With the creation of an Infant-Toddler Standards Taskforce, plans are moving forward in Harrisburg to develop standards and assessments for Pennsylvania children aged Birth through 5 years old. The PA Department of Education (PDE) and State Board of Education (SBOE) are also spearheading Governor Rendell’s plan to add preschool children to the public schools.
The elected PA Legislature is being bypassed as the unelected PDE and SBOE significantly expand their regulatory authority . Discussion and debate among elected officials, parents, taxpayers and educators are needed!
The Commonwealth Foundation has done the math. CEO is questioning the educational, social, and fiscal ramifications of this public preschool plan. Your help is needed!
Action Alert:Insist on full discussion of the PA plan to develop public preschools (daycare centers) and Birth to age 5 standards by calling your local legislator, the PDE at
717-783-6788 and the SBOE at 717-787-3787.
To read more in CEO’s Education Advocate, click here.
To read the Commonwealth Foundation cost analysis, click here.
Pre-K programs are spreading across the country. EdWatch, a grassroots organization in Minnesota, has written extensively on this issue. To read Just Whose Children Are They?, click here.
School Safety in PA
Right now, individual school districts in Pennsylvania develop and implement their own security plans. That may change. According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, a four-member State Police Risk and Vulnerability Assessment Team is studying representative school districts across the state in order to develop recommendations for minimum school security standards. The PA DEpartment of Education has not revealed if the standards will be mandatory.
To read more, click here.
Will the Duquesne City School District close?
Years of academic and financial problems may finally overcome the Duquesne City School District. With a current enrollment of only 750 students, of which 195 attend the high school, educators fear that the district is unable to provide a viable education program.
According to state Senator Sean Logan, the state Department of Education is considering closure. The grade 9-12 students would be moved to a neighboring district first, then the K-8 situation would be reviewed. Finding a new home for the high school students may be problematic as it has been reported that several neighboring districts have already refused the transfer.
Duquesne would be the first district in the state to be dissolved for failure to solve identified academic and financial problems.
To read the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review article, click here.
To read the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article, click here.
PA Legislature studies cyber school funding
Cyber school funding has been a bone of contention among educators for several years. Students who attend cyber charter schools, which are public schools, attend for free. The cyber schools bill the student’s home district for payment. The payment formula has been set by the PA legislature.
Many public school districts complain that the payments made to cyber schools are too high – that cyber schools are cheaper to run that brick-and-mortar schools. Last week Allegheny County school superintendents asked that cyber school funding be slashed. Now a moratorium is being discussed. A hearing on the issue is scheduled for January 18th before the House Education Committee in Harrisburg.
To read a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review article, click here.
To read a companion article, click here.
Updated Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article – click here. (01/19/06)
Will the PSSA become a graduation requirement?
The facts: 87% of high school seniors graduated in PA in 2004
But – only 51% showed proficiency on the reading PSSA
and only 62% showed proficiency on the math PSSA
This discrepancy can occur because most school districts use a “local assessment,” rather than the PSSA, as the gauge for graduation. A “local assessment” can include student work, senior project, and course grades.
Therefore – the Department of Education is considering making the PSSA a graduation requirement. The PSSA will become the high-stakes PA assessment test.
In preparation for this significant move, the State Board of Education will require all school districts to certify that a proficient score on their local assessments is comparable to the PSSA scores. If the Department of Education does not agree, the district can be forced to use the PSSA as a graduation requirement. Districts that refuse could lose state funding.
To read the Harrisburg Patriot-News article, click here.
CEO Comment: PDE-watchers have expected this “PSSA Takeover” to occur. It was just a matter of time. The next anticipated step is the “NAEP Takeover.” (The NAEP is the federal assessment test that is often called “The Nation’s Report Card.”) Washington bureaucrats are already noting that the variance among state assessment tests makes comparisons difficult. And discrepancies between state assessment test scores and NAEP scores are being explored. How long will it take for the U.S. Department of Education to determine that the NAEP, which will be based on federal academic standards, is the only uniform assessment and, therefore, must be used for graduation?
To read an EdWeek article by Diane Ravitch, click here.
Does your school use TeenScreen?
TeenScreen is a 14-item, self-completion questionnaire that takes 10 minutes for students aged 11 to 18 to complete. It was developed in the psychiatric department of Columbia University. It is sold to school districts as a tool for identifying pre-suicidal children. It can label students as “mentally ill.” The label can be wrong.
“In October 2004, after taking TeenScreen…16-year-old Chelsea Rhodes of Indiana was told she has two mental health problems, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and social anxiety disorder. The diagnoses were based upon Chelsea’s responses that she liked to help clean the house and didn’t “party’ much.” 1 Chelsea’s parents filed a lawsuit against the school and TeenScreen.
As the federal government discusses mental health screening for all American children, more and more schools are submitting their students to the TeenScreen survey.
Criticism of TeenScreen is growing. Sandra Lucas, Executive Director of a mental health watchdog group called the Utah Chapter of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, provides crucial information in her article, “TeenScreen – The Making of Mental Patients.”
