Thursday, August 13, 2015

PA Ed Policy Roundup August 13: Number of Pa. students opting out of state tests rises dramatically in 2015

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup for August 13, 2015:
Number of Pa. students opting out of state tests rises dramatically in 2015

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

Number of Pa. students opting out of state tests rises dramatically in 2015
In a sign that the opt-out movement continues to grow, the number of elementary school students who refused to take Pennsylvania's state standardized tests rose dramatically over the past two years.  Between 2013-14 and 2014-15, opt-outs on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment math test more than tripled – from 1,017 students to 3,270. That's a 220 percent jump.  In the same years, PSSA English language arts opt-outs jumped 139 percent – from 1,355 to 3,245.  Opt-outs on the science test jumped 263 percent – from 309 to 1,123.  These are the largest jumps in nine years of available data.
These numbers, though, actually account only for parents who formally opted out. The state also counts students whose parents refused to have them take the test without going through the opt-out process.  When both categories are combined, the increases are starker in math and English.  Between 2013-14 and 2014-15, the PSSA math test saw total exclusions jump by 240 percent – from 1,292 to 4,394.  Likewise, the PSSA English language arts test saw total exclusions jump 155 percent – from 1,789 to 4,567.  Total exclusions on the science test jumped 258 percent – from 456 to 1,635.  "It's a recognition that there's already substantial concern among some parents about the climate with standardized testing," said Adam Schott, director of policy research at Research for Action. "And so it's just important that policymakers be attentive going forward."

New PSSA results show risks of "one-size-fits-all" testing: Don Bell
PennLive Op-Ed  By Don Bell on August 12, 2015 at 1:30 PM
Don Bell, the school superintendent for the Northern Lebanon School District, is an occasional PennLive Opinion contributor.
It has always been clear that some believe that the definition of student success can only be found in a "one size-fits all test."  Even when the world has moved away from this scenario -- check your ballcap for proof. Some caps are custom fitted, others adjust and create a custom fit and still others are stretch bands that say "one size fits most".  None of the hats say one size fits "all." Yet in the world of public education we are still mandated by some but "not all" government officials that the one size fits all PSSA test is the only approach to define student success.  With the release of the newest PSSA information it shows that the preliminary scores decreased significantly from the previous year.  Does this mean, as another superintendent put it, that students are dumber one year later or teachers stopped teaching last year? - Absolutely not.

20% of New York State Students Opted Out of Standardized Tests This Year
New York Times By ELIZABETH A. HARRIS AUG. 12, 2015
More than 200,000 third through eighth graders sat out New York’s standardized tests this year, education officials said on Wednesday, in a sign of increasing resistance to testing as more states make them harder to pass.  The number of students declining to take the exams quadrupled from the year before, and represented 20 percent of all those eligible to be tested, according to data from the State Education Department. The statistic not only showed the growing strength of the “opt out” movement against standardized testing, but also put immediate pressure on state and federal officials, who must now decide whether to penalize schools and districts with low participation rates.

New York’s Common Core test scores flop yet again — with 20 percent of students opting out
Washington Post Answer Sheet Blog By Valerie Strauss August 13 at 5:00 AM  
New York just released student scores on the 2015 state-mandated Common Core standardized tests in math and English Language Arts and the results were interesting. The scores — the third year for Common Core testing — edged up slightly from last year, but a comparison with last year is not especially useful, given that some 20 percent of students opted out of the tests this past spring, far more than last year.  So what do the test scores mean?  Carol Burris, the executive director of the nonprofit Network for Public Education Fund, explains in this post. Burris retired in June as an award-winning principal at a New York high school, and she is the author of numerous articles, books and blog posts (including on The Answer Sheet) about the botched school reform efforts in her state.

