Search results for: "commonweal"

Most of the time, we engage in covil discourse, even with people whom we know are rigid ideologues whose minds are blted closed. but every once in a while, someone opens a window and yells out, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.” And they say what’s really on their mind.

Rep. Brian Sims did that in Pennsylvania recently. He called out the conservative Comminwealth Foundation after he received a mailing from it. He wrote on his Facebook page:

“See, I already know that you are all racist, homophobic, sexist, classist, ableist, anti-American, bigots whose single driving motivation is to secure the wealth of your multimillionaire donors at the expense of every single working person and family in the Commonwealth. See, I told you I already get it so you don’t need to waste money sending me proof…actually go ahead and waste that money!”

Thanks to reader GST for bringing this important story to our attention: a court in Pennsylvania ruled that the School Reform Commission may not cancel the contract of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. This is a battle that has gone on for two years, as the unelected School Reform Commission looks for ways to cut the budget. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia schools are suffering from former Governor Tom Corbett’s deep budget cuts, and the Legislature has refused to fulfill its responsibility to the children of Philadelphia.

 

Commonwealth Court judges have handed a win to the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, ruling that the School Reform Commission cannot throw out the teachers’ union’s contract and impose new terms.

 

The decision was confirmed by Jerry Jordan, PFT president, on Thursday morning.

 

“This is a very big victory,” Jordan said.

 

After nearly two years of negotiations, the district had moved on Oct. 6 to cancel the teachers’ contract and impose health-benefits changes that would save the cash-strapped system $54 million annually, officials said.
In the decision, judges said that neither the state Public School Code nor the Legislature have expressly given the SRC the power to cancel its teachers’ contract.

 

“This Court is cognizant of the dire financial situation which the Districtcurrently faces and the SRC’s extensive efforts to achieve the overall goal of properlyand adequately meeting the educational needs of the students,” Judge Patricia A. McCullough wrote for the court. “There have been numerous difficult decisions that the SRC has been forced to make in an effort to overcome these economic hurdles, including a one-third reduction in staff and theclosing of 31 schools in recent years.”

 

But the law does not give the SRC the power to cancel a collective bargaining agreement.
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/school_files/District-cant-impose-contract-court-rules.html#GVqP31QcrCMOdFmZ.99

Good news–no, great news–from York City, Pennsylvania! Because of the district’s fiscal problems, exacerbated by state budget cuts (a designed crisis), the state appointed a receiver who wanted to turn the entire district over to a for-profit charter chain. A lower court upheld the state’s decision. However, an appeals court overturned the state takeover. This fortunate event reflects the change at the top, as Governor Tom Corbett was defeated by Tom Wolf. Corbett was bent on budget-cutting and privatization. Wolf is not. Corbett and his receiver were set to hand all the schools in York City over to Florida-based Charter Schools USA. That won’t happen.

Ending almost five months of uncertainty about who will control the York City School District, an appeals court in Harrisburg on Wednesday put a stop to the state’s push to appoint a receiver, someone who would’ve had almost all of the school board’s powers.
The order filed in Commonwealth Court throws out a judge’s previous decision appointing David Meckley as the district’s receiver, along with the appeals of that ruling. That comes after the attorneys for the state, district and other sides met earlier this week after a hearing and filed an application asking the court to end the case.
On Dec. 1, the Pennsylvania Department of Education filed a petition in the York County Court of Common Pleas asking a judge to appoint Meckley as the district’s receiver. As receiver, Meckley, the district’s state-appointed chief recovery officer, would’ve had all of the school board’s powers – with the exception of levying taxes.
The state had argued that the York City School Board did not follow Meckley’s instructions, including his request to turn the district’s buildings into charters. The judge granted the state’s petition to appoint Meckley as receiver at the end of the December, which the district almost immediately appealed.
Meckley resigned as chief recovery officer on March 13, saying he could not move the district forward as Gov. Tom Wolf was opposed to turning its buildings into charters.
Carol Saylor, who previously worked as a superintendent of a school district in Lancaster County and has almost 40 years of experience in education, has since been appointed to replace Meckley as chief recovery officer.

