EPLC Education Notebook

Friday, September 16, 2005

    Pennsylvania Education Policy Activity

  • Gov. Ed Rendell has called a Special Session of the legislature to address property taxes. The Special Session will begin Wednesday, September 28. Earlier this week, the Governor said he supports mandating all school districts to participate in Act 72 of 2004, the property tax reduction law that will use state gaming funds to provide local school property tax relief and makes certain school tax increases subject to voter referendum. The Governor also called for eliminating a requirement in Act 72 that school boards increase the local earned income tax by 0.1% as a condition of participation in the state's property tax relief program. Only 111 of the state's 501 school districts have chosen to participate in Act 72. The deadline for that decision was May 30 of this year.

  • The Pennsylvania State Board of Education took action on a number of items and reviewed work in progress at its September 15 meeting:

    Master Plan for Higher Education: The Board adopted a revised Master Plan for Higher Education, the first update to the plan since 1986. The plan is an advisory document that reviews significant higher education issues and makes non-binding recommendations for the General Assembly on those topics. The plan addresses key policy issues surrounding access and affordability, accountability, remedial education, articulation and transferability of credits, and distance learning.

    Prior to its adoption, the Board's Council of Higher Education fielded concerns from some higher education institutions regarding a recommended statewide articulation agreement. In its draft form, the plan included a set of recommendations that suggested the state Department of Education should convene higher education institutions that receive state funding to negotiate a common articulation agreement and that, if the independently-developed agreement did not result in improved transfer of credits for students, the General Assembly should introduce legislation to mandate a statewide articulation process for all publicly funded institutions. The Council deleted the recommendation for mandatory legislation; other articulation recommendations remain in the plan as proposed.

    Proposed Change in Teacher Certification: The Department of Education (PDE) presented preliminary recommendations for restructuring teacher certification that would require subsequent changes in teacher education programs to make programs more content-focused and to provide all students with training in special education. Recommendations for certification changes were made to the Board Committee considering revisions to Chapter 49 (Certification of Professional Personnel).

    PDE recommends that the state establish two distinct certificates for Early Childhood Education (for Pre-K through grade three) and Elementary Education (for grades three through six). Teacher education programs would be required to align their curriculum with the skills and content knowledge relevant to these grade spans. Additionally, all students also would be required to receive instruction in special education through their preparation programs. Future teachers would be dually certified in either early childhood and special education or elementary education and special education. These teachers would hold a primary special education certificate for grades pre-K through 6; an intermediate/secondary special education certificate would be awarded for teachers in grades 7-12. Teaching candidates who want to earn both early childhood and elementary certification would be required to complete approximately 12 additional credit hours. Current teachers would not be affected by the proposed changes.

    PDE said the proposal to move away from offering special education as a unique major at colleges and universities stems from recent federal policies that have changed the thinking about special education. Both the No Child Left Behind Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act require teachers to be highly qualified in a content area. These policies speak to special education as a methodology, not a content area. Furthermore, recent policy changes and litigation have resulted in more special education students being served in regular education classrooms, making it imperative that all teachers have the skills necessary to work with a diverse set of learners.

    The recommended changes in teacher certification were developed from a series of working groups convened by the Department to develop draft guidelines for teacher preparation programs. PDE will draft proposed regulatory language for the Board's future consideration and will hold public meetings to gather input on its recommended changes.

    PSSA Performance Level Cut Scores: The Board adopted revised cut scores for the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) math and reading exams. The Board had adopted new cut scores in June; however, subsequent to that action a technical error was discovered in the equating process used to determine the revised scores. The scores were reevaluated by the company responsible for the initial work and validated again through an independent analysis conducted by a second company.

    Cut scores determine which PSSA performance level a student achieves by setting borders on a range of points that correlate to each performance level (advanced, proficient, basic, below basic). For information about why the PSSA cut scores needed to be revised, see the July 1 edition of the EPLC Education Notebook at www.eplc.org/notebook/July1,2005.html.

    Higher Education Regulations: The Board's Committee on Higher Education Regulations discussed recommended changes to Chapter 36 (Foreign Corporation Standards) and Chapter 40 (Institutional Approval) that it anticipates it will submit for Board approval in November. The proposed changes are not substantive and mostly provide clarity in the regulations. Recommended revisions to Chapter 42 (Program Approval), also under consideration by the Committee, are still being developed.

    Committee on Early Childhood Education: PDE is in the process of developing proposed regulations for state-funded pre-K programs. Currently, the state does not regulate pre-K. Representatives from PDE met with the Board's Committee on Early Childhood Education to review regulatory issues raised at three roundtable discussions held around the state last month. The Department anticipates the proposed pre-K regulations, which will span multiple chapters under the board's purview, will be introduced to the Board in November.

