Wednesday, December 30, 2009

CBP & Zion Baptist Youth Council to Host Education Summit: The Village Takes Responsibility Part II

Plan to attend and share the word...

The Lower Merion School District administrators will be featured presenters at the Education Summit--The Village Takes Responsibility Part II on Saturday, January 9, 2010 from 9:15am-3pm at 92 Greenfield Avenue in Ardmore, PA 19010. Concerned Black Parents and the Zion Baptist Youth Advisory Council are co-hosting the summit on behalf of all concerned residents. The event is free and open to all, a continental breakfast and lunch will be available. Details follow.

The Morning Session starts at 10:00 am with presentations as follows:

Academic Achievement & the Keystone Exams
Dr. Christopher McGinley, Superintendent
Mr. Steve Barbato, Director of Curriculum

Special Education
Dr. Bobbi Shapiro, Director of Students Services

Cultural Proficiency
Dr. Barbara Moore-Williams, School District Consultant on Cultural Proficiency

After a brief lunch, the Afternoon Session at 12:45pm will hold Community Discussions on…
  • What’s our community to do to raise achievement for African Americans from the outside in and inside schools out?
  • How do we give more kids an identity as “intellectual” achievers?
  • Who’s willing to do what?

We look forward to seeing you there! Contact us for more details,

Sunday, October 25, 2009

As Predicted--PA Regulators Approve High School Graduation Competency "Keystone" Exams

In 2005, Governor Rendell established the Commission on College and Career Success (CCCS report) and gave them the responsibility to study and produce recommendations to increase the numbers of Pennsylvanians who earn a diploma indicative of a world-class student ready to graduate from high school and enter the new global economy or prepared to succeed in college. Their primary recommendation was to initiate graduation competency exams throughout the state. In the face of tremendous state-wide opposition, the State Board of Education and Governor's office steadily ran with the idea until it became a sealed deal.

Long story short, when nearly $176 million dollars was contracted to Data Recognition Corporation (not a PA corporation) during a moratorium on the high school exit exams push, it was evident that all votes en route to creating a new state law requiring students to pass graduation competency tests was a done deal long before the state "Independent" Regulatory Review Commission voted 4-1 on October 22, 2009 to approve the Keystone Exams proposal that the State Board of Education has pushed over the past four years. The final leg of this new law includes a review by the attorney general before being published in the Pennslvania Bulletin. Voila. The class of 2015 will be the first to endure the consequences of graduate competency exams.

The CCCS report states that students must move beyond the Information Age and into the Conceptual Age. After all, the The State Department of Education and Governor Rendell, at least via the CCCS's report, do know that Pennsylvania still faces a gaping achievement gap that is no where near being eradicated by 2014, which is the intention of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002.

The CCCS reports that "persistent (achievement) gaps are ensured by inequity of funding and resources which results in less credentialed teachers in front of our poorest children, larger class sizes and less college counseling for our children of color and less access to higher education for our rural students." What's the plan to eradicate these foundational problems, if, indeed, these are the root causes of the achievement gap? By other indicators, the CCCS's report is rather simplistic in determining the root causes of the achievement gap. For argument sake, take a look at the high achieving, very wealthy Lower Merion School District; its achievement gap is deep and wide even while it doesn't suffer from any of the symptoms CCCS indicates are at the root of the problem.

Perhaps the achievement gap experienced in one of Pennsylvania's highest academic achieving school districts, the Lower Merion School District (LMSD), points to the shallow analysis of the CCCS report when it explains cause of the gap. Nearly 100 percent of Lower Merion's teachers are credentialed, there's a moderate to low student to teacher ratio, it does not subscribe to the Project 720, and the district is one of the wealthiest in the state (2010 budget of nearly $200 million for 6,800 students).

The LMSD achievement gap between PSSA Black and White 11th grade peer test takers during the spring of 2009 is as follows: 54 points in math, 32 points in reading, 56 points in science and 16 points in writing; that number is greater when the comparison is between Black students and 100% proficiency. Money isn't an issue, qualified teachers and class size aren't the problem--WHAT POINT IS THE STATE MISSING! If you're thinking the students are the problem, think again. Schools across the nation are not just closing the gap, they're eliminating them all together.

Bottom line...Priorities are out of order when fixing the roof is more important than solidifying the crumbling foundation upon which it sits.

Keystone Exams---will be written about for years to come because you cannot ensure by them that high school students are prepared to be citizens and workers that the Pennsylvania, national and international economy demands without greater regard and analysis of the varied levels of education (top-to-bottom, bottom-to-top) needed to prepare students to succeed.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Legislative Watch: Reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Deliquency Prevention Act of 1974 (JJDPA)

(JJDPA) - 'The Juvenile Justice and Deliquency Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2009 is up to be reauthorized through FY2014; it is an Amendment to the same Act of 1974.

In Pennsylvania, Senator Arlen Specter is a co-sponsor of this Bill. Contact him and encourage him to stick with it. Take the time to learn more about juvenile justice and the Pipeline to Prison.

Here's what it does:

Requires the Administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (Office) to include in the annual report of the Office information on juveniles held in state and local secure detention and correctional facilities, the treatment of status offenders (e.g., runaways, truants), and evidence based programs for juvenile delinquency prevention.

Expands requirements for state plans under the Act to require:

(1) statewide compliance with the core requirement of the Act for protection of incarcerated juveniles;

(2) alternatives to detention for juveniles who are status or first-time minor offenders;

(3) use of community-based services to address the needs of at-risk youth;

(4) programs to improve the recruitment, selection, training, and retention of professionals working in juvenile delinquency prevention programs; and

(5) the identification of racial and ethnic disparities among juveniles in the juvenile justice system.

