Wednesday, September 26, 2012

DELCO Public School Report Cards

A number of readers have asked about the latest Pennsylvania Department of Education’s assessment of the public school districts in Delaware County. The 2011 – 2012 PA DOE Report Card for the 13 public school districts in Delaware County is available online and can be accessed by clicking on the top link under “Education” to the right.

These report cards are an important source of information about performance and accountability, and they allow districts to compare data in a consistent way and highlight opportunities for improvement. The School Report Cards will show not only the achievement of students overall, but also the progress that disaggregated groups are making in closing achievement gaps. Report card data help Pennsylvania school districts and the Pennsylvania Department of Education focus on specific groups of students who are currently not meeting academic standards.

Each District Report Card includes:
• Attendance and Graduation data for the previous school year.
• An Accountability Report showing the district’s performance compared with the goals set by No Child Left Behind. Student results from the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment PSSA).
• Assessment Report compares two years of PSSA academic performance and participation data for this district. These results are displayed by grade, subject, and disaggregated group.
• Adequate Yearly Progress Status showing the schools in the district and AYP status of each.
• Teacher Qualifications includes both numbers and percentages of teachers in the school who are highly qualified.

7 of Delaware County’s 13 school districts met the Department of Education’s Annual Yearly Progress targets in 2012. Report Cards for each school are also available on this site.

• Garnet Valley School District      4 of 5 schools made AYP
• Haverford Township School District      6 of 7 schools made AYP
• Interboro School District      2 of 5 schools made AYP
• Penn-Delco School District      4 of 6 schools made AYP
• Radnor School District      5 of 5 schools made AYP
• Rose Tree Media School District      6 of 6 schools made AYP
• Wallingford-Swarthmore School District      3 of 5 schools made AYP

• Chichester School District      Warning      2 of 6 schools made AYP
• Marple Newtown School District      Warning      5 of 6 schools made AYP
• Springfield School District      Warning      4 of 5 schools made AYP
• William Penn School District      Warning      0 of 11 schools made AYP
• Upper Darby School District      District Improvement I      2 of 13 schools made AYP
• Chester-Upland School District      Corrective Action II - 6th Year      1 of 9 schools made AYP

Monday, September 24, 2012

It's not rocket science

A recurring theme of this blog has been … “Successful education, broadly defined as the preparation of our children to compete in the world, is dependent on three systems: Family, Community, and School.” All three of these elements of successful education are facing unprecedented financial challenges, with many facing huge deficits. The sooner we realize that there are no easy answers, the sooner we can start to look for long-term solutions. Viable options will not require rocket science, as some would have us believe, but will require an honest assessment of options. Reversing deficits will require either additional income or lower expenses or a combination of both.

Family. By and large, family income is earned through employment, and the current state of our economy has hit families hard. Across the country, in almost every demographic, Americans earn less today than they did 3 years ago. Since 2009, median household income has dropped 4.8 or about $2,500, and many families in Delaware County have been hit much harder. Many of our neighbors are having trouble making ends meet, and are not in a position to pay any additional taxes.

Community. 26 cities across the commonwealth that are stuck in the state's Act 47 program for financially strapped municipalities. These cities include: Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Reading, Scranton as well as Chester and Millbourne here in Delaware County. Many more cities are likely to join them in the near future. The Pennsylvania Public Employee Retirement Commission reported last year that local government pension plans owe more than $7 billion in unfunded liabilities. Cities across the state are struggling to keep their pension funds solvent and make required payments to retirees.

Schools. After months of anxiety about local school districts budgets and what budget items could be pared, schools are back in session. However the educational funding crisis is far from over. Local school districts did what they had to do to open the schools get the kids back in the classrooms, but the really hard decisions were not made. Educating our children is a very labor-intensive proposition. Personnel costs (salaries and benefits) account for about 70% of most school district budgets. Maintaining buildings, transportation, utilities, books, computers and consumable supplies are about 20% with the remainder paying off loans incurred to build the schools. Projected taxpayer contributions for the Public School Education Retirement System and the State Employees Retirement System will increase from $1.7 billion in 2011-12 to more than $6.2 billion in 2016-17—a 263% increase. The increase breaks down to more than $1,050 in additional tax payments per household/homeowner.

With the current local economies being what they are, the logical direction would seem to demand that cities and school districts cut their spending. Raising taxes and borrowing more money will only exacerbate the problem. Real solutions will require the state legislature and local officials to work together and change state laws to give municipalities the ability to control unaffordable and unsustainable personnel costs. Rather than voting for a candidate based on his or her party, we should make sure that our elected leaders are willing to roll up their sleeves and make the hard decisions that we need.  That's the all important first step towards educational success.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Tom Corbett's Missed Opportunity

After his election as Governor, I wrote a post entitled “Tom Corbett’s Incredible Opportunity”.

