Archives for category: Pennsylvania

This is a report on charter school funding in Pennsylvania, especially the effect of excess special education funding for charter schools. It was
distributed by the Keystone State Education Coalition.

The KSEC writes:

“Each time charter schools skim marginal need special ed students out of public school districts, they artificially cause the average special ed cost to spiral higher for the next year’s special ed charter school tuition rate.

“YouTube Video: The $200 Million/Year PA Charter School Special Ed Funding Windfall For Dummies

“Would the special ed funding bill HB2138/SB1316 be the “end of charter schools as we know it”? It might be, especially for the operators of for-profit management companies that contract with charter schools. As best we can tell, instead of special ed money serving special needs students, it appears that the windfall has funded things like multi-million dollar CEO compensation, over 19,000 local TV commercials, a jet and Florida condo, generous political campaign contributions and a 20,000 square foot mansion on the beach in Palm Beach Florida. Here’s a three minute youtube video produced by KEYSEC Co-Chair Mark B. Miller that clearly explains how this happens.

Want more than a three minute video on this topic? Here’s a great piece by long-time ed writer Dale Mezzacappa for the notebook….

“City charters get $100M more for special ed than they spend; debate rages in Harrisburg”

the notebook By Dale Mezzacappa on June 5, 2014 02:12 PM

Philadelphia charter schools received more than $175 million last year to educate special education students, but spent only about $77 million for that purpose, according to aNotebook analysis of state documents. That is a nearly $100 million gap at a time when city education leaders are considering raising some class sizes to 41 students and laying off 800 more teachers in District-run schools due to severe funding shortfalls. Payments to charters, which are fixed under law, make up nearly a third of its $2.4 billion budget.

The issue goes beyond Philadelphia. Statewide, charters, including cybers, collect about $350 million for special education students, but spend just $156 million on them, according to calculations from the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials (PASBO). The Notebook used the PASBO analysis of state data to calculate the numbers for Philadelphia, which has half the state’s 170 charter schools.

Daily postings from the Keystone State Education Coalition now reach more than 3250 Pennsylvania education policymakers – school directors, administrators, legislators, legislative and congressional staffers, Governor’s staff, current/former PA Secretaries of Education, PTO/PTA officers, parent advocates, teacher leaders, education professors, members of the press and a broad array of P-16 regulatory agencies, professional associations and education advocacy organizations via emails, website, Facebook and Twitter

These daily emails are archived and searchable at
Visit us on Facebook at KeystoneStateEducationCoalition

I earlier reported that the latest data show that 97% of teachers in Pittsburgh received ratings of either “distinguished” or “advanced.” Similar findings have emerged elsewhere, which makes me wonder why it was necessary to spend billions of dollars to create these new evaluation systems, which are often incomprehensible. But Kipp Dawson, a Pittsburgh teacher wrote a comment warning that the evaluation system is flawed and riddled with unreliable elements, like VAM. Don’t be fooled, Dawson says. The Pittsburgh evaluation system was created with the lure of Gates money. It attempts to quantify the unmeasurable.

Dawson writes:

I am a Pittsburgh teacher and an activist in the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers (AFT). Let’s not let ourselves get pulled into the trap of applauding the results of a wholly flawed system. OK, so this round the numbers look better than the “reformers” thought they would. BUT the “multiple measures” on which they are based are bogus. And it was a trap, not a step forward, that our union let ourselves get pulled in (via Gates money) to becoming apologists for an “evaluation” system made up of elements which this column has helped to expose as NOT ok for “evaluating” teachers, and deciding which of us is an “effective” teacher, and which of us should have jobs and who should be terminated.

A reminder. VAM. A major one of these “multiple measures.” Now widely rejected as an “evaluating” tool by professionals in the field, and by the AFT. A major part of this “evaluation” system.

