Friday, July 31, 2020

PA Ed Policy Roundup for July 31, 2020: Reopening Plans…..

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PA Ed Policy Roundup for July 31, 2020
Reopening Plans…..

Taxpayers in Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa’s school districts paid over $21 million in 2018-2019 cyber charter tuition. Statewide, PA taxpayers paid over $600 million for cyber charter tuition in 2018-2019.

Baldwin-Whitehall SD
Penn Hills SD
Pittsburgh SD
Riverview SD
Steel Valley SD
West Mifflin Area SD
Wilkinsburg Borough SD
Woodland Hills SD

Data Source: PDE via PSBA

Why are cyber charter tuition rates the same as brick and mortar tuition?
Why are PA taxpayers paying twice what it costs to provide a cyber education?

EDITORIAL: School and safety first
York Dispatch Editorial Board July 31, 2020
After this week, it seems the PIAA might not be in the same ballpark with Pennsylvania’s health experts and school administrators on the question of whether it’s safe to play high school sports this year. As school boards across the state wrestle with whether they can safely bring students back to class while COVID-19 still rages — and some deciding they can’t — the athletic association’s board of directors Wednesday approved a plan for fall sports to start with a normal schedule, albeit with precautionary measures.  “Our schools are doing a terrific job with their health and safety plans,” PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi told the (Greensburg) Tribune-Review’s Chris Harlan, noting recreational leagues are managing to compete. Schools are “creating a safer environment than those recreational programs. So, why shouldn’t the safer environment get the opportunity to play too?” Well, for one thing, it’s not clear at all that school officials feel they’re doing a “terrific job” with their back-to-school (or not) plans. The Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators earlier this week asked the Wolf administration for specific recommendations as superintendents and school boards mull whether to bring students back, hold classes online or offer some combination of both. “No tools have been given to school districts. Guidelines are best practices and suggestions and ideas. They are not specific recommendations,” Mark DiRocco, the association’s executive director, told the Associated Press after a call with administration officials. He noted school officials do not have the expertise to make these decisions.

Scranton School District releases proposed hybrid, virtual plans for the fall
Times Tribune BY SARAH HOFIUS HALL STAFF WRITER Jul 30, 2020 Updated 4 hrs ago
The Scranton School District will either offer virtual learning or a hybrid model to its 10,000 students this fall under proposed plans released Thursday by the district. District administration will present the plans in detail during Monday night’s special meeting of the Scranton School Board, scheduled for 6:30. The virtual meeting will be streamed live on the district’s YouTube page. Following the meeting, all families will be asked to complete a survey. The board expects to approve either the virtual or hybrid plan Aug. 10. Under the proposed hybrid plan, most students would attend school two days a week and learn remotely for the other three days. For example, some students would attend school Mondays and Tuesdays and learn at home the rest of the week, while other students would only be in a classroom Thursdays and Fridays. Some special education students and English language learners would receive in-person instruction all five days. Having a smaller number of students in school each day allows for the ability to socially distance, and the district would try to place siblings on the same hybrid schedules, according to the plan. Families uncomfortable with the hybrid model would still have the option of a full-time online education through the district.

It’s official: Philly’s school year to begin fully remotely
Inquirer by Kristen A. Graham, Updated: July 30, 2020- 8:43 PM
When classes begin for 125,000 Philadelphia School District students on Sept. 2, they will do so virtually. The school board Thursday night formally blessed Superintendent William R. Hite Jr.’s back-to-school plan, meaning children will be out of classrooms until at least Nov. 17 because of fears of the spread of the coronavirus. If public health conditions permit, students who choose to return to school will be able to do so when the second marking period begins, in late November. Furthermore, students who want to continue attending virtual classes will have that option.  Hite initially wanted most students back in school for face-to-face instruction two days a week, but that plan was withdrawn after intense pushback from principals, teachers, parents, and others. The board, in its latest Zoom meeting Thursday night, voted by 7-1 to sign off on the fully virtual plan, but there was less agreement about whether the direction the district was taking was the best course for children. Board member Maria McColgan expressed deep reservations about vulnerable kids being out of classrooms for so long, and said she wasn’t comfortable with parents being deprived of the choice to send their children to school or keep them at home until health conditions improve.