Eliminates as a requirement under the Juvenile Delinquency Prevention Block Grant Program evidence that Indian tribe grant applicants perform law enforcement functions.

Authorizes the Administrator to make incentive grants to state and local governments for juvenile delinquency prevention programs, including evidence based programs for the prevention and reduction of juvenile delinquency, personnel recruitment and training, and mental health and substance abuse screening and treatment. Includes mentoring programs as a permissible grant purpose under the Incentive Grant Program for Local Delinquency Prevention. Reauthorizes such grant program through FY2014.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

News Parents Can Use---America Goes Back to School: A National Town Hall Meeting with Arne Duncan - Tuesday, September 15, 2009, 8-9 p.m.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is traveling throughout the country to engage a broad group of stakeholders-including parents-in an open and honest conversation about federal education policy in anticipation of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Already, the secretary has met with hundreds of mothers and fathers, students, teachers, principals, education support staff, superintendents, college professors, higher education administrators, and community leaders during his national tour, "Listening and Learning: A Conversation About Education Reform."

The September edition of Education News parents will have a chance to offer the Secretary their suggestions and their hopes about reforming education in the United States in a public dialogue addressing topics of importance to schools, families, and communities.

Education News is a monthly television program that focuses on schools, learning and student success. On the third Tuesday of each month during the school year, Education News airs live via satellite, offering parents and anyone else with an interest in education vital information about getting involved in children's learning. To learn more about the broadcast and where to watch please visit: http://www.ed./ <> gov/news/av/ video/edtv/ index.html

Friday, September 4, 2009

PA Courts Deny African American Students Class Action Certification

In a Memorandum dated August 19, 2009, Chief Justice Harvey Bartle, of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, denied class certification to plaintiffs, including six African American students and their parents, the NAACP—Main Line Branch, and Concerned Black Parents. The case was filed on July 30, 2007 by the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia (PILCOP) as a class action against the Lower Merion School District and the Pennsylvania Department of Education. The lawsuit alleges persistent, routine, and system-wide racial segregation of African American students into below grade level or modified classes where they receive a substandard education.

Further, Chief Justice Bartle dismissed the Pennsylvania Department of Education, Concerned Black Parents and, presumably, the NAACP—Main Line Branch from the case all together. Concerned Black Parents and the NAACP are plaintiffs on behalf of all African American students who have experienced intentional and systematic racial discrimination within the Lower Merion School District. In an earlier memorandum, Chief Justice Bartle had dismissed all claims against the Lower Merion School Board members and claims for the Blunt family, the original plaintiffs in the case. Where there were no motions filed by the Lower Merion School District or the Pennsylvania Department of Education, Chief Justice Bartle treated their brief and assertions as legal motions, although none was officially submitted, and decided in their favor.

In stark contrast to Chief Justice Harvey Bartle’s decisions in favor of the Lower Merion School District and the Pennsylvania Department of Education, on June 2009 a decision was rendered by a Due Process Hearing officer in favor of one of the plaintiffs in the above referenced federal court case after extensive testimony by the defendants, the Lower Merion School District. Hearing Officer Dr. Valentini determined that, in fact, the Lower Merion School District denied its 17-year old African American high school student a free and appropriate education over a number of years; accordingly, the student was awarded a significant academic compensatory package for her loss of years of a meaningful education. This student received special education support services that were considered inferior by the hearing officer.

Unfortunately, many other plaintiffs, along with the denied “class,” in the federal case before Chief Justice Bartle are receiving an inferior education in a school district that is promoted and recognized as being one of Pennsylvania’s best public school systems. In support of class certification, the plaintiffs submitted a statistical analysis of the school district’s own data showing that African-American students are clustered in low track courses and denied placement in honors and advanced placement courses. The racial disparity is overwhelming and could not have occurred by chance. Data obtained from the Pennsylvania Department of Education showed that African-American students are overrepresented in special education and, once identified as special education students, are significantly more likely than Caucasian special education students to be placed in separate special education classes. Yet the Court ignored this evidence of class-wide discrimination against African-American students.

The nearly eight year-old No Child Left Behind law seemingly has had little impact on the achievement gap between Lower Merion’s black students and their white peers as demonstrated by the approximate 30 point differences in reading and math PSSA scores; these figures get slightly better or tremendously worse or varied levels. At a recent school board meeting, the district’s superintendent announced that the district is experiencing the highest number of student enrollment in honors level courses in recent history. The class action lawsuit that was put before the federal court in 2007 by the aforementioned plaintiffs is a plea before the Court to order a reluctant and covertly racist school district administration and staff to finally enable African American students to gain access to the wealth of academic achievement denied to its minority students.

As Chief Justice Harvey Bartle renders his opposition to certifying the case as a class action, dismisses key defendants, whittles plaintiffs off the case, and decides on non-existent motions; Lower Merion’s African American community and its legal team at the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia will continue to seek justice for its students by submitting an Appeal to the higher Court.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

PA State Board of Education Approves High School Graduation Exit Exams with 14-2 Vote

Pennsylvania's Board of Education voted 14:2 to approve the Keystone Exams, high school graduation competency exit exams, despite the recent resistance by school boards, organizations, and politicians across the state since its proposal a couple of years ago.

The Board of Education's approval should not come as a surprise. The year-long moratorium was lifted in June. Senate Education Committee voted 10:1 to adopt a resolution in support of the most recent version of the Keystone Exam Plan on July 28; the House Education Committee nearly voted unanimously in favor of the high school graduation competency testing process that Governor Edward Rendell and State Education Secretary Gerald Zahorchak believe will ensure that the state's high school students graduate with a meaningful diploma. The recent shift in support of these measures is due to the fact that the plan looks quite different from its original draft.