Andrea Gabor asks the million-dollar question: Why did Massachusetts, the most successful state in the nation on the National Assessment of Progress, drop its own finely honed standards and replace them with the untested Common Core standards? On one level, the answer is obvious: It wanted the money that come from Race to the Top. But at another level, this decision is not only puzzling but downright distressing. With the outstanding record of the students and teachers of Massachusetts, why in the world would policymakers take a chance on changing its successful system of standards and assessments? Of course, the $250 million that the state won is impressive, but no doubt the mandates that accompanied Race to the Top money very likely cost more than $250 million. From afar, it looks irresponsible. Even stranger is that the business community continues to complain about student performance when the performance of the public schools in Massachusetts is not only first in the nation but near the top of world rankings. What gives?

 

Is this just disruption for the sake of disruption?

 

Gabor writes:

 

Now the Massachusetts reforms are once again under assault by Common-Core enthusiasts. Strangely, many of those attacking the reforms are its erstwhile defenders. In February, the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, a leading advocacy group for the 1993 Massachusetts Education Reform Act, issued the first of several reports that found, or are expected to find, the Bay State standards and an accompanying high-stakes test, the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System or MCAS, wanting when compared to the still-untested “Common-Core aligned” PARCC tests (PARCC stands for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.)

 

“The current MCAS high school tests do not identify students who are college- and career-ready, and they do not contain the right content to measure college- and career-readiness,” concludes the MBAE study.

 

By contrast, the MBAE cautiously endorses the PARCC test: “As we are preparing this report in early 2015, the PARCC tests hold the promise of being a good indicator of college- and career-readiness.” (Emphasis added.)

 

In response, researchers from the Pioneer Institute, a market-oriented Massachusetts think thank, argue that money, once again, is playing an outsized role in the latest anti-MCAS research. The turncoats, according to Pioneer, include MBAE, which was cofounded by the aforementioned Paul Reville, as well as the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Achieve Inc., both national Common-Core advocates. What these organizations all have in common is that they have receive funding– lots of it—from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which also invested over $200 million in developing the Common Core.

 

The most recent Massachusetts skirmish over the Common Core is no coincidence. This year, Massachusetts elementary and middle schools had the choice of taking the PARCC test or the MCAS. In the fall, Massachusetts will make a final decision about whether to ditch the MCAS entirely in favor of PARCC, at a time when half the states that initially agreed to adopt the Common-Core aligned test have since backed out.

 

In their OpEd, Charles Chieppo and Jamie Gass, detail the tangled web of relationships that tie the critics of the Massachusetts reforms to the Gates foundation, the PARCC tests and the Common Core. The OpEd is particularly scathing about the role of the MBAE:

 

“The Mass. Business Alliance study’s credibility was further compromised by the fact that its author is an adviser to PARCC. An earlier report from the Alliance — written by the senior education adviser to the giant testing company Pearson, which is near the top of a long list of entities that stand to gain from the switch to Common Core — was so bereft of intellectual integrity that it lifted an entire purported “case study” from The Boston Globe without attribution.”

 

However, the winner of the “conflict-of-interest derby,” according to Chieppo and Gass, is Teach Plus, a Boston-based national education-reform organization, which published a pro-PARCC report, “Massachusetts Teachers Examine PARCC“, in March:

 

The group recently released a study in which 23 of its fellows conclude that the commonwealth should ditch MCAS for PARCC. Teach Plus has received over $17 million from the Gates Foundation, including stipends for each of those 23 fellows.

 

The question now is whether Massachusetts will stick with its own test, MCAS, or whether it will switch to PARCC.

 

After each administration of MCAS, the questions and answers are released for public review. This is not the case with PARCC.

