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Philly teacher has credentials suspended in test-score probe

By Dale Mezzacappa on Jul 15, 2013 05:38 PM

Two years ago, Ronald Paulus of Bok Technical High School won a Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching, nominated by his peers for, among other accolades, "helping establish Bok's success" on the state standardized tests, the PSSAs.

But on July 9, his teaching credentials were suspended for two months by a state disciplinary board due to "allegations that [Paulus] failed to follow proper PSSA test administration procedures."

Paulus becomes the fourth Philadelphia educator to be sanctioned by the state in the investigation of testing irregularities in city schools. His penalty is the least severe of the four. His certifications to teach high school English and Communications were suspended between June 25 and Aug. 25 of this year -- apparently timed to coincide with summer vacation.

PSP director Gleason: Funding deal 'not a perfect package'

By Dale Mezzacappa on Jul 3, 2013 05:21 PM
Mark Gleason, executive director of the Philadelphia School Partnership

The Philadelphia School Partnership, an emerging major player in the local education landscape and frequently a lightning rod for controversy, played a significant role in Harrisburg in the frenzy to find a funding solution for the School District. It hired a politically connected lobbyist and pushed hard for strings to be attached to any additional revenue.

PSP executive director Mark Gleason said in an interview Wednesday that in his view, the deal, which is still not completely finalized, is "not a perfect package" but "a lot better than it could have been."

Gleason said that the package ultimately will bring the District $150 million in recurring money, or "80 to 85 percent of what the District was asking for,"  although he called the patchwork of funding sources "a Band-Aid."

Explaining Corbett's school funding plan

By Dale Mezzacappa on Jul 1, 2013 06:56 PM

In question-and-answer format, here is an explanation of the components of the School District's funding package presented Sunday by Gov. Corbett.

What sources of new money does the governor’s plan include?
​For this year, it includes $45 million in a one-time federal infusion. An additional $50 million comes from borrowing against money that will start flowing to the District next year from extending the 1 percent city sales-tax surcharge beyond 2014 and diverting proceeds to the schools. It also projects that $30 million more will come from more-aggressive city property tax collection (the city projects only $28 million). And it includes a nearly $16 million increase in state basic education funding for the city. But that is only $2 million more in the basic education subsidy than the District had already included in its austerity budget. The governor says it all adds up to $140 million, but the plan would only produce roughly $125 million in revenues not already factored into the District's budget. Whichever numbers are used, the total is well below the $180 million that the District sought from state and city government.

With plan still in limbo, District offers thanks and urges approval of funding package

By Dale Mezzacappa on Jul 1, 2013 03:43 PM

The School District issued the following statement Monday afternoon in response to the school funding plan released by Gov. Corbett on Sunday. Parts of the plan await final legislative approval.

Note: The following is a corrected statement released by the District. An earlier version had the estimated revenue from delinquent tax collection at a higher amount than the city had projected ($30 million as opposed to $28 million).

SRC recesses again, hopes for miracle in Harrisburg by Sunday

By Dale Mezzacappa on Jun 27, 2013 12:38 PM

Doomsday is getting closer.

The School Reform Commission met again Thursday morning, only to recess again until Sunday afternoon. The SRC hopes that Harrisburg will come up with some money so Philadelphia can open schools in September that have more than a skeleton crew of teachers and a principal.

"I can't predict what will happen, but we’ve made it clear for the past 20 months what must happen," said a grim SRC chair Pedro Ramos after the meeting. "Throughout, we kept everyone apprised of our situation with candor. We've done everything we can within the prerogative of the SRC. Now it is up to Harrisburg for officials to do what they were elected to do."

The SRC cannot adopt a revised budget on Sunday -- that requires 30-day public notice -- but it can take actions to restore some services and personnel "if and when new revenues are identified," said District spokesman Fernando Gallard.

National study: Charter schools getting better, cybers drag down Pa. results

By Dale Mezzacappa on Jun 26, 2013 05:20 PM

A new comprehensive national study has found that, overall, charter school performance has improved nationwide, but results vary widely by state. In Pennsylvania, students who attend charters performed worse, on the whole, than their peers in both reading and math, according to the research.

Pennsylvania charters' performance, said the study's co-author, was dragged down by the state's cyber schools. Though there were only eight cyber charters in among the nearly 100 schools studied, they enrolled 30 percent of the students, said Devora Davis, one of the study's authors.

The study was performed by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University. It was a follow-up to an oft-quoted report from 2009, which found that students in only 17 percent of charters did better than similar students in traditional schools.

Voters would consider taxes to stave off education cuts, poll shows

By Dale Mezzacappa on Jun 24, 2013 05:32 PM

A poll of probable voters conducted for two advocacy organizations found that education has risen to the top in voters' minds as a major issue for state government to tackle, right up there with jobs and economic development.

And it found that 55 percent of women and 49 percent of men would somewhat or strongly favor raising the state sales tax and delaying a scheduled corporate tax reduction to stave off severe cuts to schools.

In addition, 55 percent of women and 46 percent of men would favor an increase in the state income tax from 3.07 percent to 3.3 percent.

