EPLC Education Notebook

Friday, October 7, 2005

    Tuesday, October 11 is the last day to register to be eligible to vote in the November 8 General Election.

    Pennsylvania Education Policy Activity

  • On Thursday, the Independent Regulatory Review Commission approved regulatory changes to Chapter 12 (Students and Student Services) that ban the use of corporal punishment in schools. The ban had been a source of contention with some members of the House Education Committee, which voted to disapprove the proposed regulations a week earlier. Committee members opposed the ban because some felt the disciplinary procedure should remain an option for teachers to control classroom behavior, while others felt the State Board does not have the authority to enact a ban through regulation. The issue of the State Board's jurisdiction was highlighted by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, which does not condone the use of corporal punishment, but said issuing the ban through regulation creates a gray area over policymaking authority. State law gives the State Board authority to set broad guidelines and grants local schools boards more specific authority to set local policies regarding student conduct and deportment. In conflict, case law from a 1978 Supreme Court case (Girard School District v. Pittinger) has been interpreted in favor of the State Board's authority to address the corporal punishment issue. Executive Director of the House Education Committee David Dumeyer also noted the conflict and said it is possible the legislature may take action to address corporal punishment in statute. A representative of the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) said the teachers, nurses, and school psychologists it represents support the ban. The overwhelming majority of Pennsylvania's 501 school districts already have local bans on corporal punishment.

    Other key issues addressed by the regulatory changes include student freedom of expression, student expulsion, and student searches. The final form regulations now go to the Attorney General for review and take effect after publication in the Pennsylvania Bulletin. For a copy of the regulations, see www.pde.state.pa.us/stateboard_ed/site/default.asp?g=0. For a review of the issues that caused the House Education Committee to disapprove the regulations, see the September 30 edition of the EPLC Education Notebook at www.eplc.org/notebook/September30,2005.html.

  • The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) has filed a lawsuit seeking to remove the Chester-Upland School District's Board of Control for its continued mismanagement of the district's finances and inability to improve academic achievement. The suit alleges that the Board significantly increased annual deficits and debt, failed to establish adequate financial and record-keeping practices, failed to properly report violent incidents, failed to ensure district staff were properly certified, and failed to monitor the financial impact of charter schools in the district. Gov. Ed Rendell directed PDE to file suit after the Board of Control refused to implement specific measures to reinstate financial stability as requested by the Secretary of Education last month and after board members refused to voluntarily resign at the Governor's request. The lawsuit asks Commonwealth Court to place the district in receivership, which means the Court would appoint an official responsible for the Board of Control's duties. Under state law, neither Gov. Rendell nor PDE have the authority to replace the three-member Board of Control unless its members are found guilty of criminal activity. For more information, see www.governor.state.pa.us/governor/cwp/view.asp?a=1115&q=443145.

  • On Thursday, the Senate Education Committee held a public hearing on issues related to the Chester-Upland School District. For more information, contact the office of Committee Chair James Rhoades at (717) 787-2637.

  • On Tuesday, the House Tourism and Recreational Development Committee adopted legislation that would prohibit schools from opening before Labor Day (House Bill 1968). The major proponents of this legislation have been representatives of Pennsylvania's tourism industry, particularly operators of amusement parks. The Tourism Committee has held numerous informational meetings on the topic for more than ten years, but bills related to the start of school issue typically were referred to the House Education Committee which showed little interest. However, last week the Education Committee requested that House Bill 1968 be redirected to the Tourism Committee. (Tourism Committee Chair Robert Godshall recently introduced HB 1968 to replace legislation he introduced earlier this session addressing the same topic - House Bill 383.) HB 1968 is now before the full House for consideration, however, Godshall said the bill will not be called up for a vote until Mansfield University completes a survey of Pennsylvania residents about the start of school issue.

  • On Thursday, the House Education Committee met in New Florence for an informational meeting on high school reform. For more information, contact the office of Committee Chair Jess Stairs at (717) 783-9311.

  • All legislation from the Pennsylvania General Assembly, including bills cited in this Notebook, can be found at www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/session.cfm.

  • Research and Reports

    Philadelphia School Reform

  • Research for Action (RFA), a Philadelphia-based firm leading a multi-year research and public awareness study called Learning from Philadelphia's School Reform, recently released three publications on the impact of reform initiatives underway in the district. "Learning from Philadelphia's School Reform: What Do the Research Findings Show So Far?" reviews research conducted on reforms related to school and district governance, teacher quality, civic engagement and accountability, and student achievement. Author Betsey Useem says "data on student achievement in the elementary and middle grades and on other indicators are positive but it is still too early to judge the effectiveness" of the reforms that have been enacted.

