EPLC Education Notebook

Friday, August 25, 2006

    Pennsylvania Education Policy Activity

  • The Pennsylvania Department of Education has released Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) results for the 2005-06 school year which show students across the state sustained the achievement gains made during the prior school year. Information released by PDE which calculates progress made during the Rendell administration says the rates of students proficient or advanced in math or reading has increased by double digits for all grade levels, subjects and demographic groups. Moreover, PDE touts significant academic progress in school districts where, in 2002, less than 50% of students were proficient or advanced. Since that time, fifth graders scoring proficient or advanced have improved by 21.3 percentage points in math and 9.3 percentage points in reading, eighth graders scoring proficient or advanced have improved by 16.9 percentage points in math and 17.4 percentage points in reading, and eleventh graders scoring advanced or proficient have improved by 5.6 percentage points in math and 9.4 percentage points in reading. These districts also have succeeded in narrowing the achievement gap. PSSA results at the state, district and school building level are accessible online at www.pde.state.pa.us/a_and_t/cwp/view.asp?A=3&Q=121446.

    Pennsylvania annually assesses students in grades 3 through 8 and grade 11 in reading and math and in grades 5, 8 and 11 in writing. Of note, this year, for the first time, reading and math assessments were administered in grades 4, 6 and 7 and a writing assessment was administered to students in grades 5 and 8.

  • On Wednesday, the House Labor Relations Committee held an informational meeting on legislation ( House Bill 2635) that would prohibit strikes by teachers and other public school employees and institute a binding arbitration process for resolving school employee contract disputes if a contract agreement cannot be reached during the timeframe outlined in the bill. Representatives of Keep Students First and Stop Teacher Strikes Inc., spoke in support of outlawing teacher strikes because of the disruption to students and families. However, both Simon Campbell, President of Stop Teacher Strikes, and the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) said HB 2635 is unconstitutional because forcing school districts into binding arbitration to settle contract disputes gives unelected arbitrators - who are not accountable to taxpayers - the power to mandate the use of public tax dollars.

    Further, PSBA says the bill would "create a public policy that is contradictory" to recently enacted property tax relief legislation which forces school districts to limit school tax increases to an inflationary index and requires voter approval of larger tax increases. Requiring districts to use binding arbitration could lead to arbitrators mandating a solution that requires a tax increase beyond what the school board would voluntarily approve and could force districts to hold a voter referendum to approve a tax increase - placing districts in the position of cutting services to pay for the arbitrators' chosen contract if the referendum fails.

    Rather than replacing the current collective bargaining law with a new system, PSBA says a "logical next step is to impose disincentives on employees and organizations that participate in a strike", such as docking employees' pay for each day they participate in a strike, requiring strike votes to be taken by secret ballot, allowing school districts to employ substitute teachers to continue the school year during a strike, and consolidating teacher health care benefits through a statewide plan to remove the contentious health insurance issue from negotiations. The Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA), which represents teachers, said any legislation that provides for binding arbitration must preserve employees' fundamental right to withhold their labor. PSEA also said that binding arbitration decisions should be made on an issue-by-issue basis rather than as an entire package, thus allowing an opportunity for both sides in a dispute to "win" on some issues. HB 2635 awaits further consideration by the House Labor Relations Committee.

  • On Wednesday, the House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee held a public hearing in Philadelphia on House Bill 1675, which establishes an emergency uniform numbering system for public schools. HB 1675 requires the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency to work with emergency service responders to develop a uniform system to identify one room from another based on room size, location, florescence and heat resistance, appropriately label rooms that contain dangerous materials, and establish school building sections based on a grid structure. For more information, contact the office of Committee Chair Paul Semmel at (717) 787-3017.

  • The House Education Committee gathered in Allentown on Tuesday for an informational meeting on legislation ( House Bill 2616) that would change the way cyber charter schools are funded. EPLC will provide more detail about this issue in the next edition of the EPLC Education Notebook.

  • The House Local Government Committee met Tuesday in Chambersburg for a public hearing on legislation ( House Bill 2564) that would create special powers for governing bodies in counties experiencing high population growth related to the imposition of building excise fees, realty transfer taxes and transportation impact fees and the issuance of building permits. Under HB 2564, school districts would be authorized to impose impact fees on new construction. Districts may use funds collected from such building excise fees for capital costs. A member of the Dallastown Area School District in York County, testifying on behalf of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA), said PSBA supports the intent of the legislation and made suggestions for improvements to HB 2564.