    Resolution in Support of Civic Learning: The Board adopted a resolution encouraging schools to expand civic learning opportunities for students. Pennsylvania's First Lady Judge Marjorie Rendell is leading an initiative with The Pennsylvania Coalition for Representative Democracy (PennCORD) to improve civic learning opportunities.

  • The Pennsylvania Department of Education has released assessment anchors for the state science assessment that will commence in 2007. For more information, see www.pde.state.pa.us/a_and_t/cwp/view.asp?a=108&q=103127&a_and_tNav=|6309|&a_and_tNav=|.

  • The House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee met Tuesday and approved House Bill 609, which establishes a program to make low-interest loans available to owners of college student residences for the purpose of installing sprinkler systems in current structures. The bill applies only to buildings not owned by a college or university; the state already assists higher education institutions with sprinkler installations for dormitories and other institution-owned housing units. Loans administered by the Department of Community and Economic Development through the Sprinkler Loan Fund would be made available through state appropriations and private donations. The proposed Student Residence Automatic Fire Suppression System Installation Loan Program and Protection Act awaits further consideration by the full House.

  • School employees who are legally required to report suspected child abuse (mandated reporters) must attend a child abuse education training course at least once every five years if House Bill 1617 becomes law. The House Children and Youth Committee held an informational meeting on the legislation Tuesday. HB 1617 also would require school entities to offer a child abuse education training course at least once every year. Bill sponsor Rep. Russ Fairchild said the course would provide training on the definition and recognition of child abuse, as well as how to report suspected abuse. Attendance at the training course would be counted toward educators' Act 48 professional development requirements. The state currently provides support for training programs that educate school employees on their role as mandated reporters, however, the training is voluntary.

    Representatives from the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, which has jurisdiction over child welfare, testified that the Department is supportive of the mandated training requirement because of the critical role school employees play as mandated reporters, but DPW expressed reservations about awarding Act 48 credit for the training. DPW feels Act 48 professional development should focus on instructional content and strategies. The Pennsylvania School Boards Association also expressed support for child abuse education training, but said the training requirement should be extended to include all mandated reporters - which also include nurses, doctors, and child care providers - not just school employees. In order to provide training to this comprehensive group, PSBA says the legislation needs to amend the Child Protective Services Law, not the Public School Code addressed by HB 1617. Finally, the Pennsylvania State Education Association expressed support for requiring school districts to include child abuse education training in their continuing professional development plans and for allowing local districts to identify the specifics of the training.

  • Legislation that would prohibit school districts from beginning the new school year before Labor Day has surfaced from time to time for more than ten years. The major proponents of this legislation have been representatives of Pennsylvania's tourism industry, particularly operators of amusement parks. Rep. Robert Godshall, R-Montgomery, and chair of the House Tourism and Recreational Development Committee, is again championing this cause. His House Bill 383 was referred to the House Education Committee earlier this year and largely has been ignored.

    Proponents of the legislation argue that pre-Labor Day school starts have an adverse economic impact in Pennsylvania. On the other hand, most involved with the public education system in Pennsylvania believe that the school calendar ought to be left to local policymakers. Many also point out that among the state's 501 school districts there has been a trend to add a few additional school days per year, especially in light of state and federal laws creating more accountability for student performance. A large percentage of Pennsylvania school districts already begin the school year sometime before Labor Day.

    But Representative Godshall and supporters of the legislation are not to be deterred. On Tuesday, the House Tourism and Recreational Development Committee chaired by Godshall held an informational meeting to discuss the bill. Some want to consider strategies to circumvent the House Education Committee whose members apparently don't think much of this proposal. Godshall has suggested that he will introduce a new bill and will try to get it referred to his Tourism and Recreational Development Committee. It may be left to House Speaker John Perzel, who assigns bills to committees, to determine if there will be a successful end-run around the House Education Committee and the views of most who are responsible for the operations of Pennsylvania's public schools.

  • At its September 13 meeting, the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee voted to contract with Milliman Consultants and Actuaries, of Wayne Pennsylvania, to study issues related to early retirement incentive programs (30 & out) for state and school employees. The study was authorized by House Resolution 299, which directs the LBFC to assess the fiscal impact of proposed early retirement programs on the state and on school districts, the impact on workforce needs, and more. The resolution calls for a report to be delivered to the House State Government Committee in January 2006.

  • 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.

