With a composite score of 1480, Pennsylvania now ranks 37th in the nation. You can view the full state profile here.
A more accurate comparison of state achievement, however, factors in student participation. States with high participation rates have a larger percentage of the student population taking the test, including lower-achieving students, which often translates to lower average scores. Therefore, we have also created a table ranking states with participation rates similar to Pennsylvania (see "high participation states" in the table below).
According to the College Board's 2013 SAT Report on College & Career Readiness, only 43 percent of SAT takers from the class of 2013 are prepared for college course work, matching the rate from the past 5 years.
The College Board suggest these national trends signal a "call to action." Pennsylvania must heed this call and push for dramatic changes to our current approach to education, which throws more money at underachieving schools. Instead, we should give parents the power to choose which school best fits their child's unique needs. School choice has shown to improve student achievement at a lower costs to taxpayers.
Note: According to The College Board, the percentage of high school graduates is based upon the recently revised projection of high school graduates in 2013 by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE), and the number of students in the class of 2013 who took the SAT in each state. Therefore, participation rates from prior years are not fully comparable to those listed above.
The Pennsylvania School Performance Profile launched today, but will it deliver the "accountability system" Acting Secretary of Education Carolyn Dumaresq promised in a briefing earlier this month?
Created through a federal waiver from the mandates of No Child Left Behind, this web-based resource aims to measure proficiency and growth of Pennsylvania schools using self-reported data from each district and school. PDE hopes it will give parents and taxpayers a clearer picture of school performance than the current standard of Adequate Yearly Progress.
A school receives a score based upon raw student performance (as measured by all four PSSA tests and Keystone Exams), ability to close the achievement gap amongst demographic groups, academic growth of students from year to year, and other factors. Based on these scores schools can be designated "Title 1 schools," with "priority schools" (those scoring the lowest 15 percent) requiring department intervention.
Dumaresq stressed the new system's ability to drive specific improvements. The system is also supposed to be a tool for the public. But the question remains: will this information empower parents and enhance students' opportunities?
The true goal of the School Performance Profile is not just to grade schools, but to provide information parents, educators and lawmakers can access and use to improve schools and choose the best education options for students.
You can view the School Performance Profile now—some schools do not yet have performance data available yet—and tell us what you think.
Things have reached a fever pitch in Philadelphia as the city's school district—the eighth-largest in America—is scrambling to close its $300 million deficit and open schools on time. As protestors close in on City Hall and the clock runs down on the start of a new school year, it's worth looking at what's really behind the school funding crisis in Philadelphia.
1. Philadelphia's violent, failing schools are the real crisis, not funding. We've pointed out for years that the real problem in Philadelphia is how district schools are failing students and families. Philadelphia spends $14,000 per student, right at the state average. But despite that, students perform poorly. Whether you look at state tests or national benchmarks, only 20 to 30 percent of Philadelphia students can read or do math at grade level. What's tragically worse is the danger and violence students suffer on a daily basis: In 2011-12 alone, district schools saw 2,310 assaults on students and staff, 15 rapes, 166 indecent assaults, 86 robberies, 157 thefts and 566 weapons possessions.
2. Emergency funding won't fix the spending problem. In fact, the gap is going to get worse. Despite the focus on getting $50 million in emergency funding from the state, and the layoffs of 3,800 teachers and school workers (some of whom are being rehired), Philadelphia's pension costs alone are set to exceed this year's $300 million budget gap by 2020. Simply raising taxes and pouring money into Philadelphia schools won't fix this long-term crisis brought on by failed policies.
3. School union leaders are driving the crisis. Everyone agrees that good teachers deserve to be paid adequately, but the demands of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers (PFT) have been unreasonable for years. In a district with struggling students and chronic money woes, the PFT's last contract was padded with unnecessary perks. The year 2010-11 alone saw $2.6 million for a legal services fund that covered employees' personal needs such as preparing a will or buying a home; $15.3 million in severance pay; and virtually free health care for employees (that cost the district $165 million—with an extra $66 million for vision, prescription and dental benefits).
Now PFT union leaders are refusing to make financial concessions—regardless of the impact on students—even as their contract is due to expire Aug. 31. They are also worsening the crisis by fighting the school district's suspension of seniority rules. But such rules simply protect longstanding teachers without regard for whether they're the best educators.
4. Charter schools are rescuing students. With the inflexible and expensive teachers' contract, the school district has been hard-pressed to focus its spending better on students, or even downsize as it should given falling enrollment. Unsurprisingly, desperate families want out of Philadelphia's violent, failing schools and are flocking to charter schools. In the last five years alone, enrollment in district schools has dropped 17 percent, while charter enrollment has nearly doubled.
5. Families need more school choice. The explosion in charter schools shows that parents want out of persistently failing public schools. Expanding charter school options, as well as tax credit scholarships, throws an immediate lifeline to students while forcing the school district to spend more effectively and improve its standards—a trend that has improved schools in other major cities. That's the silver lining in the Philadelphia schools crisis: Kids may finally get the education they deserve.
