Monday, December 6, 2010

A New Direction For Our Educational System

Last Wednesday Angela Couloumbis of the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote an article about Governor-elect Tom Corbett's transition team. It is comprised of 17 committees charged to examine every state department, help formulate policy, choose key personnel, and recommend ways to cut costs.

"It's a wide spectrum of people," he added, including many who helped or worked for former Govs. Tom Ridge and Dick Thornburgh, as well as people who worked with Corbett years ago when he was in private practice as a lawyer.

Among them: Alan Novak, former chairman of the Republican State Committee of Pennsylvania, who is a member of the committee advising on agricultural issues; John Hohenwarter, Pennsylvania's lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, who is a member of the group advising on energy and the environment; and David Hess and Brad Mallory, both former cabinet members in the Ridge administration.

In choosing the group that will advise him on education, Corbett included several staunch charter school advocates. They include Vahan Gureghian, a Gladwyne lawyer who operates the state's largest charter school, Chester Community Charter School in Chester.

Gureghian contributed $250,000 to Corbett's campaign and donated heavily to other Republican campaign funds as well, state records show. Gureghian was also named to cochair Corbett's working group on transportation and infrastructure.

Also on Corbett's education committee: State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams, the Philadelphia Democrat who is one of the most vocal proponents in the legislature for charter schools and school choice, and David Pollard and Joel Greenberg, both with Susquehanna International Group.

Susquehanna International's executives - Greenberg among them - gave an astonishing $5 million to Williams' unsuccessful campaign for governor in this year's primary because they liked his stance on school choice, particularly his support for the use of publicly funded vouchers to enable more families to pay for private education.

"When I look at the list of people he's chosen for education, no one jumps out who is an advocate for traditional K-12 education," said Lawrence A. Feinberg, a Haverford Township school board member and cochair of the Keystone State Education Coalition, which advocates for public education.

It looks like Corbett is going the path of Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey. Look at this report from CBS of New York- Christie Announces Sweeping N.J. Education Reform.

Determined to turn New Jersey’s education system on its head, Gov. Chris Christie on Tuesday unveiled a tough-love reform package that will make classroom achievement — not seniority or tenure — the basis for pay hikes and career advancement in Garden State public schools.

Christie is turning his take-no-prisoner’s style to the classroom, demanding a top to bottom overhaul of how New Jersey students learn and teachers teach. And that means undoing tenure, seniority and other union work rules.

“We cannot wait. Your children are sitting in these classrooms today. We cannot wait to make it better,” Christie told CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer.

The Pennsylvania State Education Association has this statement on its website.

Each year, federal and state legislation and policy, and our elections process directly impact the work and lives of PSEA members. Year after year the PSEA advocates more money for education, not to impact outcomes to students, but to increase the pay and benefit package for its members. The current pension crisis facing Pennsylvania is in part due to a 25% increase to teachers that accompanied the 50% increase to legislators.

The PSEA lobbies intensively for its own position and benefit.

PSEA's Political Action Committee for Education (PSEA-PACE) supports pro-public education candidates in state and local elections. No PSEA member dues dollars support PACE.

PACE is a nonpartisan organization, funded by voluntary member contributions. PACE-recommended candidates are chosen by PSEA/PACE members, based on their positions and records on education, labor, and health care issues. Countless decisions made by elected officials affect your career. Contributions to PACE will make sure your voice is heard and help you to deliver the power of a great education in Pennsylvania.

Governor-elect Tom Corbett appears he has chosen the track to put students first.

In the Mounds View School District half days were eliminated from the calendar this year. In the Hazleton Area School District when AYP has been dismall half days were promoted as a way to improve educational objectives according to Superintendent Sam Marolo.

Students shouldn't have to take remedial classes when they enter college or need to change their major three or four times because they don't have a focused goal leaving high school, he said.

And teachers need more professional development, an area that has been lacking, Marolo said. Two half-day in-service sessions, which some parents may see as inconvenient, will allow the district to bring administrators and teachers onto the same page.

This issue demonstrates the validity of this article by David Kaplan of Fortune Magazine- One Size Can't Teach All. He opines on the merits of "No Child Left Behind"(NCLB) and Race to the Top, two initiatives on a federal level designed to improve education. It is no secret No Child Left Behind has failed miserably as a national policy.

If U.S. students were doing fundamentally better, we could dispense with a debate over Washington's proper place in education. But overall performance isn't improving, and "reform" has yielded unintended consequences. Some boosts in superficial "competence" are merely the product of lowered bars. "NCLB encourages cheating and gaming the system," says education historian Diane Ravitch. There's also much evidence that teachers "teach to the test" and thereby discount wide swaths of other curriculum like literature and history and music. Even if schools were confident enough to ignore test preparation and to assume good scores would take care of themselves, tests still take time to administer, correct, and report. Moreover, the obsession with quantifiable standards of both proficiency and progress fails to distinguish the different needs of schools in, say, poor urban areas from those in affluent suburbs.

Why, then, do we mindlessly continue to buy into a centralized approach? It makes sense that we have, for example, OSHA and FDA standards -- workplace safety and pharmaceutical efficacy are susceptible to easy measurement. Citizens of Maine and Montana ought to get identical protections. The same goes for national regulation of airspace, railroads, securities, mail, weather reports, and hamburgers. But public policy on education seems a classic instance in which local control is best. Apart from constitutional issues like desegregation, that means allowing states and communities to experiment with curriculum, assessment, and tenure. Indeed, the charter-school movement -- deified in Waiting for "Superman" -- is a splendid illustration of decentralization and experimentation.

Bureaucrats in Washington aren't stupid and they mean well, but they'd really have to be superheroes to design one-size-fits-all standards. After a decade of time lost and billions spent, the better course would be to pull back from the top-down. That would be the real revolution.

This Newsweek article says it all- Why We Must Fire Bad Teachers.
We, as parents, have to insist on a stoppage to the assembly line mentality of pushing children through school to graduation. It is incumbent upon our federal legislators to get out of the way and allow local strategies develop the game plan needed to put our students back on track with quality education eliminating the tolerance for low expectations.

When the PSEA gets behind a mission to improve education rather than benefits for its members Pennsylvania will see real progress in educational objectives. Why do teachers need tenure when they are unionized and have a grievance procedure? Why do parents feel helpless in suing a teacher because the union protects teachers with legal representation that many parents can't afford to fight?

The union must embrace teacher accountability by insisting on measuring teacher performance. If the union helps toward eliminating weak teachers from the system leading to better educational outcomes the hard working professionals insisting on strong academic records will be rewarded with more social prestige and higher salaries.

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