EPLC Education Notebook

Thursday, April 5, 2007

    Pennsylvania Education Policy Activity

    Senate Activity

  • On March 28, the Senate Education Committee held a public hearing to gather testimony regarding recommendations for the reauthorization of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) recently released a position paper that addresses four policy areas to be improved upon by the Congress: increasing federal funding, encouraging national standards and assessments, increasing state flexibility in return for results, and providing appropriate flexibility in assessment.

    PDE is seeking more equitable funding for every Title I school and a separate stream of funding for state education agencies to support schools in need of improvement. The Department estimates it needs an additional $245 million in federal support to perform the technical assistance duties visualized by NCLB and will increase spending on assessments by more than $10 million to make up for dwindling federal funds. Further, 162 Pennsylvania school districts have seen a decline in total Title I funding each of the last three years. PDE also recommends that the federal government create incentives to encourage states to adopt national standards and assessments. NCLB has resulted in inconsistent quality of standards and assessments from state to state. PDE feels that encouraging states to make use of national standards and assessments will allow states to focus more federal funding on needs in the classroom. Further, PDE is calling for the federal government to reverse the order in which supplemental education services and school choice are offered to students in schools "in need of improvement" as well as to increase flexibility in deciding who can best provide tutoring services in school districts. Lastly, the department endorses more flexibility in testing exceptional students and in allowing states to utilize a growth model to measure student achievement results for accountability.

    Find PDE's NCLB Reauthorization Recommendations at www.pdenewsroom.state.pa.us/nclb/lib/nclb/NCLB_Reauthorization_FINAL3.27.07.pdf.

    Remarks of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators (PASA) concentrated on the focus, implementation, accuracy and instructional usefulness of Title I. PASA supports PDE's recommendations for increased flexibility in assessments, including the use of models that measure the academic progress of individual students and efforts to more accurately measure the progress of special education and ELL students with no arbitrary caps or grade level limitations. The Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools (PARSS) echoed PASA and PDE's proposal for an assessment system that incorporates growth models and flexibility in assessing students with disabilities. They advise that NCLB should be changed to reflect a model of support rather than a model based on the failure of schools.

    Unlike PDE, PARSS does not endorse the creation of national standards. To gain insight into the performance of rural students, the Association supports an over sampling of rural schools under the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP). PARSS put forth additional recommendations for recognizing the unique circumstances faced by rural districts, including basing Title I funding on percentages of students in poverty rather than concentrations of poverty and utilizing formula rather than competitive grants.

    Finally, the Pennsylvania PTA stressed the need for data delivery systems that better inform parents who are the primary decision makers for their child's education. Additionally, the PTA strongly recommends that states hold schools accountable for implementing their parental involvement plans.

  • Also on March 28, the Senate Communications and Technology Committee met to learn what's happening with implementation of the Education Technology Fund (e-Fund) and the Broadband Outreach and Aggregation Program established through Act 183 of 2004. The e-Fund is an annual $10 million matching grant program that assists schools with purchasing broadband services, hardware, technical assistance and distance education. Schools also are offered discounted rates for broadband services and equipment.

    Kathleen Brautigam, Director of the Bureau of Educational Technology at PDE, reported that 90% of school districts and other educational providers will have broadband by 2010 through the e-Fund. Currently, more than two-thirds of Pennsylvania's educational entities are under contract for broadband service, and PDE estimates that the Commonwealth's K-12 educational broadband network now covers 44,000 of the state's 46,000 total square miles. Brautigam also reported that 56 of the 79 districts currently participating in the state's Classrooms for the Future technology initiative are benefiting from e-Fund grants, and the Department anticipates that the majority of districts participating in the initiative in 2007-08 also will benefit from the e-Fund.

    Dr. Lawrence O'Shea, Executive Director of Intermediate Unit 1, spoke to the impact the technology access program is having in his region helping school districts to access more tools to enhance instructional programs; increase student, educator, parent and community access to information; diversify learning opportunities for both students and adult learners; more efficiently manage databases; and save money through cooperative purchasing. For more information about the hearing, contact the office of Committee Chair Rob Wonderling at (717) 787-3110.

  • The Senate recently passed legislation ( Senate Bill 356) that establishes the Pennsylvania Center for Environmental Education within the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. Among its broader duties, the Center will promote partnerships between formal and nonformal educators, schools, government, businesses and others to: assist with disseminating environmental education materials, programs and training to educators and others; provide preservice and nonformal educator programs related to environmental education and support efforts to disseminate materials to meet those needs; and help facilitate the implementation of the state's academic standards for environment and ecology. SB 356 awaits referral to a House Committee.

