EPLC Education Notebook

Friday, November 13, 2009

    Content in this edition:
    EPLC News
    Pennsylvania Policymakers
    - State Senate
    - State House
    - Independent Regulatory Review Commission
    U.S. Department of Education
    Research and Reports

    The EPLC Education Notebook (current and past editions) also is available by visiting the EPLC website at www.eplc.org/ednotebook.html.



    EPLC’s 2009 Pennsylvania Education Finance Symposium took place on November 12 in Harrisburg. The event featured an update on education finance issues in Pennsylvania and around the nation, as well as sessions on Special Education Funding Reform, Charter School Funding, and Education Foundations.  Attendees also received an update from Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Jerry Zahorchak as well as perspectives on upcoming challenges for education funding from a panel of education advocates.  Special thanks to Education Secretary Zahorchak, Mike Griffith of the Education Commission of the States (ECS) and all of the panelists for their participation.  Power Point presentations made at the Symposium are available on the EPLC web site.



    State Senate

    On Tuesday, the Senate Education Committee met with Dr. Arlene Ackerman, CEO of the Philadelphia School District, for a hearing on the district’s strategic plan, Imagine 2014, and efforts to turn around its lowest achieving schools.  Click here to read Dr. Ackerman’s testimony.

    State House

  • On Monday, the House Children and Youth Committee passed House Bill 1977, which requires the Department of Public Welfare, in coordination with the Departments of Health and Education, to prepare an annual state plan on child day care and early childhood development and education programs.  The state plan would make recommendations for improving the quality, affordability and availability of day care and early childhood services, as well as providing a comprehensive overview of current state initiatives related to these programs and a statewide child care and early childhood services needs assessment.

    The bill would require DPW to hold at least four public hearings across the state to seek input and recommendations from parents, organizations, individuals and agencies interested in issues affecting children and their families.  Under the legislation, DPW would have to submit the plan to the Governor, Senate and House no later than May 1 of each year.

    House Bill 1977 has been recommitted to the House Appropriations Committee..

  • On Tuesday, the House Education Committee held a public hearing on closing the achievement gap.  The achievement gap refers to the different levels of academic performance of students from different racial, ethnic and economic backgrounds.  Dr. Jerry Zahorchak, Pennsylvania Secretary of Education, presented an overview of Pennsylvania’s achievement gains as reported by NAEP and the Center for Education Policy.  His testimony also included examples of targeted investments that have transformed education in Pennsylvania.  He concluded his remarks by addressing the state's chances for earning federal Race to the Top dollars.  According to Zahorchak, Pennsylvania’s track record over the past six years has placed the state in the best position to compete for those dollars.

    The Committee also heard from Richard Coley, Director of the Policy Information Center at the Educational Testing Service (ETS), regarding research about “correlates of achievement” –  those life and school conditions and experiences that are related to school achievement.  According to Coley, factors such as curriculum rigor, teacher quality, class size, fear and safety at school, parent involvement and other correlates need to be tracked as key indicators of progress in closing the achievement gap.

    Click here for testimony from Zahorchak and Coley presented to the Committee.

  • Independent Regulatory Review Commission

    On October 22, the Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC) voted (4-1) to approve Keystone Exams, a proposal from the State Board of Education to create voluntary end-of-course exams for high school students in core academic subjects – math, science, English and social studies – which will take effect with the graduating class of 2015.

    The plan creates a new system for measuring whether students have met the state’s academic expectations for high school graduation.  Under the plan, students will be able to demonstrate proficiency in English, math, science and social students through one or a combination of the following assessment mechanisms: 1) successfully completing high school coursework, which includes a Keystone Exam that will count as one-third of a student’s final course grade; 2) passing a local assessment (which must be independently validated as aligned with the state’s academic standards once every six years); or 3) passing an advanced placement or international baccalaureate exam in the appropriate content area.  The plan also provides for a student to supplement a Keystone Exam score with a project-based assessment.  Students also will have the ability to retake a Keystone Exam – which must be offered at least three times a year – and to only retake that portion of the exam on which they were not initially successful.

    The PA Department of Education plans to apply to the federal government for approval to use the Keystone Exams system as its high school assessment system required by No Child Left Behind.  Once approved, PDE would discontinue use of the 11th grade PSSA.

