Archives for category: Pennsylvania

The Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, school board gave a $30,000 contract to a consulting firm for advice. The advice was to turn a certain number of elementary school teachers into “at-large” teachers in their school. This would make them into floaters, permanent subs.

 

Guess what? Teachers are furious. They will lose their classrooms.

 

A special meeting of the Upper Darby School Board Thursday night to discuss the educational specifications committee turned into a standing room only plea to keep teachers in their classrooms.

 

Purple T-shirts with “Let us Teach” filled the board room at the high school as teachers let the board know that they want to teach in their own classrooms and not be designated floaters throughout the district under proposed new elementary school schedules.

 

These schedules, made up by the consulting firm District Management Council for $30,000, are slated to be presented to the public on Monday night, but teachers who have seen or heard about the schedules are against an alleged idea of having five teachers being “at-large” in schools.

 

“I cannot see myself going back to being a teacher-at-large,” said Primos Elementary teacher Kristina McBrearty, “which, to me, is a glorified building sub. I want a classroom, that’s where I want to be, that’s where I’m going to make the difference.”

 

Somebody better start coming up with ideas about how to help teachers, how to retain teachers, how to make teachers feel appreciated.

 

How can we have better education if we drive away our teachers?

Now here is a conundrum: Why would the charter school lobby donate $50,000 to a candidate for State Attorney General who is already backed by the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the teachers’ union?

 

Steven Singer poses that question here. Pennsylvania is a state that is rife with charter school scandals. Such scandals would normally be investigated by the State Attorney General. Duh. If Josh Shapiro gets elected, let’s see how vigorous in investigating the scandals that Singer links to in his blog, and how vigorously he prosecutes the charlatans and frauds who are profiting off the gullibility of parents.

 

Singer asks:

 

 

What’s the best way to avoid a charter school scandal?

In Pennsylvania, apparently you bribe the Attorney General.

 

That may be why Students First PAC donated $50,000 to Josh Shapiro, a Democrat running for the position.

 

This political action committee is not to be confused with the infamous national group founded by Michelle Rhee. Students First PAC is a state organization that typically contributes to charter school friendly candidates.

 

And $50K is quite a chunk of change in a State Attorney General race – the office in charge of prosecuting charter schools for breaking the law.

 

 

Charter school scandals have been an almost weekly occurrence throughout the Commonwealth. Chester Community Charter School, the state’s largest brick-and-mortar organization, is under investigation for pocketing $1.2 million “in improper lease-reimbursement payments.” As Philadelphia public schools are being closed due to a miserly state budget, “nonprofit,” charter operator Aspira Inc. was caught using public money to boost its real estate holdings instead of using those funds to educate children. Nicholas Trombetta, the founder of Pennsylvania’s largest cyber charter, an institution that operates exclusively over the internet, “was charged with fraud, for funneling $8 million of the school’s funds into his personal companies and holdings.”

 

It’s easy to see how having the state Attorney General on your side would benefit an industry rife with fraud and malfeasance.

 

Shapiro, chair of the Montgomery Country Board of Commissioners, is the odds on favorite to succeed Kathleen Kane as the state’s highest ranking law enforcement officer.

 

He is running for the Democratic nomination against Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli, and Allegheny Country Attorney General Stephen Zappala.

 

Despite strong corporate education reform ties, Shapiro has been endorsed by the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), the largest teachers union in the Commonwealth.

 

Governor Tom Wolf and the Pennsylvania legislature have been deadlocked over the state budget for months. Public schools are near bankruptcy. Some borrowed money to stay open, incurring heavy interest debt.

 

But the legislature finally passed a budget that Governor Wolf will neither sign nor veto. It will become law without his veto.

 

It increases education funding, as the governor hoped, but added no new taxes, as he had hoped. Pennsylvania is extraordinarily generous to the fracking industry, which pays minimal taxes while extracting the state’s resources and polluting its waters.

 

 

Lawrence Feinberg produces this comprehensive summary of news about education in Pennsylvania every day. It is an excellent redource, especially valuable during the state’s prolonged budget crisis. The failure of the legislature and governor to agree on a budget has wreaked havoc on the state’s schools.

