EPLC Education Notebook

Friday, August 5, 2005

    Pennsylvania Department of Education


  • The Pennsylvania Department of Education announced a number of staff changes this week. Dr. Gerald Zahorchak has been named Executive Deputy Secretary of the Department, a title he will hold until he assumes the role of Acting Secretary following Secretary Francis Barnes' departure on September 5. Zahorchak previously served as Deputy Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education. Thomas Gluck will come on staff as a Special Assistant to the Executive Deputy Secretary. Gluck currently serves as Director of Communications for the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education and previously served as Executive Director for the Senate Democratic Education Committee. John Troxel will join the Education Department as Deputy Secretary of Administration. Troxel currently is the Chief Procurement Officer in the Governor's Office of Administration. He replaces Dr. Thomas Winters, who retired in July. Finally, Dr. James Gearity drops the "Acting" term from the title he has held since April and with his promotion to Deputy Secretary for the Office of Postsecondary/Higher Education.

  • Dual Enrollment

  • The Pennsylvania Department of Education has released guidelines and an application for school districts to receive new state grant funding to support dual enrollment programs. Dual enrollment allows high school students to take college courses for both secondary and post-secondary credit. The FY 2005-06 budget includes $5 million for dual enrollment. Districts have until September 15 to apply. For more information about grant eligibility requirements, see www.project720.org/content/view/36/82/.

  • Research and Reports

    Pennsylvania's Achievement and Opportunity Gaps - from Education Law Center

  • Two new reports focused on Pennsylvania again emphasize the link between student achievement and sufficient educational and funding resources. The Pennsylvania Education Law Center (ELC) this week released two reports addressing achievement and opportunity gaps in the Commonwealth's schools. The reports are intended to give parents and citizens an easily used guide to issues of student achievement, education funding and the quality of education in their local public schools. The reports are complimented by an Action Plan and Toolkit designed to help parents use data to further investigate local school quality issues and become advocates for closing achievement and opportunity gaps in their local communities. The reports also address lessons learned about closing achievement gaps and make recommendations for policy changes needed to effect change.

    In the first report, "Shortchanging Our Children: Opportunity Gaps in Pennsylvania Public Schools", ELC reviews statewide education funding data that reveals great disparity in the amount spent among the state's 501 school districts. In Pennsylvania, the state's highest-spending school district spends more than twice as much per student as the lowest-spending school district. In 2002-03, the highest-spending district spent $17,745 per student, compared to $6,651 in the lowest-spending school district (based on total expenditures). Moreover, when ELC identified what successful school districts spent, they found a gap of tens of thousands of dollars per classroom of 25 students between the resources available in these successful districts and others. (ELC defined success as districts where: at least 63% of students achieved proficiency or higher on the PSSA reading exam and 56% of students achieved at least proficiency in math - the same proficiency levels the state requires schools to achieve by 2008; where no schools did not make AYP; and where no schools met AYP because of the "safe harbor provision". 58 districts met that definition of success. The median expenditure for those districts was $8,740 per student in 2002-03.) ELC makes recommendations for addressing the culprits of Pennsylvania's education funding disparity - the state's over-reliance on local property taxes to fund education and low-level of state support for education, as compared to other states.

    In the second report, "Making Progress, But Miles to Go: Achievement Gaps in Pennsylvania Public Schools", ELC says the efforts of teachers, administrators, students and others have led to an overall increase in student performance and a declining achievement gap. However, even though overall achievement is rising, much progress is needed to reach the levels that the state defines as adequate. The report defines the achievement gap as the "difference between desired and actual achievement", based on the gap between current PSSA (PA System of School Assessment) results and the state-established goal that 100% of students achieve "proficiency" or above on the PSSA by 2014.