Philly school board approves plan for all-virtual education at least until November
The vote is 7-1. In contrast to last week, some say that the option for in-school learning should have remained. The board's only pediatrician dissents.
The notebook by Dale Mezzacappa and Bill Hangley Jr. July 30 — 10:41 pm, 2020
In an occasionally testy session that saw members express a range of concerns about safety, monitoring and community engagement, the Board of Education approved a revised reopening plan that will keep most Philadelphia School District students learning online until at least November. The plan, reworked after an earlier version was roundly rejected by educators and the public at last week’s board meeting, calls for all students to begin school virtually, as principals and staff in the District’s 220 buildings work out plans for how each individual school will operate.  District officials said they hope the revised plan will offer a foundation from which the many stakeholders can work together to prepare for September and manage an unpredictable fall. “This year will be challenging … and we all need to be prepared to learn alongside each other,” said Superintendent William Hite. “This will be a difficult year – we look forward to working together as one community.” said Board President Joyce Wilkerson.

Philly school district approves plan to start year online
WHYY By Avi Wolfman-Arent July 30, 2020
It’s official: The School District of Philadelphia and its 125,000 students will begin the school year online. The city’s Board of Education approved a revised version of the district’s reopening plan, the highlight of which was a commitment to all-virtual learning through November 17. The decision comes one week after a marathon board meeting that forced the School District of Philadelphia to abandon its original “hybrid” plan. District leaders hoped to have students in class two days a week — with an option for all-virtual education — but heard fierce opposition from parents and educators. On Thursday, the school board passed a new health and safety plan by a vote of 7-1. Maria McColgan was the lone dissenter, although other board members noted that they voted “yes” begrudgingly. Philadelphia joins Los Angeles, San Diego, Miami, and Houston among major cities that will begin the school year online.

Spurred by faith and finances, Philly private schools embrace in-person learning
WHYY By Avi Wolfman-Arent July 31, 2020
The school reopening plan for Holmesburg Christian Academy hews closely to the safety plan first proposed — and then abandoned — by the School District of Philadelphia. There is, however, one important difference: The school plans to actually open. The small, evangelical school in Northeast Philadelphia says it’ll have face-to-face instruction for all students, every day. “From youngest to oldest, from top to bottom, we really see this as something that is worth it,” said Walt Rice, the financial administrator and admissions director at the school of 175 students. “Worth it for the sake of serving Jesus. Worth it for the sake of serving these kids.” Whether compelled by Christ or secular reasons, many private schools in Philadelphia seem to be following Holmesburg Christian Academy’s path. As several major charter networks and public school districts — including Philadelphia’s — opt for an all-virtual start, private schools are leaning the opposite direction. When WHYY canvassed private schools across the city, not one said it plans to start the school year fully online.

Wellsboro Area School District unveils reopening plan
Westfield Free Press Courier By Natalie Kennedy July 30, 2020
WELLSBORO — The 2020-21 school year will look very different, and will rely on a partnership between the district, parents and community to be successful. Wellsboro Area School District administrators hosted a virtual town hall meeting July 28 to unveil plans for the coming year and answer questions from parents. The start of school will be postponed by about a week to Monday, Aug. 31, to give the district time to prepare, said Superintendent Dr. Brenda Freeman. Classes will be longer, the school day will be shorter and masks/face shields are mandatory. The district will offer three instructional options: five-day a week classes, remote learning or Wellsboro Online Academy. Parents may also choose to unenroll their child for homeschooling or cyber charter school, she said. All students are enrolled in five-day a week classes unless parents contact their child’s school and choose an alternate method. The plan limits student movement and encourages use of outdoor space. The district will provide one mask for every student; disposable masks will be available in case a student forgets the mask. Face shields are permitted except on buses. In kindergarten to fourth grade, students stay in the classroom, with teachers rotating among classes, including special classes such as art and music. In fifth through eighth grade, students will have two courses in the morning, followed by lunch and two afternoon classes. Students will remain in a core group with teachers moving among classes.

