Understanding the Pennsylvania Common Core Standards
There is much confusion surrounding the implementation of the Common Core in Pennsylvania. In an effort to address the confusion, I thought it would be helpful to provide a brief overview of the Common Core Standards in Pennsylvania.
Originally called Academic Standards, Pennsylvania has had core standards for learning since the 1990s. After analyzing the national standards, a group of educators crafted the Pennsylvania Common Core State Standards, which were put into effect by the Legislature on March 1, 2014. The PA Core State Standards align to the National Common Core (about 85%). Adjustments were made to the National Common Core Standards by Pennsylvania to better fit the needs of Pennsylvania students.
The Pennsylvania Common Core standards are a set of rigorous, high-quality academic expectations for math and English that all students must have mastered by the end of each grade level. The standards are robust and relevant to the real world. The standards are not a curriculum nor do they dictate how teachers must teach in the classroom. Our teachers still have the ability to choose strategies that work with their specific students and the choice of curriculum materials used is still given to each local school district. Differentiating instruction remains a vital part of the progressive education program in Pennsylvania.
What the Pennsylvania Common Core provides is more emphasis on the focus of mathematical processes, coherence of topics within the grade level and rigor. Focus in the classroom is demonstrated by a student being able to think about explanations given for answers and deciding to agree or disagree with a logical argument. Coherence addresses the need for skills to be mastered before moving on to the next skill, and rigor is the hard work and practice required to make the concept fluent.
In Language Arts, a strong emphasis has been placed on more exposure and learning of non-fiction text. This does not mean the elimination of fiction, nor does it mean the scaling-back of fiction. It does mean that non-fiction text is more prevalent in math, science and social studies curriculum. Another instructional goal of the PA Core is to use evidence from literary and non-fiction text to answer questions.
In the Boyertown Area School District, we believe we are preparing students for jobs that don’t exist yet, and we believe that by utilizing the expertise of our professional educators to increase the level of rigor our students will be better prepared to compete in a global society.
A few weeks ago I had the privilege to see a Career Portfolio presentation by one of our current 12th grade students. This student did an excellent job of relating what he has learned over the past few years to help him make decisions on the next steps he will take to prepare himself for success after graduation. In between each step outlined in our Career Education Plan – job shadowing, interest inventory, college visits, etc. – he shared his reflections on how these activities helped him determine what he PLANS TO DO and NOT DO as a career. This young man also did an excellent job of learning from life events and using that knowledge to assist his decisions. He shared that he has been accepted to a four year university to study in a medical field and has a part-time job in our community with a health care provider. I left this session highly impressed with the work done by this student and the Boyertown Area School District (BASD) to help prepare him for success.
The Career Portfolio presentation is completed by each of our students during their senior year as the capstone of their required graduation project. The presentation summarizes several years of work as outlined in our Career Education plan. BASD implements activities and educational opportunities for our students in grades K-12 that meet the Pennsylvania Standards for Career Education. We took the additional step at BASD to match these activities to our graduation project as we fully understand the importance of ensuring all of our students are prepared to begin their careers and/or further their education when they graduate.
Over the course of the next few months our School Counselors, in collaboration with representatives from all stakeholder groups, will be reviewing and recommending revisions to our current Career Education Plan. We know our current plan is strong. We also know that we can always improve what we do to provide additional supports for our students. The following links will provide you with additional information on Career Education:
· http://www.boyertownasd.org/site/Default.aspx?PageID=86 : for information specific to the portfolio activities and requirements
· www.pdesas.org/standard/views : to view the Career Education and Work Standards
I also encourage you to contact our school counselors or principals if you would like to learn more about this exciting component of our program.
Literacy in the 21st Century
Growing up, I can remember always being told the importance of literacy and the three R’s; reading, writing, and arithmetic. In the 21st Century, this is no longer the reality. Certainly, this does not mean the three R’s are no longer important nor does it mean that they lack relevance. The reality, however, is that literacy now includes an additional essential element for which schools must prepare students. In a 21st century school, it is no longer enough to simply master the three R’s, students must also learn to master technology as a tool to enhance their own learning, processing, and productivity.
Educators must be cognizant of promoting digital literacy by recognizing the proper utilization of digital tools and technology at the same level as reading and writing. Nurturing a high level of technology interest to develop digital literacy is a modern-day education necessity. Digital literacy skills are transferrable from the technology world to the real world and meet many of the basic requirements of current learning standards.
Instilling high levels of digital literacy creates numerous pathways to learn and practice higher-order thinking skills such as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Developing digital literacy skills affords students the ability to seek out and utilize knowledge resources that help them create a personal learning connection. Not to be lost in all of the higher-order thinking and personalized learning benefits is the fact that the workplace is becoming increasingly digitized. Many of our goals as educators focus on ensuring students have the tools they need to become successful post K-12 citizens. These tools now include having familiarity with technology.
Thomas Edison said it over a century ago: “Genius is 1 percent inspiration, 99 percent perspiration.” Unfortunately, when institutions launch innovation initiatives, they tend to devote most of their time, energy and attention to that initial 1% – the thrilling hunt for the breakthrough idea. The real innovation challenge, however, lies beyond the idea, in a long, hard journey from idea to impact. Innovative institutions sustain a track record of success by creating the right “climate” for employees to cultivate the innovation mindset — to think different, act different, and achieve extraordinary success.
It is true that as a culture, Americans love their heroes, idealized warriors ranging from Superman and the Lone Ranger to Rambo and Luke Skywalker. But that image of the single hero fighting battles on his own is problematic when it comes to promoting successful innovations in organizations. Successful innovations in organizations require a collective effort fostered by the ownership of many.
