Archives for category: Pennsylvania

Morning Call By Marc Levy Of The Associated Press

HARRISBURG — In theory, Pennsylvania school districts whose communities are similar economically are supposed to receive about the same amount of money per student from the state. But, with politics muscling in on how public school aid was distributed in the last two decades, officials have long complained about gaping disparities in public school aid.

Some communities now get half as much per-student aid as those with similar economic circumstances. On Thursday, a panel of lawmakers and top advisers to Gov. Tom Wolf is to recommend a way to close the gap, an effort that comes as Wolf is seeking the biggest one-year boost in public school aid in the state’s history. An Associated Press review of state data shows per-student funding differences can be great. For example, take Purchase Line School District in Indiana County and Curwensville Area School District in Clearfield County. Deemed by the state to have nearly identical wealth, the relatively small districts are neighbors and are similar in enrollment. But Purchase Line is getting about $8,700 per student, based on the latest average enrollment figures available, while Curwensville gets about $6,500 per student, about one-third less. Or take Northampton Area School District in Northampton County and Wilson School District in Berks County. About 30 miles apart and nearly identical in average enrollment and wealth, Northampton Area gets about $2,300 per student, while Wilson gets barely half that.

“It makes no sense,” said Arnold Hillman, a former superintendent and a founder of the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools. “It hasn’t made sense in years.” The disparities, which go back 25 years, are under the microscope as the state tries to confront them.

http://www.mcall.com/news/nationworld/pennsylvania/mc-pa-public-school-funding-20150617-story.html

Like every other state, Pennsylvania spent many tens of millions (or more) to develop a new teacher evaluation system. Guess what?

Teachers got their highest ratings ever!

“In the first year of many school districts using a new statewide teacher evaluation system, a greater portion of teachers was rated satisfactory than under the old system.

“In figures released by the state Department of Education, 98.2 percent of all teachers were rated as satisfactory in 2013-14 — the highest percentage in five years — despite a new system that some thought would increase the number of unsatisfactory ratings.”

“In the four prior years, 97.7 percent of teachers were rated satisfactory in all but 2009-10, when 96.8 percent were. These figures count teachers in school districts, career and technical centers, intermediate units and charter schools.”

Pennsylvania is fortunate to have so many good teachers!

Whom shall we blame now?

Peter Greene reports a shocking development (for operators of cyber-charters): Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf has said that he wants to reduce payments to cyber-charters, the online charter schools that are usually offered by for-profit corporations. Cyber-charters receive full state tuition for every student they enroll, and every dollar is subtracted from funding of local district schools that the student otherwise would have attended. Numerous studies have shown that the virtual schools have high attrition (as much as 50% a year), low test scores, and low graduation rates. But they are very profitable.

 

This is actually a shocking development for critics of virtual charters because their usual modus operandi is to sprinkle campaign contributions to key legislators and the governor, thus protecting their cash cow.

 

Greene writes:

 

 

Pennsylvania cyber charters are Very Sad, because the new governor of the state is threatening to end their long-standing party.

 

 

Years ago, a local departing superintendent offered a few words of advice. “If you want to get rich,” he said, “go start a cyber school.” He was not kidding. For the past decade-plus, running a Pennsylvania cyber charter has been as good as printing money. Despite their abysmal record of academic failure, Pennsylvania cybers rake in money hand over fist.

 

 

There’s no big secret to it– a cyber is paid the full per-capita home district cost of every student it enrolls. If it costs East Bucksawanna $10,500 per child to provide buildings and maintenance and infrastructure and resources and teachers and books and all the rest, then the Gotrox Cyber Acdemy gets that same $10,500, with which it provides the student with a computer (free!!) and access to a teacher or two (each of whom is carrying several hundreds of students).

 

 

It’s like running a dealership where every customer will pay the purchase price of their last brand new luxury automobile and in return, all you have to give them is some object with wheels.

 

 

This has been a point of contention in PA because every cent that goes into cyber coffers comes straight out of public school tax dollars. Every student that a cyber enrolls is a budget cut for public schools, and the cuts are vicious and deep and resulting in loss of programs, closing of schools, and furloughs of teachers. Taxpayers are complaining to public schools, “What the hell did you do with all that money I gave you,” and public schools reply, “That guy right over there [pointing at cyber charter] took it, and that guy right over there [pointing at legislator] says I have to let it happen.” People are getting pissed off. The baloney about how the money follows the child isn’t convincing, because people are now seeing that the child not only takes his own family’s money, but the tax dollars from all the neighbors on his street, too.

 

 

Cyber charters in PA have created whole new traditions. For instance, a cyber school may test a student to determine if the student has special needs. Why would they care? Perhaps because they get roughly $10K for regular students and $25K for students with special needs.