• There is no suicide epidemic among America’s youth. Of the 19.8 million youth between 14 and 19, the suicide rate is 0.0008%. And suicide among American youth fell 25% in the last decade.
• Psychiatric diagnoses are subjective, with few, if any, scientific tests to identify a chemical imbalance.
• 71% of Colorado teens who participated in TeenScreen were labeled with a mental disorder.
• If that percentage were extended to include all 19.8 million American youths, 14.1 million would be labeled mentally ill. Since 9 out of 10 children who receive “treatment” are given psychiatric drugs, then 12.7 million would take drugs. That could cost $1.2 Billion!
• TeenScreen’s founder, David Shaffer, and current Director, Laurie Flynn, have connections to pharmaceutical companies – the big winners in diagnosing mental illness.
• TeenScreen will not release copies of the questionnaire.
Before allowing students to take the TeenScreen survey, parents, school board directors, and administrators must thoroughly investigate all claims made by TeenScreen personnel and all critical questions that are being raised. The Internet aids in locating information, pro and con, on the TeenScreen program.
To read Ms. Lucas’ article, click here.
To reach Psych Search, a web site containing TeenScreen information, click here.
To reach TeenScreen Truth,click here.
To reach the official TeenScreen web site, click here.
1 Lucas, Sandra. “TeenScreen – The Making of Mental Patients.” 2 Jan 2006.
PA Referendum Amendment Fails to Protect Taxpayers
According to the Commonwealth Foundation, the proposed amendment to Pennsylvania Senate Bill 854 does not have the teeth needed to control the continual property tax increases to fund public education. The amendment exempts most large expenditures from any local referendum. To read the CF paper, click here.
NFF provides Civics education
The National Flag Foundation, a Pittsburgh organization, has produced two new educational DVDs that will encourage students to become more active in civic participation. The DVDs will be distributed free to schools across the country.
To read a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review article, click here.
To go to the NFF web site, click here.
Teacher union spending
A new federal rule has forced the National Education Association, the country’s largest teacher union, to disclose how they spend their money. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, the disclosure exposes “the union as a honey pot for left-wing political causes that have nothing to do with teachers, much less students.”
To read details at the Education Intelligence Agency web site, click here.
PA to debate funding of cyber charter schools
Thousands of Pennsylvania students are enrolled in numerous cyber charter schools. These schools enable students to learn independently at home while “attending” classes via the Internet.
The state funding formula, which determines the amount home districts must pay the cyber school for each student who attends, has been the center of controversy since 2000.
According to PA House Education Committee chairman, Rep. Jess Stairs, hearings will be held this year on the costs associated with cyber charter schools.
To read an eSchool article, click here.
NCES Report reveals gap between ambition and ability
of high school seniors
A report from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) shows that many high school seniors who make college plans for are not academically prepared. While 69% of America’s high school seniors in 2004 expressed the desire to complete a 4-year college degree or higher – 21% of them could not perform simple operations with decimals
– 38% could not accomplish “simple problem solving”
– 65% could not do intermediate-level math
– only 4% could handle “complex multi-step word problems and advanced mathematics”
“This illustrates a reality gap between students’ expectations and their skills.”
Michael J. Petrilli, Thomas B. Fordham Foundation
To read the full article in School Reform News, click here.
PA ranks #1 in debt!
Pennsylvania school districts are leading the country in long-term debt. According to federal statistics, this debt burden averages $10,450 for each of the state’s 1.8 million students. That is $1,500 more than Michigan, the #2 state.
How can this happen in PA? One clear answer is the lack of taxpayer curbs on school spending. With no required referendum and little recourse, taxpayers can become saddled with excessive bond issues and other debts passed by local school boards.
There are some legitimate reasons to build or renovate. Many districts have buildings that are 50 years old, built for the post-WW II baby boom. Other school districts are experiencing rapid growth and need new schools.
Despite these reasons, there is also the Taj Mahal Factor – school districts wanting the biggest and the best and the most expensive facilities.
To read the Tribune-Review article, click here. To view the accompanying chart of local school district debt, click here.
Making NCLB more flexible
The federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) education law has been controversial from its signing in January 2002. Margaret Spellings, the current U.S. Secretary of Education, has promised some flexibility in its implementation. The Boston Globe reports that up to ten states will be allowed to measure student learning increases by measuring the annual growth of individual students rather than using the current system of comparing different groups of students each year. Measuring annual learning growth is also known as “value added” testing.
The Pennsylvania Department of Education is already piloting valued added assessments. Several school districts are tracking the annual growth of students to see if they actually receive a year’s worth of education. PA’s system uses the PSSA (state assessment) scores as the basis for determining student growth. Value added assessment can ensure that even gifted students learn a whole year’s worth of material in a school year.
Only states that have the necessary data systems will be able to be among the ten states that will pilot the federal program.
To read more, click here.