New Teacher Evaluations Won’t Apply to Charter Schools

Something is missing from Pennsylvania’s new teacher evaluation law… charter schools.  The new teacher evaluation system approved in the late June budget rush will, for the first time, take student performance into account and provide assistance to educators who fall into the bottom two categories of a new four-tier rating system.

However, during House debate, state Rep. Michael O’Brien (D-Phila.) said he and others were surprised to see that publicly-funded charter schools were ultimately removed from the final product.  “What happens to get in the way of a kum-ba-ya moment?  The devil is in the details,” O’Brien said of the changes to language that previously earned unanimous support.

“We are spending public dollars that are not being accounted for,” lamented Minority Education Chair Jim Roebuck (D-Phila.) during House debate, as he emphasized the fact that charter schools are public schools.

But supporters of proposed charter school reforms say they will contain sufficient accountability and performance measures, which will make the teacher evaluations unnecessary.  Like teacher evaluations, many in Harrisburg expected the charter school reforms to be finalized as a part of a budget season education reform package.  That did not happen.

While time ran out to finalize the charter school reform language, Governor Tom Corbett says he will keep pushing for one of the key items on his education reform agenda.  “We still have more time in September.  You know me, I don’t stop.  I keep coming,” Corbett told reporters during a recent q&a.

Revamped Teacher Evaluations Bill is on the Move

Lawmakers may soon finalize a new system for teacher evaluations in Pennsylvania.  The amended bill has already garnered unanimous support in the state House, and the issue has long been one of Governor Tom Corbett’s top education reform priorities.

The current system, which is almost entirely based on classroom observations, allows for teachers to receive a rating of either ‘satisfactory’ or ‘unsatisfactory.’  “That system does not provide for useful or meaningful feedback,” state Rep. Ryan Aument (R-Lancaster) tells Radio PA.  99.4% of teachers are rated as satisfactory.

Aument has been leading the legislative push for a fairer system of educator evaluations; one that takes student performance into account.  His latest amendment, which specifically outlines the multiple measures of student performance to be considered, is building consensus around the issue.

“From day one we’ve made it clear that good evaluations are based on multiple measures,” says Pennsylvania State Education Association spokesman David Broderic.  While the bill is not perfect, according to Broderic, he says the PSEA is glad to be a part of the process.

Up to 50% of teacher evaluation ratings would be based on student performance under HB 1980.  Possible ratings would include ‘distinguished,’ ‘proficient,’ ‘needs improvement’ or ‘failing.’  Aument says teachers who fall into the bottom two categories would participate in a performance improvement plan. “Our goal was to put in place a tool that’s pro teacher, and pro student,” he says.

Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children President & CEO Joan Benso sees a disconnect in a system where 99.4% of teachers are rated as satisfactory, yet nearly 30% of children can’t read at grade level.  “Being sure that we have an evaluation system that not only rewards teachers that are performing well, but ID’s teachers that are struggling, so we can develop improvement plans for them to do better, will ultimately drive student achievement.”

Benso hopes lawmakers will adopt Aument’s bill before the summer break.  After passing the House with unanimous support, HB 1980 awaits Senate action.  If enacted, the new evaluation system is expected to be in place for the 2013/2014 school year.

Committee Vets Teacher Evaluation Bill


State Education Secretary Ron Tomalis

State Education Secretary Ron Tomalis

Under the state’s current evaluation system, teachers fall into one of two categories: satisfactory or unsatisfactory.  99.4% of teachers currently receive a satisfactory rating, and overhauling the system is one of the Corbett administration’s top education reform priorities.  “The success in meeting the mission of our public education system, ensuring that all children reach academic achievement, is dependent upon the quality of the teacher,” Education Secretary Ron Tomalis said in his testimony before the House Education Committee. 

Legislation has been introduced in response to the teacher evaluation plan that Governor Corbett laid out, last month, in York.  State Rep. Ryan Aument’s HB 1980 would base half of a teacher’s evaluation score on student achievement.   It would also expand the current rating system to include four categories: distinguished, proficient, needs improvement or fails. 