N.Y. Opt-Out Rate Hits 20 Percent on Common-Core Tests
Education Week State Ed Watch By Andrew Ujifusa on August 12, 2015 1:27 PM
We finally have an answer to a burning question about the epicenter of the opt-out movement.  According to data released by the New York state education department Aug. 12, 20 percent of students in grades 3-8 eligible to take the statewide tests in reading and math for the 2014-15 school year did not do so.   It's the third year that New York state students have taken tests aligned to the Common Core State Standards. And scores didn't change dramatically from last year to this year.  Overall statewide proficiency rates in 2014-15 were 31.3 percent on the reading exam and 38.1 percent in math. The math proficiency rate rose by just under 2 percentage points from the 2013-14 rate, but in reading, the proficiency rate rose by less than a percentage point.

Standardized Testing Costs States $1.7 Billion a Year, Study Says
Education Week By Andrew Ujifusa Published Online: November 29, 2012; Updated: June 24, 2015
Standardized-testing regimens cost states some $1.7 billion a year overall, or a quarter of 1 percent of total K-12 spending in the United States, according to a new report on assessment finances.  The report released Nov. 29 by the Washington-based Brown Center on Education Policy, at the Brookings Institution, calculates that the test spending by 44 states and the District of Columbia amounted to $65 per student on average in grades 3-9 based on the most recent test-cost data the researchers could gather. (The Brown Center report was not able to gather that data from Connecticut, Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Wyoming.)

Report: Big education firms spend millions lobbying for pro-testing policies
Washington Post Answer Sheet Blog By Valerie Strauss March 30, 2015
 (Corrections: The center corrects points about Houghton Mifflin’s market share for Common Core testing; and McGraw Hill. The original post said testing made up for shrinking textbook market share; the company says it is digital resources.
The four corporations that dominate the U.S. standardized testing market spend millions of dollars lobbying state and federal officials — as well as sometimes hiring them — to persuade them to favor policies that include mandated student assessments, helping to fuel a nearly $2 billion annual testing business, a new analysis shows.  The analysis, done by the Center for Media and Democracy, a nonprofit liberal watchdog and advocacy agency based in Wisconsin that tracks corporate influence on public policy, says that four companies — Pearson Education, ETS (Educational Testing Service), Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and McGraw-Hill—  collectively spent more than $20 million lobbying in states and on Capitol Hill from 2009 to 2014.  The analysis notes that of the four, only one, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, has signed the  Student Privacy Pledge, an initiative by the Future of Privacy Forum and the Software & Information Industry Association to get K-12 school service providers to pledge to safeguard student privacy built around a dozen commitments regarding the collection, maintenance, and use of student personal information. Currently 127 providers have signed it.  Here’s a summary of findings from the new analysis on lobbying by testing corporations:

Wolf’s budget talks with lawmakers focus on school funding
ABC27 MARK SCOLFORO, Associated Press Published: August 12, 2015, 5:08 pm
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – Gov. Tom Wolf and legislative leaders are reporting incremental progress and a plan for more talks after an hour of state budget discussions.
The Democratic governor and leaders of both parties focused on education funding and Republican proposals to cut public-sector pensions during a closed-door meeting in the Capitol on Wednesday.  Pennsylvania is about a month and a half into its new fiscal year without a budget in place. Majority Republicans passed a spending plan without new taxes in late June, but Wolf vetoed it along with GOP proposals on pensions and liquor privatization.
Wolf says they’re making progress and plan to meet again on Thursday.

Wolf, GOP inch closer on budget
HARRISBURG - During an hour-long negotiating session Wednesday, Gov. Wolf and Republican legislators inched toward compromise on some key sticking points in a budget six weeks overdue.  House Speaker Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny) was careful to temper expectations, but said the talks marked the first time he had seen "some movement [by Wolf] acknowledging our perspective" on pension reform and privatization of the state liquor store system.  "There's no breakthrough," Turzai said, "but it was an important discussion."  Wolf agreed that there had been progress, though, like Turzai, without elaborating on what was discussed in the second-floor Capitol conference room. But the first-term Democratic governor said he needs to see similar acknowledgment by Republican leaders of his plan to bolster education spending.