Danielson rubrics, another major one of these multiple measures: after many permutations and reincarnations in Pittsburgh, turned into the opposite of what they were in the beginning of this process — presented to us as a tool to help teachers get a window on our practice, but now a set of numbers to which our practice boils down, and which is used to judge and label us. And “objective?” In today’s world, where administrators have to justify their “findings” in a system which relies so heavily on test scores? What do you think . . .

Then there’s (in Pittsburgh) Tripod, the third big measure, where students from the ages of 5 (yes, really) through high school “rate” their teachers — which could be useful to us for insight but, really, a way to decide who is and who is not an “effective” teacher?

To say nothing of the fact that many teachers teach subjects and/or students which can’t be boiled down in these ways, so they are “evaluated” on the basis of other people’s “scores” over which they have even less control.

Really, now.

So, yes, these numbers look better than they did last year, in a “practice run.” But is this whole thing ok? Should we be celebrating that we found the answer to figuring out who is and who is not an “effective” teacher?

This is a trap. Let’s not fall into it.

Billions of dollars have been spent to create new teacher evaluation systems. Here is one result: in Pittsburgh, 97% of teachers were rated either distinguished or advanced. Meanwhile budget cuts are harming children in Pennsylvania.

For Immediate Release
June 13, 2014

Marcus Mrowka

Pittsburgh Teacher Evaluation Results Demonstrate Importance of Due Process and Improvement-Focused Evaluation Systems

WASHINGTON— Statement of AFT President Randi Weingarten following news that nearly 97 percent of teachers were rated distinguished or advanced.

“On one side of the country, a judge in California wrongly ruled that the only way to ensure that kids—particularly kids who attend high-poverty schools—have good teachers is to take away teachers’ due process rights. On the other side of the country, the most recent teacher evaluation results in Pittsburgh proved this is absolutely not true. Due process not only goes hand in hand with this new evaluation system, having those rights helped to strengthen it.

“Nearly 97 percent of Pittsburgh’s teachers were rated distinguished or advanced under this new evaluation system. We’re not surprised at all by the dedication and talent of Pittsburgh’s teaching staff who go into the classroom each and every day to help our children grow and achieve their dreams—but there’s a bigger story here that rejects the assertion made in California that due process rights hurt educational quality.

“These results show what is possible when teachers, unions and the district—in a state with due process—work together on an evaluation system focused on helping teachers improve. While we may have some qualms about the construction of the evaluation system, the fact remains that far from impeding achievement due process and tenure, combined with an improvement-focused evaluation system, empower teachers and keep good teachers in the classroom, offer support to those who are struggling, and streamline the process for removing teachers who can’t improve.”



Keystone State Education Coalition
Pennsylvania Education Policy Roundup for June 3, 2014:

In God We Trust? How about a bill that would require charter and cyber schools to post their PA School Performance Profile scores prominently in any advertising paid for with public tax dollars?

Blogger Rant:

At a recent school board meeting I voted against authorizing a payment to Agora Cyber Charter School. Why? During the NCLB regime, Agora never once made AYP; this year their PA School Performance Profile Score was 48.3 (scale of 100). In my district, our Middle School score was 94; our High School score was 96.4. Agora is run by K12, Inc., a for-profit company founded by convicted bond felon Michael Milken. K12 paid it’s CEO $13 million from 2009 through 2013 and spent our tax dollars on over 19,000 local TV commercials. I do not believe Agora should receive one cent of my neighbors’ tax dollars.

Instead of posting “In God We Trust”, how about a bill that would require charter and cyber schools to post their PA School Performance Profile scores prominently in any advertising paid for with public tax dollars?

Peter Greene reports that teacher tenure (aka, the right to due process) is under attack in Pennsylvania.


Not surprisingly, StudentsFirst is in the mix, urging the legislature to strip teachers of any and all job protections.


