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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.

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 | 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.

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.

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

Penn Live By Teresa Bonner | 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.

“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 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.

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.

“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 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.

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 (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.”

The state of Pennsylvania is being sued by the following petitioners:


The petitioners are represented by the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia and the Education Law Center of Pennsylvania.

Here is the summary of their challenge to the state:


Petitioners, by and through their counsel, for their Petition for Review in the Nature of an Action for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief against Respondents, state and allege as follows:


The good Education of Youth has been esteemed by Wise men in all Ages, as the surest foundation of the happiness both of private Families and of Common-wealths. Almost all Governments have therefore made it a principal Object of their Attention, to establish and endow with proper Revenues, such Seminaries of Learning, as might supply the succeeding Age with Men qualified to serve the publick with Honour to themselves, and to their Country.1

1. From the earliest days of the Commonwealth, Pennsylvania has recognized a societal interest in public education—a charge that Respondents here are sworn to carry out. Under the Pennsylvania Constitution, Respondents have an obligation to support a thorough and efficient public school system that provides all children an equal opportunity to receive an adequate education. Through legislation and regulation, Respondents have established state academic standards that define precisely what an adequate education entails. But rather than equip children to meet those standards and participate meaningfully in the economic, civic, and social life of their communities, Respondents have adopted an irrational and inequitable school financing arrangement that drastically underfunds school districts across the Commonwealth and discriminates against children on the basis of the taxable property and household incomes in their districts.
In adopting this arrangement, Respondents have violated Article III, Section 14, of the Pennsylvania Constitution (the “Education Clause”), which requires the General Assembly to “provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth.” They have also violated Article III, Section 32 (the “Equal Protection Clause”), which requires Respondents to finance the Commonwealth’s public education system in a manner that does not irrationally discriminate against a class of children.

2. The General Assembly’s delegation of much of these duties to local school districts cannot elide its ultimate responsibility under the Education Clause and the Equal Protection Clause. Through this lawsuit, Petitioners seek to hold the General Assembly responsible for and accountable to its constitutional mandate.

3. Respondents are well aware that the current school financing arrangement does not satisfy that mandate. In 2006, recognizing its constitutional duty to ensure adequate school funding, the General Assembly passed Act 114, which directed the State Board of Education to conduct a comprehensive statewide “costing-out” study to determine the “basic cost per pupil to provide an education that will permit a student to meet the State’s academic standards and assessments.” Upon the study’s completion in 2007, Respondents learned that 95% of the Commonwealth’s school districts required additional funding, a shortfall that totaled $4.4 billion.
In response, the General Assembly approved a bill in 2008 that established funding targets for each school district and a formula for distributing education funds in a manner that would help ensure that all students could meet state academic standards. Even with a financial crisis sweeping the nation, Respondents were able to rely on that funding formula to begin to more equitably distribute state funds and federal stimulus money, which collectively increased funding for school districts by more than $800 million over three years. Beginning in 2011, however, Respondents abandoned the funding formula, slashed funding to districts by more than $860 million, and passed legislation to severely restrict local communities from increasing local funding. Meanwhile, the cost of meeting state academic standards continued to rise, opening a perilous and widening gap between the actual resources provided to school districts and the resources necessary to provide children in Pennsylvania an adequate education.

4. These funding cuts have had a devastating effect on students, school districts (especially less affluent school districts), teachers, and the future of the Commonwealth. The latest figures from the 2012–13 school year indicate that more than 300,000 of the approximately 875,000 students tested, including the children of the individual Petitioners in this action, are receiving an inadequate education—by Respondents’ own definition—and are unable to meet state academic standards. Specifically, these students are unable to achieve proficiency on the Pennsylvania System of Standardized Assessment (“PSSA”) exams, which the General Assembly modified in 1999 to track state academic standards and measure student performance in reading, writing, math, and science.