So, if the No Child Left Behind law hasn't managed to close the achievement gap in seven years, will the Keystone Exams raise or frustrate academic success state-wide?

Three of the ten tests will be administered to high school students during the 2010-11 school year, the others will phase in through 2016. Test scores will count for one-third of the students' final grade. The Keystone Exams come at a production cost of nearly $200 million by an out-of-state company.

Before the Attorney General makes the Keystone Exams "state law" the House and Senate Education Committees along with the Independent Regulatory Commission will have to put their final approval on the proposal.

One has to wonder what role in the voting process did Pennsylvania's 3.2 billion dollar deficit play in the decision process of our "leaders." Did anyone consider the level of success the No Child Left Behind law has had over the past seven years, or lack thereof. Ready or not, it looks like high school graduation competency exams are coming to your school district soon.

Betcha the "politics" of the Keystone Exams makes for good readin'!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

AFRICAN AMERICAN TEENAGER WINS CASE AGAINST LOWER MERION SCHOOLS: She is to be compensated for the loss of years of meaningful education

After listening to testimony over eight days, an administrative hearing officer ruled that the Lower Merion School District denied its 17-year old African American high school student, C.H., a free and appropriate public education, June 2009. C.H. is a student with learning disabilities in mathematics, reading and writing. She aspires to attend college. Her compensation includes, but is not limited to, intensive instruction from Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes in Bryn Mawr.

The hearing officer’s opinion outlines a litany of basic failures on the part of the district to understand C.H.’s current level of educational attainment or to set measurable goals to improve. As a result, the remedial courses offered to C.H. were not tied to her actual needs. For example, while the district knew about C.H.’s learning disability in math, it failed to ascertain what skills she had attained or provide any goals for her improvement. According to the hearing officer, the district official’s explanation for this omission of math goals was “not logical”; there is a basic need, the hearing officer observed, for a baseline evaluation and then goals to measure progress from that baseline. The hearing officer similarly characterized as “sparse” the goals for reading and writing, observing that none of them was measurable. “Had the [Individualized Education Plans] been more precisely focused through reading, mathematics and written expression goals that were sufficiently broken down, and crafted with specific baselines and outcomes that were measurable, the actual remedial teaching might have occurred in such a way as to demonstrate meaningful progress. Unfortunately, this was not the case and C.H. was therefore denied [an education.]”

ACADEMIC TRACKING: Segregated access to knowledge…hurts!

Academic tracking is not just a canker sore in our schools; it’s an educational system of segregation that’s like a “curable” cancer that if left unchecked leads to the demise of vulnerable citizens—our children.

The 21st century public education system’s challenges include closing the academic achievement gaps that persist between the races and classes. School administrators, educators, and policy makers are scrambling all over the nation in an effort to fix the gap problem and raise achievement as federally mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act. Academic tracking is an institutionalized practice in U.S. public schools that is at least a century old; dividing students into categories of “more able” or “less able” is used by schools to segregate students into ability groups, instructional levels, and classes. Segregated tracking undermines school reform, yet is often ignored as a primary component of academic achievement—for lack thereof---as the nation focuses on other perceived problems such as teaching to the standardized tests, funding No Child Left Behind, and making Adequate Yearly Progress.

Tracking allocates the most valuable school experiences -- including challenging and meaningful curriculum, engaging instruction, and high teacher expectations -- to students who already have the greatest academic, economic, and social advantages, while students who face the greatest struggles in school and in life receive a more impoverished curriculum based on lower expectation placed on them by school staff.
Anne Wheelock, Children’s Advocate

It’s an important reform matter because the 21st century post-industrialist “white-collar” economy does not need the larger “blue-collar--factory” labor pool of its predecessors. Today’s is a global world requiring highly skilled workers. Tracking disqualifies a huge segment of the population from becoming prepared to take advantage of future opportunities, particularly African Americans, Latinos, children with disabilities and those from low-income or immigrant families.

Is your child academically derailed?

Minority students and those from the lowest socio-economic groups have been found in disproportionate numbers in lower level track courses, and children from upper socioeconomic levels and Whites have been found consistently over represented in higher tracks. This is particularly true in Lower Merion where tracking starts in elementary school, takes shape in middle school, and becomes more formerly labeled in high school as modified, college prep, honors, advanced placement, IB, vocational education, or special education courses.

Tracking prevails because it is perceived by school staff to be a logical and expedient way to take account of wide differences in students’ academic abilities. The underlying presumption is that students are appropriately placed when tracked by standardized test scores or I/Qs or subjective measures. People get worried about the effects of heterogeneous grouping on the "upper" level students, fearing that the "lower" level students will hold them back; apparently they’re less concerned about the impact low level courses have on students placed there, or whether schools should hire and train staff who are capable of organizing curriculum and instruction so that all students can learn.

Schools that track tend to place a heavier emphasis on quantifying intelligence rather than releasing it and bringing out the genius in every child. They define (in)ability without nurturing effort, and sort according to weaknesses rather than building on strengths. For lower tracked students, educators cover content—focusing on worksheets, listening, copying, test taking, and graphic organizers--rather than stress concepts, problem solving and complex thinking. Typically, teachers contemplate whether students learn fast or slowly, are average or gifted, are adept or struggling, their ethnic, social and economic family background, and other factors before deciding on course placement levels.