He concludes:


So the bottom line of this bill would be that any district can fire teachers at any time, based on an evaluation system that rests on bad data generated by bad tests using a formula repudiated by the statistics experts, combined with observations that are still largely subjective. Under rules like this, it would simply be foolish to go into teaching as a career. At best, it presents the standard choice as best written into law by North Carolina’s education-hating legislature– you can either keep your job indefinitely as long as you don’t ever make yourself too expensive, or you can get a raise and make yourself a more attractive target for firing.

It’s as if these folks are really committed to discouraging people from going into teaching.
The bill has bipartisan backing (can teachers please stop automatically voting Democrat) and of course the big fat love of Governor Tom Corbett. It’s not a done deal yet; if you are a Pennsylvania teacher, a good summer project would be to start contacting your representatives on a regular basis and encouraging them to say no to this dumb bill.

When people write Pennsyvania Governor Tom Corbett to complain about the devastating effects of his budget cuts on the children of Philadelphia, he responds by blaming the teachers’ union for not accepting even deeper cuts. A few days ago, a first-grader died; there was no school nurse on duty. Her position had been cut from five days a week to one day a week plus another occasional day. This was the second child to die in a school where Corbett’s budget cuts had eliminated the full-time nurse. Corbett blames the teachers.

Governor Corbett accepts no responsibilty. His response to critics betrays a guilty heart, or a man without one.

This teacher, Steven Singer, describes what happened when he wrote a letter to Governor Corbett.

“Wow! I am flabbergasted by PA Gov. Tom Corbett’s reaction to the second Philadelphia student dying at school without a nurse on duty! As many of you did, I wrote him a letter asking him to please increase funding so tragedies like this are not repeated. He must be getting some heat because this is the first time he’s ever actually answered any of my correspondences.

“His answer was basically: (1) how dare the Philadelphia Teachers Union intrude on the family’s suffering to make a political point and (2) if only the teachers union would take concessions and work for less money, the state would have enough to pay for nurses!

“The deaths of these two students are direct consequences of Corbett’s education policies! He slashed education funding by close to $1 billion every year for the last 3 years! This resulted in 20,000 teachers being laid off, class sizes skyrocketing, the elimination of art, music and extra curricular activities – and, yes, school nurses! If this is not the time to address the issue of his malfeasance, when is!? Once people have time to forget? He did nothing after the first student died. Hadn’t the time come yet to address that issue before the second one died!? Will there be time to address the issue before another child dies? Would rushing to judgement after three years be too uncouth!?

“And then he blames teachers for asking to be treated fairly! Sure if we all just accepted sweat shop conditions, think of the money the state could lavish on our schools – to Pearson and Common Core!

“We had very low voter turnout during the primary that put Democratic candidate Tom Wolf as Corbett’s November challenger for governor. If people don’t show up to kick this bum out of office, we will all deserve what we get! Correction: we’ll deserve it, but the kids who mostly aren’t old enough to vote, will continue to be the innocent victims of this poisonous political hack!

“Here is Corbett’s letter:

“Putting the safety and educational needs of our students first must continue to be our top priority. There is an appropriate time and place to call for education policy discussions. Right now, our thoughts should be with the child’s family, friends, school and community who have all been through an extremely traumatic situation.

I am deeply troubled that the union leadership of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers – and by extension the American Federation of Teachers – would use the recent tragedy at Jackson Elementary as an opportunity to make a political statement. For more than a year, we all have asked the union leadership – who are disconnected from the great teachers in Philadelphia who are in the classroom every day – to come to the table and engage in meaningful negotiations to assist in the financial recovery of the Philadelphia School District.

The Commonwealth, the School District, the School Reform Commission and City Council are all working to contribute to the success of Philadelphia’s schools and students. I will continue to ask the union leadership to put the children of Philadelphia first and engage in a meaningful dialogue and a shared vision for the future of the children of Philadelphia.

Tom Corbett”

The City Council sparred with the state-appointed School Reform Commission about how and whether the Philadelphia schools would get enough funding to open in September. Under the current budget, another 1,000 staff may be laid off, and class size will soar over 40.

