K-12 cuts and consequences

The results of Pennsylvania’s annual standardized tests came out recently, and it seemed everyone was pointing fingers. Math and reading scores are down an average of 1.5 points statewide – 8 points in Philadelphia. Teachers’ unions are blaming cuts in education funding for the slump, and they have a point.

Last school year, Gov. Corbett cut $860 million in funding for K-12 education, or about $410 per student. This hit impoverished school districts the hardest; in Philadelphia, state education funding decreased by about $557 per student. “When resources are pulled from our schools, scores drop,” said Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry Jordan.

This is an excerpt from my commentary in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, “K-12 cuts and consequences.”  Please click here to read the entire article.  You can respond or provide feedback by clicking on the comment button below.

Thanks for reading.

–Christopher Paslay

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State’s Analysis of Drop in 2012 PSSA Scores is Political

by Christopher Paslay

The drop in PSSA test scores cannot be attributed solely to improved test security.  Cuts in education funding, though not acknowledged by state officials, are also to blame.

The official results of the 2012 PSSA exams are out and it seems everyone is pointing fingers.  Math and reading scores are down 1.5 points statewide, and an average of 8 points in Philadelphia.  Teachers unions are blaming cuts in education funding for the slump in student performance, and it appears they have a legitimate argument.  Last school year Governor Corbett cut $860 million from K-12 education, which translated to about $410 per student.  These cuts hit impoverished school districts the hardest; in Philadelphia, state education funding decreased by about $557 per student.

“When resources are pulled from our schools, scores drop,” Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said.

Education Secretary Ron Tomalis insisted the drop in PSSA scores had nothing to do with recent changes in funding.  “I don’t buy the excuse the numbers went down because of budget cuts,” he said.  According to Tomalis, scores are down because of heightened test security put in place during last spring’s PSSAs.  This conclusion was backed by the state’s Technical Advisory Committee, which studied three possibilities for the drop in scores: funding, changes in the test content, and tighter test security.

The data to support TAC’s findings in the recently released 2012 PSSA Official Report is insufficient, however.  Although TAC states “that the only scientific cause for the drop in scores from 2011 to 2012 was the Department’s investigation of past testing improprieties which has led to heightened test security measures,” no analysis of the effect of changes in funding is given in the 2012 PSSA report.    

How did cutting $860 million from K-12 education impact testing, exactly?  How did losing hundreds of teachers, nurses, librarians, counselors and school police affect test scores?  How did losing art, music, foreign language, sports programs, clubs, and a multitude of other extracurricular activities impede education?  TAC never adequately addresses these issues in the report.          

 Selective interpretation of test data seems to be the Pa. Dept. of Ed.’s modus operandi.  Also missing from the 2012 PSSA report are the forensic audits of the 2010 and 2011 PSSAs, as conducted by the Data Recognition Corporation—the makers of the PSSA.  A neatly arranged, prepackaged analysis of the state’s “Integrity Investigation” into cheating on past exams is contained in the report, but this investigation is by no means an adequate substitute for the original audits of the 2010 and 2011 PSSAs themselves.  Pennsylvania tax payers have a right to review the primary documents and draw their own conclusions about which schools and districts cheated on the 2010 and 2011 PSSAs; my gut feeling is still that the Philadelphia School District, although clearly guilty of widespread cheating, was made the primary scapegoat by the state.

The state has also failed to explain why they waited until shortly before the start of the 2012 PSSA to announce its new security policies regarding the administration of the exam, and why only Philadelphia and a handful of other districts were required to abide by the new security measures.  If cheating was so widespread, why weren’t the security measures mandated statewide?

Tragically, it appears that the state’s obsession with testing and test security is only going to get worse.  While Corbett’s 2012-13 budget keeps school funding generally flat, it increases spending on educational assessments by 43 percent to $52 million.             

The drop in PSSA test scores, especially in large urban districts such as Philadelphia, cannot be attributed solely to improved test security.  The state’s claim otherwise is purely political, and until supported by sufficient data, lacks legitimacy.

Purchase ‘The Village Proposal’ and Support Shared Responsibility in Education

Due out this September from Rowman & Littlefield!  Click here to preorder a copy and support shared responsibility in education!

Here’s what the education community, including Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan, has been saying about Chris’s new book, The Village Proposal:

“Public schools have been blamed for every ill created by the larger society: poverty, the breakdown of a strong family unit, adolescent crime, adult crime, and so forth. Lost in all the reform talk, is the voice of the teacher. . . . Christopher Paslay is a teacher who knows what students need and what teachers need to help students achieve and succeed. We applaud his efforts in the classroom, in the school and now in his effort to inform the larger community by authoring The Village Proposal.”—Jerry T. Jordan, President, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers

“Many educational books are written by so called ‘educational experts’ who would not last a day teaching in an urban high school. It is refreshing to read a book by someone who has walked the walk. This book is a well-written account by an actual insider of his challenges of teaching in a large, urban school setting, and what it takes to succeed in this environment. Chris Paslay comes to the conclusion that a teacher is the most important element of a student’s success in school, but they aren’t the only element. For a student to succeed, it really does involve a shared responsibility of ‘the village’ with the teacher as the point person.”—Brian Malloy, 2009 Philadelphia School District Teacher of the Year

“This book is a must read for anyone truly interested in the fight to reform our schools. Paslay’s honest account of his life and the challenges he faced to become a successful teacher in urban schools is exactly what is missing from today’s policy debates; the insightful perspective of someone who has been in the arena where too many fear to tread.”—Jack Stollsteimer, former Pennsylvania Safe Schools Advocate

The Village Proposal shows the success and failure of America’s public school system from top to bottom, and explains how everyone needs to have accountability when it comes to educating children. It’s a great read for those interested in the perspectives of an everyday schoolteacher.”—James Tarabocchia, 2009 Pennsylvania Career Teacher of the Year

“Chris Paslay uses personal memoir and documented research to make you think, really think, about education in our country. This is a must-read for every faculty book club.”—Cindi Rigsbee, 2009 finalist, National Teacher of the Year, and author of Finding Mrs. Warnecke: The Difference Teachers Make

“Explore the learning process through the eyes of a teacher and understand how education must change if we are to recapture our past success. The Village Proposal also challenges those in the education business to stop exploiting problems for their own benefit. It is a must read and as it clearly demonstrates, there are no simple solutions and only by working together can we effectively change education.”—Harry Vincenzi, Ed.D., Psychologist and educator, co-author, Energy Tapping: How to rapidly eliminate anxiety, depression and cravings

The Village Proposal is based on the African proverb that it takes a village to raise a child. Part education commentary, part memoir, the book analyzes the theme of shared responsibility in public schools and evaluates the importance of sound teacher instruction; the effectiveness of America’s teacher colleges; the need for strong school leaders and supports; the need for strong parental and community involvement; the effectiveness of multiculturalism and social justice in closing the achievement gap; the relevancy of education policy; the impact of private business and politics on schools; and how the media and technology are influencing education.