The election cycle in 2010 had been full of partisan rhetoric with labels like conservative, liberal and the relatively new “tea-bagger” being hurled at opponents with great disdain. Tom Corbett had pledged a balanced budget, and with less funding coming into our communities from Harrisburg, the big question was “What will these new political and economic realities mean to local communities?” While a balanced budget presented a tremendous challenge, it also afforded Governor Corbett an incredible opportunity to identify the core mission of state government and perhaps redefine the state’s roles. Local and county governments and school districts were put on notice and prepared for drastic reductions in funding. Last year school boards and administrations throughout the County and Commonwealth scrambled to identify where to cut their budgets.

Tom Corbett’s incredible opportunity turned out to be an opportunity lost. Rather than bringing his leadership to the State’s troubled educational system by engaging local community leaders, school districts and families, a year later we find ourselves in the same situation…. Projected budget deficits with few places to cut and in a very rough economy that has seen many residents lose all or part of their income, little stomach in many communities for any tax increase.

Successful education, broadly defined as the preparation of our children to compete in the world, is dependent on three systems: Family, Community, and School. A child needs at least one of the systems to be working well if he or she is to have any chance to succeed. With one of the systems functioning, the other two could be overcome. If a school system does its job well, educators could overcome family strife, and could overcome a poor community, and get their students prepared. But schools are only part of the educational process. Family and community have equally important roles in education, and a student coming from a great family support structure, can live in a poor community and go to a poor school, and still have a chance to compete. Ideally our children have strengths in all three systems, but the reality is all three are being strained with some near the breaking point. Schools are feeling financial constraints, as are families, especially single-parent households. Many communities haven’t quite figured out what their role in education is. Success in education requires getting all relevant stakeholders working from the same game plan, and aligning their efforts within a common framework.

We need leaders to step forward and engage ALL of the community’s stakeholders who can hammer out a long-term plan for public education. Our children’s future depends on it.

Monday, April 30, 2012

160 Year Old Education Collaboration

One of the earliest collaborations between community and family coming together to support education here in southeast Pennsylvania started over 160 years ago.

In 1838, 50 years after the ratification of the US Constitution, the Pennsylvania State Legislature passed a law making the Protestant King James Bible a mandatory textbook in public schools. All students began each day with a Bible reading. 4 years later, Philadelphia’s Bishop Kenrick requested that Catholic students be permitted to use the Douai-Rheims version of the bible, and the School Board of Controllers decided that children could use whatever Bible their parents wished. Anti-Catholic and Nativist groups, called “Know Nothings” viewed Bishop Kenrick’s request as an attack against the ”true” Bible, and tensions between Protestant and Catholic escalated. In May of 1844, these tensions erupted into anti-Catholic rioting. Two churches, St. Michael's in Kensington, and St. Augustine's in Southwark, were burned to the ground, along with many Catholic homes. Over 50 Catholics were killed by the rioters, and religious hostility between Protestants and Catholics in Philadelphia would remain until the late 1850’s.

As European immigration swelled the number of Catholics coming to Philadelphia, the challenges to church leaders in providing spiritual and economic direction to their faithful grew. The novelty of American religious freedom required a new way of thinking by Church leaders. Not only were new churches required but institutions to meet the needs of a city life that never existed before were needed. The solution to the needs of Philadelphia’s Catholics would be a blend of ancient church practices and the new strength of American community volunteerism to impact education, health and economics. Some of the new Catholic institutions created during the tense times of the “Know Nothing Riots” include: Villanova College (1842), Catholic Philopatrian Literary Institute – “Philo” (1850), St. Joseph’s College (1851), St. Joseph’s Prep (1851), St. Joseph’s Hospital (1851), Beneficial Savings Fund Society (1853).

It was at an 1851 Philo reception, that Bishop Kendrick first began a discussion of the establishment of a parish-based Catholic school system. Philo and its members enthusiastically supported the idea, and the school system was begun the following year under the direction of John Neumann, the 6th Bishop of Philadelphia. Since 1960, the Catholic Philopatrian Literary Institute has recognized a Catholic who by achievement and exemplary life has made contributions to Catholic ideals. The Sourin Award, named after the organization’s founder, Edward J. Sourin S.J., has been presented by the Philo to a distinguished list of honorees that includes cardinals, governors, professors, mayors and judges. On April 19th, the 50th Sourin Award was presented to Rosalie Mirenda, President of Neumann University. Congratulations to Rosalie and her husband Tony for this well-deserved honor!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Tom Corbett’s Education Reform Plan

Last year when Tom Corbett won election with a promise to not raise taxes, I wrote that I thought he had a tremendous opportunity to take a step back, evaluate the core mission of state government, and perhaps redefine the state’s role in public education. Six months ago the governor released his first education budget and school districts across the Commonwealth scrambled to replace the millions of dollars which were no longer available for public education. Some districts cut programs, some cut staff, some froze wages, many did a combination of these but all eventually realized that there just wasn’t much more money coming from Harrisburg.