 

Keystone State Education Coalition

PA Ed Policy Roundup March 18, 2016:

All daily postings are on our blog site at http://keystonestateeducationcoalition.org

“School districts are in the business of preparing kids to be productive members of society. The reduction in staff (450-plus positions) and budget cuts ($102 million) of the last five years left us with fewer services for Allentown students who have the greatest needs. The end result is we have fewer positions for remediating academic needs, increased class sizes, less social-emotional support, fewer electives, and fewer opportunities to build one-on-one relationships that all kids need, especially ours.”

Allentown’s Mayo: It’s more about the kids than state budget | Opinion

C. Russell Mayo is superintendent of the Allentown School District.

The financial crisis for the Allentown School District and other districts, created by the absence of a state budget for this 2015-16 fiscal year, is devastating. Needless financial costs and evaporated services are appalling, but that does not compare to the loss of hope — which is the essence of this crisis. Of course, our district suffers from additional financial costs and expense restraints from having no state budget. (The state funds 54 percent of our annual budget.) This past fall, we spent about $47,000 in fees and interest in borrowing $50 million. We covered unpaid bills remaining from the first semester and paid back the borrowed funds when a portion of the state money arrived in January. Since then, we have had to exhaust our fund balance and local taxes collected. In spite of spending on only essential items, delaying hiring for positions, and reducing payments to charter schools, the district now has to borrow $64 million to stretch to our next round of local taxes. Assuming the court approves this loan, we will incur at least $90,000 in additional fees with the potential for $500,000 in interest payments. Additionally, a lower Standard and Poor’s bond rating is likely. Even though these financial concerns are staggering, the major problem is the concern for our students.
http://www.lehighvalleylive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2016/03/its_more_about_the_kids_than_t.html
 

Local school districts facing financial collapse
Bradford Era By ALEX DAVIS Era Reporter a.davis@bradfordera.com

 

Local school districts on the brink of a financial collapse faced yet another roadblock on Wednesday in their efforts to secure months-overdue state funding. The latest hurdle came as Gov. Tom Wolf promised to veto a supplemental budget that would have restored funding to several programs, including education. The Senate and House passed the measure earlier in the day. Under that plan, House Bill 1801 would have increased education funding by $200 million and restored a majority of the $6 billion in funding cuts by Wolf’s line-item vetoes. The $30.031 billion spending plan would use existing revenues without a tax increase, according to Republican Senate officials. Now, school districts are back to square one, and that’s a position that doesn’t bode well for several area districts, especially the Austin Area School District, the smallest public school district in the state. That district could be left with only $54,460 in the general fund by the end of April, Business Manager Peggy Derr told The Era on Wednesday.
http://www.bradfordera.com/news/local-schools-districts-facing-financial-collapse/article_7a141afa-ebd9-11e5-975d-5f9c0e0af478.html
“The resolution relates to a high-profile case filed November 2014 in Commonwealth Court by the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia and the Education Law Center, on behalf of six school districts, including William Penn, seven parents, the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools and the NAACP Pennsylvania State Conference.

 

The case was filed against legislative leaders, state education officials, and the governor “for failing to uphold the General Assembly’s constitutional obligation to provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education.”

 

 

Haverford board votes to support William Penn School District in lawsuit
Delco Times By Lois Puglionesi, Times Correspondent

 

 

In an uncharacteristically divided tally, school directors voted 5-3 with one abstention to adopt a resolution expressing support for plaintiffs in the William Penn School District lawsuit “as they seek to enforce Pennsylvania’s constitutional guarantee of a thorough and efficient system of public education.” The resolution also urges the General Assembly to provide school districts with adequate revenues, based on a fair and predictable formula calculated to grant all students resources they need to meet state standards and lead productive lives. School director Larry Feinberg, who serves as legislative liaison, chair of the Delaware County School Districts Legislative Council and co-chair of the Keystone State Education Coalition, introduced the matter in January, when it sparked lively debate. School directors voted to table the measure in February, pending revisions Feinberg made.
http://www.delcotimes.com/general-news/20160317/haverford-board-votes-to-support-william-penn-school-district-in-lawsuit
For more info on the above lawsuit:
Thorough and Efficient
Pennsylvania School Funding Litigation Website: The Education Law Center of Pennsylvania and the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia
The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth.
– Article III, Section 14, of the Pennsylvania Constitution
https://edfundinglawsuit.wordpress.com/

 

Gov. Wolf Video: ‘Pennsylvania is running out of money’
WTAE.com Video Runtime 2:54 UPDATED 5:43 PM EDT Mar 17, 2016
Governor Wolf brought his message to Pittsburgh Thursday focusing on the importance of education funding
http://www.wtae.com/news/gov-wolf-pennsylvania-is-running-out-of-money/38569932#.VusoxP203jM.twitter

 

“Wolf said he would veto the current budget proposal by Republican legislative leaders to release education funding. He has called it “irresponsible and unbalanced” and said it does not properly fund schools or fix the deficit. “We’ve got to get this right. And fixing this for another three months, four months, then coming back and having exactly the same conversation in July, August, September, is not going to get us much,” Wolf said.”