 

PARCC, by contrast, is a locked box, entirely controlled by Pearson, the testing giant that is developing the PARCC tests. It isn’t designed to be improved by educators over time, nor to help educators use the test to improve what or how they teach.

 

For now, at least in Massachusetts, the war over the Common Core will continue for at least a few months. Fordham Institute is expected to produce a study this summer examining the MCAS’s alignment to the Common Core; if its earlier support for the PARCC test is any indication, it too is likely to find against MCAS.

 

In Massachusetts, a final decision will be made by Mitchell Chester, the current education commissioner. Chester, it must be noted, also chairs PARCC’s governing board.

 

There you have it, folks. Conflicts of interest abound. Lots of money riding on the decision. And the person who will make the final decision as to which test will be used just happens to be the chair of the PARCC governing board. What do you think will happen?

 

 

The “tax credit” program in Pennsylvania is a backdoor way of spending public money for children who enroll in private and religious schools.

What does the State Constitution say?

Pennsylvania Constitution Article III Section § 15.

Public school money not available to sectarian schools.

No money raised for the support of the public schools of the Commonwealth shall be appropriated to or used for the support of any sectarian school.

“Religious Freedom
Section 3.

“All men have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences; no man can of right be compelled to attend, erect or support any place of worship or to maintain any ministry against his consent; no human authority can, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience, and no preference shall ever be given by law to any religious establishments or modes of worship.”

This latter provision has been cited by the state courts to prohibit public funding of religious schools.

Isn’t it funny how Republicans claim to be in favor of strict construction of the Constitution, except when they don’t?

Isn’t it funny how so many Republican state legislators belong to ALEC, which is trying to obliterate local school boards and local control.

After four years of deep budget cuts to public education, Pennsylvania’s New Democratic Governor Tom Wolf has proposed large increases in school funding, coupled with property tax reductions. However, the legislature is controlled by Republicans, and they oppose his plan.

Here are some articles from the website of the Keystone State Education Coalition, a valuable source of information about the state’s education issues.

How would Gov. Wolf’s proposed tax shifts affect you? Here are 8 scenarios

Penn Live By Teresa Bonner | tbonner@pennlive.com Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on March 06, 2015 at 6:46 PM, updated March 07, 2015 at 6:59 AM

Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget is proposing to raise the state’s personal income tax from 3.07 percent to 3.7 percent, increase the sales tax from 6 to 6.6 percent and broaden the number of items to which it will apply, and use the money raised from those tax increases to reduce school property taxes. His administration said most families will pay less under his plan, with the average family receiving a net tax decrease of about 13 percent. But the determination of who gains and who loses depends on several factors – income, whether you own or rent your home, which school district you live in, and how much you spend on taxable items each year.

To try to give a clearer idea of what effect the tax plan could have on an individual, PennLive calculated how large a reduction in homeowners in different school districts would see in their school property tax homestead exemption.

http://www.pennlive.com/midstate/index.ssf/2015/03/how_would_wolfs_proposed_tax_s.html

Wolf Administration Denounces Senate Republicans ‘Just Saying No’ To Helping Schools

Governor Tom Wolf’s website 03/06/2015

Harrisburg, PA – The Wolf Administration today denounced a letter sent by the Senate Republican leadership to school districts across the state. The letter warned district superintendents to lower their expectations about the levels of funding to be provided by the commonwealth in the 2015-2016 budget. On Tuesday, Governor Wolf presented a budget proposal calling for the restoration of massive cuts made over the past four years to Pennsylvania’s struggling schools. The Senate Republicans’ response rejected this push for a historic reinvestment in education.