A variety of stakeholders had their say at Thursday’s Education Committee hearing, including the state’s largest teachers union.  “Using standardized tests as 50% or more of a teacher’s evaluation will not produce evidence of teacher effectiveness that is strong or fair,” said Pennsylvania State Education Association board member Linda Cook.  She does say, however, that PSEA wants to improve the current system in other ways. 

The Pennsylvania School Boards Association supports the development of the new teacher evaluation standards, but raised concerns with the proposed timeline. “Being forced to move according to the deadlines set in legislation could inadvertently undermine the system that [the Pennsylvania Department of Education] has moved so methodically to create,” said Kathy Swope, President of the Lewisburg Area School Board, who testified on behalf of the PSBA. 

The Corbett administration wants the new teacher evaluation framework in place for the next school year.  HB 1980 currently awaits committee action.

Education Agenda Reaction Runs the Gamut

Some are noting a lack of detail in the governor’s education reform speech, but the state’s largest teachers union doesn’t need specifics to oppose the advent of school vouchers in Pennsylvania.  “The bottom line for us on any voucher program is that they don’t work, they don’t raise student achievement,” says Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) spokesman Wythe Keever.  He says the state should be focusing on initiatives that do work, such as tutoring, full-day kindergarten and smaller class sizes. 

The Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) adds that vouchers are unaffordable at a time when public education funding has already been cut by $900-million.  “Across all demographic groups, the public is just not interested in spending tax dollars to send children to private schools,” says PSBA executive director Tom Gentzel.  He points to the latest survey – conducted by Terry Madonna Opinion Research – that found 65% of Pennsylvanians either strongly or somewhat oppose vouchers.

But, Gentzel does tell us there are parts of the governor’s agenda that are worth discussing.  He says charter school accountability measures are long overdue.  Likewise, the PSEA isn’t deriding the entire plan.  “PSEA agrees with the governor that teacher evaluations need to be improved, and we support the use of multiple objective measures of performance,” says the PSEA’s Wythe Keever, who’s interested in the results of the new teacher evaluation pilot program.    

Governor Tom Corbett

Gov. Corbett unveiled his education reform agenda at the Lincoln Charter School in York.

Governor Corbett’s agenda appears to have some bicameral support in the General Assembly, based on the high-ranking cast of Republican lawmakers who stood by his side at the Lincoln Charter School in York.  “What the governor is putting on the table are very tangible proposals that allow us to move Pennsylvania into the forefront of reform,” says House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny).  “Our economy in the 21st century is going to look for excellence,” says Senate Majority Whip Pat Browne (R-Northampton).  “Through the reforms the governor is advocating for, we will be pursuing excellence here in Pennsylvania.”  Governor Corbett wants lawmakers to act in the next few months, so that the reforms he outlined on Tuesday can be in place for the start of the 2012-2013 school year.

Governor Tom Corbett

Corbett Unveils School Reform Agenda

The new education paradigm that Governor Tom Corbett envisions would put students first.  While visiting the Lincoln Charter School in York, Corbett put forth a four point plan that he wants to see implemented in time for the 2012-2013 school year. 

It starts with a revamped charter school law in Pennsylvania.  “My plan calls for a state commission to approve and to oversee the charter schools of Pennsylvania,” Corbett says, adding that the commission of experts would also have the power to pull the plug on charter schools that aren’t meeting educational standards. 

Controversial school vouchers also make an appearance, but they would only apply to low-income students in the lowest performing 5% of PA’s schools.  “Students whose families earn 130% or less of the federal poverty rate would be eligible for these scholarships,” Corbett says.  “To give that to you in dollars and cents, that’s a family of four earning $29,000.”  Students who come from families earning slightly more would be eligible for a portion of the so-called opportunity scholarships. 