 

 

There’s also the tradition of enrollment day, on which guidance counselors and cyber schoolsters sit at their computers and toss students back and forth like hot potatoes on a reverse e-bay. Why? Well, there are two magic dates on the cyber calendar. After one certain date, the school gets to keep the money even if the kid leaves the cyber. After enrollment day, whoever still has the kid has to count that students test scores as their own.

 

 

Anyway. Governor Wolf has raised a fun question– how much does it actually cost to educate a cyber-student? Because shouldn’t it cost, you know, less? And if so, why should taxpayers pay more? No other public school (because, like all charters, cybers insist on calling themselves public schools) sets a budget that includes an extra couple of million just to feather the nest.

 

 

Just as a footnote, two operators of virtual charters are currently under indictment for the misappropriation of millions of dollars. Not like a principal or an assistant principal stealing petty cash. Big-time money. Millions.

 

The largest chain of virtual charters is K12, Inc. It was created by Michael Milken, noted non-educator, and his brother Lowell, also a non-educator. It is listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

 

 

Supporters of public schools are happy in Pittsburgh!

The sky may be falling in other cities and states but not in Pittsburgh.

Blogger Jessie Ramey (“Yinzercation”) explains why the citizens of Pitttsburgh are enjoying “sunshine and happiness.”

They have been organizing and building grassroots alliances for a long time. And it paid off with the election of a pro-public schools slate of candidates in the recent election.

Testing resistance is strong and growing, inspired to a large extent by English teacher Mary King’s refusal to administer the state tests to her English language learners.

Newly elected Governor Tom Wolf has proposed more funding for the public schools, as he had promised. He is turning out to be the real deal, not a politician who relies on hedge fund money and dances to their tune.

The public school advocates (“Great Public Schools Pittsburgh”) are now working to reduce suspensions and push-outs, which have a disparate impact on students of color and students with disabilities. They have a forward-thinking plan to help the students who most need help, not suspension from school.

As you see, there are many reasons to celebrate in Pittsburgh. The lesson for the rest of us is the importance of grassroots activism and coalition-building. When parents are informed, they don’t want to lose their public schools to entrepreneurs. Getting the word out and organizing is the work before us.

Testing expert Fred Smith sends out a warning to parents in Néw York City: Pearson field tests begin Monday.

But keep it a secret. No one knows. The scores don’t count because the tests are testing the questions, not the teachers.

Should parents be told? Shouldn’t they give consent? Should Pearson pay the students?

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Gary Rubinstein knows reformers better than most people. He started his career in Teach for America in Houston in the early 1990s and eventually became a career math teacher in New York City. He is one of the most perceptive critics of reform, having started in the early days of the movement.

In this post, he deconstructs the boasts of Kevin Huffman about the Achievement School District in Tennessee. Huffman is now trying to export this model to other states, despite its failure thus far to achieve its goals. Rubinsteinreviews the record of the ASD and finds it mixed at best:

“Just by the numbers, the results are truly mixed. Of the original 6 ASD schools that are currently in their third year under the ASD, two schools have improved, two have stayed about the same, and two have gotten worse.” Some success.

“ASD tries to put all the positive spin they can on their results, but the thing that they try not to mention is that in this past year the ASD got the lowest possible score on their ‘growth’ metric, a 1 out of 5. In Tennessee they take their ‘growth’ scores very seriously. They have been experimenting with this kind of metric for over twenty years and they base school closing decisions on it and also teacher evaluations. So it is hypocritical, though not surprising, that Huffman fails to mention that the ASD, on average, got the lowest possible score on this last year, and instead they focus on the two schools that have shown test score improvements.”

Rubinstein writes:

“There is absolutely no reason why Kevin Huffman should be given the opportunity to pitch his ideas to the Pennsylvania senate or in the media over there. It is like a state trying to improve their economy and asking for guidance from a man who got rich by winning the lottery. Huffman is a person who knows very little about education, but who has been very lucky to get to where he is. He taught first grade for two years, spent a bunch of years working for Teach For America, got appointed as Tennessee education commissioner mainly because of his famous ex-wife, and only managed to keep his job for three years before basically getting run out of town. He has gotten credit for the 4th and 8th grade NAEP gains between 2011 and 2013, but has taken none of the blame for the lack of progress for 12 graders or for the recent drops in the Tennessee State reading test scores. This is a new kind of phenomenon, the edu-celebrity who rises to power, leaves after a few years having accomplished very little, and then making a living as a consultant. Some gig.”