5. Because of insufficient funding, Petitioner school districts are unable to provide students with the basic elements of an adequate education, such as appropriate class sizes, sufficient experienced and effective teachers, up-to-date books and technology, adequate course offerings, sufficient administrative staff, academic remediation, counseling and behavioral health services, and suitable facilities necessary to prepare students to meet state proficiency standards. In fact, the superintendent of the state’s largest school district has stated publicly that school staffing levels in 2013-14 were insufficient to provide students an adequate education.

6. Nor do Petitioner school districts have adequate resources to prepare students to pass the Keystone Exams, which measure student performance in math, science, and English. Achieving proficiency or higher on the Keystone Exams (or an equivalent project-based assessment) is a graduation requirement for all Pennsylvania students in the class of 2017 and beyond. Yet over 50% of students in the Commonwealth are currently unable to pass the Keystone Exams. Many of those students will leave high school without a diploma, hindering their ability to enter the workforce or “serve the needs of the Commonwealth.” The existing system of public education is therefore neither thorough nor efficient, as measured by the Commonwealth’s own academic standards and costing-out study.

7. What is worse, the very low levels of state funding and unusually high dependence on local taxes under the current financing arrangement have created gross funding disparities among school districts—an asymmetry that disproportionately harms children residing in districts with low property values and incomes. In fiscal year 2011, local sources provided 60% of the money that funded public education, while state appropriations accounted for only 34%. That year, only three states contributed a smaller percentage of the cost of public education than Pennsylvania.

8. As a consequence, total education expenditures per student now range from as little as $9,800 per student in school districts with low property values and incomes to more than $28,400 per student in districts with high property values and incomes, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s 2012–13 data.2 This unconscionable and irrational funding disparity violates the Equal Protection Clause because it turns the caliber of public education into an accident of geography: Children in property- and income-poor districts are denied the opportunity to receive even an adequate education, while their peers in property- and income-rich districts enjoy a high-quality education.

This funding disparity is not justified by any difference in student needs. To the contrary, those students with the highest needs (e.g., English-language learners, students living in poverty) receive the fewest resources to prepare them to succeed. Nor is it justified by a desire to maintain local control over education. Any such “control” is illusory under the current financing arrangement because districts with low property values do not actually control the amount of resources at their disposal or the standards to which their students are held. In fact, many low-wealth districts have higher tax rates than property-rich school districts. In other words, it is not tax effort that explains the difference in funding. Rather, these underfunded districts are in areas so poor that, despite their high tax rates, they simply cannot raise enough money to improve education without more assistance from the state.

10. Petitioner Panther Valley School District (“Panther Valley”), a property-poor district, is a prime example of the funding disparity. In 2012– 13, Panther Valley’s equalized millage rate of 27.8—the 27th highest of the Commonwealth’s 501 school districts—raised revenue of approximately $5,646 locally per student. Property-rich Lower Merion School District (“Lower Merion”), on the other hand, raised revenue of approximately $23,709 locally per student—four times more than Panther Valley—with an equalized millage rate of just 14.7, almost half of Panther Valley’s.

11. Although the state has made some effort to close that gap, contributing twice as much per student to Panther Valley as it did to Lower Merion, that still left Panther Valley with less than half the combined state and local funding of Lower Merion: $12,022 per student versus $26,700. Respondents cannot reasonably claim that $12,022 is adequate to educate a Panther Valley student—not when the State Board of Education’s own costing-out study showed that Panther valley needed $13,427 per student based on 2005–06 costs. Over the past nine years, of course, those costs have only grown.

12. Given Respondents’ failure to address the funding crisis—and the ongoing harm their failure has inflicted on children throughout the Commonwealth—Petitioners ask this Court to declare the existing school financing arrangement unconstitutional and find that it violates both the Education Clause and the Equal Protection Clause. An objective framework for such an inquiry already exists. The state academic standards and student performance measures developed by Respondents beginning in 1999, as well as the costing-out study they commissioned, provide judicially manageable standards by which the Court can assess whether the General Assembly has maintained and supported “a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth,” as required by the Pennsylvania Constitution.