Pottstown School Board approves all-online return to school
Pottstown Mercury By Austin Hertzog, July 31, 2020
POTTSTOWN — The Pottstown School Board unanimously approved an all-virtual reopening plan for the first semester during a Zoom meeting Thursday night. The 9-0 vote came following a review of Superintendent Stephen Rodriguez’s presentation from Monday that recommended a full-time online learning model for the start of the 2020-21 school year. Pottstown’s return will include a "Synchronous Instruction Model" with live instruction taking place for students in the district. Every student grades first through 12th will receive a Chromebook in the arrangement, an improvement upon the computer sharing required during virtual learning at the end of the 2019-20 school year. Pottstown’s plan, which also included health and safety protocols for when in-person instruction is able to resume, came in response to online surveys completed by more than 1,000 parents. The board acknowledged the mixed opinions the decision would elicit from the community but spoke to being driven by prioritizing the safety of the students and community

“Norristown Superintendent Christopher Dormer said earlier this week that classes would be entirely online this fall. The virtual classes will continue at least until January.”
Pennsylvania district opts out of high school sports in fall
Ron Musselman York Dispatch
The Norristown Area School District became one of the first in the state Thursday to suspend high school sports for the fall. The district’s decision came a day after the PIAA's board of directors voted unanimously to move forward with a plan that would see fall sports start with a normal schedule, but with a number of precautionary measures.  “We recognize the angst this will bring for our student athletes, coaches, and gameday staff, but it is the health and safety of those groups and their families that are paramount to the district,” the Norristown School District  said in a statement on Twitter. “If we cannot guarantee a safe return to the classroom, we cannot guarantee a safe return to the field, course, sidelines, courts or locker rooms.”

Council Rock board approves anti-racism resolution
Bucks County Courier Times By Chris English @CourierEnglish Posted Jul 30, 2020 at 12:58 PM
The document has six action steps designed to improve the school district’s diversity and racial climate. Establishing a district-wide diversity and inclusion team and hiring an outside consultant to conduct a diversity-focused curricular audit are two of several actions outlined in a resolution unanimously approved by the Council Rock School Board at a recent meeting. At the same meeting, the board approved a $9,000 agreement with an organization called Living Strong to help the district implement strategies in the document, which is titled a “resolution supporting the development of an anti-racist school climate.” The actions come not long after two 2015 Council Rock High School South graduates, Farah Contractor and Danielle Randall, wrote a letter to school board members and administrators recommending 15 steps they feel would create a more diverse and racially sensitive school district. They also come at a time when school districts across the country are dealing with issues of racism and social injustice in the wake of nationwide Black Lives Matter protests over the death of George Floyd.
Actions to be taken by the district as outlined in the resolution are:
– Establishing a CRSD diversity and inclusion team inclusive of all district schools
– Building on the effectiveness of existing school-based teams
– Holding focus groups with recent graduates on preparedness for their next phase of life
– Holding focus groups with current students, including students from under-represented groups, on their experience in Council Rock schools and the community.
The other two actions are having an external consultant conduct a diversity-focused curricular and/or equity audit, and creating a systemic employee-training program centered on diversity, equity and inclusiveness.

State on the search for new York City school recovery officer
Lindsay C VanAsdalan York Dispatch July 31, 2020
The state will need to replace its chief recovery officer for York City School District recovery plan after the current appointee announced she would be retiring effective Friday. The district was placed in financial recovery in 2012 — along with Harrisburg, Chester-Upland and Duquesne school districts — and a chief recovery officer was assigned to help formulate a recovery plan and oversee the district’s progress. The Pennsylvania Department of Education is already searching for Saylor’s replacement, spokesperson Eric Levis said in an email Thursday. "Turning 70 years old during a pandemic has forced me to refocus," said recovery officer Carol Saylor, noting she wants to spend time with family she has missed. Saylor, who announced her retirement at the board’s July 22 meeting, is the second recovery officer appointed to the district.

