In March 2011 Governor Corbett presented the legislature with his first budget. Since that day educators, board members, and all supporters of public education have lashed out at the governor for his funding of education in Pennsylvania.
The spin has been in full swing when it comes to just how much money is going to public education. Republicans will tell you that basic education funding is the highest in the history of Pennsylvania. Democrats will say that over $4 billion has been cut.
Well forget the political rhetoric, elimination of grants, and stimulus monies that went away; here is the real attack on public education that most people have never even heard about.
Governor Corbett and Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis are systematically planning the downfall of public education in Pennsylvania like a five star general plans an attack on a hostile country. If you don’t believe me just keep reading. The Bethlehem Area School District (BASD) and the School Board have been seeing the signs for months.
Below are six facts that the BASD board sees as unfair, unlawful attacks on public education.
- Secretary Tomalis publicly misrepresented Bethlehem Area School District’s status regarding a PSSA testing investigation. After conducting an investigation and clearing the district or any wrongdoing, in writing, our district was used as an example of failure.
- Secretary Tomalis unlawfully, without federal approval, changed the PSSA testing rules for public charter schools to create the appearance that charter schools were outperforming traditional public schools. The federal Dept. of Ed now agrees with this statement.
- Secretary Tomalis compiled a list of underperforming schools without including public charter schools and targeting only traditional public schools.
- Secretary Tomalis and the Pennsylvania Department of Education ignored its own PA Value-Added Assessment System (PVAAS) when developing its list of underperforming schools.
- Secretary Tomalis misrepresented the conclusions of the Pennsylvania Technical Advisory Committee by indicating on his own that a crackdown on cheating resulted in fewer schools making AYP, a dispute the chairperson of the committee denies.
- Secretary Tomalis unlawfully changed, without advance notice, the 2013-14 Act 1 index calculation which directly affects the new revenue districts can collect.
These are not my opinions. These are facts. So what’s the big deal you may ask? If the BASD did their jobs the scores would improve, right? Wrong. First off let me say that we as a district must do a better job and are not trying to hide our results. We must continue to improve student learning and advance rigor in our high schools. However, we must look at the bigger picture. All six of these points go to undermine the success of a traditional public school. They try to brand the BASD and our fellow districts as failing. Places where students are trapped with no options for success, places where teachers resort to cheating. Nothing, nothing could be farther from the truth.
In PA we analyze two sets of scores, PSSA and PVAAS. PSSA’s are standardized tests that are not necessarily connected to the curriculum being taught at the time a student’s takes the test. They measure a student’s ability to memorize data and take a test, not necessarily learn and retain information. PVAAS scores measure student growth. The amount of gains a student makes in one year. This is a true measure of school district performance. The PA Dept. of Education (PDE) ignored these scores when they branded schools as failing. Schools that made 1.5-2 years growth in 1 year were still branded failing because of low standardized scores.
One of the reasons PVAAS is a better indicator is that it measures growth. All students can grow and learn in any given year. All students cannot, however, pass a standardized test.
The BASD promises all students who come to our schools a quality education. That includes those who don’t speak English, read multiple years below grade level, are homeless, have bounced to multiple schools in a single year, etc. How do we expect a student who starts the year with us in September, leaves in October for another district, and then returns in March to pass a standardized test in April? The answer is we can’t, but we can measure their growth. We can measure if they are learning and what needs we must address. That is what PVAAS helps with. However, PDE did not feel the need to analyze those scores when branding schools as “failing.”
By now you are probably wondering how any of this goes to a grand plan by politicians to undermine and destroy traditional education. That’s the simple part. All these testing rules, evaluating, cheating investigations, and more leave out one key part of education – Charter Schools.
Charter Schools are public schools. They receive their funding entirely from local school districts (with the exception of grant applications) based on enrollment. Charter schools can be for profit entities or not for profit. They have nowhere near the regulations of a traditional public school and now we see they aren’t even evaluated the same way. The fact is had charters been counted in the list of failing schools 5 of the 6 BASD schools on the list would not have been there.
Click here to see how cyber and brick and mortar charters score on PSSA’s. Remember these scores are after PDE changed the rules to make it easier for them to meet AYP. How does a school that receives public funding slip through the regulatory cracks? Good question.
The ultimate goal of the current administration, and the goal of many PA Legislative Republicans, is to privatize education through charter schools and private school vouchers. So by making charters look better and not reporting their failures it casts a negative light on traditional public schools. It is also no secret that some of the Governor’s top campaign donors happen to be CEO’s of for profit schools.
Additionally charter schools do not have to accept all students who apply. They can pick and choose and turn away for whatever reason they see fit. In the BASD we see potential in all children and do our very best to prepare them for a future of self-sustainability.
If we are measuring a schools success rate then we need to measure all schools evenly across the commonwealth. Why does PDE not include charter school PSSA scores? Why does PDE calculate Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) differently for charter schools? Why does the Governor push to exclude charter schools from open records laws?
This fall the BASD School Board said enough is enough. We prepared our factual concerns and are reaching out to neighboring school districts with the hopes of partnering and standing up for public education. What PDE, Secretary Tomalis, and Governor Corbett are trying to do to public education is unacceptable. It’s insulting to our teachers, administrators, parents, and community members who support and value our school district. I encourage you to research this on your own. Don’t take my word for it. Follow the money and read of the corruption in the push for privatizing public education.