Friday, November 4, 2016

PA Ed Policy Roundup Nov 4: Rewarding Failure – An 8 month EdWeek Investigation of the Cyber Charter Industry

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup November 4, 2016
Rewarding Failure – An 8 month EdWeek Investigation of the Cyber Charter Industry

Keystone Crossroads went out to some of the most gerrymandered congressional districts in Pennsylvania and spoke to people who live and work along these lines about the current election.”
Dividing Lines: How Pennsylvania’s elections really are rigged
Keystone Crossroads By Lindsay Lazarski November 3, 2016
In the months leading up to the 2016 election, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has repeatedly made claims that the election is rigged. In a way, he’s right. Only the rigging happens long before anyone casts a ballot on Election Day and in most places it’s completely legal.  Gerrymandering is the age-old practice that’s made many teenagers’ eyes glaze over in high school civics class. In case you need a refresher, it’s the process of drawing election districts to give one political party — Republican or Democrat — an advantage over the other.   Maps are drawn to maximize one party’s voters over as many districts as possible while concentrating the opposing party’s voters in as few districts as possible. The result is districts that favor one political party. In most states, whichever political party holds the majority and the power in state government gets to determine where the lines are drawn every 10 years. In Pennsylvania there are about 900,000 more registered Democrats than registered Republicans. National and statewide elections are competitive. But when you look at the electorate in congressional voting districts, out of 18 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, Republicans hold 13 and Democrats hold five. 

Dems eye Pa. House gains; GOP seeks Senate veto-proofing
Inquirer by Angela Couloumbis, HARRISBURG BUREAU Updated: NOVEMBER 4, 2016 — 1:08 AM EDT
HARRISBURG - Next week's election is not expected to shake up the balance of power in the Pennsylvania legislature, where Republicans hold commanding majorities in both chambers. But Democrats are hoping it will give them a shot at chipping away at GOP control by picking up seats in hard-fought districts in the House, including several in Philadelphia and its suburbs, where polls show support for the Democrat at the top of the ticket - Hillary Clinton - still runs high. Not to be outdone, Senate Republicans say they envision snagging just enough new seats to reach a coveted status for any political party: a veto-proof majority.  "It won't be easy, but there is a real path," said Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R., Jefferson).  It would require Senate Republicans to pick up three new seats, a feat that Scarnati gave a "75 percent" chance of happening.  All 203 seats in the House, as well as half of the seats in the 50-member Senate, are on the ballot this year.

Blogger note: In compiling our recent “Follow the Money” postings, we noticed that the folks we were following had given to the “Build PA PAC”, a committee associated with state Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, with Students First PAC contributing $10K, Vahan Gureghian contributing $10K, and also University City Housing, a company owned by Philly charter operator Michael Karp contributing $25K.  The “Friends of Jake Corman” was the biggest contributor to Build PA PAC with a $250K contribution.
We thought it might be useful to take a look at where the Build PA PAC money was going.

Contributions Made by Build PA PAC in 2016


Borowicz, Stephanie Friends of
David L Hyman
Disanto for Senate
Killion, Thomas Victory Com
Killion, Thomas Victory Com
Kleinbard LLC
Langerholc, Wayne for Senate
Lewis, Andrew Friends of
London, Jack Friends of
Martin, Scott Friends of
Rafferty, John Friends of
Rafferty, John Friends of
Regan, Mike for Senate
Reschenthaler, Guy Friends of
Senate Rep Campaign Com

Blogger note: Don’t have a subscription to EdWeek?  This set of investigative articles might be a good reason for you to get one.
Rewarding Failure – An 8 month Education Week Investigation of the Cyber Charter Industry
Education Week November 3, 2016
Benjamin Herold, Staff Writer
Arianna Prothero, Staff Writer
Maya Riser-Kositsky, Assistant Librarian
Holly Peele, Librarian
Alex Harwin, Research Analyst
Sumi Bannerjee, Web Designer
Nina Goldman, Web Producer
Laura Baker, Creative Director
Gina Tomko, Art Director
Lovey Cooper, Multimedia Intern
Holly Yettick, Director, Education Week Research Center
Charles Borst, Director of Photography
Kevin Bushweller, Assistant Managing Editor
Lesli A. Maxwell, Assistant Managing Editor
Kathleen Kennedy Manzo, Managing Editor
Gregory Chronister, Executive Editor

