Academic Achievement




Recent Issues

A Smarter Way to Fund Students

NOVEMBER 20, 2014 | Commentary by JAMES PAUL

Imagine writing a large check for a new car and finding out a year later that it fails safety tests, won’t pass inspection, and needs thousands in repairs. You’d probably be demanding answers from the dealership. If the only solution they offered was the exact same car but for more money—would you take it? That’s essentially the deal Pennsylvanians are being offered on public education—disappointing results from a broken system that they’re t

Is Second Worst Good Enough for York Students?

NOVEMBER 10, 2014 | Commentary by JAMES PAUL

The second lowest-performing school district in Pennsylvania is asking for more time to improve but refusing recommended reforms. Unfortunately, more time is not something students and families in York City can afford.

How PFT Fails Philadelphia Students, Teachers & the Poor

OCTOBER 16, 2014 | News Release by COMMONWEALTH FOUNDATION

October 16, 2014, PHILADELPHIA, Pa.—Academic failure, school violence, and broken dreams: This is the failed legacy that years of Pennsylvania Federation of Teachers' leadership has left Philadelphia’s students and teachers—and all for political gain.





Recent Blog Posts

The State of School Choice in Pennsylvania

JANUARY 27, 2015

In many respects, Pennsylvania is a pioneer of school choice. With 173 charter schools—14 of which are cyber charters—and two scholarship tax credit programs, the commonwealth is the envy of choice advocates across the country. But as we recognize and celebrate National School Choice Week, more can be done to ensure that each Pennsylvania child has the opportunity to reach her full potential.

As Philadelphia's School Reform Commission (SRC) weighs the application of 40 charter schools—many of which have an impressive track record of serving city students—House speaker Mike Turzai is optimistic that multiple new charters will be granted permission to open in Philadelphia:

We are very hopeful that when the final decisions get made that a significant number of the charter applicants are approved.

During the most recent school year, the average Philadelphia charter school outperformed traditional public schools on the Pennsylvania State Performance Profile. What makes this even more impressive is that charter schools spend and receive fewer dollars per student than their district counterparts. Given the academic success of the charter sector, as well as the sizeable demand for schools of choice, the SRC should approve the highest-performing applicants and allow more Philadelphia families to reap the benefits of choice.

In Pennsylvania, school districts are tasked with authorizing new charter applications. This arrangement makes it difficult for even the highest quality charter schools to open new buildings. School districts are fully aware that by approving a new charter school they are essentially approving a new competitor. In order to realign incentives to promote great schools, lawmakers should pursue statewide or university authorizers for charters.

The commonwealth is the first state in the country to enact an education scholarship tax credit aimed at corporations. Thanks to the passage of the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program in 2001, more than 430,000 scholarships have been awarded to students from low- and middle-income families seeking better, safer schools.

Scholarship tax credit programs exist in a dozen states, and Pennsylvania is one of only three states to have multiple programs. In 2012, Pennsylvania enacted its second tax credit program—the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC). This program is reserved for low-income students residing in the geographic boundaries of the lowest-achieving public schools in Pennsylvania.

In 2013-14, the OSTC provided more than 7,000 scholarships. Legislation passed late last fall streamlined and simplified the application process for both tax credit programs, which should lead to even greater participation in coming years.

The EITC is capped at $100 million—with $60 million reserved specifically for K-12 scholarships—while the OSTC is capped at $50 million. Lawmakers should look to increase these caps and provide more scholarships—at a savings for taxpayers—to students in need.  

Education savings accounts (ESA) are another innovative policy for Pennsylvania lawmakers to consider as a complement to the tax credit programs. ESAs, which have been implemented in Arizona and Florida, could allow parents to deposit their tax credit scholarship funds into a savings account that can be spent with more flexibility.

Instead of reserving the funds strictly for scholarships, ESAs allow parents to purchase textbooks, tutoring services, online courses, curriculum materials, standardized tests, educational therapies, and other approved items. Unspent ESA funds roll over from one year to the next and can be eventually used to pay for college tuition. Lawmakers supportive of the EITC and OSTC should look at ESAs as the logical next step for school choice in Pennsylvania.

posted by JAMES PAUL | 05:00 PM | Comments

Are Charter Schools Too Popular?

JANUARY 16, 2015

Charter schools

Of the 40 applications for new charter schools in Philadelphia, surely a few should not be approved by the School Reform Commission (SRC). Each individual applicant has its own strengths, weaknesses, and visions for expanding educational opportunity. It seems reasonable that some schools receive a green-light while others are turned away.

According to a report from Public Citizens for Children and Youth (PCCY), however, all 40 charter applicants should be flatly rejected. Why? Because they will be too popular and attract too many students.

The charter slots requested could grow total charter enrollment to 104,642 students or approximately 51 percent of the District’s total enrollment. Nationally, Philadelphia ranks 3rd highest for percentage of students who are enrolled in charter schools, trailing only New Orleans and Detroit.

Clearly there is a reason why so many students are fleeing the traditional schooling model in Philadelphia. Yet defenders of the education status-quo want to force these families to remain trapped in an unsatisfactory system.

PCCY also bemoans that only 40 percent of the schools currently operated by applicants for new charters exceeded a score 70 on the 2013 Department of Education State Performance Profile (SPP). The report fails to mention that the 2013 average district SPP score was 57.5. This means that roughly 70 percent of the schools currently operated by new charter applicants exceed the district’s average SPP score.

The SRC is tasked with selecting the best applicants in a city desperate for more choice and better options. Rather than following PCCY's lead and stubbornly lumping all charter schools into the same group, each applicant should be evaluated on its own merit. 

posted by JAMES PAUL | 03:00 PM | Comments

SAT Scores by State 2014

DECEMBER 22, 2014

Every year, the College Board releases its SAT Report on College & Career Readiness, which includes SAT data for individual states. We've organized this data into one convenient spreadsheet (embedded below), ranking the states by their mean composite SAT scores.

How does Pennsylvania rank?

Pennsylvania ranks 37th in the nation with a composite score of 1481, lagging behind the national average. You can view Pennsylvania's full profile here.

A fifty state comparison is less meaningful, though, than looking at the narrower category of high participation states.

States with high participation rates, including Pennsylvania, tend to have lower average scores because most high school seniors—not just the highest performers—take the SAT. In other states, most students take the ACT. We have also included below a ranking of states with high participation rates in order to better rank Pennsylvania among states with comparable participation.

To improve the performance of Pennsylvania students, Pennsylvania parents need greater school choice to select the best school for their children.

posted by LINDSEY WANNER | 05:16 PM | Comments



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The Commonwealth Foundation is Pennsylvania's free-market think tank.  The Commonwealth Foundation transforms free-market ideas into public policies so all Pennsylvanians can flourish.