  • House Activity

  • House Republican Majority Leader Sam Smith unveiled the education agenda developed by a special Task Forced to Connect Education to the Workplace formed by his caucus last session. Smith called for stopping the expansion of new education programs until the current K-12 system is in order, and said the programs he put forth are designed to impact all school districts with flexible funding that allows districts to decide locally how best to meet their needs. The Republican agenda includes four items:

    1) Establishing a "Tools of the Trade" block grant to purchase textbooks, computers, educational technology, equipment or other instructional materials. During a press conference introducing the initiative, Smith proposed $25 million to support the program in all school districts and vocational-technical schools. He said the proposal is unique because vocational-technical schools would be eligible for funding, unlike under the current accountability block grant program, and because it would incorporate student enrollment in its distribution formula, which will aid growing school districts;

    2) Exploring the creation of a state-run virtual high school to make programs like advanced placement and dual enrollment available in all school districts. Smith said he personally supports the establishment of a state-run cyber high school, but called for a bi-partisan task force to examine the costs and feasibility of the proposal;

    3) Creating a "Look to Your Future" career awareness and dropout prevention pilot program to expose students to job opportunities in Pennsylvania; and,

    4) Expanding the Educational Improvement Tax Credit program, which grants business tax credits for donations to private student scholarship organizations and educational improvement organizations. While the Republican plan does not include a figure for EITC expansion, Smith said the expansion should be in the $15 million to $20 million range.

    The Governor's Office reacted by suggesting that these ideas may have merit and should be considered as a supplement to the proposals made by Governor Rendell rather than an alternative.

    For more information about the House GOP plan, see www.pahousegop.com.

  • The House Education Committee held a public hearing on April 3 to gather feedback on legislation that would require school administrators to complete leadership development training aligned with the regulations of the State Board of Education and change the type of certificates issued to principals in Pennsylvania ( House Bill 847). The Committee also heard comments about legislation to fix a glitch in the timing of sanctions for not completing current state-mandated professional development hours ( House Bill 842).

    House Bill 842 makes technical changes to allow teachers who fail to complete Act 48 professional development hours within the mandated timeframe to retain their teaching certificate until the end of the school year. General support was voiced for this change, primarily to avoid the disruption of instruction for students who currently can lose a teacher in mid-year.

    House Bill 847 requires completion of a PDE-approved graduate program (or equivalent leadership development program aligned with the standards specified by State Board of Education) in order to serve as a superintendent or assistant superintendent. Additionally, principals and assistant principals certified after January 1, 2008 would be granted Administrative I certificates valid for five years of service, during which time principals must complete a professional development program in line with State Board regulations and complete at least three years of satisfactory service in order to be eligible for a permanent Administrative II certificate.

    The professional development program intended to be mandated is the Pennsylvania Inspired Leadership (PIL) initiative launched by PDE in 2005. While representatives of school boards, principals and superintendents who testified on Tuesday agree that the standards included in the PIL program are important for administrator development, the greater debate seems to be about how to provide for the implementation of these standards. House Bill 847 does not address any program specifications and leaves it up to the State Board of Education to determine all program details through regulation. Proposed regulations would require all school administrators to complete PDE-approved professional development programs aligned with PIL standards every five years.

    EPLC President Ron Cowell endorsed the PIL standards noting that they are consistent with recommendations made in the 2006 EPLC report "Strengthening School Leadership: Preparing and Supporting Superintendents and Principals," but asked the Committee to carefully consider whether more detail needed to be added to the proposed statute rather than have generally worded legislative provisions that left all of the program specifics for the State Board of Education to determine. Cowell listed a set of additional key issues that lawmakers need to consider before approving legislation. Will all principal preparation programs at colleges and universities be required to incorporate the PIL standards into their design? Who will be eligible to offer professional development programs? Will the professional development mandate apply to new as well as current administrators? Will individuals who hold a leadership credential but are not employed in this capacity be required to complete the program mandated for new administrators? Will the program be provided by PDE without cost to the educator and the educator's employer? Will legislation mandate an induction program to ensure support for new school administrators? And will administrators continue to have opportunities to participate in other professional development programs and activities?