With growing evidence that the nation's cyber charter schools are plagued by serious academic and management problems, Education Week conducted a months-long investigation into what is happening in this niche sector of K-12 schooling. The result is a deep-dive account of what's wrong with cyber charters. Education Week uncovered exclusive data on how rarely students use the learning software at Colorado’s largest cyber charter, the questionable management practices in online charters, and how lobbying in scores of states helps keep the sector growing.

Cyber Charters: Widespread Reports of Trouble
Education Week November 3, 2016
A Colorado cyber charter school with a 19 percent graduation rate. An Ohio cyber that inflated student attendance by nearly 500 percent. A Pennsylvania cyber founder who siphoned off $8 million in public money, including $300,000 to buy himself an airplane. A Hawaii cyber founder who hired her nephew as the athletic director – for a school with no sports teams.  As part of an eight-month investigation into the poor academic performance and financial mismanagement of full-time online charter schools, Education Week reviewed hundreds of news stories and dozens of state audits and reports dating back to the early 2000s.  Together, these accounts raise a critical question: What would persuade state lawmakers to bring greater accountability to the nation’s troubled cyber charter sector?

Blogger note: here is the Pennsylvania section of the above Education Week article:
News Links:
● "Cyber-charter suit is a 'smear campaign,' founder says," Philadelphia Inquirer (9/7/2001)
● "Cyberschool is cautionary tale," The Morning Call (5/13/2002)
● "Zogby said to be in line for job at for-profit schools firm," Philadelphia Daily News (11/27/2002)
● "Court rules online school must close; Einstein Academy told to shut doors next month," Evening Sun (5/15/2003)*
● "Devon charter founder sues parents," Philadelphia Inquirer (2/3/2009)
● "Probe found no record of grant money," Philadelphia Inquirer (8/5/2009)
● "PA Auditor General: Taxpayers overcharged $365 million annually for charter schools," The Morning Call (6/21/2012)
● "Auditor General uses PA Cyber finances to illustrate need for change," Beaver County Times (12/7/2012)
● "Ex-workers claim operator of cyber charters played games with enrollment figures," WHYY/Newsworks (1/21/2013)
● "Rising Pa. cyber charter costs fuel push for statewide reform," WHYY/Newsworks (5/23/2013)
● "Feds: PA Cyber Charter School founder Trombetta schemed to steal $1 million," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (8/24/2013)
● "Donations from ex-cyber school raise concerns," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (9/1/2013)
● "Lawyers in Brown’s fraud case defend her multiple salaries," Philadelphia Inquirer (12/7/2013)
● "Ex-CEO of cyber school wants evidence thrown out in fraud case," Associated Press (6/5/2014)
● "After 3 years of fighting charges, PA Cyber founder admits tax fraud," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (8/24/2016)

State Audits & Reports:
● "Pennsylvania charter school accountability and transparency: time for a tune-up," Pennsylvania Department of the Auditor General (May 2014)
● "Charter and cyber charter education funding reform should save taxpayers $365 million annually," Pennsylvania Department of the Auditor General (6/20/2012)
● "The Commonwealth should revise its charter and cyber charter school funding mechanisms," Pennsylvania Department of the Auditor General (September 2010)

“Not one of Pennsylvania’s cyber charters has achieved a passing SPP score of 70 in any of the four years that the SPP has been in effect.”
Charter Accountability?  School Performance Profile Scores for PA Cyber Charters 2013 through 2016
Keystone State Education Coalition October 16, 2016
Total cyber charter tuition paid by PA taxpayers from 500 school districts for 2013, 2014 and 2015 was over $1.2 billion; $393.5 million, $398.8 million and $436.1 million respectively.