The new teacher evaluation program that Corbett envisions would include student performance.  “Right now the evaluation system is merely a rubber stamp, and it must change if our students are going to be the beneficiaries of good, committed educators,” Corbett says.  The current system allows only for a satisfactory or unsatisfactory rating.  The new system that’s currently being piloted would allow for ratings that range from distinguished and proficient, to needs improvement and failing.

The state House has already passed a bill that encompasses Corbett’s fourth goal of expanding the Educational improvement Tax Credit (EITC), which is awarded to businesses that fund scholarships and other educational improvements. 

Corbett concluded that he’s not happy with the status quo.  “When we have failing schools, we have failing students,” he says, pointing to the School District of Philadelphia’s 45% drop out rate.  Reaction to the Corbett agenda is rapidly pouring in; check back later for a recap.

PA School Districts

Survey Shows How Schools Balanced Budgets

Things are a bit different this school year, according to a report from the PA Association of School Business Officials (PASBO) and Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators (PASA). 

The groups surveyed Pennsylvania’s school districts and found that 44% have reduced elective course offerings, and even some core subjects.  35% have reduced or eliminated programs that provide struggling students with extra help, and 20% eliminated summer school programs.

“It wasn’t any silver bullet, it was a combination of both personnel and programmatic reductions in order to get [districts] within their balanced budget,” PASBO executive director Jay Himes tells Radio PA.  He says this will not be a one year problem, stressing school districts’ rising pension obligations. 

The school districts responding to the survey reported that 8,365 positions were eliminated through furloughs and unfilled vacancies.  Statewide, the groups say, this means more than 14,000 affected jobs.  294 of Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts responded t o the PASBO/PASA survey. 

Pennsylvania lost 1,300 jobs in the Education & Health Services supersector, in August, according to the Pennsylvania Nonagricultural Wage and Salary Employment report.  The statewide jobless rate now stands at 8.2%. 

President of the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) Michael Crossey says teachers predicted that students would feel the consequences of state budget cuts.  “This report confirms our predictions,” Crossey said in a statement.  The PSEA is the state’s largest teachers union. 

When accounting for the loss of federal stimulus money, basic education funding decreased by about $400-million, in the state’s FY2012 budget.  Other education line items to take significant hits were the Accountability Block Grants ($150-million), and the elimination of state reimbursements for charter schools ($220-million).   

Governor Tom Corbett has said the reduction in K – 12 education spending is the direct result of the end to the federal stimulus program.  He says school districts should not have balanced their budgets with stimulus dollars.

State House Committee Holds Hearings on School Choice, Charter Schools

The State House Education Committee opened two days of informational hearing today on school choice and charter schools today.   The state education secretary has laid out the Corbett administration’s views on school choice.

Ron Tomalis told the Committee we must ask ourselves why we force parents to send their children to a particular school rather than allow them to choose another school that might meet their needs.  He says students in the lowest 5% of schools, based on the combined math and reading scores in the Commonwealth, should have the opportunity to use state funding to attend another public school or a participating nonpublic school.

Tomalis says the program must be targeted to students trapped in failing schools and be accountable to taxpayers. He says only the state portion of funding would follow the child.   He says the administration believes choice needs to be phased in.

Tomalis says students taking advantage of choice should be held to standards and should be required to take an assessment to measure their academic achievement.  

Tomalis says school choice is not just public to private.  He says public to public choice is an important aspect of the choice program. He says they should promote the ability for students to transfer across district lines. He believes school districts will embrace the potential for public to public choice.  But he says it would be difficult for him to support a mandate that schools participate.

Tomalis also told the committee the administration is looking at taking the growth of student achievement into account when identifying whether schools are hitting their targets.  He says growth has to be part of the mix.

The head of the Pennsylvania State Teachers Association  is questioning how the Corbett  administration could support school vouchers.  In a statement, James Testerman said “This kind of spending is reckless, ill-advised, and dangerous for the students who learn in Pennsylvania’s public schools.”

There are several school choice measures before the legislature, including Senate Bill 1 and several measures in the house.