EPLC Education Notebook

Thursday, September 3, 2009

    Content in this edition:
    Some Good News – PSSA Results Announced by PDE
    Some Bad News - Pennsylvania State Budget
    Pennsylvania School Funding Campaign
    U.S. Department of Education
    Research and Reports
    EPLC News – EPLC on Facebook

    The EPLC Education Notebook (current and past editions) also is available by visiting the EPLC website at www.eplc.org/ednotebook.html.


    Seventy-eight percent of schools and 95 percent of school districts met the state’s academic achievement targets for adequate yearly progress (AYP) in 2009, according to new PSSA results released by the PA Department of Education (PDE) this week.  In announcing the results, Gov. Ed Rendell said the progress shows that the state’s strategic investments in education are clearly benefitting Pennsylvania’s students and that the Commonwealth must stay the course to adequately fund all schools.

    According to PDE, school districts that received the most significant increases in state funding since 2002 saw an average 37 percent increase in the proportion of students performing at grade level in reading and math.  Further, districts where state investments increased by at least $2,000 per student reduced the number of students scoring in the lowest performance category by more than 17,500 in grades 5, 8 and 11 (the three grades tested longest).

    However, Rendell said the districts that continue to face the greatest achievement challenges are those that lack adequate resources.  PDE reports that 81 percent of students are on grade level in districts that are investing at the per student adequacy funding target identified for them in the state’s Costing-Out Study.  But, districts with the statewide average per student funding gap have 10 percent fewer students on grade level, and districts with the greatest adequacy funding gaps (at least $3,000 per student) have one-third fewer students performing on grade level.

    To make AYP in 2009, a school or district must have at least 63 percent of its students performing at grade level in reading and at lest 56 percent of students performing at grade level in math; have a 10 percent reduction in the number of students who scored below grade level in reading or math in 2008; or make gains that put a school on track to reach academic targets in two years.  For the most recent PSSA and AYP results, check out these resources from PDE: www.pde.state.pa.us/a_and_t/cwp/view.asp?a=3&pm=1&Q=150034 and http://paayp.emetric.net/.



  • The Pennsylvania 2009-2010 state budget impasse continues.  The joint House-Senate Budget Conference Committee met publicly this week to discuss a budget spend number and recurring revenue sources to balance the budget, but remain divided on both issues despite some earlier apparent narrowing of differences.  House and Senate Democratic leaders said they and Gov. Ed Rendell support a $28.1 billion budget plan, while House Republicans presented an alternative $27.5 billion budget.  Legislative staff will prepare a comparison of the two plans to be reviewed at a future meeting, the date of which has not been determined.

  • Gov. Rendell appeared at a Norristown middle school this week to call for a state budget that adequately invests in education to continue Pennsylvania’s student achievement gains and avoid local property tax increases.  Click here for more information from PDE.



    Schools are opening across the Commonwealth – last week, this week, and next week.  If the 1.8 million children heading back to school are watching, what lessons do we want them to learn from their grown-up leaders?

    Unfortunately, some members of the General Assembly are engaged in the old politics of division – pitting Philadelphia against the rest of the state, claiming that if the legislature provides the full second year of funding for the new state formula, the Philadelphia school district will somehow get too much.  This ignores the simple fact that the funding approved by the Legislature last year is based on an actual formula that measures students’ needs for adequate programs – not some ad hoc school funding mechanism or a political deal thrown together during budget negotiations.

    Take action today.  Ask your legislators to pass a state budget – the right budget – that continues to implement the school funding reforms begun last year.

    For more information on the Pennsylvania School Funding Campaign, please visit www.paschoolfunding.org.



    In effort to turn around the 5,000 lowest-performing schools over the next five years, the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) has announced draft requirements for $3.5 billion in Title I School Improvement Grants to support state and local efforts to reform their lowest-performing schools.  Under the proposed rules, states would be required to identify three tiers of their lowest-performing schools (Tiers would be identified based on USDE guidelines).  In their application to the state, eligible school districts would be required to implement one of the following interventions in their Tier I and Tier II schools:

    • Turnaround Model: School districts would, among other things, replace a school’s principal and at least half of the school’s staff, adopt a new governance structure, and implement a new or revised instructional program.
    • Restart Model: School districts would close failing schools and reopen the schools as a charter school or under the management of an educational management organization.
    • School Closure: Districts would close a failing school and enroll students in high-achieving schools in the district.
    • Transformational Model: Districts would address four specific areas critical to transforming the lowest-achieving schools: teacher and school leader effectiveness; instructional reform strategies; extending learning and teacher planning time and creating community-orientated schools; and providing operational flexibility and sustained support.

    A district with 9 or more schools identified for school improvement will not be allowed to implement any single strategy in more than half of its schools.

    The proposed requirements would allow states and school districts to use school improvement funds to assist low-performing secondary schools that are eligible for, but don’t receive, Title I money (Tier II schools), as well as their feeder middle schools.  States also would be required to allocate sufficient school improvement funds to school districts to match, as closely as possible, Tier I schools’ budgets for implementing one of the four proposed interventions.  The proposal addresses the need to provide sufficient resources over several years by allowing the Secretary to waive the period of availability of school improvement funds beyond September 30, 2011, making those funds available for three years.  For details, click here.



    Research for Action (RFA) has released a new study on the implementation, progress and early student achievement outcomes of 25 new small high schools established between 2003 and 2007 in the School District of Philadelphia.  The report examines whether conversion to smaller neighborhood high schools (less than 700 students) is a viable alternative to the district’s larger neighborhood high schools – which typically enroll between 800 and 3,000 students and are consistently among the lowest-performing schools in the district.  The initial findings show that students in these smaller high schools were more likely to pass algebra than in large high schools, have a greater sense of safety, and develop supportive teacher-student relationships that lead to a family environment within the school.  Smaller high schools also reported lower suspension rates.  However, according to the report, reducing the size of the high school alone does not automatically create academic success or improved school climate.  The report makes several recommendations concerning the need for adequate support and resources to meet the challenges of students who are the least prepared for high school.



    Kathleen (Kacy) Conley has been named the new Director of the PA Statewide Afterschool/Youth Development Network (PSAYDN), a project of the Center for Schools and Communities.  Conley previously served as Director of Urban Partnerships and Advocacy for the YMCA of Central Maryland.



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EPLC Education Notebook is published by The Education Policy and Leadership Center (EPLC). Permission to reprint or electronically redistribute the Notebook in whole or in part is granted provided attribution to EPLC is provided.

The Education Policy and Leadership Center is an independent, non-partisan and not-for-profit organization. The Mission of EPLC is to encourage and support the enactment and implementation of effective state-level education policies in order to improve student learning in grades P-12, increase the effective operation of schools, and enhance educational opportunities for citizens of all ages.

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