Pennsylvania Education Secretary Pedro Rivera Makes Two Stops on Schools That Teach Tour
NEWS PROVIDED BY Pennsylvania Department of Education  Nov 03, 2016, 18:06 ET
HARRISBURG, Pa., Nov. 3, 2016 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- State Education Secretary Pedro A. Rivera visited two schools in north central Pennsylvania Thursday to speak with administrators, teachers, and students as part of the Wolf Administration's Schools That Teach tour.  During visits to the Jersey Shore Area School District and Bald Eagle School District, Rivera shared with teachers, administrators, and students Governor Wolf's vision for improving education for every student regardless of zip code.  "Schools across the commonwealth are delivering on their mission to provide a high-quality education to all the students in their classrooms, and the Department of Education is committed to supporting them in that mission," said Sec. Rivera. "By traveling the state, listening to educators and administrators, and securing the necessary funding to address each school's unique needs, we will make a critical investment in Pennsylvania's schools and 1.74 million students."

Truancy law revised to help chronically ill children, combat school dropouts
Penn Live By Jan Murphy | Email the author | Follow on Twitter on November 03, 2016 at 4:52 PM
Parents of chronically ill children have less reason to fear that they will wind up before a district judge and threatened with jail time if their kids have extended or frequent absences from school.
Gov. Tom Wolf on Thursday signed into law the first overhaul of the state's truancy law and policies in over two decades. It encourages school administrators, parents, and the court system to work together to help students succeed rather than just penalize them.  The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre County, clarifies the procedure schools must follow with respect to children who are truant, having three or more days of unexcused absences during a school year, and habitually truant, having six or more days of unexcused absences during a school year.  It provides relief for chronically ill children by requiring schools to offer families a school attendance improvement conference before referring their child's case to the court system. It also gives magisterial district justices more flexibility and discretion when issuing penalties.

New Pa. law tackles chronic student absenteeism
York Daily Record by Angie Mason , amason@ydr.com4:56 p.m. EDT November 3, 2016
Punishing parents and children when a student misses too much school doesn't usually solve the underlying problem. That's according to truancy prevention advocates, who are hopeful that new provisions in the state's truancy law will help to ensure more kids are in the classroom, where they belong.  On Thursday morning, Gov. Tom Wolf signed House Bill 1907, which makes an array of changes to the state's truancy law.  "Basically, what this truancy legislation is aiming to do is make everything less punitive," said Steve Robinson, spokesman for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, which was part of a state work group that recommended changes.
The goal is to tackle truancy from a more student-centered perspective, Robinson said, to help figure out why a student is missing school and how those involved can help.

“All of the 13 elementary schools in the School District of Lancaster are high-poverty schools, meaning the majority of students are eligible for free and reduced lunches. At several of the schools, the poverty rate exceeds 90 percent of the students. They are the schools with the lowest standardized test scores in the county.  But almost all of the elementary schools in the surrounding suburbs have poverty rates in the 25 to 44 percent range. Scores of low-income students in those schools are higher than those in high-poverty schools.”
Some Lancaster County schools have 90 percent poverty rates; possible solution is countywide districts, educators say
Lancaster Online by JEFF HAWKES | Staff Writer November 3, 2016
Society is failing low-income students by packing them together in the same schools, a panel of educators said here Wednesday.  The education experts cited national and local research showing how achievement suffers in schools where the vast majority of students live in poverty. But studies show that when low-income students are the minority at a school, they are more likely to pass achievement tests, graduate and go on to college.  “If we as a community are to address educational inequality in our own backyard, we must look for ways to promote greater economic balance in our schools and move away from an educational system that is separate and unequal,” said Jane Pugliese, citing her recent master’s-level research at Millersville University. Pugliese made a presentation at the Rotary Club of Lancaster. Also on the panel were two of her faculty advisers and a school district superintendent.