13. Petitioners also seek an injunction compelling Respondents, after being given sufficient time to design, enact, and implement a school financing arrangement consistent with the Constitution, to halt any funding arrangement that (i) does not provide necessary, sufficient, and appropriate funding that ensures all students have an opportunity to obtain an adequate education and meet state academic standards, and (ii) irrationally discriminates against children who live in school districts with low property values and incomes.

1 Benjamin Franklin, Proposal Relating to the Education of Youth in Pennsylvania (1749), available at

2 Unless otherwise noted, throughout this Complaint, “per student” is based upon Average Daily Membership (“ADM”) as reported by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. ADM refers to “all resident pupils of the school district for whom the school district is financially responsible.” It includes students in charter schools. See

This is a newsletter from Australia, written by Phil Cullen in a blog called The Treehorn Express.

Treehorn Express

Facts About Australian Schooling

Schooling in Australia is a state responsibility. Each state, however, relies on the distribution of money collected from its citizens by the commonwealth government, which then places conditions on the way the money must be spent by the states. It is a strange relationship. Because this arrangement locates exceptional power in the centre, the federal minister for education assumes full responsibility for all levels of schooling; and this allows the incumbent political party to determine aspects of schooling, some of which might be at odds with a state’s notions. :”There has been concern at the political level over the intrusion of the Commonwealth government and Commonwealth agencies into the field of education, traditionally and constitutionally a State responsibility. Some of these enterprises appeared to have a philosophical basis different from that underlying State activities in education” [M.J.Ahern Q, Hansard 04-04-78] . Such differences depend a great deal on the federal minister’s view of schooling. Few state ministers ever disagree and things runs smoothest when both governments share the same political ideology. The federal minister possesses enormous personal power and is allowed to indulge his or her will – from the sublime to the ridiculous – without reference. No state has reclaimed its right to supervise the curriculum requirements of schooling since the drastic changes to schooling in Australia in 2008, for instance; so the federal minster can do as he or she likes e.g introduce a high stakes testing regime or call for a curriculum review or whatever is part of a personal fancy. The state ministers have yet to test the limits of their own power over schooling in their own state.

SCHOOLS Children can attend a public state school for twelve years, free of charge. If they have rich or frugal parents, they can attend a private school at high cost. There is little difference, if any, in quality.
School years operate according to the calendar year, and promotion is year by year from Year 1 to Year 12.
Most children sit still in classrooms for twelve years or more. In some schools, the children must all face the same way for most of each school day. This benefits the sermonising teaching tactics required to practise for the annual testing program.

AGE Children can start school at age five, even though they need not do so. Many prefer to wait for sound reasons. In some states they may attend when as young as four and a half. Laws of compulsory education differ in each state, so the age of admission differs and causes disruption to people who change states, but there is little interest in stabilizing national ages of schooling,

TESTING & CURRICULUM The present-day written curriculum is over-burdensome. It’s huge. Any additions would be insane. Despite its extent, only certain aspects of literacy and numeracy need be taught. These are tested each year – Years 3,5,,7,9 – using a cold heatless format – in May. Results are available some months later, but there are moves to provide the tests quicker, more often, electronically. This testucating ideology is aimed at bringing each child up to the exact same standard on the exact same day….nothing more, nothing less. The tests have little relevance to the intellectual development of children, but they are handy for descriptive purposes by those who know only a little bit about classroom practices and nothing about the effects of testing on child development.

Since most schools are not trusted to describe a pupil’s suitability for his or her career opportunities or have its own evaluation and reporting program, intense testing is also undertaken towards the end of Year 12. A certificate is issued to school graduates, purporting to describe the level of competency in school subjects undertaken; and employers interpret them as best they can. If employers wish to know about the more essential qualities required, they have to make their own arrangements.

SYLLABUS LEVELS A curriculum usually refers to the learning entitlements of children when they attend school. A syllabus details requirements for pupils to reach curriculum goals. Australia has three levels of syllabus requirements according to the prevailing schooling ideology. The tri-level system introduced to Australia in 2008 distinguishes the requirements: 1. Testable aspects of literacy and numeracy are high level. Schools need only teach these, to be regarded as a ‘good’ school. Nothing else needs to be taught. 2. Mid-level interest can be taken in science, history, geography, social studies according to the level of pressure by people in authority. 3. Music and Art and similar airy-fairy subjects don’t count very much. They take time from test preparation. They command some attention on special occasions; and the results are usually spectacular.