Here is a letter to the editor I submitted to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Pennsylvania cyber school performance:
Mary Niederberger reports on a new, largely positive charter school study by Stanford University by taking an odd swipe at Pennsylvania cyber schools, blaming them for the state's poor charter school performance.
Cyber charter schools have proven immensely popular with Pennsylvania families, who appreciate the flexibility and individualized learning these public schools offer. Some 35,000 students now attend the schools, which begs the question: If cyber schools perform so poorly, why are parents choosing them?
Cyber schools frequently function as "last-chance" institutions for students who have fallen behind or failed in traditional public schools. One-third of cyber school students are from school districts that failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress, and half of all cyber students are economically disadvantaged.
Given a few years at cyber school, many of these students improve in reading and math, and students do even better if they start at cyber school. At the Midland-based Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, for example--the state's largest--long-time students scored 17 percent higher in math and 14 percent higher in reading compared to newly enrolled students.
Certainly, Pennsylvania’s poorly performing charter or cyber charter schools should be forced to improve or be closed. But the same fate should befall persistently failing school districts that continue to flounder despite ever-increasing funding.
A healthy public school system that genuinely serves Pennsylvania students will have choices to serve different needs, while closing failing schools so our kids get a second chance before it's too late. Let's not forget that many cyber and other charter schools serve as lifelines to desperate families.
For more on cyber school funding, performance and popularity, please see our latest Policy Memo.
EDITORS NOTE: Click here for the 2013 SAT Scores by state
How did states compare on the SAT in 2012?
The College Board's 2012 annual report on college and career readiness includes average SAT scores by state. Since this data can be difficult to find on the College Board's website, we've organized and compiled it below.
It's difficult to make an apples-to-apples comparison between states simply by ranking them on mean SAT score. Some states have a high SAT participation rate, which means a larger percentage of the student population—and more lower-achieving students—take the test. Pennsylvania is one of these states and tends to have a lower mean SAT score because of it.
To account for this, we've also ranked Pennsylvania among states with similar participation rates in another tab on the spreadsheet below. This gives us a better idea of how we rate against comparable states.
Pennsylvania ranks 38th in mean SAT score, lagging behind most of its Mid-Atlantic and New England neighbors. Notably, Pennsylvania was outscored by New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Virginia, all with comparable participation rates (see page 39).
The College Board's Pennsylvania state profile shows Pennsylvania's SAT scores have remained flat since the data was first compiled in 1972, despite a doubling of education spending since 1997. In fact, last year Pennsylvania earned its lowest ever score in Critical Reading.
All of this suggests that pouring more money into failing schools will not bring results absent fundamental education reform.
posted by NATE HEETER | 01:41 PM | Comments
Hannah and Alyssa will tell you that the freedom to choose a school that works for them was essential to their academic success. They are just two of the 32,000 students across the nation enrolled in cyber schools. But you don’t have to take their word for it. Now, there is new research backing the academic benefits of school choice, specifically voucher programs.
A new report from the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice found that children and families who utilize school vouchers achieve better educational outcomes. According to "A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice," 11 out of 12 "gold standard" studies showed that students excel with school choice vouchers, and none suffer when they chose educational options outside of the public school realm.
The report also found that 22 out of 23 studies on how school choice impacts public education showed that competition actually improved public school performance. No research concluded that school choice harms public schools.
The Friedman Foundation also reviewed empirical research related to the impact school choice has on taxpayers, diversity and civic values. Research consistently supports school choice in those areas.
Despite decades of carping by skeptics, vouchers and school choice in any form are a win-win for children—whether they attend private school or remain in a public school affected by school choice, said Robert Enlow, president and CEO of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. Competition works in all segments of our society, and it certainly helps children when they’re permitted to attend a school that fits their needs.
Pennsylvanians don't have to look far to see school choice at work. Last week, kids and parents celebrated the 12th anniversary of the Educational Improvement Tax Credit program. The program has allowed hundreds of thousands of children to escape failing schools while saving taxpayers millions of dollars.
In the past two years, five new states have adopted private school choice, and other states have expanded their school choice options, including the Pennsylvania's Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit—a lifeline for kids trapped in violent and failing schools.
posted by AMY CLINGENSMITH MONGIOVI | 10:44 AM | Comments
A new national school standard known as "Common Core" is fast becoming known for superseding state and local authority over public education curricula. Using cutting edge data collection and analysis techniques, the program is designed to streamline K-12 education and raise our world standing in education.
But a comprehensive study by the American Principles Project warns of increased costs and privacy concerns as the main reasons Common Core may do more harm than good. Why did 45 states sign up for a program that requires them to, "relinquish their autonomy over public education?" Money, of course.
The federal government offered a $4 billion incentive in the form of "Race to the Top" education grants contingent on accepting Common Core standards. All but four states complied, ignoring unanswered questions of cost and quality in favor of a quick money grab.
A growing number of states have begun rethinking their commitment to the curriculum as full implementation approaches later this year, while a coalition of grassroots activists are pushing back here in Pennsylvania.
When it comes to improving public education, there's one proven solution: school choice. Giving parents the freedom to choose the best education for their child is fundamental to boosting student achievement.