“More and more Pennsylvanians are being treated for autism by schools and state sources. Pennsylvania’s Autism Services, Education, Resources and Training Collaborative reported the number of children and adults receiving services across the state increased from 20,000 in 2009 to 55,000 in 2014. And the number of Pennsylvania students identified as autistic has climbed from 10,315 in 2005 to 27,384 in 2014.”
Central Bucks, Council Rock drawing attention for autism support programs
Intelligencer By Marion Callahan, staff writer November 4, 2016
The ceiling lights in room 202 at Central Bucks' Tamanend Middle School in Warrington were covered in a sheet of blue to mute the fluorescent glow and help create a calm atmosphere. Bean bags, balls and blankets filled a corner of the room, in case students needed added comfort. An oversized stuffed bear wasn't far from the teacher's desk.  But on this day, students in Jill Camburn's autistic-support class didn't need bears, blankets or balls. They were engaged in a game of picture bingo, playing beside kids from general education classes. At the same time, they were learning to maintain eye contact, follow directions, develop math skills, hone communication skills and form relationships with other students.  The Central Bucks and Council Rock School districts are drawing nationwide attention for their success in helping students with autism develop such critical skills and both are drawing an increasing number of students as a result. While some families have moved into the districts specifically for the autism programs, neither district attributed the overall growth of their programs to that factor. 

Kenney, Wolf tap Wilkerson as new SRC chair
by Kristen Graham, Inquirer Staff Writer  @newskag November 3, 2016
Mayor Kenney has chosen Joyce Wilkerson - a former chief of staff to Mayor John Street - as his pick for the School Reform Commission. She took the oath of office Thursday morning in Kenney's cabinet room.  Wilkerson, currently an executive at Temple University, replaces Marjorie Neff on the SRC and is also chair of the five-member body. After speaking with Wilkerson by phone, Gov. Wolf formally named her chair shortly after she was sworn in as a commissioner, his spokesman said.  She said she hardly hesitated before accepting Kenney's offer to join the SRC. Her early work was in housing, and then she moved into government before joining Temple. At a recent meeting there, a topic was Kenderton Elementary, the North Philadelphia school whose struggles were the recent topic of Inquirer and Daily Newsstories.  "All roads seem to lead back to education," Wilkerson said in an interview. "This is really important."

Kenney chooses Wilkerson, former Street chief of staff, for SRC
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney named Joyce Wilkerson, John Street’s former chief of staff, to the School Reform Commission on Thursday.  Quickly therafter, Governor Tom Wolf appointed Wilkerson chair of the five-member commission, meaning she'll play a key role in shaping the future of the city's school system.  Wilkerson replaces departing SRC chair Marjorie Neff, who formally resigned Thursday.  A long-time fixture on the city's political scene, Wilkerson was Street’s chief of staff from 2000 to 2008. She also ran Street’s office when he was on City Council and served nine years as deputy director of the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority.

5 Reasons Schools Should Measure Chronic Absence
NPR by ELISSA NADWORNY November 3, 20165:00 AM ET
How do you judge how good a school is? Test scores? Culture? Attendance?
In the new federal education law, states are asked to use five measures of student success. The first four are dictated by the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA. Three are related to academics — like annual tests and graduation rates. The fourth measures proficiency of English language learners.  The fifth is the wild card — aimed at measuring "student success or school quality" — and the law leaves it to states to decide. There are many ideas out there for what schools could choose — including suspension rates and school climate surveys.  A new report from the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution suggests that the best choice states could make, if they really want to make a difference, is to require schools to use chronic absence.

Bipartisan group of senators asks Obama to rein in Education Department proposals
Washington Post By Emma Brown November 3 at 2:26 PM 
A bipartisan group of 10 U.S. senators is asking President Obama to rein in the Education Department, arguing that the agency is trying to overreach into matters that Congress intended to be decided by states and school districts.  Their objections arise from two key regulations that the Education Department is seeking to finalize before Obama leaves office. One governs how districts allocate billions of dollars for the education of poor children, and the other outlines how states and districts should design systems to judge which schools are failing and how to intervene to help them improve.  The Education Department and its allies in the civil rights movement — as well as some Senate Democrats — have argued that their approach is not only legal, but is necessary to give the nation’s most disadvantaged children a fair shot at getting a quality education. The regulations have nevertheless drawn criticism from a broad, strange-bedfellows alliance of Republicans, teachers unions and groups representing state education chiefs and local school boards and superintendents, who argue that the department is not only overstepping its authority but also proposing policies that threaten to wreak havoc in schools and run counter to the best interests of needy children.

