Cyber charters face cuts

11-25-13 Cyber chartersPennsylvania may cut funding to cyber charters amid charges of high turnover and poor results, reports the Pennsylvania Independent. Charter school leaders and education reformers are split on the proposed legislation.

Under S.B. 1085, online charter schools would have to operate at 60 percent of the budget of a traditional public school.

Virtual schools don’t attract the average mix of students. Even the good ones will have high turnover. Traditional funding methods don’t work.

ACLU questions zero tolerance

Policies designed to keep guns out of schools are pushing Pennsylvania students out of school, charges Beyond Zero Tolerance, a new report by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania.

Black, Latino and disabled students are the most likely to be suspended, according to the report.

The Gun-Free Schools Act of 1995 required states that receive federal funding to mandate expulsion of any students caught with a weapon on campus.

Districts expanded the definition of “weapons” beyond firearms and removed students from the classroom for more minor, discretionary offenses, such as school uniform violations and talking back to adults, the report said.

“I understand the mentality that you’ve got to get the bad kids out of school so the good kids can learn, but when you actually look at who’s doing what in schools, it really doesn’t break down that cleanly or that simply,” report author Harold Jordan told Education Week.

Pennsylvania schools averaged 10.1 suspensions for every 100 students during the 2011-2012 school year. That included 35.9 suspensions for every 100 black students, 17.5 suspensions for every 100 Latino students, and 4.7 suspensions for every 100 white students, according to the report.

Education Week looks at shifting discipline policies in a January 2013 report.

Common tests lose support

Forty-five states and the District of Columbia are moving forward on Common Core Standards, but support for common testing is eroding, reports StateImpact.

Georgia will use its own exam, instead of the costlier test developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).

Two of Florida’s top elected leaders want Florida to leave PARCC, even though Florida is the fiscal agent for the testing consortium.

Already Alabama, North Dakota and Pennsylvania have left the consortium. Oklahoma plans to design its own test, and Indiana isn’t participating in PARCC governing board meetings right now. State education officials say they’re waiting until after a mandatory legislative review of the Common Core academic standards.

That brings the number of states participating in PARCC down to 18 plus the District of Columbia.

Pennsylvania, Utah and Alabama quit the other testing group, Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, which now has 24 members. (Some states had joined both groups.)

The crumbling of the testing consortia is a “disaster,” writes Andy Smarick on Flypaper.

At this point, I won’t be surprised if we end up with 20 or more different testing systems in 2014–15. So much for commonness, so much for comparability. Rigor and alignment with tough standards are likely the next to fall.

Blinded by “technocratic hubris,” common assessment advocates “underestimated how difficult it would be to undo decades of state policy and practice on tests,” writes Smarick. Governors and state chiefs will be reluctant to spend lots of money for a testing system that will make their schools and teachers look bad, he predicted six months ago.

The Common Core sky isn’t falling, responds Checker Finn, also a Fordhamite. This is “right sizing.”

The forty-five-state thing was always artificial, induced by Race to the Top greed and perhaps a crowd mentality. Never in a million years were we going to see forty-five states truly embrace these rigorous academic expectations for their students, teachers, and schools, meet all the implementation challenges (curriculum, textbooks, technology, teacher prep, etc.), deploy new assessments, install the results of those assessments in their accountability systems, and live with the consequences of zillions of kids who, at least in the near term, fail to clear the higher bar.

It’s “better for states to drop out in advance than to fake it, pretending to use the Common Core standards but never really implementing them,” Finn writes. “That’s long-standing California-style behavior (fine standards, wretched implementation), in contrast with Massachusetts-style behavior (exemplary standards and serious implementation—and results to show for it).”

Most of the drop-out states will keep the standards, but write their own tests or sign up with ACT. They’ll give comparability, “one of the major benefits of commonality,” Finn writes. Some may change their minds later “or face up to the fact that (like Texas and Virginia) they don’t really want to use the Common Core at all.”

How strong are teachers’ unions?

Hawaii’s teachers’ union is the strongest in the nation, followed by Oregon, Montana and Pennsylvania, according to Fordham’s analysis. Arizona has the weakest teachers’ unions, followed by Florida and South Carolina.

School funding: Quietly unequal

The rich districts get richer in Illinois, Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, Missouri, and North Carolina, according to a new Center for American Progress report, The Stealth Inequities of School Funding. In these states, schools in higher-poverty districts receive less state and local dollars than low-poverty districts, the report finds.

On the state level, there’s no relationship between education spending and results, according to a State Budget Solutions study, which analyzed state spending from 2009 to 2011. Spending more didn’t raise graduation rates or ACT scores. Spending less didn’t lower performance.

Massachusetts, which has the strongest academic performance in almost every subject area and the highest ACT scores, spend less of its state budget on education than 45 other states, SBS reported.

Cheating report surfaces in Pennsylvania

Some 60 schools in Pennsylvania — nearly half in Philadelphia — showed signs of cheating on state exams in 2009, but the state education department report was buried until The Notebook obtained and published the report.

New state Secretary of Education Ronald Tomalis is “concerned” that a 2009 report flagged dozens of Pennsylvania schools for possible cheating – then languished for two years.
  
. . . The “data forensics technical report” in question used statistical analysis to look for highly improbable test score gains and suspicious erasure patterns on statewide 2009 test score results on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) exam. 

Philadelphia school officials say they were never given a copy of the July 2009 analysis.