“Unfortunately, the Republican leadership is just saying no to challenging the status quo by putting forth the same old Harrisburg obstruction instead of real ideas to help Pennsylvania’s struggling public schools,” Wolf spokesman Jeff Sheridan said. “Governor Wolf has proposed a bold and expansive plan to reinvest in our schools and our economic future. The Governor called for robust debate and collaboration in his budget address. This is the opposite of that. This is a political stunt.” In contrast to the negative expectations being set by Republican leaders, Governor Wolf’s budget sets the table for historic investments in education. Over the last four years schools across Pennsylvania have suffered from $1 billion cuts that led to massive layoffs, huge property tax increases, and the elimination of valuable programs. The data also shows that as education classroom funding fell, so did student scores in reading and math.

http://www.governor.pa.gov/Pages/Pressroom_details.aspx?newsid=1593#.VPpmoPnF_wq

How would Gov. Wolf’s proposed tax shifts affect you? Here are 8 scenarios

Penn Live By Teresa Bonner | tbonner@pennlive.com Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on March 06, 2015 at 6:46 PM, updated March 07, 2015 at 6:59 AM

Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget is proposing to raise the state’s personal income tax from 3.07 percent to 3.7 percent, increase the sales tax from 6 to 6.6 percent and broaden the number of items to which it will apply, and use the money raised from those tax increases to reduce school property taxes. His administration said most families will pay less under his plan, with the average family receiving a net tax decrease of about 13 percent. But the determination of who gains and who loses depends on several factors – income, whether you own or rent your home, which school district you live in, and how much you spend on taxable items each year.

To try to give a clearer idea of what effect the tax plan could have on an individual, PennLive calculated how large a reduction in homeowners in different school districts would see in their school property tax homestead exemption.

http://www.pennlive.com/midstate/index.ssf/2015/03/how_would_wolfs_proposed_tax_s.html

“About 400,000 Philadelphians live in poverty. That’s close to the total population of Pittsburgh and Allentown combined – the state’s second- and third-largest cities. It includes nearly four out of every 10 children in Philadelphia.”

Reducing poverty would benefit all Philadelphians

PHIL GOLDSMITH, FOR THE INQUIRER OSTED: Sunday, March 1, 2015, 3:01 AM

Phil Goldsmith has been managing director of Philadelphia and chief executive officer of the Philadelphia School District.
Several years ago, I offered to give a new resident of Philadelphia a tour of the city. She was grateful but declined. Having lived in the suburbs, she said she knew Philadelphia quite well. After some back and forth, it was clear what she knew was Center City. My tour included the other Philadelphia: the good, the bad, and the ugly. One Philadelphia is vibrant. New condos, ample restaurants, an exciting cultural scene, fashionable shops – something for every generation from millennials to baby boomers. The energy is palpable as you walk the streets – safely.

But there is the other Philadelphia, where poverty lives and gives birth to unemployment, crime, high dropout rates, and, worst of all, hopelessness. For many people, this part of Philadelphia is out of sight and out of mind.

http://www.philly.com/philly/opinion/20150301_Reducing_poverty_would_benefit_all_Philadelphians.html#vDV8pVZDcTolhTHW.99

So what does Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed budget mean for the average Pennsylvanian living in the Philadelphia area? Let me introduce you to two of my friends.

http://www.newsworks.org/index.php/local/item/79291-what-happens-to-your-taxes-under-wolfs-budget-plan

“About 400,000 Philadelphians live in poverty. That’s close to the total population of Pittsburgh and Allentown combined – the state’s second- and third-largest cities. It includes nearly four out of every 10 children in Philadelphia.”

Reducing poverty would benefit all Philadelphians

PHIL GOLDSMITH, FOR THE INQUIRER OSTED: Sunday, March 1, 2015, 3:01 AM

Phil Goldsmith has been managing director of Philadelphia and chief executive officer of the Philadelphia School District.

Several years ago, I offered to give a new resident of Philadelphia a tour of the city. She was grateful but declined. Having lived in the suburbs, she said she knew Philadelphia quite well. After some back and forth, it was clear what she knew was Center City. My tour included the other Philadelphia: the good, the bad, and the ugly. One Philadelphia is vibrant. New condos, ample restaurants, an exciting cultural scene, fashionable shops – something for every generation from millennials to baby boomers. The energy is palpable as you walk the streets – safely.