‘STUDENTS’ Children at school are described as ‘students’, because the term has no relationship to schooling per se. It’s a safe description. It infers that children at school don’t have to be taught. They study. More serious authorities [e.g. Britain] describe all school attenders as ‘pupils’, using the O.E.D. meaning that suggests learning at a school involves the use of teachers. Although pupilling involves a teaching/learning contract between two people, Australia prefers the United States descriptor of ‘student’ because it follows the U.S. in all things as blindly as possible; especially schooling arrangements. The word doesn’t mean anything special.

PRIVATE or PUBLIC There are differing opinions as to quality of offerings. Australia has joined the U.S. in the press for the privatisation of schooling despite the high quality education by public schools. A private school can be a very profitable business and Australia’s ruling governments in recent times have been controlled by the neoliberalist philosophy of privatisation. People tend to believe that private and systemic schools are better, despite the results from various scrutinies. Many see NAPLAN tests as an admission ticket to the ‘best’ private or select school. Indeed some such schools, whose notions of pupilling is limited, ‘brand’ their intakes for streaming purposes using test scores. The brands last forever. But………

Nice people go to private schools. Some public schools contain a lot of foreigners, some of whom are Muslims.

HOME SCHOOLING is permitted, albeit grudgingly. A worthy alternative to institutionalised forms of instruction, it is becoming very popular with parents who are able to do so and who enjoy sharing their children’s educational development within a family setting. Such parents disapprove of test-driven forms of schooling, threatening their children’s welfare. Some use reliable diagnostic tests as required when required. While little state assistance is offered to these home-based forms of pupilling in a pure form, local coteries of home schoolers in various localities share teaching experiences, learning enterprises and shared evaluation techniques.


1.The printing and sale of Practice Tests and associated texts is now in the multi-million dollar range. Schools prescribe them even though their popularity is a reflection on the profession; and parents use them extensively at home or on holidays. 2. The rise in the number of ‘back-yard mechanics’ aka tutoring shops that concentrate on NAPLAN tests, has been quite staggering. A quick google will indicate the extent. Costs range from $20 to $50 per hour. 3. The use of pharmaceutical supplements to enhance performance is not disallowed nor discouraged by education authorities. While the rugby league and Australian football authorities have taken this matter seriously, no warnings or cautions have ever been provided to the public by educational jurisdictions. Neither has the extent of the use nor the side effects of such usage been researched extensively. Medical assistance for those children who are in distress, vomit and become emotionally ill or cannot sleep during the preparation period is, of course on the increase as part and parcel of the testing industry. Sadly, it would appear that child health and social welfare is at a low level of interest to the various state authorities while testing resides within..

MAJOR CONTEMPORARY ISSUES The dramatic changes to schooling in 2008, when these testing devices were introduced to control the curriculum, have caused wide rifts in professional conversations. The gulf between what is now called the ‘testucation’ community and the ‘education’ one is wide. As with most macabre political issues, the gap will slowly close. and this repulsive use of Standardised Blanket Testing to mould children according to a one-size-fits-all pattern. using tactics that run counter to all the sacred beliefs of caring for kids, should disappear. Its disappearance needs encouragement.

The belittlement of teachers has never been been so high. The blame for the muck-up in the 2014 NAPLAN writing test was said to be theirs. Their over-zealous practising disposed the testucating hierarchy to try to ‘catch’ them by requiring a most peculiar response to a weird question…..and their attempts rebounded.
Small wonder there is a heavy resignation rate. Those who continue to teach in the face of extreme unethical behaviour are surely amongst the greatest of all times; producing such quality all-round products in the face of the requirements of test tyrants and muddled, muffled political deviants.

