revenue is needed to maintain the same per student level of funding.  This exception is reasonable and should not be repealed.  It does not allow the higher property taxes to expand spending, but does allow school districts to maintain the same per-student spending levels.  Without this exception, the fast-growing school districts will be forced to cut programs and increase class sizes—lowering the very quality of the schools that attracted families to move to these communities.


The Act 1 exception for the local cost of school improvements mandated by state and federal law (No Child Left Behind Act) should be maintained and not repealed.

·         When a public school fails to make adequate yearly progress (AYP) as defined by state and federal law, the school must develop and implement a school improvement or corrective action plan.  The reforms must address the existing achievement gaps, most commonly found for students with disabilities, children living in poverty, and English language learners.  Schools have no choice about this matter and must continue to spend the resources needed to enact reforms until student performance increases and the school makes AYP for two consecutive years.  The state budget has sometimes contained line items that partially support these reforms, but most costs are borne by the local school district.

·         Repealing the Act 1 exception as proposed by HB 1326 would make it even more difficult for struggling schools to make needed improvements, especially at a time when state support is being severely cut for student tutoring, academic remedial programs, and other services benefiting children struggling in school.

·         There is a strong accountability system for the expenditures made to implement school improvement and corrective action plans, as these written plans are reviewed by parents at each school and annually submitted to and approved by the PA Department of Education.


The Act 1 exception for costs to implement and fulfill a court order or an administrative order from a state or federal agency should be maintained and not repealed.

·         School districts commonly face litigation and the inevitable responsibilities of implementing legally mandatory orders from courts and administrative agencies.  The costs associated with these situations cannot always be anticipated or planned in an annually adopted budget, and such costs often have a limited duration until remedies are fully implemented.  Nevertheless, schools must immediately comply when faced with legal orders or face further penalties.

·         If forced to seek a voter referendum to pay for the unexpected costs of a court or administrative order, a school district could face a situation where it must choose between honoring a negative vote by the public, not fully complying with a legally-binding order, or cutting other educational programs to cover the costs.  This could lead to further legal confrontations and complications.

·         The Education Law Center has experienced this situation in school districts throughout Pennsylvania, on issues involving court or administrative orders for compliance with the laws for homeless students, children in foster care, children with disabilities, and others.  These cases usually involve highly vulnerable children, often with costly educational needs.

Thank you for your consideration.

Delco Times Education Issues Series: Schools of Hard Knocks

Schools of Hard Knocks: Parents of students share fears with state legislators
By DANIELLE LYNCH dlynch@delcotimes.com
Teachers, school board members and district administrators are not the only ones worried about potential cuts in state aid.  Parents are worried, too.

Earlier this month, representatives from the 12 school districts in neighboring Chester County conducted a meeting at West Chester East High School to discuss budget woes with eight state legislators.

Schools of Hard Knocks: Districts predict worst as legislators scramble to lessen education cuts (With Video, graphic)

By ALEX ROSE arose@delcotimes.com
The word “austere” barely begins to cover the kind of school year some local districts are facing in 2011-12.


Schools of Hard Knocks: Legislation aims to expand school choice for low-, middle-income families (With Video, Graphic)

By Alex Rose arose@delcotimes.com
One of the more controversial plans to improve education in the state — at least for some students — is a school voucher proposal that would expand school choice for low- and middle-income families in poorly performing school districts.


Schools of Hard Knocks: Districts find ways to exceed tax caps set by Act 1 index (With Graphic, Video)

BY JOHN KOPP jkopp@delcotimes.com
When Gov. Tom Corbett announced his plan to significantly slash the state’s education budget, he sent school district administrators scrambling for their erasers.


Schools of Hard Knocks: Budget cuts worry teachers' unions

By DANIELLE LYNCH dlynch@delcotimes.com
Fourth of a six-part series
Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposals to slash education funding have sparked concerns among teachers statewide, including unions in Delaware County


Schools of Hard Knocks: Governor's school cuts get support from some

By JOHN KOPP, jkopp@delcotimes.com
Though Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed education cuts have left districts with a shortage of money, there has been no shortage of outcry.
From the support staff staring at potential job cuts to teachers facing wage freezes, Corbett has received criticism from just about everyone associated with public education.
Though they might be drowned out, Corbett has his supporters who herald his proposal to slash basic and higher-education funding by $1.6 billion.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Legislative Alert HB 1326/ House GOP Passes Budget/ Text of Governor Corbett's Speech at AFC/ Language of School Choice

HB 1326 Which Would Remove All Act 1 Exceptions on House Calendar Today – Please Contact your House Member this Morning
The House of Representatives has placed on the voting calendar HB 1326, legislation that will eliminate all 10 Act 1 exceptions, including those exceptions for special education expenditures and for fulfilling pension obligations.  Please take a moment to call or email your House member this morning to ask him or her to oppose this bill in its current form and to support any amendments that would restore any exceptions. 


Pennsylvania House GOP passes budget over Democrats' objections

Published: Tuesday, May 24, 2011, 10:44 PM

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Majority Republicans in the Pennsylvania House sent their state budget proposal to the Senate on Tuesday over the loud objections of Democrats during a marathon floor debate. 