 
Gov. Wolf addresses prospect PA budget battle could force some school district shutdowns

WTAE By Bob Mayo

 

PITTSBURGH —Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf visited Pittsburgh Brashear High School to spotlight its career and technical education programs Thursday, but also to warn of continuing danger to state education funding in the ongoing budget battle between the Democratic governor and Republican-controlled state Legislature.. “We have a choice. And it’s a really stark choice,” Wolf told students, teachers, and staff after his tour of the school. The choice, Wolf said, is between the state making a commitment to raise revenue to support and expansion education or continuing on a path he said would risk education cuts in the long-term. “Pennsylvania is running out of money. We have been using smoke and mirrors in our budgets. We have been spending money we don’t have,” Wolf said. The governor said if the state’s budget isn’t resolved by July — the start of the next fiscal year — Pennsylvania will face a $2-billion deficit that could lead to a billion dollar cut in education funding.
http://www.wtae.com/news/gov-wolf-addresses-prospect-pa-budget-battle-could-force-some-school-district-shutdowns/38570774
No Wolf veto yet on GOP-backed Pa. budget bill

 

GoErie By Kevin Flowers 814-870-1693 Erie Times

 

Gov. Tom Wolf took no action Thursday on his threat to veto a new, $6 billion Republican-backed spending bill approved by the state Legislature aimed at ending the 8-month-old state budget fight. Wolf was at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh on Thursday, outlining a proposal for government reform that includes calling on the state Legislature to ban gifts, contracting, reforms, more oversight of lobbying and other moves to increase transparency. He did not indicate when a veto might happen. On Wednesday, Wolf said he would officially reject the new spending bill, designed by Republicans to be part of a $30 billion spending package that would help finish the partially completed 2015-16 state budget. The bill would increase spending from the state’s main bank account by about $870 million, and deliver half the public school aid increase, or roughly $200 million, that Wolf had initially sought for fiscal year 2015-16, which began July 1.

 

http://www.goerie.com/no-wolf-veto-yet-on-gop-backed-pa-budget-bill

 

Reading School Board told state budget impasse’s cost: $1,000 per day in interest
Reading Eagle

 

The Reading School District is racking up $1,000 per day in interest payments thanks to the ongoing state budget impasse, and district officials are fed up. At the Reading School Board’s workshop meeting Wednesday night, several board members expressed dismay about the impact the impasse is having on the district, which was forced to borrow $20 million to make up for state funding that has been held up. “It’s just so frustrating to be in this position,” said board President Robin Costenbader-Jacobson. Costenbader-Jacobson expressed anger toward state officials, saying more pressure needs to be put on local members of the Legislature to get a deal done.

 

– See more at: http://www.readingeagle.com/news/article/reading-school-board-told-state-budget-impasses-cost-1000-per-day-in-interest#sthash.EjXGk9aW.dpuf

 

 
Auditor General to research how budget crisis is costing schools

 

WITF Written by Ben Allen and Radio Pennsylvania

 

 

– Schools have already had to borrow nearly $1 billion to cover operating costs while Governor Tom Wolf and state lawmakers fight over a completing this year’s budget.

