EPLC Education Notebook

Monday, April 25, 2005

    Pennsylvania Education Policy Activity

  • The Senate passed legislation authorizing funding for the Pennsylvania State Employees Retirement System (PSERS). Senate Bill 609 allocates $39.539 million to PSERS for FY 2005-06. The Senate also passed Senate Bill 151, which adds information to be reported on the State Report Card, and Senate Bill 507, which establishes annual reporting requirements for scholarship and educational improvement organizations that receive funding through the Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program (EITC). All three bills now head to the House.

  • The House State Government Committee held a public hearing Tuesday on legislation that would create an early retirement incentive for state and school employees. House Bill 130 allows individuals with 30 years of service to retire regardless of age without penalty to their pensions, as well as other individuals who meet certain combined age and years of service provisions. Early retirement incentives have been used in the past to provide savings to school districts by replacing more expensive senior staff with younger staff at a lower salary. However, Anthony Salomone, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Public Employee Retirement Commission, cautioned that legislators need to define a goal before creating a retirement incentive because, absent such a plan, early retirement costs more in the long run. Salomone said retirement incentives are effective for permanently reducing overall staff by attrition, alleviating a short-term budget crisis through immediate savings (but increased long-term costs), and replacing current positions with jobs that require different skills. An analysis by the Pennsylvania School Employees Retirement System (PSERS) says HB 130 would place an additional $1.1 billion in unfunded liability on PSERS that the system projects it would recoup over 10 years. However, that analysis does not include the cost of extending health benefits to early retirees. Committee members also raised concerns about the impact of losing a district’s most experienced teachers through a “30 & Out” initiative. HB 130 sponsor Rep. Peter Daley said he plans to offer a resolution that would have the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee conduct a cost/savings analysis of early retirement programs so that legislative decisions can be based on solid information.

  • The Pennsylvania Association of School Retirees (PASR) is seeking legislative approval for the organization to request and receive information about the last district of employment and home address of retired teachers from the Pennsylvania School Employees Retirement System (PSERS). For years, PASR received this information, which it uses to recruit new members and analyze legislative proposals, but PSERS recently stopped providing it. PSERS said addresses are not considered public information under its policies. On Wednesday, the House State Government Committee held an informational meeting on House Bill 339, which would require PSERS to provide this information to annuitant associations. PASR is the only organization that meets the definition of “annuitant association” in HB 339. Representatives of the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), which also represents school retirees, said they would oppose the bill even if the definition of annuitant association is expanded to include their organization because the sharing of home addresses raises privacy issues. Currently, the bill does not address the confidentiality of shared information, creating an opening for third parties to re-distribute or sell shared information. PSERS said the legislation also may be in conflict with the system’s mission because PSERS would incur a cost to generate such information lists for the benefit of a private non-profit, while the system’s mission requires assets to be used for its members. HB 339 remains on the House Tabled Bills Calendar.

  • On Wednesday, the House Education Committee held an informational meeting on dual enrollment. For more information, contact the office of Committee Chair Jess Stairs at (717) 783-9311.

  • The Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected a petition from five Western Pennsylvania school districts to delay the May 30 deadline by which districts must decide whether or not to participate in Act 72 (The Homeowner Property Tax Relief Act). A similar suit filed by the PA School Boards Association will be heard in Commonwealth Court on Thursday.

  • The Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) Board of Directors voted Thursday to increase the maximum student grant award from $3,300 to $3,500. The new formula adopted for the 2005-06 school year also will extend aid to an additional 8,000 students. The Board annually evaluates the formula and reassessed the 2005-06 formula based on a recommended $368.198 million appropriation by Gov. Ed Rendell and a $25 million allocation from PHEAA’s business earnings. Currently, a special PHEAA taskforce is undertaking an in-depth analysis of its grant program and will recommend changes to maximize the program that the agency hopes to implement in 2006-07.

  • Legislation from the Pennsylvania General Assembly can be found at www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/session.cfm.