That’s Australian schooling…… girt by political unscrupulousness in a sea of arrested intellectual development. It’s been so for six years now. Time to stop the rot. The damage has been too costly for our future.

OUR FUTURE Our present schooling system is clearly a product of our obsession with all things American. Australia seems to be compelled to copy quasi-educational. unsubstantiated Yank gimmickry that usually ends up in disaster. High-stakes testing, charter schools, performance pay, core curriculum, common core syllabuses and serious judgements made on unreliable testing procedures are features of this American/Australian system. Australian classroom-experienced teachers have the capacity to design a system, uninfluenced and unsupervised by the testing fraternity, that will establish a high-level learning culture based on love of learning, instead of on a fear of it. Encouragement to learn can easily replace the fear-of-failure syndrome now dominating our classrooms. Our future depends of the freedom to learn. It needs to be released from bondage before any progress can be made.
Phil Cullen [….in support of a fair-dinkum, no-nonsense,kid-oriented Australia] 41 Cominan Avenue, Banora Point Australia 2486 07 554 6443


Zak Jason wrote a fascinating interview in “Boston” magazine with Barbara Madeloni, the recently elected president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, the largest union in the state with 110,000 members.

I first learned of Madeloni when she was preparing teachers at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and she refused to give the Pearson test to evaluate new teachers. Michael Winerip wrote a story about her defiance in the New York Times, and within a matter of days, her contract was not renewed. Now all teacher candidates across the university are required to take the Pearson exam.

I learned many things from this article. I learned that Barbara was a psychotherapist before she became a high school English teacher. I learned that when she ran for union president, she was considered a very long shot. Some people thought she had no chance at all.

I learned that the State Commissioner of Education, Mitchell Chester, is also chair of the governing board of PARCC, one of the two federally-funded Common Core tests. Some in the state say he has a conflict of interest.

Madeloni has called for a three-year moratorium on all testing and teacher evaluations:

“We’ve been trying to do scale, instead of human beings. We need to do human beings,” she says. She lambasts the Common Core, a national set of curriculum standards that the state adopted in 2010, as “corporate deform,” and described its architects to CommonWealth magazine as “rich white men who are deciding the course of public education for black and brown children.”

“The past and present heads of the state’s top education offices I talked to dismiss Madeloni’s rhetoric as naive, absurd, and, in the case of the moratorium, illegal. Mitchell Chester, the commissioner of the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), says he’s concerned that her “hyperbolic” vision may force the DESE to tune out the entire union.”

Chester may dismiss her, but teachers view her as a savior. “She’s the first MTA leader willing to listen to their agony, and to tell the truth about how teaching in the age of accountability can be, as Holyoke teacher Cheri Cluff puts it, “like waiting tables at a busy restaurant; you’re running and running and running, and you’ve lost your head.” Whereas past presidents and her opponent, MTA vice president Tim Sullivan, were willing to compromise with state administrators, Madeloni is combative, unapologetic, and, as Agustin Morales, another Holyoke teacher, says, “unafraid to make her life uncomfortable.”

Morales, the article notes, was elected president of his local in Holyoke with a 70% majority; he complained about the data walls, where students’ names and test scores are publicly posted. He was fired.

Madeloni is a fighter. She is outspoken and unafraid. Will she be marginalized by the state? Can the state alienate its largest union? Watch for the battles ahead. Madeloni was elected to stand up for teachers. Richard Stutman of the Boston Teachers Union has agreed to collaborate with her.

Zak Jason concluded:

“When I first talked to Madeloni soon after her election, she agreed to have me follow her throughout her first week. But just before her presidency began, she told me, “As a psychotherapist, I know the presence of someone else in the room can affect how the room behaves,” and said she would only be available for an interview, and her communications director James Sacks would join.

“As I’m about to leave her office, Madeloni turns to Sacks and asks, half-joking, “Is there anything I didn’t say that I was supposed to say?”

“What’s your vision?” he says.

“That we reclaim the vision of public education as a space for democracy, for joy, for hope, for a better future for all of our children. All of our children.”