 
Now, state’s top fiscal watchdog is planning to put more pressure on those who have failed to get a deal done. It’s round three for Auditor General Eugene DePasquale. His office has already released two reports on how the budget crisis is affecting schools. Now, he’s planning to do a third, just as some districts are warning they may have to shut down or declare bankruptcy.
Red Lion in York County recently said it faces that option. DePasaquale says it is not alone.
“Allentown talked about borrowing, certainly seen that it in Erie as well, those are two others. And we’re starting to see how others are affected. April’s a pretty big month if there isn’t a budget by then,” says DePasquale.

http://www.witf.org/news/2016/03/auditor-general-to-research-how-budget-crisis-is-costing-schools.php
 

Education Advocates: PA Budget Bill Falls Short

 

Public News Service

 
HARRISBURG, Pa. – The budget passed by the General Assembly on Wednesday falls far short of providing what Pennsylvania schools need, according to education advocates. More than eight months after the budget was due, lawmakers have sent Gov. Tom Wolf a supplemental budget bill that would increase K-through-12 school spending by $202 milion over last year, far short of the $400 million the governor had sought. Cheryl Kleiman, staff attorney for the Education Law Center, said that just isn’t enough. “We have called for an increase of at least $600 million between this year and next,” she said, “and this budget simply doesn’t get us there.”
Wolf also has said the bill, which passed on an almost party-line vote, does not adequately fund education and doesn’t address the looming $2 billion deficit in next year’s budget. He has said he will veto the bill. –
See more at: http://www.publicnewsservice.org/2016-03-18/education/education-advocates-pa-budget-bill-falls-short/a50922-1#sthash.NbLUlVDX.dpuf
http://www.publicnewsservice.org/2016-03-18/education/education-advocates-pa-budget-bill-falls-short/a50922-1

 
Vogel Supports Restoration of Funding for Schools, Agriculture, Hospitals
ElwoodCity.org

 

HARRISBURG — Senator Elder Vogel Jr. (R-47) issued the following statement today in response to the Senate’s passage of legislation to restore approximately $6 billion in funding for education, agriculture, and hospitals that Governor Wolf eliminated from the state budget in December: “Today, I voted for and the Legislature restored the $6.05 billion in funding that was vetoed by Governor Wolf back in December. If Governor Wolf signs it into law, our public schools will remain open, the 1,000+ folks that work for Penn State Extension will not be laid off, and we can finally move past this ugly situation and do the work that Pennsylvanians expect from their government.

Vogel Supports Restoration of Funding for Schools, Agriculture, Hospitals

Blogger note: Tim Eller was formerly Press Secretary for Governor Corbett. The Keystone Alliance for Public Charter Schools is an alliance of brick and mortar charter schools only and does not advocate for cyber charter schools.

 

 

Proposed budget dooms Pa. charter schools
The Evening Sun

 

Tim Eller is the executive director of Keystone Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

 

Supporters of public school choice next year will celebrate the 20th anniversary of Pennsylvania’s Charter School Law. Since 1997, the number of brick-and-mortar charter schools has grown to 160 and enroll nearly 100,000 students, with tens of thousands more on waiting lists. At a time when the charter school sector should be gearing up to celebrate this significant milestone, instead, it is preparing to battle anti-school choice advocates’ efforts to close down charter schools and force students back into the very schools they fled that failed them year after year. Governor Wolf in February proposed a 2016-17 spending plan that calls for cutting nearly $500 million in funding to charter schools, which would result in the shutting down of virtually every charter school across the state. Without understanding how charter schools are funded, the Wolf administration’s proposal selectively aims to cut by at least 50 percent the per-student funding amount charter schools receive for educating disabled students.
http://www.eveningsun.com/story/opinion/readers/2016/03/17/proposed-budget-dooms-pa-charter-schools/81871868/
 

Gov. Wolf should drop veto threat – it’s time to get it done: Thursday Morning Coffee
Penn Live By John L. Micek

jmicek@pennlive.com

 

Good Thursday Morning, Fellow Seekers.
Stop us if you’ve heard this one before:
The Republican-controlled General Assembly sends Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf legislation it hopes will end Pennsylvania’s ages-old budget standoff. The bill sails through the House and Senate, mostly along party lines, and lands with a thud on Wolf’s desk. And that’s when it all goes wobbly: Proclaiming it inadequate and not up to the task of righting the state’s fiscal ship and closing the deficit, Wolf vetoes it, resetting the clock and starting the drama anew.