    The Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators (PASA) urged the Committee to spell out the parameters of the proposed professional development requirements in legislation, and not rely entirely on regulation. PASA outlined a number of amendments it would like to see included in statute, including better defining the induction program for new principals and requiring all first-time principals to participate in the induction program, requiring PDE to make a program available at no cost to participants (as Act 48 does for others) but allowing participants to choose an alternate program at their own expense, limiting the number of hours required to participate in induction to 36 hours per year, requiring ongoing professional development for all administrators to be focused on programs that address Pennsylvania's school leadership standards, and formally adopting into statute the Pennsylvania Leadership Standards - developed by a workgroup of current administrators and faculty. PASA reiterated that these recommendations do not place additional requirements on administrators, but merely provide focus for existing continuing education requirements.

    The Pennsylvania School Board Association underscored the importance of the skills addressed in the proposed program, but questioned whether the program leaves time for training on the practical issues that administrators face daily, such as dealing with parents, school safety and understanding how to implement a new law.

    Finally, the Pennsylvania Association of Elementary and Secondary School Principals (PAESSP) expressed concern over the impact on student achievement of principals being out of their school buildings to participate in the proposed professional development program, and offered suggestions for improving implementation of HB 847. PAESSP would like all or part of the professional development program to be offered via a web-based program; wants a mentoring program established for new principals; and seeks a waiver from participation for administrators enrolled in university graduate level degree programs that are aligned with State Board standards. It also wants to ensure the program will be provided by PDE at no cost to participants or their employers.

  • The House Education Subcommittee on Higher Education met April 3 to hear reports about the status of higher education in Pennsylvania and nationally. The Subcommittee spoke with representatives of the U.S. Department of Education, PA Department of Education, PA State Board of Education, PA State System of Higher Education, Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of PA, and Association of PA State College and University Faculties about the array of recommendations in these reports. EPLC presented information about its 2006 report on the condition of higher education in Pennsylvania "A Rising Tide."

    To learn more about the reports discussed at this informational meeting, see www.ed.gov/news/pressreleases/2007/03/03222007.html for the Summit convened to address the report of a special commission convened by U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings. See www.ncsl.org/bookstore/productDetail.htm?prodid=013160 for details on ordering the report of the National Conference of State Legislatures, and see www.eplc.org/ARisingTide.pdf for a copy of EPLC's report "A Rising Tide". In addition to discussing the recommendation of "A Rising Tide," EPLC President Ron Cowell provided the Subcommittee with an overview of the state-specific report card published by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, which is available at http://measuringup.highereducation.org/.

    In comments to the Sub-Committee members, Cowell said that Pennsylvania has relatively little state policy about higher education and attaches few conditions to the funding that is provided for higher education. He challenged policymakers to identify any goals for higher education that have been articulated as a matter of state policy. He said that although the Legislature requires the State Board of Education to develop a Master Plan for Higher Education every five years, and it is intended to give guidance to the Governor and the General Assembly, the Legislature fails to consider or even formally acknowledge any Master Plan when they are periodically produced.

    Cowell reiterated the findings of "A Rising Tide" that noted there is a very significant gap in higher education participation based on race, family income, and geography. He pointed out that Pennsylvania does a poor job of ensuring that all high school graduates are ready for post-secondary education, and that this failure in large part is due to Pennsylvania's very unequal and unfair system of K-12 public education with educational resources and opportunities very much dependent on the wealth of a local community. Finally, Cowell said policymakers need to think about how to extend community college opportunities to more underserved areas of the state and determine what can be done to encourage and assist more students to prepare for jobs that require technical proficiencies.

    For more information about other remarks provided to the Subcommittee, contact the office of Subcommittee Chair Lawrence Curry at (717) 787-2713.

  • EPLC President Ron Cowell appeared before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education at a special hearing in Bristol on March 26. Cowell presented comments concerning the 2007-08 State Budget and closing Pennsylvania's student achievement gap. To read Mr. Cowell's remarks, see www.eplc.org/testimony/0708budgetHouse.html.

  • The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education traveled to State College on March 27 for a public hearing on the Governor's higher education funding plans for FY 2007-2008. For more information about the hearing, contact the office of Committee Chair Dwight Evans at (717) 787-2334.