Wolf shows movement on pension reform in latest budget talks
Penn Live By Jan Murphy | Email the author | Follow on Twitter on August 12, 2015 at 7:04 PM, updated August 12, 2015 at 9:41 PM
With the state budget stalemate now in its 43rd day, Gov. Tom Wolf decided a way to try to break the logjam with the GOP-controlled General Assembly would be to focus on pension reform and education spending.  While no agreements were reached during the nearly hour and a half session, Wolf and House and Senate Republican and Democratic leaders all said they saw the talks as productive and plan to meet again on Thursday.  "We're making progress," Wolf said. "I think we're trying to move. We're having substantive conversation on issues that are important to both sides and I think that's a good thing in this negotiation."

Budget negotiations forge ahead with new proposals coming on pension reform, education funding
The PLS Reporter Author: Jason Gottesman/Wednesday, August 12, 2015
Top legislative leaders from the four legislative caucuses met with Gov. Tom Wolf Wednesday afternoon to discuss matters related to resolving Pennsylvania’s seven-week old budget stalemate and left the meeting to review new proposals offered by the administration dealing with pension reform and education funding.  The negotiators will meet again Thursday morning to discuss the new plans and see if they can find a way to forge ahead and agree to a spending plan.  “I think we made some progress,” Gov. Wolf said about the Wednesday meeting. “We’re going to get together at 10:00 tomorrow morning, we have some information [Budget Sec. Randy Albright] is going to be presenting to the leaders, both parties, so we can have a continuation of this tomorrow.”  While the governor stopped short of saying there was any sort of a breakthrough in negotiations, he remained optimistic saying again, “We made progress.”
“There’s a sense that we’re trying to move and have a substantive conversation on issues that are important to both sides and I think that’s a good thing with this negotiation,” he added.  House Majority Leader Dave Reed (R-Indiana) described the negotiating session as “a good discussion.”  “Look, we’re still going to have differences as long as we’re still working off of the governor’s March proposal,” he said.  He called the fact that the legislative leaders will be presented with a new pension reform proposal a “significant step” depending on what the proposal contains.

Gov. Wolf's complaints with the Republican budget
Governor sees basic math errors in Republican budget
York Daily Record By Flint McColgan @flintmccolgan on Twitter UPDATED:   08/12/2015 10:23:55 PM EDT
Gov. Tom Wolf discusses policy during a YDR editorial board session. (File)
Ahead of a meeting with state legislative leaders to try to fix a budget impasse, Gov. Tom Wolf met with reporters at York City Hall to discuss his complaints about the budget Republicans presented to him in June.  Wolf, the former owner and chief executive of the Wolf Organization, a cabinetry distribution company in York County, said the numbers in the Republican budget just don't add up.  He maintained a folksy and playful attitude throughout the roughly 45-minute press conference where he spoke both generally and specifically about the budget that was presented to him and his own views. Here are some highlights:

Pittsburgh Public Schools discusses taking in Wilkinsburg middle, high school students
Trib Live By Katelyn Ferral Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2015, 7:12 p.m.
Wilkinsburg middle and high school students could attend Pittsburgh Public Schools as early as 2016-17 if both boards approve a plan to partner.  Officials at Pittsburgh Public and Wilkinsburg schools said they will form an internal group this fall to explore how the two districts might work together.  “We indicated several months ago our inability to be offering what we believe is the same type of education opportunities that other students in Allegheny County experience in their secondary years,” Wilkinsburg Superintendent Daniel Matsook said. “That's the No.1 reason we look for a partnership.”  The exploratory group will consist of the superintendent or designee, business manager and solicitor representing each district, who will develop terms and draft a potential agreement for how Wilkinsburg could pay to send students in grades seven through 12 to a Pittsburgh middle and high school. They will determine which Pittsburgh school would be a feeder school for Wilkinsburg students.  Wilkinsburg has suffered from declining enrollment for years from a shrinking population and student diversions to charter schools. About 260 students attend Wilkinsburg's middle and high schools, and 190 children who live in the district attend charter schools, Matsook said.