Students of low tracked courses often experience school as an intellectually and physically inhospitable place for learning. Student complaints about boring classes or teacher are ignored as the question of whether they’re completing homework and sitting in their seats when the bells rings takes precedence. When students seem distant from their own learning experiences or become behavior problems, the inquiry of a school psychologist is employed evaluate whether the student has a specific learning disability or is emotionally disturbed.

Students need schools that provide quality relationships, curriculum, and instruction in every classroom. The decision to track students is essentially one of giving up on the problem, as is retention, social promotions, marginalization, and “dumping” kids into special education.

Academic tracking will maintain the status quo,
but not serve Americans well, especially African Americans.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Got a child who wants to play college sports? Does your child's high school course roster qualify for NCAA eligibility?

If your child wants to play college sports, especially basketball, make sure s/he is carry a high school course load and level that is acceptable to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Many African American students desire a college or career experience that centers around sports, while all too many fall short of the academic rigor/curriculum that is acceptable in the NCAA world.

Parents of students taking "special education" courses beware!

The NCAA eligibility rules have changed...become informed at . Accordingly, students may need the guidance of a parent or guardian to adjust their high school course curriculum and levels (college prep/standard, honors, advanced placement) to reflect NCAA eligible course requirements.

For example, the Lower Merion School District (where Kobe Bryant attended high school) in Pennsylvania provides several courses that qualify as well as disqualify students from NCAA eligibility. Unfortunately those disqualifying courses tend to be heavily attended by African American students who all too often learn about the NCAA Approved Course list and eligibility requirements when they become disqualified for respective college sports programs upon application, when it's too late.

Take a peek at the NCAA Approved and Denied courses for Lower Merion School District on the NCAA website, and then search for your school's Form 48 document to determine whether your sports minded child is carrying both an appropriate curriculum and academic course level:

Don't allow your child to be denied access to college sports programs because they are tracked to the wrong academic courses!

Children's Defense Fund Cradle to Prison Pipeline Facts on Pennsylvania

March 2009
The Children's Defense Fund Cradle to Prison Pipeline® Campaign is a national and community crusade to engage families, youths, communities and policy makers in the development of healthy, safe and educated children. Poverty, racial disparities and a culture of punishment rather than prevention and early intervention are key forces driving the

Poor children lag behind their peers in many ways beyond income; they are less healthy, trail in emotional and intellectual development, and do not perform as well in school. The challenges that poor children face accumulate and interact, casting long shadows throughout their lives.

Every year that we keep children in poverty costs our nation half a trillion dollars in lost productivity, poorer health and increased crime.

In Pennsylvania among all children, 1 in 6 (16.3 percent or 446,832) is poor.
For White, non-Latino children, 1 in 9 (11.1 percent or 235,275) is poor.
For Asian/Pacific Islander children, 1 in 7 (13.8 percent or 9,560) is poor.
For American Indian/Alaska Native children, 1 in 5 (19.0 percent or 720) is poor.
For Black children, 3 in 8 (36.4 percent or 131,784) are poor.
For Latino children, 2 in 5 (40.0 percent or 79,143) are poor.

Health Care
The United States is the wealthiest nation in the world, yet children’s health status in our country is among the worst in the industrialized world.

In 2007, an estimated 226,000 children (7.6 percent) were uninsured in Pennsylvania.
In 2006, 12,562 babies (8.5 percent) were born at low birthweight in Pennsylvania. This included:
7.4 percent of White, non-Latino babies.
8.7 percent of Latino babies.
14.0 percent of Black, non-Latino babies.

Early Childhood Education
Studies reveal that those enrolled in high quality early childhood education programs are more likely to complete higher levels of education, have higher earnings, be in better health and be in stable relationships, and are less likely to commit a crime or be incarcerated. Yet many children are not enrolled in these programs.
In the 2006-2007 school year, 15.9 percent of 3-year-olds and 27.2 percent of 4-year-olds were enrolled in state-funded preschool programs in Pennsylvania.

In 2005-2006, 35,362 children were enrolled in Head Start and Early Head Start in Pennsylvania. Of these:
13.4 percent were Latino.
35.6 percent were Black, non Latino.
47.8 percent were White, non-Latino.

Attainment of a high school diploma is the single most effective preventive strategy against adult poverty. Yet a significant number of students do not graduate on time with a regular diploma.
In 2007, a disproportionate number of Black and Latino fourth graders could not read or do math at grade level.

In Pennsylvania:
53 percent of White, non-Latino 4th graders cannot read at grade level.
85 percent of Latino 4th graders cannot read at grade level.
87 percent of Black, non-Latino 4th graders cannot read at grade level.
47 percent of White, non-Latino 4th graders cannot do math at grade level.
72 percent of Latino 4th graders cannot do math at grade level.
82 percent of Black, non-Latino 4th graders cannot do math at grade level.
Students who are suspended or expelled are more likely than their peers to drop out of school altogether.

In Pennsylvania:
For every 100 Asian/Pacific Islander students enrolled in the public schools, there were 2.7 suspensions.
For every 100 American Indian/Alaska Native students enrolled in the public schools, there were 3.4 suspensions.
For every 100 White students enrolled in the public schools, there were 4.2 suspensions.
For every 100 Latino students enrolled in the public schools, there were 8.7 suspensions.
For every 100 Black students enrolled in the public schools, there were 18.9 suspensions.
In Pennsylvania, 5.5 percent of youths ages 16 to 19 were neither enrolled in school nor high school graduates.

Juvenile Justice System and Incarceration
States spend about 2.8 times as much money per prisoner as per public school pupil. Unless we focus our efforts on early intervention and prevention, rather than punishment, we are robbing thousands of youths each year of their futures and our country of vital human resources.