    In addition, the plan includes voluntary model curriculum that school districts may choose to use, tutoring for students who are not successful in passing a Keystone Exam, and professional development for teachers designed to help improve their instruction.

    Supporters of the proposed changes cited the need to prepare all students for college or workforce readiness and to make the high school diploma more meaningful.  Organizations and individuals who spoke in opposition voiced concern with unintended costs, interference with local school boards to assign/calculate student grades and increased student drop-out rates — particularly for students with learning disabilities. To read the public and legislative comments submitted to IRRC, click here.

    The regulations will undergo a final review for form and legality by the Attorney General’s office.  Upon the Attorney General’s approval, the regulations will become effective when they are published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin, which is expected later this year.



    The U.S. Department of Education (USDE) this week released the final application for its $4.35 billion Race to the Top competition.  According to the USDE, $350 million will be used to help states create assessments aligned to common sets of standards.  To compete for the remaining $4 billion, states’ applications must “document their past success and outline their plans to extend their reforms by using college-and career-ready standards and assessments, building a workforce of highly effective educators, creating educational data systems to support student achievement, and turning around their lowest-performing schools.”  States also must not have legal barriers to linking student growth and achievement data to teachers and principals for evaluation purposes.  Click here for details on the Race to the Top application.



  • The Lehigh Valley Research Consortium has released a study (on behalf of the Education Coalition of the Latino Economic Council) which looks at the academic status of Latino/Hispanic students in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley region.  The report’s findings are based on an analysis of data from PDE, 17 local public school districts in Lehigh and Northampton Counties and extensive interviews with personnel in the Allentown, Bethlehem Area and Easton Area school districts.  Among the findings:

    • The Latino/Hispanic student population is growing beyond the urban core to all districts.  By 2007-2008 school year, 22% of the students enrolled in the Lehigh Valley were classified as Latino/Hispanic compared to the statewide rate of 7%.
    • Latino/Hispanic students are making progress toward meeting educational standards, particularly in math; however, they lag behind other students in the area of reading.
    • Graduation rates for Latino/Hispanic students slightly lag behind the total graduation rates.  However, Latino/Hispanic graduation rates increased slightly from 2008-2009 while the graduation rate for all students decreased.
    • While the number of Latino/Hispanic students taking the SAT test is increasing, their results lag behind White non-Hispanic and Asian students, particularly in the verbal portion.
    • Latino/Hispanic graduates are more likely to enroll in a two-year college than a four-year college, but also are more likely to say they are unsure about their future plans than other graduates.

  • The first quarterly public accounting report of federal stimulus expenditures was recently released by the Recovery, Accountability and Transparency Board as required by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).  The data indicate that approximately 400,000 jobs have been retained or created through U.S. Department of Education grants.  In addition, the report describes each of the ARRA education grants and their allocations, along with individual state profiles that show where the money is going in each state.



    Michelle Switala, a math teacher from the Pine-Richland School District, has been named Pennsylvania’s 2009 Teacher of the YearClick here to learn more about Michelle and the Teacher of the Year program.



    Next week…

  • The International Bullying Prevention Association holds its Annual Conference on November 16-18 in Pittsburgh.

  • The Senate Education Committee holds a briefing on Intermediate Unit Services on Tuesday in Harrisburg.

  • The Pennsylvania State Board of Education meets November 18-19 in Bloomsburg.

  • The National Association for the Education of Young Children holds in Annual Conference and Expo on November 18-21 in Washington, D.C.

  • The House Intergovernmental Affairs Committee holds a public hearing on ARRA's (federal stimulus) impact on NW PA on Thursday in Erie.

  • The Association for Career and Technical Education holds its Annual Convention and Career Tech Expo on November 19-21 in Nashville, TN.

  • The National Council of Teachers of English holds its Annual Convention on November 19-24 in Philadelphia, PA.

  • For information on these and other upcoming events, see www.eplc.org/calendar.html.

EPLC Education Notebook is published by The Education Policy and Leadership Center (EPLC). Permission to reprint or electronically redistribute the Notebook in whole or in part is granted provided attribution to EPLC is provided.

The Education Policy and Leadership Center is an independent, non-partisan and not-for-profit organization. The Mission of EPLC is to encourage and support the enactment and implementation of effective state-level education policies in order to improve student learning in grades P-12, increase the effective operation of schools, and enhance educational opportunities for citizens of all ages.

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