 

That’s a scenario that’s played itself out at least three times since the Senate GOP sent Wolf a budget bill last June 30. And it seemed likely to play itself out again this week as the chamber teed up yet another spending bill for a swift voyage to Wolf’s desk. But on Wednesday, there were encouraging signs that, at least it as it concerns the current year’s budget, Pennsylvanians might be spared an encore performance of the increasingly tedious budget drama.
http://blog.pennlive.com/capitol-notebook/2016/03/another_budget_another_veto_th.html#incart_river_index
Commentary: Policy failures fuel Pa. budget impasse
Inquirer By Berwood A. Yost

 

 

Berwood A. Yost is the chief methodologist for the Franklin and Marshall College Poll, director of the Floyd Institute’s Center for Opinion Research, and director of the Floyd Institute for Public Policy Analysis. byost@fandm.edu

 

Why don’t we have a state budget? The answer is neither short nor simple.
Pennsylvania’s budget impasse is the direct result of three state policy failures: the failure to find the reliable funding sources that state government needs to operate, the failure to reduce the spending growth that existing laws require, and the failure to support reforms that make elections more competitive. Corporate taxes as a share of general-fund revenues have steadily declined because the amount of money generated by those taxes has remained, in inflation-adjusted terms, unchanged since 1988. Revenue based on consumption taxes, such as the state sales tax, has grown by 27 percent, and revenue from other sources, such as the personal income tax and table games, has grown by 87 percent. This is policy failure one: not finding a sustainable revenue stream to replace money lost because of changes to corporate taxes.
http://www.philly.com/philly/opinion/20160316_Commentary__Policy_failures_fuel_Pa__budget_impasse.html#R5rK4x12K3LgERPk.99
 

Education philosophies clash at packed Philly SRC meeting
WHYY Newsworks BY KEVIN MCCORRY MARCH 18, 2016

 

Thursday’s Philadelphia School Reform Commission meeting again became a forum to debate the school district’s plans for drastic intervention at several of its lowest performing schools.
The evening began with a clash of minds on the front steps of district headquarters. Before the meeting, the NAACP joined the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and other traditional public school advocates in a rally against the district’s school conversion plans — all of which would result in dramatic faculty shakeups. NAACP Philadelphia chapter president Rodney Muhammad called for the SRC to be abolished with a reference to the slave trade. “They are nothing but a consultant group for private industry who wants to take over our children and put them back on the auction block,” he said. Muhammad’s statement was directed in part at Mastery charter — one of three nonprofit charter organizations that has applied to takeover three low-performing elementary schools. Those remarks didn’t sit well with Kirby Ames, a senior at Mastery’s Shoemaker campus in West Philadelphia. He stood on the other side of the steps with dozens of other Mastery supporters listening to speakers bash the charter’s motives.
http://www.newsworks.org/index.php/homepage-feature/item/92000-education-philosophies-clash-at-packed-philly-src-meeting?linktype=hp_impact

 
Plan for 3 more Philly charters draws protests, counterprotests
by Mensah M. Dean, Staff Writer

 

Before the School Reform Commission could start its scheduled meeting Thursday, the School District’s plan to hand over several struggling schools to charter operators drew demonstrators and counter-demonstrators to the steps of district headquarters on North Broad Street. On one side, about 150 parents, teachers, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan, State Rep. Curtis Thomas, and Philadelphia NAACP president Minister Rodney Muhammad were cheered as they spoke passionately in opposition to turning public schools into charters. “This is a dangerous arrangement for our children, it’s a dangerous arrangement for public education,” Muhammad said. “The NAACP is here to shut the SRC down. They’re nothing but an advertising agency for privatizing education in Philadelphia.” On the other side: About 150 people, including many parents. One of them, Jathiya Singleton, could not comprehend the depth of emotion.
Her three children, ages 7 to 10, attend Wister Elementary in Germantown, one of three schools the district has targeted for charter management.

 

http://www.philly.com/philly/education/20160318_Plan_to_convert_3_Philly_schools_to_charters_draws_protesters_and_counter-protesters.html#X9syrBIDxkq33aJB.99

 
Emails show effort to sway SRC on Wister charter conversion

 

Documents reveal the Philadelphia School Partnership moved to influence SRC members. PSP says its preference for Renaissance charters is no secret.

 

The notebook by Bill Hangley Jr.