In Pennsylvania, there were 106,572 juvenile arrests in 2007.
Of the 4,323 youths in residential placement in Pennsylvania in 2006:
447 (10.3 percent) were Latino.
1,419 (32.8 percent) were White, non-Latino.
2,328 (53.9 percent) were Black, non-Latino.

There were 60 youths under age 18 incarcerated in adult correctional facilities in Pennsylvania in 2007.

Pennsylvania spends 3.4 times as much per prisoner as per public school student.
Community Violence

The eight children and teens killed by gun violence each day in our nation is the equivalent of one Northern Illinois University shooting every 15 hours or one Virginia Tech shooting every four days. Yet, unfortunately, it takes tragic events like these to remind us that gun violence in America has reached an epidemic level.

In 2005, 138 children and teens in Pennsylvania died of firearm injuries.
At crucial points in these children’s development, from birth through adulthood, more risks and disadvantages cumulate and converge to make a successful transition to productive adulthood significantly less likely and involvement in the criminal justice system more likely.

We have no time to waste.
It is time to step up and take action.
Together, we can and will make a difference.

For more information on the Cradle to Prison Pipeline, please visit or contact Natacha Blain, Lead Strategic Advisor, at or (202) 662-3544.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

PA NAACP Branches Oppose Proposed State Mandating of High School Graduation Exit Exams

As Pennsylvania's Governor Edward Rendell and the Department of Education forge ahead to ensure the viability of the Keystone Exams by awarding a $201 million dollar contract to Data Recognition, a Minnesota corporation with extensive lobbying forces in Harrisburg, to create the high stakes public high school graduation competency assessments, the NAACP along with state legislators and other organizations speak out AGAINST the push for more state mandated exams.

Senate Bill 281 is intended to prohibit the Education Department from establishing any new statewide requirements for graduation without legislature approval. Legislators argue that neither Pennsylvania's budget nor property taxpayers can afford the expense of the Keystone Exams; the NAACP charges that they place an unjust burden on African American students, their families, and society. The PA State Conference of NAACP Branches agrees with the National NAACP's Call to Action on Education statement that says...

"Before shifting accountability burdens onto the shoulders of children, state and local educational agency's must ensure that all students have an equal opportunity to learn the tested curriculum."

Check out the Pennsylvania State Conference of the NAACP Branches position paper for yourself at:

(Follow the blogs on this site for more details on the Keystone Exams.)

Lower Merion School District Charged with "Redistricting" Racial Discrimination

Lower Merion, PA--Families of nine African American students residing in the South Ardmore section of Lower Merion filed a federal civil-rights lawsuit with the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania against the Lower Merion School District alleging that its high school Redistricting "3-R" Plan that was approved in January discriminates against black students by busing them to Harriton High School rather than to Lower Merion High School, which is a neighborhood school that is situated within a one-mile radius of the students' homes. Prior to the redistricting effort, the South Ardmore community had the "choice" of attending either high school. The families want school choice reinstated. They have not put forth before the Court a challenge or dispute over the community's perceived "racial division" at the elementary school level. The Lower Merion School District Board members, administrators and staff, through its solicitor Ken Roos, publicly denied all allegations at its May 18, 2009 school board meeting.

Monday, April 27, 2009

High School Graduation Requirements Updated--Keystone Exams 2.0

"The problem you've got is districts aren't doing as well as they might in getting kids educated well. If you suddenly implement high-stakes exams and kids can't graduate, you're penalizing the kids for the failures of the school system,"
Dr. Alan Lesgold, dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Education

There's an ongoing dialogue/debate about high school graduation requirements between the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE), Governor Edward Rendell's office, the Congressional Senators/Representatives who serve on respective Education Committees, the union organizations for both teachers and school board members, and member organizations of the recently formed organization called The Coalition for Effective and Responsive Testing (CERT) comprised of several organizations including the Parent Teacher Association and the Pennsylvania NAACP.

Should students be required to prove a level of proficiency in mathematics, reading, writing, science, and social studies before being granted a "meaningful" high school diploma?

The agency argument goes something like this...the costs for testing and remediation would be in the millions and a tremendous burden to school districts particularly in a national recession, not to mention the pressure on teachers to actually ensure that beginning with the graduation class of 2015 students are educated when the Keystone Exam 1.0 kicks into effect that year subsequent to the failed or successful No Child Left Behind goal of educating most of America's students to a level of proficiency in mathematics, reading, writing, and science. Of course, students who fall below proficiency in any of those core content courses would risk failing to graduate from high school and all the consequences that come with it unless they have been identified by a learning disability (like being below proficient in reading or math) and receive academic support through "special education" services.

In early March 2009, several government agencies and organizations morphed the so called Graduation Competency Assessments into the Keystone Exams, which were variations on the theme of state-mandated assessments high schoolers would be required to pass in order to graduate with a regular high school diploma (others could graduate below proficiency with a special education diploma).
Further morphing involves the evolution of the Keystone 1.0 into the Keystone 2.0, which was crafted and agreed upon by CERT members. The Keystone 2.0 shifts from accountability to being not more than a Pennsylvania Department of Education created final course exam minus the exorbitant expenses to school districts or the burden to hold anyone responsible for academic success and ensuring that high school students graduate educated and prepared for the rigors of college, a career or the workforce. In effect, the Keystone Exams would not be a high-stakes exit exam and passing them would not be a state graduation requirement since PDE would create an exam that students would take at the end of a course and would count for 20% of their final grade.
“We appreciate that the coalition has kept the dialogue open concerning the need for these high-stakes exams. However, at a time when our state is facing a $2.6 billion and growing deficit, we believe there is no need for these additional, costly tests. The last thing that we need in this budget is new spending."
Joint Statement from Senator Orie and Rep. Saylor On Alternative Graduation Tests - aka Keystone Exams 2.0 Wednesday April 22, 2009