Paul Horton, who teaches history at the University of Chicago Lab School, here analyzes the origins of neoliberalism and its attack on the public sector.

The “rhetoric of economic freedom” has put a price tag everything. Self-interest and me-first have become the ideology of the day, and anyone who dares to think of what is in the best interest of society or how to raise up the poor is scorned as a Marxist or collectivist.

Horton writes:

“In effect, “the invisible hand” behind the push to create new education markets is coming from Wall Street investors who are flush with capital for investment. Wall Street bundlers and investment firms are buying up stock in charter school companies and big education vendors. These bundlers not only fund both party’s campaigns, they also sell stock, betting on the futures of big education vendors, start-ups, charter schools, and vouchers. They “encourage” political leaders to pursue policies that will hedge their bets on education products and to view all schools as portfolios that will increase in value as long as the Feds and the states pursue policies that encourage privatization.

“But Wall Street bundlers are far from the only group that embraces a radical version of libertarianism as a way to legitimate opening new markets in education. “Hardcore libertarianism has been making inroads among a younger set of tech entrepreneurs, who see its goals of limited government as being compatible with their general hatred of innovation-stifling regulation. And as more and more tech founders become phenomenally wealthy, many are naturally drawn to the right-wing political ideologies that help them preserve more of that wealth,” according to Kevin Roose in an article for New York magazine.

“Not surprisingly, this same set of Silicon Valley and Seattle billionaires has teamed up with Wall Street bundlers to push neoliberal attacks on public education by pushing an agenda that supports charter schools, computer driven learning, and assessment schemes that are designed measure success of students and teachers in “real time.” Value added measures (VAM) for teachers based on student test scores are designed to reduce the power of unions by making it easier to get rid of ineffective teachers. Charter schools are created both as competition for public schools to give parents “choice” and as a way to hire nonunion teachers at cut rate salaries–teachers who can be hired and fired with no job protections or due process.

“This neoliberal-libertarian agenda for education violates the values of the American Revolution that affirmed that promise of public education in the Northwest Ordinance that reserved the proceeds from the sales of public lands to build public schools and the later Morrill Land Grant Act (1862) that used the proceeds of public land sales to create public universities that would serve the interests of the public.

“Neoliberal corporate education reform is nothing short of an attack on the political DNA of the United States. This agenda makes a mockery of Jefferson’s idea about a school as an “academical village” designed to create leaders to serve the commonwealth. Corporate education reform also disgraces the legacy of the fight for integration and equal funding during the Civil Rights movement by encouraging the resegregation and the resource starving of public schools to create more “choice” in the form of charter schools.

“The Tea Party might rant on and on about liberty and taxes these days, but Republicanism, or the idea that we have to “rise above faction” to serve the commonwealth was the glue that held the American revolutionaries together…..”

“Nothing is sacred: public servants, those who promote the humanities and the arts, and those focused on caring for others are viewed by neoliberals as naïve at best. Public servants deserve little or no respect because only the market can truly establish value. They are contemptuously seen as the new “welfare queens,” or the “forty-seven percent” because the very idea of the public is emasculated, shorn of value, a heavy drag on a fine tuned and lean market system. Neoliberals believe that almost everything public should be strangled and flushed, to use Grover Norquist’s intentionally crude image.

“Toward this end, public schools and public teachers have been subjected to a relentless barrage of negative propaganda for almost thirty years. Many corporations want to force open education markets, Microsoft and Pearson Education to name two of the largest, demand “free markets,” “choice,” and “free enterprise.” Public schools are defunded and closed, so that parents can choose among competing charter schools supported by city, state, and Federal policies. Politicians of both parties at every level are funneled campaign contributions from charter school investors for their support of “school choice.”…….

“The privatizers want us to forget all of this history; they want us to forget the idea that public anything is a good idea. Parents who demand quality public neighborhood schools are as American as apple pie. The corporate education reformers are motivated by ideas that have no respect for tradition or for common human decency. They devalue the aspirations represented in the Declaration of Independence. We need to push back and demand a limit to privatization and a defense of the Commons.”


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