  • No Child Left Behind

  • The Utah Legislature has adopted a bill that directs state education officials to give first priority to state education programs ahead of federal No Child Left Behind mandates. The legislation represents the most direct legislative challenge to NCLB. House Bill 1001 passed the Republican-dominated state legislature with considerable support in both chambers; the House approved it 66 to 7 and the Senate by a vote of 25 to 3. The bill directs Utah education officials to spend as little state money as possible to implement federal programs, seek changes to federal programs that conflict with state education initiatives, and allows parents and school officials to determine the best program for special needs students in areas that NCLB conflicts with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Find Utah’s HB 1001 at www.le.state.ut.us/~2005S1/htmdoc/hbillhtm/HB1001.htm.

  • The National Education Association and several school districts and state education associations from across the country (including the Reading Education Association in Pennsylvania) have filed a legal challenge to No Child Left Behind arguing that the Department of Education is violating an unfunded mandate clause included in the law by forcing states to use some of their own money to implement NCLB requirements. The suit questions the provision that reads, "Nothing in this Act shall be construed to authorize an officer or employee of the Federal Government to mandate, direct, or control a State, local education agency, or school's curriculum, program of instruction, or allocation of State or local resources, or mandate a State or any subdivision thereof to spend any funds or incur any costs not paid for under this Act." Plaintiffs are seeking a court order that says states are not required to spend local money to comply with federal NCLB mandates and prohibits the federal Education Department from withholding federal funds from states that do not comply on such grounds. The suit (Pontiac School District v. Spellings) was filed in Federal District Court in Detroit. For more information, see www.nea.org/lawsuit/index.html.

  • An analysis conducted by the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) says that student achievement has improved since NCLB was enacted, but “student growth has declined slightly.” Researchers evaluated the difference between achievement, which measures student attainment at one point in time, verses growth, which measures changes in student attainment from one point in time to another. Researchers also looked at the achievement gap and found that students of different ethnicities who had the same standardized test scores had different growth. NWEA evaluated data from third through eighth grade students in more than 200 school districts in 23 states for reading and 22 states for math. Access the report at www.nwea.org/research/nclbstudy.asp.

  • Teacher Quality and Supply

  • Research for Action (RFA) has released its second annual study of teacher quality in the Philadelphia School District with a special focus on new teachers. The report tracks the progress of the district’s reform initiatives and says “there are hopeful signs that the district is turning a corner on teacher quality issues.” RFA cites positive progress that the district’s new teachers’ contract provides for school-based hiring of new teachers and that reform efforts underway in the district prioritize human resource issues. Current reform initiatives have led to an increase in teacher applications, a higher teacher certification rate, and a higher retention rate for new teachers. The report credits support from New Teacher Coaches, training for principals in teacher retention, and a core math and literacy curriculum with fostering improvements. Other initiatives that have positively impacted the district’s teaching force include a summer orientation and year-long professional development experience for new teachers, efforts to reduce class size, and efforts to improve facilities and discipline policies. RFA says the district must address the continuing problem that schools with the greatest number of low-income students have fewer experienced and certified teachers. Additional future challenges for the district include certification for special education and middle grades teachers, principal training in school-based hiring, new teacher attrition, a lack of highly qualified teachers in certain subject areas, and a dependence on alternate-route certification programs to meet highly qualified teacher requirements. Read “The Quest for Quality: Recruiting and Retaining Teachers in Philadelphia” at www.researchforaction.org/PSR/PublishedWorks/QuestforQuality.pdf.