But there is the other Philadelphia, where poverty lives and gives birth to unemployment, crime, high dropout rates, and, worst of all, hopelessness. For many people, this part of Philadelphia is out of sight and out of mind.

http://www.philly.com/philly/opinion/20150301_Reducing_poverty_would_benefit_all_Philadelphians.html#vDV8pVZDcTolhTHW.99

Is it time to put the brakes on the number of standardized tests that students must take? In this article, Pennsylvania legislators say that the graduation rate will decline if state testing requirements are left in place.

“By 2017, in order to graduate high school in Pennsylvania, students must pass three state standardized tests: algebra, literature and biology.

Based on most recent student scores — especially in biology — if trends continue, Pennsylvania will soon see far fewer of its students walking down the aisle in cap and gown.

“In order to preempt that reality, state Rep. Mike Tobash (R-Dauphin County) has introduced a bill that would repeal the state-mandated graduation requirement, leaving the decision to local school districts.

“The children of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, they need to learn, they need to be assessed, but when we’ve gone so far that we end up handcuffing our educational system with really an overwhelming amount of standardized assessment,” said Tobash. “We need to stop and put the brakes on here, take a look at it.”

“The bill would also halt the creation and implementation of the seven other subject-specific Keystone exams called for by existing state law.

Tobash, who testified on the matter at a hearing at Philadelphia City Hall in November, is skeptical that the tests are actually judging students on material that’s applicable to modern workforce.”

Ever since Paul Tough popularized the idea of “grit” (e.g., determination, persistence) in his best-selling book How Children Succeed as the key ingredient in how children can succeed despite their circumstances, grit has entered educational discourse as a remedy for poverty. Character education, always an embedded staple in American education, went explicit. It was not enough to have a code of behavior or discipline, but it became a necessity in some schools to teach grit or character. KIPP, which was a major player in Tough’s book, became an exemplar for teaching “grit” to poor kids.

 

Jeff Snyder of Carleton College signed up to take a month-long online course with Dave Levin, the co-founder of KIPP to learn more about KIPP’s character education program. He was enthusiastic when he started but disillusioned by the time the course ended.

 

First, he asserts, despite the hoopla, no one really knows how to teach character or even grit.

 

Second, it may be impossible to teach character without any relationship to morality. The current approach, he writes, “unwittingly promotes an amoral and careerist “looking out for number one” point-of-view. Never before has character education been so completely untethered from morals, values, and ethics.” He suggests that fraudster Bernie Madoff had “grit,” he was certainly hard-working and persistent, but he lacked morality.

 

Third, this mode of education drastically constricts the overall purpose of education. Grit is supposed to facilitate college and career readiness. It is supposed to close the achievement gap. It is utilitarian. It drives towards certain goals and necessarily overlooks other goals of schooling. Snyder writes: “Gone are any traditional concerns with good and evil or citizenship and the commonweal. Gone, too, the impetus to bring youngsters into the fold of a community that is larger than themselves—a hopelessly outdated sentiment, according to the new character education evangelists. Virtue is no longer its own reward.”

A reader informsus that the auditor of Massachusetts recently released an audit of the state’s charter schools. Our reader offers some of the findings:

“Suzanne M. Bump, Auditor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, has finished her audit of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s (DESE’s) oversight of the Commonwealth’s charter school system.

“Since 1996, Massachusetts has spent $4.3 billion on charters, and this report shows that DESE—known for its emphasis with local public school districts on data collection and data-driven-decision-making—doesn’t ensure (maybe they can’t) ensure the collection, storage, security, reliability, validity or the dissemination of THEIR data. Such data has been the used to determine policy affecting the future of Massachusetts School Districts since 2009.