  • Appointments and Nominations

  • On Tuesday, Democrat Cherelle Parker won a special election to fill the vacant State House seat (District 200, Philadelphia) formerly held by LeAnna Washington. Washington was elected to the State Senate in a special election earlier this year.

  • Adam Schott has been promoted to Director of the Office of Government Relations at the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Former Director Eileen Flinn relocated to become policy and legislative coordinator for the Portland, Oregon public schools. Schott is a graduate of EPLC's Pennsylvania Education Policy Fellowship Program (class of 2003-2004).

  • Research and Reports

    High School Reform

  • A survey of more than 80,000 high school students in 19 states says that schools need to reevaluate their priorities to get students more engaged. Only half (51%) of participants in the High School Survey of Student Engagement 2005 said they feel challenged by their coursework. Students also felt their schools were more likely to substantially emphasize athletic achievement (72%) than academic excellence (63%). High school students also expressed concerns about safety. Forty-five percent of students reported they do not feel safe at school, with minority students expressing the greatest concerns about safety. The Indiana University survey also questioned students about how they spend their time outside of school, participation in school-sponsored activities, interaction with teachers, preparing for class, and more. Researchers hope schools will use the data to reevaluate their priorities and how they communicate with students. In "What We Can Learn From High School Students", researchers provide examples of how high schools have used past survey results to make changes in programs and school practices. Access the review of survey results at www.indiana.edu/~nsse/hssse/pdf/hssse_2005_report.pdf.

  • In its fourth annual report on high school exit exams, the Center on Education Policy (CEP) raises concerns about the persistent achievement gap on such exams despite recent efforts by states to provide supports designed to help students pass the tests. CEP says the pass rate for all students taking an exit exam for the first time ranges from 70 to 90 percent, but the gap between white, black and Latino students remains at an average 20 to 30 points in most states. Gaps are usually greater for low-income students and students with disabilities; the greatest gap is found with English Language Learners. According to CEP, 25 states "now use or plan to soon implement exit exams". Most exams also are used to fulfill No Child Left Behind high school testing requirements and are standards-based or end-of-course exams, rather than minimum competency exams that were the norm three years ago. CEP says states need to address issues surrounding exit exams that may preclude some students from earning a high school diploma given that, by 2012, 72 percent of all public school students, 82 percent of minority students, and 87 percent of English Language Learners will reside in states that require exit exams. Access "States Try Harder, But Gaps Persist: High School Exit Exams 2005" at www.ctredpol.org/highschoolexit/reportAug2005/hseeAug2005.pdf.

  • A reform initiative used in low-performing Philadelphia high schools "produced substantial gains in attendance, academic course credits earned, and promotion rates during students' first year of high school", according to MDRC researchers. Researchers also say there are early indications that the initial positive effects of the Talent Development High School model are positively impacting eleventh grade math test scores and graduation rates. Talent Development changes the structure of ninth grade - what researchers call the "make-or-break" transition year - by organizing students into small learning communities taught by teams of teachers and doubling up instruction in math and English. The reform model also includes an after-school program for ninth graders having difficulties, Career Academies in the upper grades that allow students to remain in small learning communities, and on-site professional development and in-class coaching for teachers. The MDRC study evaluates five Philadelphia high schools that began using the model in the 1990s through a partnership with the Philadelphia Education Fund. Currently, seven of the district's 22 nonselective high schools are implementing the Talent Development model. The report also discusses the academic challenges these schools continue to face and the funding necessary to operate such a reform program. Read "Making Progress Toward Graduation: Evidence from the Talent Development High School Model" at www.mdrc.org/publications/408/full.pdf.

  • Other

  • EPLC will host the second annual Edward Donley Education Policy Leadership Award Dinner on Wednesday, September 28. The Center will honor Dr. Paula Hess, Senior Advisor to the Speaker and Majority Leader in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, with the Edward Donley Education Policy Leadership Award. The 2005 Dinner also will give recognition with the EPLC Partner Award to the Pennsylvania State Education Association and the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties. In addition, the Center will present its EPLC Leadership Program Alumni Award to Sylvester Pace and Jean Dexheimer. For details about the 2005 Donley Dinner, see www.eplc.org/donleydinner.html.

  • Next week...On Monday, September 19, the House Select Committee on Student Academic Freedom holds its initial informational meeting. The Pennsylvania Department of Education is scheduled to release PSSA results from the 2004-2005 school year on Tuesday. The Pennsylvania Child Care Association hosts in annual conference in Harrisburg on September 21-22. The Pennsylvania School Employees' Retirement System Board of Directors meets on Friday in Harrisburg. For information on these and other upcoming events, see www.eplc.org/calendar.html.

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