The chamber voted 109-92 to approve a $27.3 billion spending plan and move the process closer to negotiations among legislative leaders and Gov. Tom Corbett in the weeks ahead. 

At least 74 members spoke on the bill, which Speaker Sam Smith, R-Jefferson, said might constitute a record. All Democrats, and two Philadelphia Republicans, voted against it.


Gov. Corbett: Poor need education escape route

Patriot News, Published: Sunday, May 22, 2011, 8:00 AM
The following is the speech Gov. Tom Corbett gave to the American Federation for Children May 9 in Washington, D.C

The Language of School Choice: "A school with boarded up windows and broken glass is the single most frightening visual of a school in trouble."
At the same American Federation for Children school choice conference where Governor Corbett gave the above noted speech, Dr. Frank Luntz, a pollster and political consultant specializing in testing public attitudes to key words lectured the audience on how to better communicate the goals of the school choice movement.  

He cautioned that roughly half of  Republicans believe access to good schools is a privilege, not a right, explaining that more work needs to be done convincing the right than the left.
Luntz released a collection of his findings in 2010, outlining his nine communication commandments that make the best use of the most impacting words that the public finds most compelling. Commandment number seven reads, in part: "Play the America card–often. Embrace 'American Exceptionalism' and encourage people to embrace the principle of exceptionalism in schools." Number three says: "While positive imagery and arguments are comforting and popular, it's the negative ideas and fear of failure that move people to action." That sentiment is paired with the efficacy of negative images: "A school with boarded up windows and broken glass is the single most frightening visual of a school in trouble."
Here's a link to the materials for his presentation, "The Language of School Choice"

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Budget, Vouchers, Testing, Billionaires

GOP eyes restoring some education funding

Social welfare would bear the brunt, however, and minority Democrats warn of damage.

By John L. Micek, Allentown Morning Call Harrisburg Bureau
9:20 p.m. EDT, May 23, 2011
The Republican-controlled state House advanced its version of Gov. Tom Corbett's $27.3 billion budget on Monday night, positioning a spending plan that partially restores the administration's deep cuts to public and higher education by carving funding out of social welfare programs.
A vote on the budget could come as soon as Tuesday. But agreement between House GOP leaders and the majority-Republican Senate on a host of issues, from whether to spend an anticipated $500 million surplus to whether to approve a proposed impact fee on Marcellus Shale natural gas drillers, remain unresolved

Posted on Mon, May. 23, 2011
Pennsylvania: Voucher Ground Zero
By WILL BUNCH, Philadelphia Daily News
bunchw@phillynews.com 215-854-2957
FOR WEEKS, deep-pocketed advocates for school vouchers - tax dollars to help students attend private or religious schools - in Pennsylvania sold their scheme as the only way for poor children to escape failing urban public schools.
Then some leading tea-party groups objected to the legislation slowly snaking its way through Harrisburg.  Their objection: The plan was too generous to poor children.


Senator Williams and Senator Leach on Bar Association Panel June 1st
The Pennsylvania Bar Institute, the continuing education arm of the Pennsylvania Bar Association, will be offering a program entitled "The Future of School Voucher Programs in PA" on Wednesday June 1st from 12:00 noon to 3:15 p.m.  It will be simulcast in several locations around the state and is also being offered as a webcast.

Tests for Pupils, But the Grades Go to Teachers

New York Times By SHARON OTTERMAN Published: May 23, 2011
New York City education officials are developing more than a dozen new standardized tests, but in a sign of the times, their main purpose will be to grade teachers, not the students who take them.


The following article about education reforms in Wisconsin sounds very familiar, including some of the players and the funding:

How to destroy a school system
The public needs to wise up to the GOP's true agenda
Madison Wisconsin Isthmus; Opinion  

There is something horribly fascinating about watching Wisconsin Republicans discuss their plans for our state's school system.
First, they swing the bloody ax:
·         The biggest budget cuts to our public schools in state history, nearly $900 million. Kerchunk.
·         A bill to create a statewide system of charter schools whose authorizing board is appointed by Scott Walker and the Fitzgeralds, and which will funnel resources out of local schools and into cheapo online academies. Kerchunk.
·         Lifting income caps on private-school vouchers so taxpayers foot the bill to send middle- and upper-income families' kids to private school. Kerchunk.
Then comes the really sick part. They candy-coat all this with banal statements about "reforms" that will "empower" parents and students and improve education.

REPORT: Meet The Billionaires Who Are Trying To Privatize Our Schools And Kill Public Education

Think Progress By Zaid Jilani on May 21st, 2011
Two weeks ago, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) marked "a new era for education in Indiana" when he signed into law one of the most expansive school voucher laws in the country, opening up a huge fund of tax dollars for private schools. A few days later, the Wisconsin state Assembly vastly expanded school vouchers, freeing up tax dollarseven for private religious schools. GOP legislators in the Pennsylvania Senate say they have the votes to pass a sweeping voucher bill of their own. And on Capitol Hill, House Republicanssuccessfully revived Washington, D.C.'s voucher system after it was killed off two years ago.