    Statewide, the achievement gap for all students was 36% in reading and 44% in math, compared to African American students (65% gap in reading; 75% gap in math), Hispanic students (65% gap in reading; 71% gap in math), low-income students (59% gap in reading; 66% gap in math), English language learners (80% gap in reading; 70% gap in math), and special education students (80% gap in reading; 83% gap in math). The report cites positive progress in the rate at which African American and Hispanic students are achieving advanced and proficient scores on the PSSA. African American scores increased by 44.9% in math and 44.5% in reading from 2002 to 2004, while scores for Hispanic students increased by 19.6% in math and 19.3% in reading. But, ELC warns that recent achievement improvements "may be threatened unless the state gets much more involved in providing help for struggling districts and for student groups being left behind." In addition to the state-level data available in the report, ELC provides school district level data on its web site.

    The reports analyze student achievement data from the 2003-04 state assessment (PSSA) and education spending figures from the 2002-03 school year - the most recent data available. ELC will update both reports when new data is available from the state. To access the achievement gap and opportunity gap reports, as well as the toolkit for action, see www.elc-pa.org/schoolreports/index.html.

  • Youth in Transition to Adulthood - from PA Partnerships for Children

  • One in seven Pennsylvanians age 19 to 21 is not working and is not enrolled in school. One in 11 of the Commonwealth's 16 to 21-year-olds also are idle, according to the latest publication on youth employment from Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children (PPC). The report analyzes data from the 2000 Census and Current Population Surveys from 1996-2004. Geographically, of Pennsylvanians age 19 to 21, one in five urban youth, one in seven rural youth, and slightly more than one in nine suburban youth are unemployed and not enrolled in school. Moreover, one in three African American and Hispanic youth are jobless and not in school. PPC offers strategies to address the employment challenges faced both by in-school and out-of-school youth, as well as job creation strategies, in "The State of Youth Employment", available at www.papartnerships.org/youthunemployment/index.asp.

  • High School Graduation - from NGA and The Education Trust

  • Pennsylvania's Gov. Ed Rendell joined 47 other governors in signing on to a compact that establishes a common definition of high school graduation rate. The compact was developed from a National Governors Association Task Force report that makes five recommendations for states to develop comparable high school graduation measures, complementary indicators of student progress, and data systems to support analysis of such indicators. By signing on to the compact, the Governors agreed to: implement a standard four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate, implement additional indicators that provide a deeper look at student achievement, make an effort to improve state data systems from pre-K through postsecondary education, and annually report progress on high school graduation, completion and dropout rates. To read the report, titled "Graduation Counts: A Report of the NGA Task Force on State High School Graduation Data", go to www.nga.org/Files/pdf/0507GRAD.pdf. To access the compact signed by the governors of 46 states and one territory, see www.nga.org/Files/pdf/0507GRADCOMPACT.PDF.

  • "Getting Honest About Graduation Rates: How States Play the Numbers and Students Lose", a report from The Education Trust released prior to the graduation data compact signed by Governors, criticizes the methods states use to calculate and report high school graduation and dropout data, in addition to setting low goals for improving graduation rates as required by NCLB. The Trust theorizes that incorrect reporting of high school graduation data is attributed to discrepancies in the way states collect and analyze their data and criticizes the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) for failing to provide leadership "by demanding that states get honest about graduation rates." In its report, the Trust examined 2002-03 graduation rate data submitted by states to the USDE and found wide discrepancies between those numbers and independent measures of state graduation rates. The Trust provides examples of some states that "hide the true extent of the nation's dropout problem" by using definitions of graduation rates that exclude students who drop out in ninth, tenth or eleventh grades, ignore dropouts altogether in their graduation calculations, or do not disaggregate graduation data. For more information, go to www2.edtrust.org/EdTrust/Press+Room/HSGradRate2005.htm.