Notebook partners with Chalkbeat to launch Chalkbeat Philadelphia
Together, we will continue the mission of delivering quality reporting on education in Philadelphia. 
the Notebook July 30 — 6:50 am, 2020
The Philadelphia Public School Notebook is joining forces with Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news organization with a national reach, to launch Chalkbeat Philadelphia just in time for the 2020-21 school year. The website and social media accounts for Chalkbeat Philadelphia will launch on Aug. 17, 2020. The potential for the two nonprofits to partner started years ago when the Notebook co-founder and former editor Paul Socolar and Chalkbeat’s co-founder and CEO Elizabeth Green began conversing about industry concerns and goals.  “We always saw the potential synergy because our programmatic work is so aligned, and we found ways to be supportive of each other’s work,” says Socolar. “The organizations are working to accomplish similar missions. The timing to partner formally seems right now.” The two organizations now will collaborate in order to benefit from streamlined roles and administrative overhead, a broader reach, and greater financial stability, with support from the Nonprofit Repositioning Fund (which supports long-term strategic alliances and collaborations in the Philadelphia region to build organizational sustainability and improve program and service delivery). Backing also comes from the William Penn Foundation and the Independence Public Media Foundation, among others.  Longtime Notebook contributor Dale Mezzacappa will continue her work in her new position as the senior reporter for Chalkbeat Philadelphia. Dale is a contributing editor at the Notebook. She has reported on education since 1986, most of that time with The Philadelphia Inquirer.

What Back to School Might Look Like in the Age of Covid-19
An illustrated guide to how schools will try to control the coronavirus when students return to their classrooms, this fall or in the future.
New York Times Text by Dana Goldstein Illustrations by Yuliya Parshina-Kottas
Produced by 
Aliza Aufrichtig July 29, 2020
A typical American school day requires proximity: High school lab partners leaning over a vial. Kindergarten students sharing finger paints. Middle schoolers passing snacks around a cafeteria table. This year, nothing about school will be typical. Many of the nation’s largest districts plan to start the academic year online, and it is unclear when students and teachers will be back in classrooms. Others plan hybrid models, while some are determined to go five days a week. When school buildings do reopen, whether this fall or next year, buses, hallways, cafeterias and classrooms will need to look very different as long as the coronavirus remains a threat. Even teaching, which has evolved in recent decades to emphasize fewer lectures and more collaborative lessons, must change. “This is the biggest adaptive challenge in my career, and in the history of public education,” said Cindy Marten, superintendent of the San Diego public schools.

The Risk That Students Could Arrive at School With the Coronavirus
New York Times By James GlanzBenedict Carey and Matthew Conlen July 31, 2020
As schools grapple with how to reopen, new estimates show that large parts of the country would likely see infected students if classrooms opened now. Millions of families face an excruciating choice this fall: Should their children attend if local schools reopen their classrooms, and risk being exposed to the coronavirus? Or should they stay home and lose out on in-person instruction? No single factor can settle such a fraught decision. But new estimates provide a rough gauge of the risk that students and educators could encounter at school in each county in the United States. The estimates, from researchers at the University of Texas at Austin, range from sobering to surprisingly reassuring, depending on the area and the size of the school. Based on current infection rates, more than 80 percent of Americans live in a county where at least one infected person would be expected to show up to a school of 500 students and staff in the first week, if school started today. In the highest-risk areas — including Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Nashville and Las Vegas — at least five students or staff would be expected to show up infected with the virus at a school of 500 people. The high numbers reflect the rapid spread of the virus in those areas, where more than 1 in 70 people are estimated to be currently infected.

Blogger commentary:
Parents considering cyber charters due to COVID might not be aware of their consistent track record of academic underperformance. As those parents face an expected blitz of advertising by cybers, in order for them to make a more informed decision, you might consider providing them with some of the info listed below:

A June 2 paper from the highly respected Brookings Institution stated, “We find the impact of attending a virtual charter on student achievement is uniformly and profoundly negative,” and then went on to say that “there is no evidence that virtual charter students improve in subsequent years.”

In 2016, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, and the national charter lobbying group 50CAN released a report on cyber charters that found that overall, cyber students make no significant gains in math and less than half the gains in reading compared with their peers in traditional public schools.

Stanford University CREDO Study in 2015 found that cyber students on average lost 72 days a year in reading and 180 days a year in math compared with students in traditional public schools.

From 2005 through 2012 under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, most Pennsylvania cybers never made “adequate yearly progress.”

Following NCLB, for all five years (2013-2017) that Pennsylvania’s School Performance Profile system was in place, not one cyber charter ever achieved a passing score of 70.

Under Pennsylvania’s current accountability system, the Future Ready PA Index, all 15 cyber charters that operated 2018-2019 have been identified for some level of support and improvement.

Cybers charters are paid at the same tuition rates as brick & mortar charter schools, even though they have none of the expenses associated with operating school buildings. It has been estimated that cyber charters are paid approximately twice what it costs them to provide an online education. Those excess funds are then not available to serve all of the students who remain in the sending school districts.