 

Newly released documents shed new light on behind-the-scenes moves by the Philadelphia School Partnership to revive Mastery Charter School’s bid to run Wister Elementary, after Superintendent William Hite had reversed course and recommended that the school remain under District control. The documents, mostly emails, were released by the Philadelphia School District after requests from the American Federation of Teachers and the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools (APPS) under the state’s Right to Know law. Among them is an email to School Reform Commissioner Bill Green from a senior PSP executive. It indicated that PSP board members planned to call SRC members Sylvia Simms and Feather Houstoun to encourage them to “move for and/or support a resolution to transfer Wister to Mastery.” PSP sent its email just days after Hite, citing some academic improvement at the school, decided to take Wister off the charter transformation list.
http://thenotebook.org/articles/2016/03/17/emails-show-effort-to-sway-src-on-wister-charter-conversion

 
Senator eyes legislation requiring public superintendent contracts
The Sentinel by Amanda St. Hilaire abc27 News Mar 16, 2016
Questions have arisen about school district transparency in light of legislation that would require school boards to be more open with taxpayers during hiring processes. “If you can’t defend something publicly, then it’s probably not a good idea,” Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said. It’s his mantra, and he believes school districts should follow suit. Often called Pennsylvania’s fiscal watchdog, DePasquale can now be called the inspiration for a new bill promoting transparency After seeing DePasquale’s scathing audit of Connellsvile Area School District in Fayette County, state Sen. Pat Stefano, R-Fayette, is getting ready to introduce legislation that would require school boards to publicly post employment offers for superintendents and principals at least two weeks before voting. “At a minimum, I hope it spearheads a discussion on some of the iss es taking place in some of the school districts,” DePasquale said.
http://cumberlink.com/news/local/education/senator-eyes-legislation-requiring-public-superintendent-contracts/article_7ce5231a-c32c-5d19-9cff-c8b639b3bfd4.html

Nazareth teachers put off plans for Friday strike; classes are on
Sarah M. Wojcik Contact Reporter Of The Morning Call March 17, 2016
The Nazareth Area teachers union has postponed plans for a strike Friday, preventing at least temporarily what would have been the first teacher walkout in the Lehigh Valley in seven years.
The school district announced on its website that all schools will be open Friday and operating on a regular schedule. “As part of the ratification process, the Nazareth Area Education Association will be presenting a [contract] proposal to teachers early next week,” the district said. The school board had scheduled a special meeting for 9 a.m. Friday. That meeting is still on, the district said. The two sides had a series of bitter exchanges Wednesday, with the union announcing plans for a strike and the district issuing a long rebuttal. On Thursday, they came together in an attempt to hash out an agreement. The district said the teachers had until 7 p.m. to decide whether they still intended to strike. Shortly before 8 p.m., the strike postponement was announced.
http://www.mcall.com/news/local/nazareth/mc-nazareth-teachers-strike-0317-20160317-story.html

Tennessee school funding proposal threatens status quo
Education Dive By Erin McIntyre | March 17, 2016
Dive Bref:

 

A proposal that passed through a Tennessee House panel and is now set to be considered by a Finance Committee would amend the state constitution to grant the General Assembly sole discretion over school spending.

 

Bill sponsor Rep. Bill Dunn (R), says the legislation will protect taxpayers from activist judges who might rule the state is not adequately funding education, and from situations in other states where courts have increased taxpayer burdens.

 

 
Interested in letting our elected leadership know your thoughts on education funding, a severance tax, property taxes and the budget?
Governor Tom Wolf, (717) 787-2500
Speaker of the House Rep. Mike Turzai, (717) 772-9943

House Majority Leader Rep. Dave Reed, (717) 705-7173

Senate President Pro Tempore Sen. Joe Scarnati, (717) 787-7084

Senate Majority Leader Sen. Jake Corman, (717) 787-1377

Lawrence A. Feinberg
Keystone State Education Coalition
Visit us online at KeystoneStateEducationCoalition.org
Visit us on Facebook at KeystoneStateEducationCoalition
Follow us on Twitter at @lfeinberg
The Keystone State Education Coalition is pleased to be listed among the friends and allies of The Network for Public Education. Are you a member?

Steven Singer writes here about a dumb policy that is now commonplace thinking among both Ivy League corporate reformers and redneck legislators: If you make the tests harder, they reason, students will get higher test scores.

 

No, no, no, and no.

 

Singer says his students are weary of the endless testing. And it is getting worse because the tests will be even harder to pass in Pennsylvania.

 

He writes:

 

 

In the last two years, Pennsylvania has modified its mandatory assessments until it’s almost impossible for my students to pass.

 

Bureaucrats call it “raising standards,” but it’s really just making the unlikely almost unthinkable.

