Archives for category: Pennsylvania

Greg Taranto, principal of Canonsburg Middle School, was named was named 2012 Middle Level Principal of the Year by the Pennsylvania Association of Elementary and Secondary School Principals.

He now joins our Honor Roll for his courage in speaking up for students and good education.


Taranto says that testing is out of control, it is absurdly expensive, draining resources from schools, and of course he is right. Everyone seems to know it except our legislators in the statehouses and Congress. Parents know it. Teachers and administrations like Taranto know it. Students know it.


We no longer have schools devoted to development of every child’s full human potential, but devoted instead to ever higher scores on standardized tests. How did the testing industry manage to capture the minds and hearts of our policymakers? Don’t they realize that tests are useful for diagnostic purposes, but they are not the goal of education. They are a measure, they are not a replacement for instruction.


Taranto writes:


Testing makes a lot of money for education companies. Here in Pennsylvania in 2013 we paid more than $200 million to the company responsible for the development of the Keystone exams — tests aligned with the Common Core curriculum (known as PA Core in Pennsylvania). Our state legislators just approved another five “optional” Keystones in the coming years. Can you imagine the cost to taxpayers?

Unfortunately, the many-headed hydra of standardized testing is not like the mythical creatures made by my seventh graders. It is real. And we need real heroes to slay the beast.

Parents and educators must start speaking out and talking to our school districts, school boards and state and federal legislators. State and federal legislators are especially important, because they are the ones mandating tests such as the PSSA and the Keystones and thus tying the hands of district officials and school boards.

Some groups already engaged in this fight include Education Voters PA, Yinzercation, PA Against the Common Core, the Network for Public Education and

Do you think testing has gotten out of control? Please become a hero in the fight against this many-headed hydra. We need more ordinary heroes — people like you and me — to wrest control of our kids’ education away from the testing beast and to restore educational agency to parents, teachers and principals.


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Our good friends in Pennsylvania writing at the Yinzercation blog have developed an excellent checklist by which to judge gubernatorial candidates.

Their own Governor Tom Corbett has been a determined foe of public education, and his approval rating hovers around 20%.

Many candidates are challenging him.

Read this post to learn what friends of public education should demand from those who seek their votes.

Never forget: we are many, and those who attack free, democratic public education–doors open to all–are few.

A reader offers this perspicacious view of Pennsylvania’s cybercharter industry. There are 16 of them in the state. The founders of two of the major cybercharters are currently under indictment for siphoning millions of dollars of public funds:

The reader writes:

“Running a cyber-charter in PA is as good as printing money. No oversight and a system that completely ignores the actual costs of the system. If the Commonwealth of PA went shopping for used cars the same way, it would walk onto the lot and tell the salesman, “Here’s twenty grand. Pick out any car for me that you want, and keep the change.”

Temple University law professor Susan deJarnett studied Pennsylvania’s 16 Cybercharters and found that they make huge profits while providing few services.

“Parsing the tax documents for the 12 cyber charters for which information was available, she found that cyber charters carry large surpluses and spend what she considered a disproportionate amount of Pennsylvania tax dollars on advertising, travel expenses and contracts with outside management and service providers.”

Fewer teachers. No custodians. No heating bills. No savings.

The money for the Cybercharters comes out of each district’s budget, depending on its per pupil expenditure:

“If a regular-education student from Lower Merion school district attended a cyber-charter in 2011-2012, Lower Merion (which then had a per-pupil expenditure of $22,140.70) sent the cyber charter about $17,000.

“If a regular-education student from the Philadelphia school district attended the same cyber-charter, Philadelphia (which then had a per-pupil expenditure of $12,351.74) sent the cyber charter about $8,500.

“Same cyber school. Same cyber-education. Outrageously different price tag.”

An obvious incentive to poach students from rich districts.

Two of Pennsylvania’s best known charter founders are under indictment. With so many millions in play and no supervision or regulation, bad things can happen.

Blogger Yinzercation describes Governor Tom Corbett’s latest proposal as a “Race to the Top” that will benefit the highest-performing, most affluent districts. He learned his lesson from Arne Duncan. Forget about equity. Forget about restoring the draconian cuts he made to the state’s suffering urban districts. Forget about the have-nots. Forget about Philadelphia, whose schools were stripped of basic services and programs. Reward excellence!

In an article on Salon, writer James Cersonsky describes the state GOP’s attack on universities.