Pa. Supreme Court to decide whether SRC can cancel Phila. teachers' contract
KRISTEN A. GRAHAM, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER LAST UPDATED: Thursday, August 13, 2015, 1:08 AM POSTED: Wednesday, August 12, 2015, 6:15 PM
Pennsylvania's highest court will decide whether the Philadelphia School Reform Commission can cancel its teachers' contract.  Had the Supreme Court declined to take the case, the SRC's move in October 2014 to cancel its contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) would have been voided.  The Supreme Court, however, through an order issued Monday, essentially gave the district another shot at achieving by fiat what it has been unable to get at the bargaining table.  In January, Commonwealth Court sided with the union, putting aside the SRC's unilateral cancellation of the contract and changes it had imposed on the members' health-care plan. The court said neither the state public school code nor the legislature had expressly given the SRC the power to set aside labor agreements.

Top Pa. court to decide if Philly SRC has power to cancel teachers contract
A battle between the Philadelphia School Reform Commission and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers is heading toward  the state's highest court.  The Pennsylvania Supreme Court will decide if the SRC has the authority to unilaterally cancel the teachers' contract.  In October, the SRC voted to cancel the teachers contract and impose health care concessions on teachers in order to achieve $200 million in savings.  The SRC argued it had that power based on the 2001 law that took local school control away from the city.  In January, the state Commonwealth Court rejected that argument.  Now, in response to an appeal by the SRC and the district, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will hear the case.  No date has yet been set.

Pew: 5 facts about America’s students
Pew Research Center BY LAUREN KENT  August 10, 2015
In a few weeks, America’s roughly 53.5 million K-12 students will head to the classroom. Trading in swimming pools and summer jobs for math problems and history homework, these students will hit the books at one of more than 129,200 schools across the country, including about 5,700 charter schools and 30,900 private schools.  Pew Research Center has found today’s American students as a whole to be more diverse and on track to be better educated – than their parents and grandparents. Here are five key findings about these students:

"A recent report from education consulting firm Bellwether Education Partners found that when potential candidates were asked why did not apply to TFA, 70 percent said criticism of the organization played a role."
Teach For America Sees Another Big Drop In Accepted Corps Members
Fewer young people are looking to join the organization's ranks.
Rebecca Klein Education Editor, The Huffington Post Posted: 08/11/2015 09:01 AM EDT | Edited: 08/11/2015 03:54 PM EDT
Teach For America, the controversial education nonprofit that places recent college graduates as teachers in disadvantaged classrooms, saw a decline in its number of accepted corps members after previously seeing a drop in applications for the second year in a row, the organization announced Tuesday.   TFA received over 44,000 applications for the 2015-2016 school year. Last year, the organization received just over 50,000 applications. The previous year, the organization hit a high of over 57,000 applications, topping off years of growth.  At the same time, by maintaining an acceptance rate of 15 percent, the organization is welcoming a smaller class of teaching corps members than in previous years. TFA will have a new teaching corps class of about 4,100 this year, compared to around 5,300 the previous year and about 6,000 the year before that

"For eight hours of work per week, TFA chair Wendy Kopp drew a 2013 salary of $176,657. Co-CEOs Matt Kramer and Elisa Villanueva Beard drew salaries of $381,946 for 42 hrs/wk (Kramer) and $342,134 for 40 hrs/wk (Beard)."
Teach for America Seeks Help Promoting Itself on Capitol Hill
deutch29 Blog by Mercedes Schneider July 28, 2015
Teach for America (TFA) is a nonprofit organization founded in 1991 by Princeton graduate and noneducator, Wendy Kopp. TFA was granted nonprofit status in June 1993. According to its 2013 990, TFA’s end-of-year total assets were $494 million, with $73.5 million of its 2013 revenue designated as “government grants” and $31.6 million of its 2013 revenue earmarked as “service fees revenue.”  Interestingly, TFA’s 2013 990 also includes $4.7 million tagged as “bad debt expense” as part of its total functional expenses.  For eight hours of work per week, TFA chair Wendy Kopp drew a 2013 salary of $176,657. Co-CEOs Matt Kramer and Elisa Villanueva Beard drew salaries of $381,946 for 42 hrs/wk (Kramer) and $342,134 for 40 hrs/wk (Beard).
TFA began as a Peace Corps-like temp agency that sends college graduates outside of the field of teaching into classrooms for usually two years. However, by 2001, TFA had established a second goal: To move former TFA corps members into positions of influence in education, business, and politics in order to solidify and expand TFA’s influence over public education.