Neither Governor Corbett NPR the legislature appears willing to help the district, even though they have a constitutional duty to do so.

State leaders are consumed with maintains corporate tax cuts, not saving the children of Pennsylvania.

A few years ago, I was alerted to the phenomenal success of an entrepreneur-lawyer in Pennsylvania named Vahan Gureghian.

With a bit of googling, I learned that he had opened a charter school in Chester County, Pennsylvania, that enrolled 2,600 students, half the district’s children. Consequently, the district was plunged into bankruptcy, unable to make its payroll, and Governor Corbett appointed an emergency manager for the district who is a devotee of vouchers.

I also learned on google that Gureghian is one of the biggest donors to Republican candidates and committees in Pennsylvania, was Governor Corbett’s largest single donor, and was named to Governor Corbett’s education transition team. As of 2012, he had given some $800,000 to candidates and political groups.

Meanwhile, Gureghian’s empire continued to expand and to produce excellent returns for him.

Here is a quote from a website (linked above) describing Pennsylvania’s biggest campaign donors, which shows what success looks like:

In 2007, Gureghian built a 30,000-square-foot, French chateau-style mansion in Gladwyne that received attention in a number of publications, including Mother Jones. The house had 10 bedrooms, 11 bathrooms, a two-lane bowling alley, wine room, media room, 200-capacity great hall, several bars and a moat, according to Mother Jones.

Last year, he paid $28.9 million for oceanfront property in Palm Beach, on which he has proposed building a 20,000-square-foot mansion, the Palm Beach Daily News reported.

In 2009, 18-year-old Kenny Forder of New Jersey posted photos of the Gladwyne mansion on his Homes of the Rich website. Gureghian’s lawyer responded with a cease and desist letter, stating that teenager had violated Gureghian’s privacy, demanding that the photos be removed and threatening a lawsuit.

The letter is posted on the Homes of the Rich website. The photos were removed.

Now, mind you, Gureghian doesn’t claim to be an educator. He runs a business that supplies all the goods and services to his charter schools. That is a very good business.

He recently expanded his charter franchise into Camden, New Jersey, where he can expect to do very well indeed. Jersey Jazzman wrote a blistering critique of Gureghian’s management company, not exactly welcoming its presence in New Jersey.

You know, you really must give these edu-entrepreneurs credit. They see opportunities where others see only educational problems. The really ingenious discovery of charter chain managers is that they can squeeze the fat out of public school operations (like expensive teachers and pensions) and make a handsome profit.

You must hand it to him: Gureghian shows how to create a business plan and strategy that works wondrously well.

His is the kind of operation that Reed Hastings must have had in mind when he told the California Charter Schools Association that he looks forward to the elimination of local school boards and to the day when 90% of children are enrolled in privately managed charter schools.

What a vivid demonstration of the rich innovation that charters produce!


A report released by Representative James R. Roebuck, chair of the House Education Committee, found that one of every six charters in the state is “high-performing.

None of the state’s cyber charters is high-performing.

Pennsylvania has 162 brick-and-mortar charters, with 86 in Philadelphia. It has 14 cyber charters.

Representative Roebuck recommended that public schools might learn from the practices of the state’s 28 high-performing charters.

Public schools outperform charter schools. Cyber charters perform worst of all schools. Charter schools, with a few exceptions, do not improve their performance over time. The report says:


“In terms of school performance, in 2013 the state changed how it measures academic performance of schools from Adequate Yearly progress to a School Performance Score on the new School Performance Profiles. Although the measures have changed on average, charter schools, particularly cyber charter schools, still perform academically worse than other traditional public schools. For 2012-2013, based on a scale of 100, the average SPP score for traditional public schools was 77.1, for charter schools 66.4 and for cyber charter schools 46.8. None of the 14 cyber charter schools had SPP scores over 70, considered the minimal level of academic success and 8 cyber charter schools had SPP scores below 50.