  • The new House Education Subcommittee on Special Education met on March 28 to hear presentations by the Departments of Education and Public Welfare on special education concerns and policies. PDE Special Education Bureau Director John Tommasini provided an overview of the state's special education system, including the process of developing a student's Individual Education Program (IEP), federal mandates and state responsibilities in implementing those mandates, student enrollment in special education, and program funding. Data show that the number of children in need of special services is growing. Over the past five years, students with autism have increased from 4,159 (1.3%) of the school-age student population to 10,442 (3.85%) and students with other health impairments have increased from 3,278 (1.1%) of the school-age student population 14,396 (5.31%). As of December 1, 2006, 270,931 students (14.8% of Pennsylvania's school population) received special education services.

    Tommasini also reviewed the state's plan to comply with new federal special education rules created by the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 2004. New state regulations are currently under review and must be completed by June 2008. State Board of Education Chairman Karl Girton said the Board has held public roundtables across the state on the revised special education regulations it is drafting and plans to adopt proposed regulations in May. These proposed regulations would be subject to review by the House and Senate Education Committees, IRRC and the public. The State Board hopes to adopt final regulations this fall.

    Maureen Cronin, Director of DPW's Bureau of Early Intervention Services, discussed the preschool early intervention program (EI) available to children age 3 to school age with developmental delays and disabilities and the efforts underway to coordinate this program with EI services for children from birth through toddler age by combining both programs under a single office. Since the enactment of the Early Intervention law in Pennsylvania in 1990, responsibilities have been divided between the Department of Education and the department of Public Welfare. The number of children served by EI has grown from just over 25,000 in 2000 to over 40,000 in FY 2006-07.

    Additionally, Director of DPW's Bureau of Autism Services Nina Wall Cote discussed collaboration between the Departments of Education and Public Welfare in addressing the findings of the state Autism Task Force that call for the blending and braiding of resources across state agencies. The Departments have collaborated to develop a consistent standard for diagnosing autism spectrum disorder and will begin training more professionals to diagnose this disorder this month. DPW also is collaborating with PDE to establish Autism Assessment Standards and to recommend assessment instruments that can be commonly utilized by service providers. Among its larger work, DPW also has convened a cross-systems workgroup to explore effective interventions, is exploring supports for adults with autism in post-secondary education, and is hosting forums to increase the competencies of professionals and parents in the resources available to them. For more information, contact the office of House Subcommittee Chair Representative Barbara McIlvaine-Smith at (717) 705-1922.

  • The House Education Committee heard mixed opinions to a plan to change the state's teacher certification at a public hearing it convened on March 28. The proposed regulatory revisions to Chapter 49 would change the scope of grade level certification "to ensure that preparation is aligned with the academic content and developmental needs of students," says the Board. Beginning January 1, 2012, licenses for newly certified teachers would be issued in the following areas: Early Childhood (pre-K through grade 3), Elementary/Middle (grades 4 through 8), Secondary (grades 7 through 12), Special Education/Primary, Special Education/Middle, Special Education/Secondary, and Special Education - hearing, visually and speech/language impaired (grades pre-K through 12). This change would split the state's current K-6 certificate and require that all special education teachers are dually certified in one regular education area.

    Teacher preparation programs would need to revise their program offerings to prepare students for these types of certificates, and also to meet new provisions that require teacher preparation to include at least nine credits or 270 hours of instruction in accommodations for students with disabilities and three credits or at least 90 hours of instruction in working with English language learners (ELLs). The proposal extends this attention on meeting the needs of diverse learners to all teachers by requiring teacher induction programs, moving from Level I to Level II certification, and continuing professional education to include such instruction.

    The Pennsylvania Department of Education supports this compromise version of its initial certification plan because it is based on principles that ensure opportunities for teachers to gain in-depth knowledge of child development and content appropriate for the age group they are teaching and ensure all teachers are able to effectively teach all learners, including students with disabilities and English language learners.

    But the Pennsylvania Association of Colleges and Teacher Educators (PAC-TE) is concerned that the redefined certification system would make PA teaching certificates less portable to other states. PAC-TE also voiced reservation about narrowing the scope of preparation and reducing staffing flexibility for elementary schools by splitting the current K-6 certificate. Concern over narrowing preparation and reducing staffing flexibility was echoed by the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators (PASA), which opposes splitting the elementary certificate "at a time when teachers are expected to work with a broader range of performance in their classrooms." PASA expressed further concern over the regulation's potential to cause shortages of upper elementary and special education certified teachers.

    However, those in support of the proposal say a more focused preparation will ultimately benefit students. They point to a process that allows the Secretary of Education to grant temporary waivers due to a shortage of certified personnel and to an accelerated program of study through which teachers can add additional certificates as means to address potential staffing concerns.

