When government unions engage in labor disputes, they use their power and monopoly to remind the public of the value of their service. However, schoolchildren should never have to bear the brunt of the union’s grievances.
Martin Luther King Jr. believed that, "unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality." If correct, then no stronger love or enduring truth can personify his dream than between a caring parent and their needful child.
Pennsylvania lawmakers are considering legislation to reform the state charter school law. This legislation may include a "parent trigger" to convert failing schools into charter schools.
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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.
Who are We?
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.
Remember the shadowy group, Pennsylvanians for Accountability, which ran "shell game" prime time attack ads on Gov. Tom Corbett for "bankrolling big tax cuts for his corporate backers"? The group also ran mailers targeting several House Republicans. There was little to identify the origins of the ...