Whew...that took the steam out of that effort to require high school graduation competency exams in Pennsylvania. Powerful lobbyists!
The CERT group includes:
American Federation of Teachers--PA, Pennsylvania Association of Career and Technical Administrators, Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, Pennsylvania Association of Elementary and Secondary School Principals, Pennsylvania Association of Pupil Service Administrators (special education), Pennsylvania Middle School Association, Pennsylvanias for the Educaton of Gifted Students, Pennsylvania State Education Association, Pennsylvania PTA (No PTA where I live), Pennsylvania NAACP (hmmm, wonder who they spoke with?)
"I applaud PSEA's willingness to join this discussion and look forward to studying the proposal. I worry deeply about the implications of one aspect of their plan. When you cap the weight of the Keystone final exam at no more than 20 percent of a student's grade, you lose the assurance that any student in any school is actually able to show they are meeting high school academic standards in English, math, science or social studies."
Chief among proponents of the Keystone Exam 1.0 version, state Education Secretary Gerald Zahorchak

Stay tuned. They're not done yet!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Children and TV: Limiting your child's screen time

Children and TV often go hand in hand. Understand the effects of too much screen time — and how to enforce reasonable limits.

By Mayo Clinic staff
Are you concerned about how much time your child spends watching TV or playing video games? Although some screen time can be educational, it's easy to go overboard. Consider this guide to children and TV, including how to limit your child's screen time.
Children and TV — the effects
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting a child's use of TV, movies, video and computer games to no more than one or two hours a day. Too much screen time has been linked to:
Obesity. Children who watch more than two hours of TV a day are more likely to be overweight.
Irregular sleep. The more TV children watch, the more likely they are to resist going to bed and to have trouble falling asleep.
Behavioral problems. Children who watch excessive amounts of TV are more likely to bully, have attention problems, and show signs of depression or anxiety than children who don't.
Impaired academic performance. Elementary students who have TVs in their bedrooms tend to perform worse on tests than those who don't.
Less time for play. Excessive screen time leaves less time for active, creative play.
How to limit screen time
Your child's total daily screen time may be greater than you realize. Start monitoring it. In the meantime, you can take simple steps to reduce the amount of time your child spends watching TV, movies and videos or playing video or computer games:
Eliminate background TV. If the TV is turned on — even if it's just in the background — it's likely to draw your child's attention. If you're not actively watching a show, turn off the TV.
Keep TVs and computers out of the bedroom. Children who have TVs in their bedrooms watch more TV and videos than children who don't. Monitor your child's screen time and the Web sites he or she is visiting by keeping computers in a common area in your house.
Don't eat in front of the TV. Allowing your child to eat or snack in front of the TV increases his or her screen time. The habit also encourages mindless munching, which can lead to weight gain.
Set school day rules. Most children have limited free time during the school week. Don't let your child spend all of it in front of a screen.
Suggest other activities. Rather than relying on screen time for entertainment, help your child find other things to do. Consider classic activities, such as reading, playing a sport or trying a new board game.
Set a good example. Be a good role model. Limit your own screen time.
Become an active participant
When your child has screen time, make it as engaging as possible:
Plan what your child watches. Instead of flipping through channels, seek quality videos or use a program guide to select appropriate shows. Pay attention to TV Parental Guidelines — a system that rates programs based on suitability for children. When the program ends, turn off the TV.
Watch with your child. Whenever possible, watch programs together — and talk about what you see.
Choose video games that encourage physical activity. Better yet, make the games a family experience.
It may be difficult to start limiting your child's screen time, especially if your child already has a TV in his or her bedroom or your family eats dinner in front of the TV. But by creating new household rules and steadily making small changes in your child's routine, you can make a difference.


Sunday, April 5, 2009

Dismantle the Cradle to Prison (from schools) Pipeline

Join Marian Wright Edelman, President of the Children's Defense Fund (CDF), in the campaign to dismantle The Cradle to Prison Pipeline. CDF has become the nation's strongest voice for children and families. This campaign is a national and community crusade to engage families, youth, community leaders and institutions and those in power in every sector in the development of healthy, educated children. The Campaign advances policies that put children on track to productive adulthood and opposes those that criminalize children at younger and younger ages.

Nationally, 1 in 3 Black and 1 in 6 Latino boys born in 2001 are at risk of imprisonment during their lifetime. While boys are five times as likely to be incarcerated as girls, there also is a significant number of girls in the juvenile justice system. This rate of incarceration is endangering children at younger and younger ages.
This is America's pipeline to prison — a trajectory that leads to marginalized lives, imprisonment and often premature death. Although the majority of fourth graders cannot read at grade level, states spend about three times as much money per prisoner as per public school pupil.
CDF's vision with it's Cradle to Prison Pipeline campaign is to reduce detention and incarceration by increasing preventive supports and services children need, such as access to quality early childhood development and education services and accessible, comprehensive health and mental health coverage. Emphasis must be shifted for the sake of our children and our nation's future. Learn more--

During this political season of change, let's work to dismantle this pipeline.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Main Line Education Monologues: Dreams Deferred or Realized documentary showing on PATV