 

Impoverished students have traditionally had a harder time scoring as well as their wealthier peers. But the policy response has been to make things MORE difficult. How does that help?

 

Consider this: If a malnourished runner couldn’t finish the 50 yard dash, forcing him to run 100 yards isn’t raising standards. It’s piling on.

 

Oh. Both your arms are broken? Here. Bench press 300 lbs.

 

Both your feet were chopped off in an accident? Go climb Mt. Everest.

 

That’s what’s happening in the Keystone State and across the country. We’re adding extra layers of complexity to each assessment without regard to whether they’re developmentally appropriate or even necessary and fair to gauge individual skills.

 

Where Common Core State Standards have been adopted (and Pennsylvania has its own version called PA Core), annual tests have become irrationally difficult. That’s why last year’s state tests – which were the first completely aligned to PA Core – saw a steep drop off in passing scores. Students flunked it in droves.

 

Where the previous tests were bad, the new ones are beyond inappropriate.

 

Yes, across the country, the tests have been written and designed to fail most students. “Reformers” cheer the increased “rigor.” Do they care that most students are failing the tests? Why do they think that the score on a  standardized test is a measure of good education? More likely, the pursuit of high test scores via multiple-choice tests undermines good education.

 

 

 

 

After a showing of Shannon Puckett’s powerful documentary “Defies Measurement,” the opt out movement in Pennsylvania got a large boost. Shannon, an experienced teacher, made the film with the help of Kickstarter, and has made it available for free online.

 

After they saw the film, parents asked for yard signs declaring their opposition to the state tests, and organizers ran out of them.

 

The more people see this documentary and others showing the punitive nature of these tests (why should little children take standardized tests that last for several hours? Why can’t their reading and math skills be divined in a 45- minute test?), the more they want to withhold consent.

 

The more parents understand that these tests provide no useful information about their child (how does it help to know what percentile rank your child is in compared to children of the same age in other districts and states? How does the teacher learn more about her students when she can’t see the questions and the scores arrive when the student is no longer in her class?), the more they want to opt out.

 

The more parents understand that the tests are about profits, not education, the more they will opt out.

 

Go online for a viewing of “Defies Measurement” and help your friends and neighbors understand why they should say no and fight for their children.

 

“State Sen. Andy Dinniman (D., Chester), who cosponsored the bill delaying the Keystones, said he has watched a surprising bipartisan consensus emerge as parents in more affluent suburban districts complain about the number of days devoted to testing, while poverty-stricken communities say they lack the money to implement the changes.

 

“It wasn’t helping anyone,” Dinniman said of the Keystone requirement. “All we were doing was stamping failure on the backs of students in impoverished areas where there weren’t any resources to pass these exams.”

 

 
Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/education/20160228_As_protests_rise_over_high-stakes_tests__more_students_likely_to_opt_out.html#GvVVJZ2LRcR4q2Kl.99

The original Elementary and Secondary Education Act was intended to add resources to schools that enrolled the poorest students. Its goal was equality of educational opportunity, not higher test scores. But forget about it. The goal of federal and state policy is raising test scores.

 

What about equity? What about equality of educational opportunity?

 

Read and view this portrait of Philadelphia’s filthy public schools and ask how Americans can tolerate such conditions? This is shameful.

 

Every member of the Pennsylvania legislature should walk through the schools of the City of Brotherly Love and ask themselves: Why did we cut the budget? Why are the children of Philadelphia less deserving of decent learning conditions than the children in suburban districts?

The first cyber charter school in Pennsylvania was founded by former superintendent Nicholas Trombetta. It was called the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School. It became a booming business, enrolling 10,000 students and collecting about $10,000 for each of them in state tuition. Now there are more than a dozen cyber charters operating in the state. The state, under former Governor Tom Corbett, drafted a very generous payment to these virtual schools, and they are big money-makers. Studies have shown that their academic results are worse than traditional public schools or brick-and-mortar charter schools.

In  2012, the FBI raided Trombetta’s offices, and in 2013, he was indicted for alleged embezzlement of millions of dollars. It seems he set up numerous for-profit and nonprofit businesses to provide goods and services to the cyber charter.

While Trombetta awaits trial, the school continues to do business. The state’s Auditor General announced that he will audit the business to learn where the state’s money is going.

