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U.S. says Pa. Education Department 'acted prematurely' in charter AYP change

By Dale Mezzacappa on Oct 16, 2012 02:13 PM

Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis "acted prematurely" in changing how to calculate adequate yearly progress for charter schools, according to the U.S. Department of Education. The rule change made it easier for some charters to make AYP.

But a federal spokesperson also said in an email that the change may ultimately be approved.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education "does not have the authority to apply this methodology ... until [the federal Department of Education] has had an opportunity to review and approve its expanded application," according to the email from the federal department spokesperson. "The Department understands the pressures of time in getting these analyses done, reviewed and published, however, PDE acted prematurely."

But federal officials have yet to rule definitively on whether they will approve, ex post facto, Tomalis' action, which was sought by charter proponents and has likely resulted in more charters making AYP this year than would have otherwise.

Tomalis said he made the change because charter schools in Pennsylvania are legally the equivalent of school districts, and so should have their AYP calculated under those rules, instead of under rules for individual schools, which are more strict. The state first applied for the change over the summer but had not heard back before releasing the 2012 test results.

The rules divide school districts into three grade spans -- 3-5, 6-8 and 9-12 -- and allow them to make AYP if one grade span reaches its goals. In contrast, individual schools must reach goals for all grades and demographic subgroups in order to make AYP.

The email, attributed to Deputy Press Secretary Daren Briscoe, added: "If charter schools are districts under state law, they are treated as districts in all circumstances. PDE would be in compliance by applying the district AYP procedure to charter schools if, under state law, the charter is authorized as a district." It added that the decision is still pending review by legal counsel.

In Pennsylvania, each charter is legally a separate local education agency, the equivalent of a school district.


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Comments (17)

Submitted by Ken Derstine on October 16, 2012 3:09 pm

So an individual charter school is treated like a district?? Sounds like the obverse of the Citizens United case where corporations were given the same rights as individuals in campaign financing which is totally corrupting our electoral system.

Individual charters are, in this case, treated like a district with around 150 schools and thereby given different advantageous rules to obscure the truth in comparing traditional and charter schools.

Charter operators claim they are public schools. I've never heard them claim to be a district. So I guess the rules and regulations are adapted to fit whatever is an advantage for private charter schools!

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 16, 2012 3:51 pm


Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on October 16, 2012 6:45 pm

Yes, charter schools under Pennsylvania law are their own Local Educational Agencies. That is, if they are set up pursuant to the provisions in the Charter School Law. That requires that they have their own board of trustees.

That is not the case with Universal or Aspira. They are "charter operators" who are contracted with to run the schools they do. They are different entities altogether. They have a contractual relationship with the district. Whether they qualify as an LEA is an "open question" because no one has litigated that issue, yet.

That raises a whole Pandora's box of legal issues because, except for Charter schools and a few other "taken over" school districts, all other LEA's, as public schools, have democratically elected school boards. Their school boards are elected by the residents of those communities.

Charter schools, by law, are supposed to be public schools and they are supposed to be operated as such.

Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on October 16, 2012 6:33 pm

I heard that renaissance charters who are not satisfied with the arrangement can convert back to public schools after five years. Can you or anyone else confirm whether this is true?

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on October 16, 2012 9:01 pm

That is a good question. The answer is in the agreements with the renaissance charter operators which were approved by the SRC. I would have to read them to answer that question definitively as to the rights of both the operating organizations and the SRC.

I would think initially that the renaissance operators can convert back to regular public schools at any time they wish and would not have to wait for any time period to lapse. They can certainly by agreement with the SRC return the schools to regular public school status. I would expect though that the SRC would want them to finish out the year so the transition could be done smoothly.

The question really is, when can the SRC take them back and convert them back into regular public schools? That is also based on contract law. I heard Commissioner Dworetzky say that is the reason he prefers creating renaissance charters rather than what he called "traditional charter schools." Because it is easier for the SRC to take them back if necessary.

I assure you though that the SRC is not likely to take any school back without a legal battle. And of course, it will be a political battle, too.