  • Certified teachers consistently produce significantly stronger student achievement gains than do uncertified teachers,” according to new research from Stanford University professor Linda Darling-Hammond and colleagues. Researchers reviewed the math and reading achievement scores of fourth and fifth grade students from Houston, Texas, over six years and connected data about student achievement and student characteristics with data on teacher certification, experience, and degree levels. The study examined over 4,000 teachers and over 130,000 students. Students taught by teachers who were certified through traditional teacher education programs “consistently out-performed those who were taught by uncertified teachers” and also scored better than students taught by teachers certified through alternative programs. Since low-income and minority students are more likely to be taught by uncertified teachers, Darling-Hammond says “investments in well-prepared teachers are critically important to closing the achievement gap and improving learning.” The study also looked specifically at the affects of Teach for America (TFA) participants. Researchers concluded that “uncertified TFA recruits negatively affect student achievement relative to certified teachers, and perform about as well as other uncertified teachers. TFA recruits who become certified do about as well as other certified teachers in supporting student achievement gains.” Read “Does Teacher Preparation Matter? Evidence About Teacher Certification, Teach for America, and Teacher Effectiveness” at http://schoolredesign.net/srn/binaries/teachercert.pdf.

  • The Finance Project reviews lessons from five urban school districts in “Inside the Black Box: School District Spending on Professional Development in Education.” Access the publication at www.financeprojectinfo.org/Publications/insidetheblackbox.pdf.

  • High School Reform

  • A new publication from the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) looks at issues surrounding the calculation of high school graduation rates; no clear, consistent definition of graduation is used across the country. NASSP makes policy recommendations for improving calculations and improving overall graduation rates, particularly the rates of low-income and minority students. Read “What Counts: Defining and Improving High School Graduation Rates” at www.principals.org/s_nassp/bin.asp?CID=29&DID=50345&DOC=FILE.PDF.

  • The National High School Alliance has released “A Call to Action: Transforming High School for All Youth.” Rather than proposing one-size-fits-all models for reforming high schools, the Alliance outlines six interdependent core principles around which high school improvement efforts should be focused and recommends strategies for putting each of these principles into action. The core principles are: personalized learning environments; academic engagement of all students; empowered educators; accountable leaders; engaged community and youth; and integrated system of high standards, curriculum instruction, assessments, and supports. Read the Alliance’s report at www.hsalliance.org/_downloads/home/Call%20To%20Action%202005/CalltoAction2005.pdf.

  • A new study from the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research says decreasing the size of school districts has a positive effect on high school graduation rates and could positively impact other education outputs by increasing parental choice. The report argues that smaller districts make it easier for families to relocate to a district that offers better-quality education programs and that the pressure of this “residential school choice” can encourage districts to improve in order to prevent declining enrollment. Find “The Effect of Residential School Choice on Public High School Graduation Rates” at www.manhattan-institute.org/html/ewp_09.htm.

  • Other

  • Pennsylvania Deputy Secretary for Postsecondary & Higher Education Bill Larkin has resigned his state post. Larkin has accepted a new position as president of The Art Institute of Philadelphia.

  • President Bush nominated Raymond Simon to be U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education. Simon currently serves as Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education. Prior to joining the Department in December 2003, Simon was director of the Arkansas Department of Education.

  • A+ Schools: Pittsburgh's Community Alliance for Public Education, The Education Policy and Leadership Center and other community partners will co-host a community discussion on “Choosing Our Next Superintendent.” The forum will be held Thursday, April 28, from 5:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Regional Enterprise Tower, 31st Floor, 425 Sixth Avenue in Downtown Pittsburgh. On-site child care will be provided. For more information or to RSVP, contact A+ Schools at (412) 258-2660 or www.aplusschools.org/rsvp.html.

  • This week...The Lehigh Valley Council for Youth and the United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley sponsor a Community School Movement Forum on Wednesday. A+ Schools: Pittsburgh's Community Alliance for Public Education holds a community forum on Thursday. The PA School Librarians Association holds its annual meeting in Hershey on April 27-30. The PA Association of Rural and Small Schools holds its annual meeting April 28-29 in State College. The PSERS Board meets Friday in Harrisburg. The PA Parent Information and Resource Center hosts a forum on “The Basic Principles of the No Child Left Behind Legislation” in Philadelphia on Friday. For information on these and other upcoming events, see www.eplc.org/calendar.html.

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