Another cyber charter founder, June Brown, was also indicted for theft of millions of dollars. She too is awaiting trial. She ran the Agora Cyber Charter School, which was part of the K12 Inc. empire of virtual charters. The board voted to sever its relationship with K12 Inc. 

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf is locked in a budget impasse with the legislature. For five months, the state has been without a budget, and social services–including achools–are suffering. Apparently, he and legislators may reach a deal by Thanksgiving Wolf wants to increase funding for education and to tax the fracking industry; the legislature doesn’t. After four years of Republican Tom Corbett, the legislature thinks it is acceptable to allow schools to go bankrupt (the easier to privatize them) and that the fracking industry must never be taxed to pay for the natural resources it extracts.

 

The voters don’t agree. A recent poll shows overwhelming support for taxes on gas drillers. 67% agree that the industry should be taxed.

 

Governor Wolf is a bright light in Pennsylvania, fighting for students and the future. For that matter, he is a bright light in the nation.

 

If you want to stay informed about Pennsylvania, sign up for the regular news summaries from the Keystone State Education Coalition.

Steven Singer, who teaches in Pennsylvania, explains the planned insanity behing standardized testing, rigged for failure. He likens the situation to a video game that he played with his friend as a child, where the questions and answers might suddenly and arbitrarily change.

In Pennsylania, the privatization movement started with deep budget cuts. Then comes a new standardized test. Too many students did well, so the tests were made more “rigorous.” Now, most students “fail.”

Did they get dumber? No. Did he become a worse teacher? He says no.

So what’s up? The students are set up to fail. The teachers and schools are set up to fail? Why? It clears the way for charters and vouchers.

One hopeful sign in Pennsylvania: Governor Tom Wolf wants to help public schools, not destroy them. Unlike his predecessor, Tom Corbett.

Singer writes:

“In my home state, the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) and the Keystone Exams are high stakes versions of my buddy’s moronic quiz. The purpose isn’t to fairly assess: it’s to stump as many kids as possible.

“And it’s working. For the fourth year in a row, student test scores have declined statewide. Previously, students had been doing relatively well. Why the change?

“It began with budget cuts. The legislature slashed almost $1 billion every year in school funding. That means higher class sizes, less teachers, fewer electives, tutoring, nurses, services, etc. And districts like mine weren’t exactly drowning in money to begin with.

“Students now have less resources, therefore they can’t prepare as well for the tests.

“So what did the legislature do? Did our lawmakers fix the problem by putting back the money they had repurposed as gifts to the natural gas industry?

“Heck no! They made the tests even more unnecessarily difficult.

“As a result, the steady decline in test scores this year fell off a cliff!

“After all, this was the first year in which the Commonwealth fully aligned every question of its mandatory testing with the Pennsylvania Core Standards – which are similar, but not identical to the Common Core standards adopted in other states.

“Proficiency rates in grades 3 through 8 dropped by an average of 35.4 percent in math and 9.4 percent in English language arts on the PSSA. Nearly half of all seventh and eighth graders dropped an entire proficiency level in math in just one year.

“If I made up a test like this in my own classroom, gave it to my students and got results like these, my first assumption would be that there was something horribly wrong with the test. I must have messed something up to fail so many students! Teachers are always on the lookout for unclear or bad questions on their self-created exams. The for-profit corporations that create our state-mandated tests? Not so much.

“Though state Department of Education officials acknowledge the continued decline in scores, they insist problems will work themselves out in subsequent years – as if a 4-year trend is just an anomaly. Move along. Nothing to see here, folks.

“My students used to make impressive gains on the tests. My principal stopped by today to give me the scores for my current students and those I taught last year. No surprise. Very few passed….

“It’s almost impossible to avoid certain conclusions about this whole process. Standardized testing is designed to fail students – just like my buddy’s movie quiz was designed to stump me.

“These tests constitute fake proof of inadequacy. They attempt to “prove” our public schools are failing and should, therefore, be replaced by private corporations – maybe even by subsidiaries of the same for-profit companies that make and grade these tests!

“When my buddy unfairly stumped me, we both knew it was a joke. We’d laugh and play another video game.

“But there’s nothing funny about this when it’s perpetrated by the state and federal government.

“Pennsylvania’s standardized test scores are a farce just like the scores in every state and territory throughout the country. They’re lies told by corporations, permitted and supported by lawmakers, and swallowed whole by the media and far too much of the public.”

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 176,927 other followers