An interesting case is Mastery. Mastery was one of the original "traditional charter schools" so they started as what I call a "true charter school." So Mastery would legally qualify as its own Local Educational Agency. However, they have also morphed into a renaissance school operator. The question is whether any or all of their additional schools qualify as its own LEA?

I discussed that issue with Scott Gordon when I visited Mastery-Smedley. He said to me that all of the Mastery schools have their own boards of trustees. That is a good argument that they qualify as independent LEA's, but that is not necessarily conclusive because of contractual agreements which may have been made between Mastery and the SRC. The whole Mastery organization may very well qualify as its own LEA.

There are no easy legal answers especially when lawyers butt heads. Certainly the legal profession has benefitted financially from all the issues. I apologize for being a lawyer but it sometimes comes in handy.

I assure you I consider myself a teacher and an educator first. To me, teaching is the noblest of all professions.

Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on October 16, 2012 3:48 pm

This is a political move - plain and simple. It gives charters - and the Phila. School Partnership / Great School - "amo" to argue more charters make AYP. Of course they do - the playing field is not fair. The vast majority of charters in Philadelphia - other than Charter Co's like Mastery, Universal, etc. - are individual schools. Because the Commonwealth wants to promote privatization, this model gives the public a false impression that more charters are making AYP.

Is the Notebook going to investigate this disparity? Even the Inquirer had more thorough coverage today. The Morning Call certainly did better . (I tried to put the links to the articles but - "Your submission has triggered the spam filter and will not be accepted.")

When a school makes AYP, they fly a banner and wave their accomplishment. This move by Corbett promotes an obvious disparity / inequity in how an individual school is rated. There are charters with 400 - 800 students. How many PA school districts have that few students? Jenkintown - maybe. Not Philadelphia.

Submitted by Ken Derstine on October 16, 2012 7:03 pm

Philly Parent and Teacher, convert the URL with Tiny URL , Make your url shorter or similar website. Copy and paste the shorter URL into your comment. A shorter URL will not trigger the spam filer.

Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on October 16, 2012 7:00 pm

Thanks - I'll try it next time.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 16, 2012 4:37 pm

You might as well surrender. It's over for the Philadelphia School District. They don't want to pay for it.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 16, 2012 5:53 pm

Man, is that a stupid, cool aid drinking comment !! They want to give the rich, money set aside for the poor. What planet did you just fly in from?? The 1 % and their minions like Corbett, want to stop paying a livable wage to the workers so the already rich, get richer. My goodness, try to follow along.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 17, 2012 12:29 pm

Another "do good" unintelligent liberal.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 17, 2012 10:21 am

This issue becomes so important in Philadelphia. A neighborhood school could conceivably not make AYP and then be compared to a charter school with the same EXACT data and the charter will have made AYP. In an era of closing traditional public schools this misleads and corrupts the whole process. If in fact charters are to be viewed as districts then like districts, they should have more then one designation, one as a district and then a separate score for each school. That would be apples to apples.

Submitted by Joe (not verified) on October 17, 2012 1:35 pm

And that's exactly why it won't happen. Justice has NOTHING to do with this.

Submitted by Ken Derstine on October 17, 2012 10:48 pm

This practice of manipulating test scores to advance a privatization agenda has come to be know as "juking the stats". The website rheeFirst has some background to the practice:

“Juking the Stats”* in El Paso and DC

Submitted by Philly Parent and Teacher (not verified) on October 18, 2012 5:18 am

Thanks for sharing this link. Hopefully, everyone will read how those in power manipulate so called "objective" standardized tests. Students, again, are used for the agendas of a few adults.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 18, 2012 3:16 pm

The Philadelphia School District is looking for dual-certified special education teachers (LS/Eng) to fill open vacancies NOW. See the district Vacancy List for more information!

Submitted by Wyoming auto insurance (not verified) on September 21, 2013 11:47 pm
Good respknse in return of this difficulty with real arfuments and explaining the whole thing on the topic of that.

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