“Here’s just a sampling of the report says:

•Charter school waitlist information maintained by DESE is not accurate. A lack of accurate waitlist information may result in ineffective planning and oversight, as well as policymaking consequences such as an inaccurate assessment of demand when charter school approval, renewal, or expansion applications are considered and when the Legislature makes decisions on changes to existing limitations on the number of charter schools.

•Operating under different statutory requirements, charter schools have lower percentages of licensed teachers than traditional public schools.

Additionally, charter school teacher salary levels average 75% of those at sending districts.

•The reliability and accuracy of charter school information in DESE’s data systems are questionable.

•The extent to which the charter school system has provided a successful mechanism for developing and disseminating replicable innovation models is not determinable.

•DESE was inconsistent in its decisions regarding whether to impose conditions for school charter renewal.

Last Friday, a judge cleared the way to put the York City schools into receivership, meaning under state control. The Pennsylvania Department of Education previously announced its intention to hand over the entire school district to the for-profit charter chain Charter Schools of America.

Be it noted that today’s education “reformers” don’t much care for democracy. They would rather turn public schools over to a for-profit corporation that siphons off 20% in management fees and pays itself outlandish rental fees rather than trust parents and local citizens to do what’s best for their children.

Choice? There will be no “choice” for the families of York City. Their children will have to attend a charter school whose headquarters are in Florida. Yes, it is the death of local control and democracy in York City.

The news story says:

“State officials have said they would, if approved for a receivership, bring in Charter Schools USA to operate the district.

“So this means York likely will be the first city in the Commonwealth – and only one in the nation – where public education is provided exclusively by a private company.

The Pennsylvania State Education Association plans to appeal, according to a statement released by the statewide teachers union immediately after the ruling Friday morning.

“York’s citizens don’t want this, the elected school board doesn’t want this, and parents and educators don’t want this,” said PSEA President Michael Crossey.

“Citing the district’s financial problems, PDE declared York schools in recovery status and appointed David Meckley chief recovery officer, or CRO, in late 2012.

“State law triggers a receivership petition if officials in a recovery school district act against the wishes of the CRO or in violation of their approved recovery plan, which is supposed to be collaboratively developed.

“In this case, one action was the board’s refusal to vote on a charter school operator contract until the company provided more information.

“The other was its vote on a teachers and staff union contract that didn’t cut as much as set out in the recovery plan.”

This is what we would expect from the outgoing Corbett administration, which actively promoted privatization.

What will the new Tom Wolf administration do?

Here are some thoughts from Mark Miller, a local school board member in Pennsylvania and an officer of the Pennsylvania School Boards Assiciation:

“PSBA was disqualified as a party of interest in the case despite the fact we are a state chartered agency with a membership of 4,500 elected officials sworn to uphold the constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania which guarantees a free and appropriate public education to all children. On that count alone, how can the court force any child to attend a charter school?

“Linebaugh also disqualified NAACP, PASA and twenty-two parents of children with special needs who combined their money to retain special education counsel. Commonwealth Court upheld the ruling on NAACP, PSBA, PASA and parents did not appeal as we were saving our war chest for this new fight.

“There was never any question in my mind that Linebaugh was going to hand the district over to privateers. Governor Elect Wolf is a resident of York County and a political ally of the Receiver (David Meckley). While he did ask for the courts to leave this matter wait until his term of office begins, he has been absolutely silent on his position in this matter.

“Wolf’s wife Frances resigned from the Board of York Academy Charter School two months before he declared for office. some observers think that CSUSA will sub-contract to York Academy and CSMI (Charter School Management Inc is Vahan Gureghian’s company) as CSUSA does not have the resources at hand to run these schools.

“York Academy and CSMI have been silent and CSUSA non committal http://www.yorkdispatch.com/breaking/ci_27186647/charter-schools-usa-mum-york-city-schools-special (Although Vahan Guerghian is building a $28MM mansion within a 45 minute drive to CSUSA headquarters in Florida.

“Obviously, we are going to file an appeal of the ruling handed down today.”

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 150,432 other followers