Kevin Huffman, former state education leader in Tennessee, came to Pennslvania to sell the glories of corporate reform as practiced in Tennessee. Peter Greene recounts his claims here.

Huffman wanted particularly to sell the virtues of the Tennessee Achievement School District, which gathers the state’s lowest performing schools into a group, eliminates local control, and converts them to privately managed charters.

As Greene shows, the ASD in Tennessee has been a bust so far.

“So first, strip local school boards and voters of authority over their own schools. Second, allow a mixture of innovation and stripping teachers of job security and pay. The stated plan in Tennessee was that the bottom 5% of schools would move into the top 25% within five years. Doesn’t that all sound great? But hey– how is it working out in Tennessee?

“That depends (surprise) on who is crunching which numbers, but even the state’s own numbers gave the Tennessee ASD the lowest possible score for growth.

“In fact, Huffman forgot to mention the newest “technique” proposed to make ASD schools successful– allow them to recruit students from outside the school’s geographical home base. This is the only turnaround model that really has been successful across the nation– in order to turn a school around, you need to fill it with different students.”

Greene read Huffman’s op-Ed with advice to Pennsylvania

Huffman wrote:

“When I spoke with Pennsylvania state senators last week about school turnaround work, one senator asked me directly, “When you created the Achievement School District, were you worried that it was too risky?” I responded, “The greatest risk would be to do nothing.”

Greene comments:

“Pretending that any senator actually answered that question, the answer is still dumb. Your child is lying on the sidewalk, bleeding and broken after being struck by a car. A guy in a t-shirt runs up with an axe and makes like he’s about to try to lop off your child’s legs. “What the hell are you doing?” you holler, and t-shirt guy replies, “Well, the greatest risk would be to do nothing.”

“Doing Nothing is rarely as great a risk as Doing Something Stupid.

“Achievement School Districts are dumb ideas that offer no educational benefits and run contrary to the foundational principles of democracy in this country. They are literally taxation without representation. Huffman should move on along to his next gig and leave Pennsylvania alone.”

When the idea of charters was first floated in the late 1980s, advocates offered a simple promise: Give us autonomy, and we will be accountable.

That was then, this is now.

The Pennsylvania School Boards Association estimates that public schools lose $1.3 billion each year to the state’s 177 charters. It filed a “Right to Know” request seeking information about how charters spend public money on such matters as salaries, consultants, advertising, rentals, etc.

A charter spokesman said the PSBA request was “frivolous.” Thus far, not a single charter has responded to the request for financial data.

“We get hammered over spending, but think about charter schools – there’s little if any fiscal accountability,” said Lawrence Feinberg, a Haverford School District board member who heads the Keystone State Education Coalition, a grassroots public education advocacy group made up of school board members and administrators.

“Feinberg cited the state’s largest charter school, the Chester Community Charter School in Delaware County, which has a management contract with a firm headed by wealthy Montgomery County lawyer and political donor Vahan Gureghian.

“You go find out and tell me how much teachers get paid and how much Mr. Gureghian makes in profit,” said Feinberg. He also raised questions over how much charters spend on the ad campaigns that attract students away from traditional public schools.”

Read more at

http://www.philly.com/philly/education/20150523_School_board_group_seeks_charters__data.html#WT6XPfUmfspjz7KZ.99

The Pennsylvania School Boards Association has filed a “right to know” action to gain access to the financial records of the state’s charter schools, including Cybercharters.

Charters were supposed to be more accountable and transparent than public schools, but they are neither. Some charter operators have made millions of dollars in profits from taxpayer dollars, with neither accountability nor transparency.

“The Pennsylvania School Boards Association today said it has filed Right-to-Know requests with charter and cyber charter school operators asking for financial information about their schools.

“The requested items include advertising costs, contracts with private management companies, advanced academic courses offered, salary and compensation information for all 180 brick and mortar and cyber charter schools in the state.

“The Right-to-Know requests also ask for documents related to leases and real estate and donation information from foundations or educational improvement organizations.”

“Nathan Mains, PSBA executive director, said the information being sought will help his association and the school districts it represents to better understand how charter schools operate and to provide transparency to taxpayers on charter school spending.

“For years charter proponents have criticized public schools claiming they don’t understand how charter operators work or the costs and benefits of charters,” Mr. Mains said in a press release

“Another purpose to filing the Right-to-Know requests is for the PSBA “to make sure public funds are being spent in the best interest of Pennsylvania children,” Mr. Mains said.

“Tuition for charter school students comes from the coffers of their home public school districts. The PSBA release said last year nearly $1.3 billion was paid in charter school tuition.”

The organization representing the state’s charter schools scoffed at the request and said the PSBA has all the information it needs.

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!”

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