    Significant changes in school governance were made when the district adopted a "diverse provider model" following a state-takeover of the district in 2001. Eighty-six of the city's low-performing schools underwent some type of reform ranging from management by a for-profit or non-profit external management organization to restructuring by the school district to receiving extra financial resources. A review of math and reading scores on the TerraNova tests given in fifth and eighth grades revealed that "no one strategy to date stands out as being especially effective." A review of math and reading scores from the state's PSSA exams given in fifth and eighth grades showed the greatest academic achievement gains in schools restructured by the district, however, Useem notes that "as with most school intervention efforts, results vary from school to school and grade to grade even within the same reform model." RFA will conduct more extensive value-added analyses of student performance to develop a better measure of student growth among the various reform models. Useem says Philadelphia's experience with external management organizations can be especially telling for other districts because the reform method parallels the most severe corrective action required by No Child Left Behind for schools that do not make adequate yearly progress.

    The paper also describes the genesis of the district's reform effort, reviews changes in teacher recruitment and classroom instruction initiated by district CEO Paul Vallas, and discusses how certain reforms were influenced by the requirements of No Child Left Behind. Access the report at www.researchforaction.org/PSR/PublishedWorks/LPSR092805.pdf.

  • RFA released a complementary chart titled "The 'Original 86': Tracking Changes to 'Original 86' Philadelphia Public Schools Initially Targeted for Intervention Following 2001 State Takeover". Find the chart at www.researchforaction.org/PSR/PublishedWorks/Original86092805.pdf.

  • "Time to Engage? Civic Participation in Philadelphia's School Reform", a third publication from RFA, looks at how civic engagement has changed in the Philadelphia School District since the state takeover in 2001. Since that time, the district has developed partnerships with an array of businesses, universities, community groups, foundations and more. Positively, these new relationships have aided the district in rapidly putting in place a large number of reforms. However, community and grassroots organizations interact with the district in multiple ways - as contracted service providers, as advocates that strive to influence schools, as participants in district-led initiatives. Researchers say the relationship between the district and organizations that enter into contracts to provide services to the district "makes it difficult for some groups, especially small grassroots and advocacy organizations, to perform their traditional role as activists and critics, even while it offers employment to depressed communities and resources to financially strapped organizations." In addition to entering into contracts with organizations, the district has hired individuals from within the grassroots sector which, researchers say, "may also erode capacity within that sector for critique of the district and demands for accountability." The paper discusses the consequences of limiting the capacity for civic engagement by entering into contractual relationships with community organizations and community leaders. RFA plans to pursue further research on civic engagement in the district. Read the report at www.researchforaction.org/PSR/PublishedWorks/TimetoEngage.pdf.

  • Appointments and Nominations

  • Gov. Ed Rendell has nominated Dr. Gerald Zahorchak as Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Zahorchak has served as Acting Secretary for the past two months and, prior to that, served as Deputy Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education. Zahorchak led the Greater Johnstown School District before coming to Harrisburg, was a member of the Greater Johnstown School Board, the Johnstown City Council and also served as Deputy Mayor of Johnstown. His nomination requires Senate approval.

  • Diane Castelbuono has joined the Pennsylvania Department of Education as Deputy Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education. Previously, Diane served in a number of positions in the School District of Philadelphia, including Senior Policy Advisor to the district, Chief of Staff to the Philadelphia School Reform Commission, Policy Liaison to the Board of Education, and Director of Policy and Planning Support. Diane is a graduate of EPLC's Education Policy Fellowship Program (class of 1999-2000).

  • Other

  • Save the Date...The Education Policy and Leadership Center will host an Education Finance Symposium on November 14-15 in Harrisburg. Participants will learn about how finance reform has been achieved in other states, as well as reform proposals currently in the works in Pennsylvania. Registration materials will be available soon at www.eplc.org/financesymposium.html.

  • Next week...The House Education Committee holds an informational meeting on high school restructuring on Tuesday (October 11) in Philadelphia. The House Health and Human Services Committee holds a public hearing on children with disabilities on Wednesday in Harrisburg. EPLC hosts a Pennsylvania Education Policy Forum - Capital Breakfast Series on Wednesday. The speaker will be Donna Cooper, Secretary of Policy and Planning. The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education Board of Governor's meets Thursday in Harrisburg. The Pennsylvania Association of Colleges and Teacher Educators (PAC-TE) holds its Annual Assembly on October 12-14 in Grantville. For information on these and other upcoming events, see www.eplc.org/calendar.html.

To return to the EPLC Education Notebook homepage, click here.

To return to The Education Policy and Leadership Center homepage, click here.