He calls it “the Enron-esque Higher Ed Plan: Fire Tenured Faculty to Fund Students Dorms.”

In Tom Corbett’s Pennsylvania, he says, if it’s public and it’s education, burn it down!

The same can be said for K-12 education.

Corbett is up for re-election.

The good news is that his poll numbers are down. Only 36% of voters approve of his performance, and about as many support him. All of the Democratic contenders have higher numbers in a poll published last month.




There was much buzz on the Internet yesterday because Governor Tom Corbett announced his intention to visit a public school in Philadelphia! Imagine that!

But today, after hearing that protestors might show up, he canceled the visit and retreated to the local Chamber of Commerce.
He boldly announced that he never runs away from anything as he ran away.

Jake Blumgart reports:

““I don’t run from anything,” Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett said on Friday, after running away from a planned event at Central High School in North Philadelphia. Speaking at a press conference several miles to the south, held at the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce’s headquarters in The Bellevue, a swanky Center City office building, Corbett insisted, “I make decisions head on, but I was not going to be a distraction to the school day or the school students.” The students may well have been distracted by the fact that they had waited for a speaker who cancelled at the last minute.

“Education has dogged Corbett since the early days of his administration, when he proposed a $1.2 billion cut to public school funding in his first budget. A crippling reduction exceeding $865 million made it through the legislature, with the poorest school districts bearing the brunt thanks to the elimination of a mechanism that provided more money for schools with greater needs. (As the Education Law Center put it, “the cuts have been up to 10 times larger in poor districts on a per-student basis.”) Now, in a difficult election year, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that his budget address early next month will contain between $100 million and $200 million in restored education dollars, funded by pension reforms.

“Friday’s event at Central could have been another aspect of Corbett’s attempt to improve his image on public education. At the planned presentation ceremony, he would have given the Governor’s Award for Excellence in Academics to three high schools: Central, Masterman, and George Washington Carver. This comes during a school year where the Philadelphia School District faced a budgetary gap of more than $300 million, forcing deep cuts. Now many schools are forced to share nurses, counselors and other essential support staff. Funding for most extracurricular activities has been zeroed out, while arts, music and physical education have been decimated.”

Parents might understandably be unhappy with Corbett since his budget cuts have stripped the Philly schools of basic staff and resources. Last fall, a 12-year-old student died of an asthma attack because her school lost funding for a full-time nurse.

Corbett’s poll numbers are very low, giving one hope that voters across the state want a change.

According to Rick Cohen of the Nonprofit Quarterly, the Gates Foundation is threatening to take away $40 million from the Pittsburgh public schools if the district and union don’t agree on a plan to evaluate teachers by test scores, to reward the “best,” and retrain the rest.

Does the Gates Foundation know that eminent researchers warn that VAM is inaccurate? Does it care that VAM has not worked anywhere?

The group in Pittsburgh that is most critical of the union is A+ Schools. Cohen points out that Gates is one of its major funders.

Cohen writes:

“This is probably an extreme example of “high-stakes testing” of teachers. With a significant reliance on student test scores for determining teacher performance, teachers are duly wary of standardized tests, which diminish the socioeconomic factors of student performance, even when the consequences could be teacher dismissals and even school closings. In this case, the high stake facing the teachers’ union is the school district’s loss of a free $40 million.”

(The word “diminish” in the previous paragraph is wrong. It should say “reflect to a large degree.”)

What is so distressing is that the Gates Foundation acts as if it bought public education in Pittsburgh and has the right to call the shots. Guess they never heard of the concept of democratic control of the schools. They are familiar only with plutocratic control.

Who will hold the Gates Foundation accountable for the damage it is wreaking on education?

Pennsylvania blogger Yinzercation explains the stunning victory of the education justice movement in Pittsburgh. Parents, educators, and community members organized, mobilized, and elected new members to the school board.

The new board canceled a contract with TFA and reversed the closing of an elementary school.

Santa came early in Pittsburgh

A newly elected school board in Pittsburgh voted to cancel a contract with Teach for America, reversing the vote of the previous school board, which planned to hire 30 TFA recruits.

The motion passed with six affirmative votes; two opposed and an abstention. The outgoing board previously approved the contract, 6-3.

This was remarkable because it is one of the few times–maybe the first time–that a school board rejected a TFA contract and recognized how controversial it is to hire young inexperienced teachers for the neediest students.

The school board also voted to keep open an elementary school that the previous board had decided to close.



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