Who will be the next U.S. education secretary?
Washington Post Answer Sheet Blog By Valerie Strauss November 3 at 2:41 PM 
Will retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson become education secretary if Donald Trump is elected president?  Who will Hillary Clinton offer the job to if she wins the 2016 presidential election next week? Denise Juneau, Montana’s superintendent of public instruction who is running for Congress? Linda Darling-Hammond, Stanford University professor emeritus and head of the nonprofit Learning Policy Institute?   With the election just days away, many in the education world are wondering who might take over the Education Department in the new administration. Education was a subject pretty much overlooked during the campaign, but the positions the candidates took on some education issues suggest vastly different education secretary picks.

According to NASA, we're about to see a super-duper Supermoon
A record supermoon is expected Nov. 14
Stephanie Sigafoos Contact Reporter Of The Morning Call November 3, 2016
According to NASA, we're about to see a super-duper Supermoon
The term Supermoon has become as widely used in online circles as buzzwords like snowpocalypse, polar vortex, and bombogenesis.  Fortunately, the Supermoon is not only free of destruction when it makes an appearance, it’s entered popular consciousness at a time when the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has some 19.7 million Twitter followers and more than 17 million Facebook fans.  According to NASA, the word Supermoon was originally used to refer to a new or full moon that occurs when the moon is within 90 percent of its closest approach to Earth in a given orbit.  It now refers more broadly to a moon that is closer to Earth than average.  It just so happens that not only will we have another Supermoon relatively soon, but this one will be a super-duper Supermoon.  In fact, NASA says the full moon that will occur beginning at 5:20 p.m. on November 14 will not only be the closest full moon of 2016 but also the closest full moon to date in the 21st century.   It will appear about 14 percent bigger and 30 percent brighter than when it is at the farthest point from Earth.  This record-breaking Supermoon is big for a reason: NASA says the full moon will not come this close to Earth again until November 25, 2034. If you miss November’s Supermoon, fear not.  NASA says the last Supermoon of the year will appear on December 14 and should look just as spectacular.

Public Forum: Who should run Philadelphia's schools? Thursday, Dec. 8, 6-7:30 p.m. Drexel University - Behrakis Grand Hall
Join us for a public forum featuring state, city and civic leaders sponsored by Philadelphia Media Network, the Philadelphia Public School Notebook and Drexel University's School of Education.
Creese Student Center 3210 Chestnut St. Philadelphia, PA 19104
It's been 15 years since the state took control of Philadelphia's schools and created the School Reform Commission. Since then, the SRC has been a polarizing presence in the city.
With the recent resignation of two members of the commission and the term of a third expiring soon, the future of the SRC and the issue of school governance is once again at the forefront of the civic dialogue. Is the SRC the only model to consider?  Should Philadelphia create an elected school board, or should the governing body be controlled by the Mayor? Are there models in other cities that could help us rethink our own school governance?   The Philadelphia Public School Notebook, Philadelphia Media Network -- owner of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News and, and Drexel University's School of Education are hosting a public forum on this critical issue.
RSVP - Admission is free, but you must register in advance. Register now, and find out more about the panelists and other details at our registration page.

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SAVE THE DATE LWVPA Convention 2017 June 1-4, 2017
Join the League of Women Voters of PA for our 2017 Biennial Convention at the beautiful Inn at Pocono Manor!

Register now for the 2017 NSBA Annual Conference 
Plan to join public education leaders for networking and learning at the 2017 NSBA Annual Conference, March 25-27 in Denver, CO. General registration is now open at A conference schedule, including pre-conference workshops, is available on the NSBA website.

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