The film documentary The Main Line Education Monologues: Dreams Deferred or Realized provides viewers a snapshot of the experience of twenty African American Lower Merion School District alumni who are graduates from the classes of 1952 through 1999. First viewed in 2006 at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute to a standing room only audience, viewers can catch the film on Lower Merion and Narberth's Public Access Television on April 4, 2009 at 10:00 pm on Comcast channel 99 and Verizon channel 34. View an introduction by the film's producer, Ellen Sall, and the president of Concerned Black Parents, Loraine Carter at 10:00 pm, the film follows at 10:24 pm. From the voices of those who lived it, learn more about redistricting, special education, parent engagement in academic success, and the affect of race in education in one of Pennsylvania's award winning school districts.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Government Mandated High School Proficiency "Exit" Exams Coming Soon to a School Near You

"We have allowed diplomas to be awarded to students who have not been able to demonstrate basic levels of preparedness for life beyond high school for too long by handing out ‘empty’ diplomas, we are cheating our children and our commonwealth." Dr. Gerald Zahorchak, Pennsylvania Secretary of Education
Pennsylvania state law passed last July established a one-year moratorium on any regulations regarding high school graduation requirements. The State Board of Education will continue its public hearing and input process over the next several months and will formally revisit the proposed regulations once the moratorium expires at the end of June 2009. Nevertheless plans are moving forward to establish high school graduation competency "exit" exam state laws.

What should students and parents know about high school graduation exit exams?
So what is the agreement on high school graduation regulations between the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE), the State Board of Education (SBE) and the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA). Well basically, by 2015 all of Pennsylvania's high school students will be required to pass competency exit exams in all core content subjects along with other criteria established by school districts (course completion, senior projects, grades, credits, etc.) in order to receive a certified high school diploma. Take precautionary note: exceptions will be made for special education students.
Those assessments can be chosen by your local school district, but they must have been independently validated to assure a high-quality level of academic rigor. Current validated exit exams include the 11-grade and 12th-grade retake Pennsylvania System of School Assessments (PSSAs), Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) assessments. Under the new proposal the state tests, known now as the Keystone Exams but formerly called the Graduation Competency Assessment, would be an option for all school districts. However, students would continue to be mandated to take the PSSA's per the NCLB law.
Under the regulations advanced by the State Board, Pennsylvania would be required to offer school districts additional supports for struggling students, including: voluntary curriculum in English, math, science and social studies; strategies for identifying and helping students who need additional assistance; and improved teacher training. Students having an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), those in special education, may qualify for exemption from proving academic competency.

Will school districts really close the achievement gap by 2014?
The No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 (NCLB) exposed the nation to the education recession, if you will, experienced by millions of children all across one of the wealthiest and well educated nations around the globe. By 2014, one-hundred percent of the nation's students are expected to be proficient in mathematics, reading, writing, science and social studies, with the exception of those qualifying for specialized exams due to disabilities. It just so happens that the "achievement gap" NCLB intends to zap close is best recognized as being a fissure experienced mostly by blacks, Latinos, poor children, and "special needs" students. The data reveals that white students have benefited the most from America's education system. Whites are more likely than many of their non-white peers to be proficient in core content courses, and as such better prepared to pass high school competency graduation exams.

Case in point--Lower Merion.
Let us look at the Lower Merion School Districts' (LMSD) achievement gap to conjecture whether 100% of its black students will be proficient in core subjects and prepared for the high school graduation competency exams by the 2014-2015 school year.
LMSD is one of Pennsylvania's wealthiest school districts. Lower Merion is a suburb abutting Philadelphia along route 1. The 2010 school year budget is projected to be nearly 200 million dollars for a population of 6,800 students. It is a wager that there is no other school district in the state paying more per student in expenditures than LMSD. Technology abounds as do certified teachers who are among the highest paid in the state. LMSD is a blue-ribbon, award winning school district where more than 90% of its students are proficient or better in all PSSA scored areas Obviously, the vast majority of LMSDs' students will pass graduation exit exams and receive diplomas in preparation for success in college or the work-force.
On the other hand, LMSD educates about 550 black students; out of which about 160 students, 30 percent, have been identified as disabled and require special education services. The achievement gap between black students and their peers is significant for students approaching high school graduation. LMSD's 11th grade PSSA scores indicate that 36% of its black students were proficient in math in 2008 and 35% in 2002; illustrating virtually no growth in six years. During the same period black student reading proficiency levels have risen from 31% to 53%, yet remain below the 63% target. Finally, according to the PA Dept. of Education,, the total of all black student achievement as evidenced by the 2007-08 scores for grades 3-11 are reflected by a negative 5.3 point drop from 2007 levels in reading proficiency scores to 60.5%, and a slight decline by negative 1.3% to 61.8% in mathematics (black elementary students scored very well in math and reading thus raising the mean score).
According to 2006-07 program costs estimates, LMSD spent about 3.4 million dollars to close the achievement gap for all students. School board members and administrators, including Lower Merion's, have bemoaned that the federal government has not appropriated the NCLB funds needed to effectively close the achievement gap. Albeit true as the lack of federal funding may be, Lower Merion money abounds as does the achievement gap. One has to infer that closing the achievement gap takes more than money and certified teachers. Perhaps Marva Collins can enlarge our understanding about the sort of reform required to close the gap.
According to an American education icon, Mrs. Marva Collins, who mastered the ability to educate "unteachable," "learning disabled" and "problem children" to advanced levels, the mis-education of our nation's children is not a function of a child's race or neighborhood but of the teaching methods he or she is exposed to from kindergarten on. Our education system is more likely to label a child "learning disabled" than it is an educator "teaching disabled." Effective teaching requires making daily deposits so that every child can become a lifetime achiever and they will never have to go through life faced with "insufficient funds."
The Education Trust seems to agree with Mrs. Collins that teachers matter most to student achievement. If so, then what should parents know and understand about Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell's and Education Secretary Dr. Gerald Zahorchak's push to implement high school graduation--exit--exams, which will hold students more accountable to be able to apply, analyze, synthesize and evaluate information and communicate significant knowledge and understanding of mathematics, writing, reading, science, technology, and social studies starting with the graduation class of 2015.
The question begs asking: if a resource rich school district such as Lower Merion cannot close the achievement gap in nearly seven years what confidence can be placed in the state's ability to ensure that it does over the next five before exit exams become the law of the land and devastation to the black community? Please note that many schools across the nation have already closed the achievement gap and are now working to sustain their gains.