"We were testing people’s willingness to increase statewide taxes to fund schools, not just Philly schools, but to restore $1 billion in education cuts," said Donna Cooper, executive director of Public Citizens for Children and Youth. "People shockingly said yes, especially women."

State looks for Philly funding solution with other people's money

By Dale Mezzacappa on Jun 22, 2013 12:47 AM

Weeks of frantic lobbying have moved Gov. Corbett and some key legislators to recognize that the Philadelphia School District has a real problem and that they have some responsibility to be part of the solution.

But in seeking to craft a deal that would allow the District to avoid implementing its “doomsday” budget, Harrisburg doesn’t want to contribute any revenue of its own.

None of the proposals currently on the table, either to solve this year’s immediate crisis or provide sustainable levels of aid to Philadelphia in the future, involve an increase in dedicated state money to the city schools, Harrisburg watchers say.

“The state doesn’t want to come up with any money. They think giving [City Council] authorization [to enact more city taxes] is a big step,” said one person with knowledge of the negotiations.

Corbett speaks out on schools; leaked poll suggests that he take on teachers' union

By Dale Mezzacappa on Jun 19, 2013 05:05 PM

For the first time, Gov. Corbett has issued a formal statement on Philadelphia's school-funding crisis, saying he is "committed to finding a solution ... that is focused on students and is fiscally responsible for taxpayers."

His statement came minutes after Daniel Denvir of City Paper published a leaked poll, conducted by a prominent national Republican polling group, Public Opinion Strategies. The poll of Pennsylvania voters concludes that Corbett can increase his popularity -- and chances for re-election -- by taking on the Philadelphia teachers' union, especially on the issue of teacher seniority. 

Amid dispute with District, Discovery Charter cuts ribbon to new building

By Dale Mezzacappa on Jun 18, 2013 05:47 PM

Discovery Charter School staged a festive ribbon-cutting for its new building in Parkside on Tuesday, declaring in a press release that it had settled a dispute over payments with the School Reform Commission and that its charter had been renewed.

Discovery did agree to repay the School District for students it enrolled beyond what was called for in its signed contract, according to District spokesman Fernando Gallard. However, he said, Discovery officials have yet to sign a new charter agreement.

District lays off 76 in central and regional administration; eliminates 137 jobs

By Dale Mezzacappa on Jun 14, 2013 05:59 PM

The other shoe has dropped: The School District issued layoff notices Friday to 76 employees in its central and regional offices, eliminating 137 jobs.

"The new round of layoffs will impact all central administrative offices, including academic and operational functions," said a District statement. The layoffs will save $23 million. Some departments were cut by 40 percent.

Photographer Zoe Strauss and colleagues will document Philly school closings

By Dale Mezzacappa on Jun 7, 2013 01:37 PM

On the occasion of a 10-year retrospective of her work at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2012, photographer Zoe Strauss said that she strives "to create an epic narrative that reflects the beauty and struggle of everyday life.”

Now she has set her sights on a project about the unprecedented mass school closings in Philadelphia -- nearly one in 10 of the city's District-run schools will be closed. She is calling her project the Philadelphia School Closings Photo Collective.

District lays off more than 3,700 employees

By Dale Mezzacappa on Jun 7, 2013 10:38 AM

[Updated, 7:03 p.m.]

Calling the development "nothing less than catastrophic," Superintendent William Hite announced Friday that layoff notices have been sent to 3,783 of the 19,530 District employees, from teachers to food service workers, from counselors to maintenance staff, from community liaisons to lab assistants.

The layoffs will take effect July 1.

"Every aspect of the District will feel the impact – schools, regional offices and central office – along with employees ranging from senior administrators to support staff," said Hite.

He said the workers "are more than numbers: These are people – professionals – who play important roles in the lives of thousands of students throughout our city. They often do jobs beyond their titles and employee classifications. They are teachers, counselors, friends, protectors, and mentors to the children of Philadelphia.

"Without them, our schools will be just empty shells."

Philadelphia Young Playwrights celebrates 25th anniversary

By Dale Mezzacappa on Jun 6, 2013 12:03 PM

“It’s not about the play. It’s about what happens to you when you write the play.”

Thelma Reese, then a teacher and educational psychologist, said she eventually had this “aha moment” about the inspiration of her friend Adele Magner that students — no matter how young, how poor, how jaded, how troubled, how bored — could transform their lives by writing plays.

Magner’s vision blossomed, with the help of Reese and others, when she founded Philadelphia Young Playwrights, which celebrated its 25th anniversary Tuesday night. Throughout its existence, the program has reached about 40,000 students, not to mention their teachers, teaching artists, and parents.

Former charter assistant principal has his licenses suspended for cheating

By Dale Mezzacappa on May 31, 2013 04:03 PM

Another Philadelphia administrator has been disciplined for his role in Pennsylvania's widespread cheating scandal on state standardized tests.

Thomas Conway, a former assistant principal at Philadelphia Electrical and Technology Charter High School, has had his credentials suspended, according to the State Department of Education's website. Cited as the grounds for discipline: "Allegations that Educator violated the integrity and security of the statewide assessment by failing to follow proper procedures related to the handling and storage of secure documents, and by reviewing the assessment for purposes of creating an answer key."

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