    Specifically, PSBA feels: 1) school districts should also be permitted to levy a supplemental realty transfer tax; 2) school district impact fees should be levied only on residential property; 3) residential developers should notify school districts when they apply for construction approval and should provide districts with an independent impact study on proposed residential construction; 4) the identification of growth regions should include a formula that accounts for current student enrollment trends and not solely historic county demographic information; 5) use of school district impact fees should not be limited to construction costs reimbursements but should include costs associated with new staff, student desks, textbooks, and other expenses incurred due to student growth; and, 6) districts should be exempt from designing, constructing and financing improvements to public roads as a condition for approval for school construction by governmental entities. HB 2564 awaits further consideration by the House Local Government Committee.

  • 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

    Student Achievement

  • The second analysis of achievement gaps in Pennsylvania performed by Standard & Poor's, updating trends through the 2004-05 school year, reports that 48 Pennsylvania schools narrowed the achievement gap between at least two student groups by more than five percent between 2003-04 and 04-05, as well as increasing student proficiency in reading or math for both student groups, a difficult task. In the 48 schools, proficiency in reading and math increased by an average of 10.2 percent, compared with 2.4 percent for the state as a whole. Four Pennsylvania schools significantly reduced the Hispanic-white achievement gap and 45 schools narrowed the "economically disadvantaged-all students tested" achievement differential. However, no schools in Pennsylvania significantly lessened the black-white gap under the full criteria of the study. Standard & Poor's reports that the black-white achievement disparity among the 164 schools that met the criteria for analysis actually widened by 13.7 percentage points. The full report, including a list of schools identified as significantly reducing the achievement gap, is available on Standard and Poor's School Matters website at www.schoolmatters.com/pdf/achievement-gap/pa-achievement-gap-schools-schoolmatters.pdf#search=%22pennsylvania%22.

  • For more information about achievement gaps, including links to informational resources and additional research and reports, see EPLC's Education Policy Information Clearinghouse at www.eplc.org/clearinghouse_achievementgap.html.

    Public Education Facts

  • The Washington D.C.-based Center on Education Policy's "Public Education Primer: Basic (and Sometimes Surprising) Facts About the U.S. Education System" provides a comprehensive overview of the public education system in the United States and its evolution. The Primer provides information about student and teacher demographics, student achievement, education funding, and additional school services, with data drawn primarily from the federal government's National Center for Education Statistics. The full Primer is available at www.cep-dc.org/pubs/publiceducationprimer/PublicEducationPrimer.pdf. A few facts about public education presented in the Primer:

    • Almost 9 out of 10 students in the U.S. are educated in public schools.

    • One in every 10 public school students is an English language learner.

    • High school students are taking more challenging courses. The percentage of high school graduates who complete a core academic curriculum - four years of English and three years each of mathematics, science, and social studies - rose from 14% in 1982 to 57% in 2000.

    • Almost half of all public school teachers have advanced degrees, and the majority have more than 10 years of experience.

    • Even with increases in education spending, the level of public investment in education has changed only slightly in relation to the total value of goods and services produced in the domestic economy.

  • Datebook

  • EPLC will honor Karl R. Girton, Chair of the Pennsylvania State Board of Education, at its annual Education Policy Leadership Awards Dinner on Wednesday, October 18, 2006. The Center also will recognize with the EPLC Partner Award the Laboratory for Student Success at Temple University's Center for Research in Human Development and Education and the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators. Also, the Center will honor with the EPLC Leadership Program Alumni Award Diane Castelbuono (1999-2000 Education Policy Fellowship Program), William R. Adams, Jr. (2001-2002 Pittsburgh ICLE) and Daniel Fogarty (2002-2003 Lehigh Valley ICLE). For more information about the event, see www.eplc.org/donleydinner.html.

  • Next Week...The House Education Committee holds an informational meeting on House Bill 2679, related to walking distance to school, in Montgomeryville on Tuesday. The Governor's Commission on College and Career Success meets Friday in Harrisburg. For information on these and other upcoming events, see www.eplc.org/calendar.html.

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