    The Pennsylvania State Education Association, which represents teachers, supports the compromise certification plan developed by the Board, noting that "as our classrooms change, teacher preparation programs also needs to change." Today's teachers work with an increasingly diverse student body and a growing population of ELLs and students with disabilities who are mainstreamed in regular education classrooms.

    These children, as well as the state's youngest learners, will be better served under the new certification system, said children's advocacy organization Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children (PPC). Teachers will be better prepared to meet the needs of their students because the proposed regulations "are based upon years of increasingly convincing research about the developmental learning needs of children and should, therefore, promote higher levels of achievement by children." Moreover, rather than allowing potential staffing issues to guide policy, PPC supports the regulatory exceptions "to grant both specific and general exceptions when they are justified by actual marketplace conditions" because "the benefit to children of having their teachers more appropriately prepared to meet their learning needs should trump a potential inconvenience for school administrators."

    However, the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association (PMEA) wants to pare down the number of hours devoted to preparation of working with diverse learners delivered during undergraduate teacher preparation. PMEA is concerned that adding to undergraduate preparation requirements will dilute the time available for content-related instruction, resulting in less well-prepared teachers. The Association wants no more than 90 hours (3 credit hours) of diverse learner training to be mandated during initial teacher preparation. Additional hours of training, as well as training in working with English language learners, should be included in the instruction required to move from a Level I to a permanent Level II teaching certificate, where PMEA feels it will be more relevant to teachers.

    The Education Law Center (ELC) responded to criticism about burdening teacher preparation by requiring training in meeting the needs of diverse learners by reminding the Committee that the plan does not require additional courses, but such training can be incorporated into existing courses and student teaching experiences. Further, ELC noted that many universities already have designed programs that allow undergraduates to complete full dual majors in regular and special education in four years. ELC strongly supports the proposal in order to meet the needs of today's increasingly diverse classrooms and focus the state's certification system on what it good for students, not what is convenient for others. "It is unfair to assign our children to teachers who are unprepared to meet their needs. And it is unfair to expect teachers to raise student achievement levels without also providing them with adequate training and support, starting when they first choose the profession as undergraduates and continuing throughout their careers," says ELC.

    A background paper on the proposed revisions to Chapter 49 is available at www.pde.state.pa.us/stateboard_ed/cwp/view.asp?Q=125198&A=3.

  • Information about the Pennsylvania General Assembly, including details on contacting your local state representatives and locating bills cited in this Notebook, is available at www.legis.state.pa.us/index.cfm.

    Research and Reports

  • Education Week has released its annual Technology Counts report, which is available for free download until April 15. The report says Pennsylvania is doing better than average in access to technology; 52.5% of PA students have computers in the classroom, compared to 49.5% nationally, and 79.5% of PA students have access to computers in lab/media centers, compared to 77% nationally. In terms of the number of students per computer, PA has 3.4 students per instructional computer, compared to 3.8 nationally, and 3.2 students per high-speed internet computer, compared to 3.7 nationally. The state fared below the average in Education Week's scoring of use of technology because PA does not test students on technology (4 states have policy in this area), has not established a virtual school (23 states have virtual schools), and does not offer computer-based assessments (23 states offer such assessments). Education Week does credit the Commonwealth for having technology standards.

    In terms of capacity to use technology, Education Week ranks Pennsylvania slightly above the average state, giving the Commonwealth positive remarks for including technology in its teacher standards, administrator standards and initial teacher licensure requirements, but negative points for not including technology in initial administrator licensure requirements, teacher re-certification requirements, or administrator re-certification requirements.

    Access the national and Pennsylvania specific reports at www.edweek.org/ew/toc/2007/03/29/index.html.

  • Datebook

  • Next Week...The American Education Research Association holds its annual meeting April 9-13 in Chicago. The House Education Committee holds a public hearing on Tuesday in Philadelphia on House Bills 919, 921, 922 and 923, a legislative package related to teachers. The House Education Committee holds a public hearing on Wednesday in Philadelphia on House Bill 965, related to dual enrollment. The Pennsylvania State Board of Education holds two hearings on revisions to the state's special education regulations on Wednesday in Harrisburg and on Thursday in King of Prussia. The Task Force on School Cost Reduction meets Wednesday. The Pennsylvania PTA holds its annual convention April 13-15 in Harrisburg. For information on these and other upcoming events, see www.eplc.org/calendar.html.

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