These results mirror results in both the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 school year where traditional public schools performed better than charter schools and significantly better than cyber charter schools in terms of achieving Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), the federal school performance standard established under the federal No Child Left Behind law. AYP is determined by student academic performance on state reading and math assessments (PSSAs).

For 2010-11, while 94% of school districts met AYP, 75% of public schools met AYP. In contrast, only 61% of charter schools met AYP and only two of the 12 cyber charter schools met AYP.

The percentage of students performing at grade level in Math and Reading in order for a school to achieve AYP increased from 67% of students in Math in 2010-2011 to 78% in 2011-2012 and increased from 72% in Reading in 2010-2011 to 81% in 2011-2012. This resulted in reducing the percentage of all public schools achieving AYP in 2011-12 with larger declines for charter and cyber charter schools.

For 2011-12, while 61% of school districts met AYP, 50% of public schools met AYP. In stark contrast, only 29% of charter schools met AYP and none of the 12 cyber charter schools met AYP.

Performance of Charter Schools Based on How Long They Have Existed

In looking at the performance of just brick-and-mortar charter schools, their results do not significantly improve the longer that a charter school has been open. Fifty percent of brick-and-mortar charter schools have now been open for ten years or more. Unfortunately, for 2012-2013, a majority, 51%, of the charter school open 10 years or more have SPP scores below 70. While this is better than those charter schools opened within the last 3 years, where 85% have SPP scores below 70, these results are not encouraging and it raises concerns about renewing many charters with poor performance over so many years.

Charter schools in the Philadelphia school district do slightly better that charter schools located outside Philadelphia the longer that they have been opened, with 52% of charters open 10 years or more in Philadelphia having SPP scores above 70. In contrast, none of the 10 Philadelphia charters open 3 years or less has an SPP score above 70.

For cyber charter schools, no cyber school, no matter how long they have been open has an SPP score above 70.


The report recommends that the state’s 28 high-performing charters might serve as a model. It says:

“Twenty-eight of the 163 charter schools had SPP scores of 80 or above. When examining the characteristics of these high performing charter schools there are certain common characteristics amongst the 28 charter schools. What is most common is that they offer innovative education programs with most of them focused on a specific approach to education instruction or a specific academic area of instructional focus. Three offer the Montessori approach to instruction, many offer longer school days and more days of schools and many offer more individualized education programs. These charter schools also tend to be smaller with less than 1,000 students in part because more of them are elementary schools. Only seven out of the 28 had enrollments more than 1,000 students and only two of the 28 schools serve only a high school population, though there are five charter schools that serve K-12 grades.

“These charter schools also serve significantly fewer special education students than traditional students. Only two of these 28 high performing charter schools have a special education student population greater than the 15% average of traditional public schools. Further, as noted in the 2013 Special Education Funding Commission report, charter school enroll significantly less special education students with severe disabilities than traditional public schools.”

Half of the 28 high-performing charter schools enroll 10% or fewer students with disabilities.

Two interesting findings emerge from this report. One, it echoes the 2009 CREDO report that found that only one of every six charters was high-performing. Two, it echoed previous studies that found that cyber charters get abysmal academic results. It also found that a significant number of students in cyber charters were previously home schooling, meaning that money is siphoned out of the districts’ budgets to pay the sponsors of the cyber charter for their low-quality services to homeschooled students.

Representative Roebuck recommends that the state’s schools can learn from the examples of the 28 high-performing charters. One lesson: accept small numbers of students with disabilities (nothing is said about the nature of disabilities, as many charters do not accept those children with the most challenging disabilities). Given the large proportion of low-performing charter schools, it would have seemed apt to recommend that the charter sector might learn from high-performing public schools. One lesson from high-performing public schools: it is better to have 100% of your teachers certified, not 75%.

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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