"The Walton Family Foundation has contributed more than $50 million to Teach for America since 2009.[1] "
Are Walton/Walmart Ties Hurting Teach for America’s Reputation?
February 9, 2015 By skhalifa
It looks like the Walmart heirs’ multi-milion dollar investment in Teach for America is causing some young teachers-to-be to think twice about the group and its agenda.    In Friday’s New York Times,Motoko Rich writes that Teach for America has experienced a 10% drop in applications over the prior year, breaking a 15 year growth trend for the organization.   Among the reasons cited for the drop are increasing criticism of TfA, it’s funders, and its close alliance with the charter school movement.  In fact, the article quotes one college student who was originally interested in applying for Teach for America:  But as she learned more about the organization, Ms. Duncan lost faith in its short training and grew skeptical of its ties to certain donors, including the Walton Family Foundation, a philanthropic group governed by the family that founded Walmart.
The Walton Family Foundation has contributed more than $50 million to Teach for America since 2009.[1] 

Video: Corporate Education "Reform"
Video runtime 4:45 from Shine On Productions
This is a clip from the film DEFIES MEASUREMENT. To watch the whole film and learn more about how to screen the film in your community, please visit

PCCY: Get on the Bus to Harrisburg August 25th
As parents, teachers and advocates, you know first hand how difficult it is to get the resources needed to support our students. Harrisburg continues to be mired in political gridlock and has failed to pass a budget for Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts. 
Teachers, parents and students have no idea what they will be walking into come September for the start of school. We say enough is enough.
We are contacting you because on August 25th the PA House is scheduled to return to the Capitol—and we want to be there to meet them. Could you give us a few hours of your day and help make it clear that we demand a budget? 
  • Join your neighbors and other concerned citizens who believe that investing in our kids is non-negotiable
  • We’ll provide: FREE Transportation to and from the Capitol and lunch; a brief training on the bus, materials, and day of schedule
  • Scheduled visits with elected officials  
Kids are off from school so bring them with you – after all, it concerns their future!
  • Bus will depart from in front of the United Way Building at 7:45am at 1709 Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
  • We will return to Philly by approximately 4:30pm.  (Discounted parking ($8) available at the Sheraton Hotel at 17th & Race)
  • If you plan to drive yourself, we will meet at the Capitol between 10am and 10:30am.

The John Stoops Lecture Series: Dr. Pasi Sahlberg "Education Around the World: Past, Present & Future" Lehigh University October 8, 2015 6:00 p.m.
Baker Hall | Zoellner Arts Center | 420 E. Packer Avenue | Bethlehem, PA 18015
Free and open to the public!
Ticketing is general admission - no preseating will be assigned. Arrive early for the best seats.
Please plan to stay post-lecture for an open reception where you will have an opportunity to meet with students from all of our programs to learn about the latest innovations in education and human services.

Register now for the 2015 PASCD 65th Annual Conference, Leading and Achieving in an Interconnected World, to be held November 15-17, 2015 at Pittsburgh Monroeville Convention Center.
The Conference will Feature Keynote Speakers: Meenoo Rami – Teacher and Author “Thrive: 5 Ways to (Re)Invigorate Your Teaching,”  Mr. Pedro Rivera, Pennsylvania Secretary of Education, Heidi Hayes-Jacobs – Founder and President of Curriculum Design, Inc. and David Griffith – ASCD Senior Director of Public Policy.  This annual conference features small group sessions focused on: Curriculum and Supervision, Personalized and Individualized Learning, Innovation, and Blended and Online Learning. The PASCD Conference is a great opportunity to stay connected to the latest approaches for innovative change in your school or district.  Join us forPASCD 2015!  Online registration is available by visiting <>

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

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

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

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

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

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