Dr. Gerald Zahorchak, Pennsylvania education secretary, said the standardized competency exams would hold school districts and students accountable.
According to the 11th-grade and 12th-grade retake reading and mathematics 2007 Pennsylvania System of State Assessment (PSSA) scores, more than 56,000 high school graduates received a diploma who graduated unprepared for college or the work force. Research presented to the State Board of Education found one in three Pennsylvania high school graduates who enrolls in a state-owned university or community college cannot pass a first-year college math or English course, and the failure of our high schools to prepare those students costs taxpayers more than $26 million annually. Pennsylvania is seeking to join the other 20+ states across the nation who implement exit exams.
How was the need for exit exams identified?
In December of 2006 Govenor Rendell's Commission on College and Career Success– a group of civic, education and business leaders– unanimously called for a statewide graduation requirement, including the use of Graduation Competency Assessments as a way for Pennsylvania to set high and uniform standards to ensure all graduating students are prepared for higher education or the knowledge-based workforce.
Since the Commission on College and Career Success report, the Department of Education enlisted the research team at Penn State’s College of Education following requests from state legislators, the Independent Regulatory Review Commission, and state-level education groups who completed a study and found that only 18 out of Pennsylvania's 500 school districts appropriately measure whether their students can read and do math at the 11th grade level in preparation for post-high school success.
As of March 2009 and in light of a moratorium on the issues, the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE), the State Board of Education (SBE) and the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) have mutally agreed on several key policy issues and are preparing to move forward after the June 2009 session.
Opposition to Competency Assessments Include...
Opponents of exit exams like the teacher's union, Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) argue that mandated exit exams are a policy change having wide ranging social, economic and educational impacts along with negative consequences including increased dropout rates, narrowed curriculum, diversion of resources away from education of students and toward more standardized testing of students, and disproportionate harm to impoverished, minority, English language learners and special education students. The argument continues that the cost for remediation would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to tax payers.
Recommendations by the oppostion includes...
The PSEA recommends that the resolution to mandated exit exams and the achievement gap is revealed through increased parental involvement programs, especially those who themselves grew up in homes where education was not valued; transition programs from elementary to middle, and from middle to high school; smaller class sizes in the early grades; early childhood education, particularly for children who start school behind their peers and those coping with poverty; the state should fund schools at their adequacy targets to help improve student achievement. Apparently the teacher's union is not in agreement with Marva Collins that the teachers make education meaningful for students, parents are supplemental not causal.
Add your thoughts to the following short list of considerations on competency assessments action items.
  • The achievement gap must be closed by all means necessary if exit exams are to become state law.
  • Students need to be educated by proficient, knowledgeable teachers who thoroughly understand PDE's academic standards and its relevancy to the curriculum and their lesson plans.
  • Students need teachers who have the capacity to decipher the standardized data results in real-time in order to identify achievement--standard--gaps and provide informed pedagogy to fill them in a timely fashion.
  • Students need school board members, administrators and teachers who understand the need for measurable goals and effective methods to address the impact of low expectations, academic tracking of students into below standard level courses, and sustained enrollment of students in special education whose primary "learning disability" is underachievement in reading and mathematics.
  • Students need school districts to do more than talk about parent engagement and community collaboration. Parents do not know the academic standards, the curriculum or a teacher's lessons plans, yet they are often blamed for student failure. Parent and community engagement programs such as Dr. Joyce Epstein's can be employed to assist school administrators in engaging parents beyond the school's open house, parent conferences, PTA/HSA sessions, special events, and disciplinary hearings. Details on the Center for School, Family, and School Partnership at John Hopkins University can be read on the website
  • Students need curriculum that is relevant, rigorous and relational to their lives.
  • Students need to understand what is expected of them and what they should know and be able to do at each grade level, and so should their parents.
  • Students need to understand the Zero Disciplinary Tolerance policy and how infractions lead to underachievement due to suspensions and loss of direct instruction, alternative school placements, or even time in detention centers and criminal records.
  • How is it that a "master" educator like Marva Collins is well-able to circumvent student behavior problems in the classroom. What does she know that other teachers need to know in order to reduce the incidents of disciplinary actions that lead students down the road to prison from the school building. What do PDE and districts need to grasp about the relationship of a students' ability to read by the fourth grade and higher probability they will be ordered to a county detention center when they cannot read; disproportionately if the student is black or Latino.
  • All school board members, administrators, and teachers should receive professional development and training on the Cradle to Prison Pipeline as presented by the Children's Defense Fund (CDF), headed by Marian Wright Edelman. CDF has made understanding these matters easier with "America's Cradle to Prison Pipeline Report," which can be downloaded here Further the CDF researched the status of Pennsylvania's students and provides a fact sheet that can be viewed online here:

A final word on exit exams by Education Secretary Gerald L. Zahorchak,

“In the end, all of us will achieve our common goal of ensuring Pennsylvania produces high school graduates who can compete with students from across the country and around the world”