PSBA: Adopt the resolution against racial inequity.
School boards are asked to adopt this resolution supporting the development of an anti-racist climate. Once adopted, share your resolution with your local community and submit a copy to PSBA. Learn more:

The 2021 PA Superintendent of the Year nominations are now open.
 Those seeking to nominate must first register on the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) Superintendent of the Year website. For more information, visit:

Interested in becoming an Advocacy Ambassador? PSBA is seeking ambassadors to fill anticipated vacancies for Sections 1, 2 and 6.
PSBA Advocacy Ambassador program brings legislators to you
PSBA’s Advocacy Ambassador program is a key resource helping public school leaders connect with their state legislators on important education issues. Our six ambassadors build strong relationships with the school leaders and legislators in their areas to support advocacy efforts at the local level. They also encourage legislators to visit school districts and create opportunities for you to have positive conversations and tell your stories about your schools and students. PSBA thanks those school districts that have worked with their advocacy ambassador and invites those who have not to reach out to their ambassador to talk about the ways they can support your advocacy efforts. Interested in becoming an Advocacy Ambassador? PSBA is seeking ambassadors to fill anticipated vacancies for Sections 1, 2 and 6. For more information contact

PSBA Fall Virtual Advocacy Day: OCT 8, 2020 • 8:00 AM - 5:00 PM
Sign up now for PSBA’s Virtual Advocacy Day this fall!
All public school leaders are invited to join us for our fall Virtual Advocacy Day on Thursday, October 8, 2020, via Zoom. We need all of you to help strengthen our advocacy impact. The day will center around contacting legislators to discuss critical issues affecting public education. Registrants will receive the meeting invitation with a link to our fall Virtual Advocacy Day website that contains talking points, a link to locate contact information for your legislator and additional information to help you have a successful day.
Cost: As a membership benefit, there is no cost to register.
Registration: School directors can register online now by logging in to myPSBA. If you have questions about Virtual Advocacy Day, or need additional information, contact

Apply Now for EPLC's 2020-2021 PA Education Policy Fellowship Program!
Applications are available now for the 2020-2021 Education Policy Fellowship Program
The Education Policy Fellowship Program is sponsored in Pennsylvania by The Education Policy and Leadership Center (EPLC).  The 2020-2021 Program will be conducted in briefer, more frequent, and mostly online sessions, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The content will be substantially the same as the traditional Fellowship Program, with some changes necessitated by the new format and a desire to reduce costs to sponsors in these uncertain fiscal times.
The commitment of EPLC remains the same. The Fellowship Program will continue to be Pennsylvania's premier education policy leadership program for education, community, policy and advocacy leaders! The Fellowship Program begins with two 3-hour virtual sessions on September 17-18, and the Program ends with a graduation event in June 2021.
The application may be copied from the EPLC web site, but it must be submitted by mail or scanned and e-mailed, with the necessary signatures of applicant and sponsor.
If you would like to discuss any aspect of the Fellowship Program and its requirements, please contact EPLC Executive Director Ron Cowell at 412-298-4796 or COWELL@EPLC.ORG

Adopt the 2020 PSBA resolution for charter school funding reform
In this legislative session, PSBA has been leading the charge with the Senate, House of Representatives and the Governor’s Administration to push for positive charter reform. We’re now asking you to join the campaign: Adopt the resolution: We’re asking all school boards to adopt the 2020 resolution for charter school funding reform at your next board meeting and submit it to your legislators and to PSBA.

283 PA school boards have adopted charter reform resolutions
Charter school funding reform continues to be a concern as over 280 school boards across the state have adopted a resolution calling for legislators to enact significant reforms to the Charter School Law to provide funding relief and ensure all schools are held to the same quality and ethics standards. Now more than ever, there is a growing momentum from school officials across the state to call for charter school funding reform. Legislators are hearing loud and clear that school districts need relief from the unfair funding system that results in school districts overpaying millions of dollars to charter schools.

Know Your Facts on Funding and Charter Performance. Then Call for Charter Change!
PSBA Charter Change Website:

The Network for Public Education Action Conference has been rescheduled to April 24-25, 2021 at the Philadelphia Doubletree Hotel

Any comments contained herein are my comments, alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any other person or organization that I may be affiliated with.