EPLC Education Notebook

Thursday, February 15, 2007

You can sign-up now for EPLC'S 5th Annual Education Policy and Leadership Conference that will be held March 29-30 at the Radisson Hotel in Camp Hill (just outside Harrisburg). Discounted rates are available for school district teams of 3 or more. Registration materials and a preliminary agenda are available at www.eplc.org/conference.html.

    Pennsylvania Education Policy Activity

  • Senators on the Education Committee heard mixed reactions to the State Board of Education’s proposal to revise Pennsylvania’s teacher preparation and certification system at a public hearing the Committee hosted on Tuesday. 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 regulatory proposal extends this attention on meeting the needs of diverse learners to all teachers by requiring continuing teacher education (teacher induction programs, some credits needed to move from Level I to Level II certification, and school district professional education plans) to provide training in working with special needs students and ELLs.

    The Pennsylvania Association of Colleges and Teacher Educators (PAC-TE) expressed concern that the redefined certification system would make Pennsylvania 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 staffing flexibility were echoed by the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators (PASA), which opposes the proposed regulations, and the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.

    PASA disagrees with splitting the elementary certificate and narrowing the focus of elementary teaching preparation “at a time when teachers are expected to work with a broader range of performance in their classrooms.” Rather than implementing the proposed changes, PASA feels “the real need is to expand the quality of our teacher preparation by increasing their understanding of content, utilizing information technologies, cognitive research, and knowing how to apply the content to real world situations.” However, those in support of the proposal say a more focused preparation will ultimately benefit students.

    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.”

    PASA expressed further concern that the proposed certificates could have the unintended consequence of making it difficult for districts to respond to year-to-year changes in student population by limiting staffing flexibility in elementary schools and could potentially reduce the number of secondary special education teachers. However, supporters pointed to regulatory safe guards that would allow the Secretary of Education to grant temporary waivers for individual schools, districts or the state should a shortage of certified personnel occur.

    The proposal also includes an accelerated program of study through which early childhood certificate holders could earn an additional elementary/middle certificate and elementary/middle certificate holders could earn an additional early childhood certificate. Rather than allowing potential staffing issues to guide policy, PPC advocated support for 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.”

    A background paper on the proposed revisions to Chapter 49 is available at www.pde.state.pa.us/stateboard_ed/lib/stateboard_ed/Teacher_Certification_FAQ_1.24.07.doc.

  • On Monday, the Senate Appropriations Committee moved forward the following bills for consideration by the full chamber:

    Senate Bill 71: Requires all school entities to adopt policies related to bullying or to amend their code of student conduct to include consequences for bullying. SB 71 also allows the Office for Safe Schools to make grants to schools for developing and implementing bullying prevention programs as part of the targeted grants the Office is currently authorized to make.

    Senate Bill 154: Requires school districts in which one or more schools did not meet academic performance targets to revise their professional development plans to focus on subjects in which they failed to meet targets, methods to improve the achievement of student subgroups, and training for instructional coaches. Also, requires the Department of Education to provide a clearinghouse of continuing education experiences cataloged by area of assignment, certification area, and topic. Additionally, SB 154 was amended previously to include pre-kindergarten educators in a professional development plan's early childhood activities; current law references only kindergarten through third grade educators for participation in early childhood activities.

    Senate Bill 155: Allows intermediate units to coordinate a pool of educational advisors to provide assistance to schools and school districts identified for school improvement or corrective action; assistance would be provided upon request. Also, establishes qualifications for educational advisors.

    Senate Bill 157: Requires intermediate units to provide academic assistance to school districts in which one or more schools did not meet the state's academic performance targets and to coordinate a team to develop an academic improvement plan for the district.

    Senate Bill 158: Requires school districts to establish parent involvement programs, policies, and committees.

    Senate Bill 219: Allows nurse practitioners and physician assistants to authorize paperwork required for teacher licensure which certifies that the individual seeking a teaching certificate is not mentally or physically disqualified from performing teaching duties. Currently only physicians may certify this requirement. SB 219 also includes an unrelated provision that requires the Pennsylvania Department of Education to, at a minimum, prescribe a method for prospective school employees to submit fingerprints to be transmitted to the FBI for criminal background checks. Under current law, certain applicants must submit federal criminal history records along with applications for employment beginning April 1, 2007.

  • Like the State Senate, the Pennsylvania House has added online records of roll call votes on legislation considered before the full House to the General Assembly's web site, as well as daily reports of session activity. Access these legislative records through the General Assembly's homepage at www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/session.cfm.

  • Rep. William Adolph (R-165) has been elected the new chairman of the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA). Adolph replaces Rep. Elinor Z. Taylor, who retired from the legislature. Sen. Sean Logan (D-45) was elected vice chair of PHEAA. Logan replaces Sen. Vince Fumo (D-1) who stepped down following a federal indictment.

  • 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.

    Pennsylvania Education Policy E-Forum

  • EPLC's Web Site now includes the NEW Pennsylvania Education Policy E-Forum. The E-Forum is a series of short articles submitted to EPLC upon invitation about significant education policy issues. New E-Forum topics will be added periodically.

    The first series of E-Forum articles reflect reactions to Governor Rendell's proposed 2007-2008 education budget. Check out the inaugural edition of the Pennsylvania Education Policy E-Forum at www.eplc.org/eforum.html.

  • Datebook

  • EPLC's day-long regional Workshops for 2007 school board candidates continue through next month in Mechanicsburg (February 24), Allentown (March 3) and Monroeville (March 10). The Workshops are being offered by EPLC with the cooperation of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA). Workshops are intended for incumbent board members and new candidates, as well as all citizens who plan to be actively involved in school board elections as campaign volunteers or community leaders. Registration is $30 which includes lunch, break refreshments, and materials. For more information and a registration form, please see www.eplc.org/schoolboardworkshop.html.

  • Good Schools Pennsylvania will host several town forums on public education to provide a venue for citizens to learn about Pennsylvania's education costing-out study, meet with their state legislators, and share their visions for public education. Upcoming events are planned for Lancaster on Thursday, February 22, and West Lawn on Thursday, March 1. Each event is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m. For more information, contact Dave Smith at (717) 371-1516 or dave@goodschoolspa.org.

  • Next Week...EPLC will host two Pennsylvania Education Policy Forums on Wednesday (February 21) in Harrisburg and Thursday (February 22) in Pittsburgh. These events were rescheduled from Feb. 14 and Feb. 15 due to weather conditions. The House Appropriations Committee hosts a budget hearing for the State System of Higher Education on Wednesday. EPLC hosts a Workshop for 2007 School Board Candidates on Saturday (February 24) in Mechanicsburg. The National Association of Secondary School Principals holds its annual conference on February 23-25 in Las Vegas. For information on these and other upcoming events, see www.eplc.org/calendar.html.

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