According to author Chris Trimble, "Because of that aspect of American culture, we tend to subscribe to an innovation myth, wherein there is one brilliant and inspired visionary who makes innovation happen by fighting the system, the system being the bureaucracy in a big organization. "Somehow, this person overcomes all the red tape that is thrown in front of him or her and wins despite it all. This is just a nutty way to think about innovation. Innovation is much more about teams, special kinds of teams, than it is about individual action."
In an educational climate driven by competition, it is critical that we work toward defining our innovation together. We must step outside of our comfort zone and create a new environment that fosters creativity and new learning. We must be open to new ideas and ways of instructing our students, even-though these ideas are vastly differently than the ways we have worked in the past.
There are many successes happening with the education of students in the Boyertown Area School District. Innovation is occurring and students are benefitting from the collective creativity to reach all of our learners. With that said, we still have a great deal of hard work to accomplish.
In this new era of educating students, everyone is a free agent. Increased competition causes us to stretch how and what we do. One of the keys to achieving in this new environment is to nurture healthy partnerships between teams working on innovation and those administering the operations.
I encourage all of you to innovate. I encourage the creation of ideas to move our District forward in this highly competitive world. I encourage the community, parents, students, support professionals, professional educators, administration and board of school directors to work together to identify innovation initiatives.
In doing so, we will nurture healthy partnerships, build a strong foundation, and create a culture of the power of many.
I made it a point many years ago to serve public education and to commit myself to the improvement of my community. I recently read through House Bill 76/Senate Bill 76, proposed legislation to eliminate school real estate property taxes. This legislation has prompted my written communication to inform the public of the impacts that House/Senate Bill 76 will have on the education of our students and future financial stability of our District.
It is certainly obvious to all living in our Commonwealth that we are faced with many challenges as a result of our economy. It is also evident that when one looks through the lens of what is best for the students in the Commonwealth that House/Senate Bill 76 falls short in ensuring that Pennsylvania continues to be a leader in the nation in the Education of its students.
A little background is necessary to understand the complexities associated with this proposed legislation. House/Senate Bill 76 is an Act providing for increased State tax levies in exchange for the elimination of a local tax that funds school districts across the Commonwealth. The legislation authorizes the imposition of an increased personal income tax or a possible increase in the earned income tax by a school district subject to voter approval; providing for imposition of a higher sales and use tax and a broader base of products and services that would be taxable for sales and use tax. The increased State revenue would fund an Education Stabilization Funding for every school district in Pennsylvania.
It is important that I share with you the impacts that this piece of proposed legislation would have on our school district and community. House/Senate Bill 76 will have an impact on students and educational quality. Without a steady revenue stream or any ability to increase revenues to meet rising costs, school districts will have no choice but to pay for increases in mandated costs through cuts to educational programs, services, and staff. As these mandated costs increase, the corresponding necessary cuts will eliminate more and more educational opportunities, and as a result, educational quality across the Commonwealth will suffer in a race to the bottom under House/Senate Bill 76.
This proposed legislation also exacerbates the current inequity in the school funding formula. This bill perpetuates the inequity that exists across school districts as a result of the current funding formula. By failing to address the funding formula and instead simply locking in current funding levels for all districts, the bill makes no progress in remedying the educational inequality that exists across the state. For those school districts that have dealt with growth, like the Boyertown Area School District, or with limited tax bases, the injustice is particularly extreme.
School construction is negatively impacted by House/Senate Bill 76 as it will eliminate the ability of a school district to engage in a school construction project to complete needed maintenance, make facility upgrades, respond to growing enrollment, or even to consolidate facilities to save resources. Without the ability to raise or save money for a needed construction, maintenance, or repair project, not only will the school construction industry suffer but school facilities across the Commonwealth will deteriorate, putting students and staff at risk, and the inevitable cost of repair will increase.
House/Senate Bill 76 will result in significant cash flow issues for school districts due to the revenue collection and distribution mechanism contemplated in the bill. It will easily take the Commonwealth more than a year to generate revenue necessary to replace just one year of property taxes. With this significant lag in revenue flowing to districts, it will be virtually impossible for them to maintain any cashflow stability, and even making routine payments such as payroll and debt service will become tremendously challenging.
Under House/Senate Bill 76, the state will assume virtually all the authority once held by local school boards, effectively eliminating all local control. With no ability to raise revenue or make financial decisions at the local level, the State will be responsible for ensuring that districts have the resources to comply with all mandated costs and even negotiating all collective bargaining agreements across the state. By removing all of a local school board's authority and ability to respond to the needs of their district, the state will be responsible and on the hook for the financial health of all 500 school districts, and as a result, the state will own all cuts to school district programs, staff, and services that occur under House/Senate Bill 76.
The legislators recently received a report on the economic impact and viability of the proposed legislation from the Independent Fiscal Office in Harrisburg. The report, which is available online at http://www.ifo.state.pa.us/download.cfm?file=/resources/PDF/HB-SB_76_IFO_Fiscal_Analysis.pdf, reports that the revenue from the funding proposals in the legislation will be insufficient after the first year of implementation to properly fund school districts across the state. In the year 5 projection, the deficit funding is projected to be in excess of $1 Billion.
I urge you to pay attention to this legislation and stay informed by reading the analysis reported by the Independent Fiscal Office. As onerous as school real estate taxes have become over the years, the ongoing issue is how to properly fund Pennsylvania Public Education. The State Legislators and administration have neglected the needs of many school districts by underfunding the various subsidies to the schools while increasing the mandates that schools must comply. This proposed legislation is not the answer and will in the long run force schools to reduce the services to the youth of Pennsylvania. Please contact your legislative representatives and share with them your concern for the future funding of our students’ education.