While many of our neighbors decried the reduction in education, the facts clearly show that money alone isn’t the only or even the best solution to improving our public education. According to the Commonwealth Foundation, public school spending in Pennsylvania had rapidly increased despite declining enrollment, with little growth in academic achievement to show for it. Since 2000, public school spending in Pennsylvania rose 68 percent, from $15.3 billion to $25.8 billion in 2009-10, while enrollment in public schools declined by 26,960 students, and schools hired an additional 32,937 employees. Despite spending more than $14,000 per student, only 40 percent of Pennsylvania's 8th-grade students scored at or above proficiency levels on standardized reading and mathematics exams. In the bottom 5% of high schools, only 53 percent of 11th graders scored above proficiency in reading and math. 53%!
Pennsylvania Corbett unveiled a four-part education reform proposal Tuesday morning that has since received mixed reactions. At a news conference Tuesday Corbett said acting on an education reform agenda is a state priority. The announced agenda focuses on improvements to the charter school system by creating a statewide entity to administer charter schools and makes it easier to convert buildings to charter educational facilities. The Governor’s plan also offers vouchers that assist low-income students attending the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools in Pennsylvania, expands the Educational Improvement Tax Credit program for businesses and overhauls the teacher evaluation process to a more comprehensive method that incorporates classroom observations with student achievement. "When we have failing schools, we know we have failing students," Corbett told The Delaware County Daily Times. "We can't continue down this same path and think we're going to get a different result."

Public education is successful when schools, parents and the community all work together. There are a lot of important decisions being made. Get involved in your school district and make your voice heard. Your kid’s future depends on it!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Valuable Education and Community Links

I was surprised at the number of emails I’ve received during my hiatus from the blog from readers who were looking for web sites offering information and basic data on issues of importance to the community. Listed below are a few sites I’ve recommended to folks, and these have also been added to the side bar on the right.

Education Links:
• PA Department of Education issues a Report Card for each public school, and this link in to their searchable data base.
• is a project of the Commonwealth Foundation, an independent, non-profit research and educational institute. They present data in a very clear manner, and I’ve included these 4 links to their searchable data base of Pennsylvania’s public schools:
• Tax Data. Offers data on property taxes, taxes per student, analysis of all revenue sources searchable by County or District.
• Payroll Data. Has data on employees’ salaries, highest salaries by district, searchable by employee name, district or school by position and gender.
• Spending Data. Has data on spending and enrollment trends, district spending detail and allows users to compare district information.
• Performance Data. Includes achievement trends by group, school or district. Allows users to analyze district spending and achievement and poverty and achievement

The Community / Non Profit section has two links so far:
• Delaware Valley United Way is a web site offering information on the locally directed United Way organizations.
• Guidestar. With a free registration, Guidestar offers a searchable data base of non-profit organizations and access to information on their governance, mission and financial reporting.

The Government and Politics link are self-explanatory.

Let me know what you think, and if you have a suggestion for a site of interest please pass it on.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Opportunities for Local Collaboration in Delaware County

One of the more interesting examples of community wide collaboration around education has been having tremendous impact on young people in Cincinnati. 5 years ago childhood educators, school superintendents, college presidents, business leaders, foundation directors and a number of community leaders came together because local students were lagging behind other communities in college attainment rates. Community leaders were concerned about remaining competitive in a global economy if local students weren’t able to get into college and do well. Leaders initially met to discuss college readiness, but the focus quickly shifted to high school freshman and keeping the kids in school…. Then to middle school students …. Then to grade school and eventually focused on the importance of kindergarten and quality early learning experiences. The initial meeting of community and education stakeholders met to discuss college attainment rates but quickly focused on the entire education continuum.

This collaborative was unique both in the quality of the partnership and the nature of the problem being addressed. Partners in a collaborative must come together and agree not just on common goals, but shared ways to measure success towards those goals. They must communicate on a regular basis. And there must be a “backbone” organization, like United Way, that is focused full-time on managing the partnership. The key to making a community collaborative like this work is setting a common vision and finding a common language, and in this case the common language was data. The participants didn’t let each other get focused on ideological or political issues. They focused on the data, and implemented thoughtful data driven programs as a single working collaborative. Everyone worked together from the same playbook.

Three years later the results were dramatic. Kindergarten readiness had jumped 9%, 4th grade reading increased 7% and math increased 14 %; and the high school graduation rate was up 11%. College graduation rates for students from local urban high schools had jumped by 10 %.

Delaware County has hundreds of nonprofit organizations, most of which work independently, and many local, county, state and federal government agencies each focused on a very unique part of the education continuum. When it comes to solving social problems, society often behaves like a drowning man whose arms and legs thrash about wildly in the water. We expend a great deal of energy, but because we don’t work together efficiently, we don’t necessarily move forward. It’s encouraging to see community collaboratives work, and I hope that the educational funding issues we are facing here in Pennsylvania will spur similar local efforts that can better prepare our children for a prosperous future. They deserve it!