  • Dual Enrollment - from Jobs for the Future

  • Jobs for the Future (JFF) explored the degree to which New England's secondary and postsecondary institutions are implementing dual enrollment programs. JFF says programs that help students get a jump-start on college, such as advanced placement courses, usually benefit students bound for selective colleges, while dual enrollment is more likely to serve lower-income and minority students. Thus, JFF says that dual enrollment may be a better strategy for high school students who do not consider themselves to be "college bound" because it provides them with the opportunity to take college courses where they otherwise would not have done so. Furthermore, the report poses a number of questions about whether dual enrollment is a method that could - or should - be used to increase the number of college graduates, and also includes a profile of 19 dual enrollment partnerships in the New England states. To read "Head Start on College: Dual Enrollment Strategies in New England 2004-2005", go to www.jff.org/jff/kc/library/0259.

  • Teacher Quality and Supply - from Learning First Alliance

  • Understanding that the nation's most vulnerable students reside in low-income, high-poverty school districts that are less likely to adequately staff qualified teachers and administrators, the Learning First Alliance's (LFA) publication "A Shared Responsibility: Staffing All High-Poverty, Low-Performing Schools with Effective Teachers and Administrators" serves as a Framework for Action in the fight against understaffing in underprivileged schools. The Framework "outlines a systemic set of actions for addressing the wide range of causes that underlie the problem" in eight areas: a need for stronger leadership, poor working conditions, insufficient professional support, weak incentives to teach in challenging schools, inadequate preparation for work in high-poverty schools, difficulties with hiring and placement, policy incoherence, and inadequate funding. In addition, the guide offers a shared language and vision to help bridge cooperation and understanding between school officials and citizens in the effort to effect change. To view the Framework, go to www.learningfirst.org/lfa-web/rp?pa=doc&docId=76.

  • Improving Health Care - from RAND

  • The RAND Corporation has released new research on "Improving Maternal and Child Health Care: A Blueprint for Community Action in the Pittsburgh Region". The report addresses barriers faced by families, local providers and program staff, lesson learned from promising national and local programs, and mobilizing communities to create change. The report also identifies policy levers that can be used to improve local efforts. Learn more at www.rand.org/publications/MG/MG225/index.html.

  • Appointments and Nominations

  • Dr. David J. Werner, former Chancellor Emeritus of Southern Illinois University - Edwardsville, has been selected to serve as Interim President of Mansfield University, effective August 24. Werner fills the position vacated by Dr. John R. Halstead (Mansfield University President since June of 1998), who recently left Mansfield to serve as President of the State University of New York - Brockport. Werner will serve as Interim President until June 30, 2006, or until the search for a new president is completed.

  • Mark Roosevelt has been selected as the next Superintendent of the Pittsburgh Public Schools. Roosevelt previously headed up the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education. He also served in the Massachusetts Legislature from 1986 to 1994, where he served as House Chairman of the Legislature's Joint Education Committee for four years and co-authored Massachusetts' 1993 Education Reform Act. In 2003, Roosevelt completed a training program for urban superintendents run by The Broad Foundation. Roosevelt graduated from Harvard Law School and holds a B.A. from Harvard College. He will assume the Superintendency in late August.

  • Other

  • The Education Policy and Leadership Center continues to accept applications for the 2005-2006 Pennsylvania Education Policy Fellowship Program (EPFP), which begins on September 8. Participants will develop a broadened understanding of the policy process and education policy issues, enhance communication and decision making skills, refine their potential for leadership, and expand their network of professional colleagues through participation in nine full-day seminars, two national conferences, and a unique strategic leadership training experience conducted by staff of the U.S. Army War College. For more information about the program and an application, see www.eplc.org/fellows.html.

  • Next week...The House Education Committee holds an informational meeting on high school reform on Tuesday in Hershey. The PA Independent Regulatory Review Commission meets on Thursday in Harrisburg to consider Regulation No. 2486, Dept. of Education #6-294: Compliance with the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. The PA School Employees' Retirement System Board of Directors meets Friday in Harrisburg. The Governor's Institute for Parental Involvement takes place August 12-14 in Harrisburg. The PA Parent Information and Resource Center hosts its second annual Parent Empowerment Fair on Saturday in Philadelphia. For information on these and other upcoming events, see www.eplc.org/calendar.html.

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