That's why the worst feature of Common Core is its one-size-fits-all approach to standards—transferring authority over to bureaucrats and test design consultants rather than families.
StudentsFirst, a bipartisan education reform group, released report cards for all 50 states evaluating individual state education laws and policies—and the news wasn't good for Pennsylvania, which received a "D+" overall. Although 31 states did worse, and the state scored higher on some measures—such as a "B" in comprehensive evaluation of teachers—Pennsylvania is still lagging on important fronts.
On empowering parents with information, for example, Pennsylvania scored an "F." If parents don't have a simple way to assess the performance of local schools, which Pennsylvania currently lacks, how will they know if they need to seek alternative education options for their children? One reform would be to require that each school receive an annual report, which would provide a letter grade (A-F) based on student achievement.
StudentsFirst further recommends that the state be required to notify parents on teacher effectiveness. Another policy factoring into weak parental empowerment: Pennsylvania lacks a parent trigger law that would allow a majority of parents to turn around failing and poorly managed schools.
Pennsylvania also received a "D" on school choice. Although the state has made progress in this area, there is no comprehensive opportunity scholarship program available to all students to escape failing public schools.
Another problem in providing school choice is how we treat charter schools. Only school districts are permitted to authorize charter schools (which, as we've mentioned, is like asking McDonald's to authorize the opening of a new Wendy's next door). This limits charter school growth because districts are reluctant to give up funds to the newly authorized schools. The state should also establish clearer rules for closing down failing charter schools and rewarding good ones, and make funding more equitable across all types of public school options.
To grade states, StudentsFirst used three policy pillars—elevating teaching, empowering parents and using resources wisely—with multiple categories under each pillar. As such, the states ranked 1 and 2 respectively, Florida and Louisiana, have done much to reform public education. Explaining the dismal results for most states, StudentsFirst CEO Michelle Rhee wrote:
Our schools are supposed to be America's great equalizers, ensuring every kid a shot at success. We know, given the right tools, that every student can achieve at high levels. Maybe sending our state education systems home with an "F" or a "D" is the strong jolt lawmakers need to remember that student-centered education policies are the foundations on which strong schools are built.
Pennsylvania State Education Association President Mike Crossey takes issue with the film "Won't Back Down" for not matching "real-life experience" on teachers unions. He's right—in real life, teachers unions are worse than Hollywood depicted.
Our first proposal was a moderate amendment to the teachers union contract, modeled after contracts AFT affiliates had already approved in other districts. The proposal would have maintained Desert Trails as a wall-to-wall unionized, district-run school. The district rejected it.
Then representatives of the district and union struck back with a calculated rescission campaign. Their tactics made the dirty tricks depicted in the movie "Won't Back Down" seem tame by comparison.
They told some parents the school would be shut down as a result of their efforts. They took photographs of the parents who refused to rescind their signatures. Some parents who were undocumented felt their immigration status was being used against them.
That's the real face of union bosses when they're challenged. Courts have finally ruled that Diaz's petition from parents is legitimate, and they can open their new charter school, but she didn't get her quick Hollywood ending because the teachers union blocked her at every step.
Crossey also contends Pennsylvania should be proud that its students do well on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test, with only a "handful" of states doing significantly better. He neglects to note the actual NAEP proficiencies in reading and math for 4th- and 8th-graders, which hover around 40 percent, and which mean the majority of Pennsylvania children aren't learning at grade level.
Teachers unions are indeed a barrier to improving student performance, largely because they support a host of education policies that create education stagnation: Protecting scale pay, work hours, and weak job performance over student needs; lobbying against proven forms of school choice, such as opportunity scholarships and charter schools; and advocating for higher and higher spending when such spending doesn't improve academic performance.
Educational reality is indeed no match for Hollywood. What parents and children in Pennsylvania face is far more daunting.
A new study of academic performance in Ohio finds that traditional public schools facing competition from charter schools experience greater gains in student learning. In summarizing the findings, the author notes:
The results of this article suggest Ohio traditional public schools have responded positively in academic achievement to the threat of charter schools locating near them. Even after considering the sanctions of No Child Left Behind, the positive estimates yielded close to a tenth of a standard deviation in improvement. In the broader sense, this article indicates that schools, similarly to people and businesses, respond to incentives and consequences.
This trend is clear when looking across the globe as well. Andrew Coulson notes that international comparisons show that countries where students are given more choice do better—even though they spend less per student than American schools.
In fact, according to the latest PISA international test results, the Netherlands, Belgium, Australia, and Canada all significantly outperform the United States in every subject tested. They also all spend less than the United States per pupil, and make use of choice and market incentives such as competition between schools, to varying degrees.
Pennsylvania lawmakers have an opportunity to give parents more control over their children's education. As Jay Ostrich notes in his latest commentary, pending charter school reform legislation would make it easier for charter schools to operate without seeking approval from their competitors and may include a "parent trigger" to empower parents to take control over a public school.
Click here to take action now to empower parents!
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The Commonwealth Foundation is Pennsylvania's free-market think tank. The Commonwealth Foundation crafts free-market policies, convinces Pennsylvanians of their benefits, and counters attacks on liberty.