Monthly Archives: March 2014

Education Follow-Up: Allyson Schwartz

We are pleased to present PA gubernatorial candidate Allyson Schwartz’s responses to our follow-up questionnaire. She is the first current candidate to respond to the second phase of our Candidate Report Card Campaign. We will post additional responses as we receive them.

1. Philadelphia schools are struggling to make up for a $304 million dollar budget gap this year, and the prognosis for next year does not look good (The Notebook). What do you think the best solution(s) are for the School District of Philadelphia’s financial problems?

The financial crisis in the School District of Philadelphia has been driven largely by two factors:  (1) the extreme budget cuts imposed on the district by Governor Corbett, and (2) the rapid growth of charter schools, which has drained vital resources.

As the former Democratic Chair of the Pennsylvania Senate Education Committee, I fought for fair funding for our public schools. As governor, I will restore the almost $1 billion that Corbett cut from school subsidies by the end of my first term in office. I was the first Democratic candidate for governor to call for a 5 percent tax on Marcellus Shale gas production, and I will use the profits from this tax to recommit Pennsylvania to public education.

I will establish a data-driven funding formula that provides fair, adequate and sustained funding for every school district. My formula will take into account a district’s economic and demographic profile, including variances in income and learning capabilities (including students with special needs), and the local community’s ability to raise local funds. My funding formula will consider the particular needs of Philadelphia schools.

In addition, I will improve charter school transparency and accountability to guarantee that public dollars are used wisely, to prevent fraud, and to guard against unacceptable conflicts of interest. This includes ending state funding for cyber-charter schools in Pennsylvania.

2. You identified yourself as “strongly in favor” of replacing the School Reform Commission with a locally elected school board. If elected Governor, what concrete steps would you take to making this belief a reality?

As a state Senator in 1998, I voted against the state takeover of Philadelphia schools that led to the School Reform Commission. I later fought in the Senate to establish an independent oversight panel to monitor the Commission’s actions.

Because the School Reform Commission was created by an act of the Legislature and Governor, it will take legislative action to abolish the School Reform Commission. Working with legislative leaders and local stakeholders, I will make it a top priority of my administration to repeal Act 46 and return the School District of Philadelphia to local control.

I will listen to all Philadelphia stakeholders in determining whether it is best to establish a locally-elected school board or have an appointed board as prior to the state takeover in 2001.

3.  Groups like the Commonwealth Foundation are seeking to undo union rights in Pennsylvania, specifically by taking away their ability to collect dues directly from member paychecks. If elected, how would you respond to this kind of legislation? What concrete steps would you take to protect unions in Pennsylvania?

Paycheck withholding of union dues is a matter determined in collective bargaining, as it ought to be. I will protect this right.

I am strongly committed to protecting the right of our workers to form a union and collectively bargain without pressure or interference from their employer. That is why I co-sponsored the Employee Free Choice Act in Congress. I have repeatedly opposed efforts by congressional Republicans to undermine the National Labor Relations Board and opposed instituting mandatory waiting periods before an election to form a union.

I have stood up to defend the right to collectively bargain to secure fair wages, to ensure equal pay for equal work, and to extend job protections. Working families need a governor who has a long, documented history of standing up for them – and working with them – to tackle the biggest challenges facing our communities, state, and nation.

I strongly agree with TAG’s stated position that, “Unions should be a place where teachers have a voice in creating and protecting an educational system that is set up in the best interests of students, families, and teachers.”

As long as I am the Governor of Pennsylvania, the Commonwealth will never become a “right to work” state.

4. The new state-wide system for teacher evaluation (PVAAS) bases at least 30% of a teacher’s total rating on standardized test scores (Research for ActionPost-Gazette). What effect do you think this new system will have on teaching and learning in public schools?

Pennsylvania teachers are relentlessly focused on improving student performance and we must ensure they have the tools they need to succeed.

We cannot judge performance on standardized tests alone, which encourages schools to teach to the test and narrow the curriculum.  We must ensure that performance review systems are implemented fairly and successfully, including multiple measures to track valid and reliable data, with a clear ability to provide meaningful feedback to teachers, school leaders, and students and parents.

As governor, I will partner with the Commonwealth’s teachers and educational stakeholders to ensure that tests are implemented fairly, that schools have the resources they need to succeed, and that all Pennsylvania’s students receive a high quality education, not simply take test after test.

We must focus on improving achievement, and a cornerstone of being able to do so successfully is to ensure districts have the resources, support, and flexibility they need to meet their students’ particular needs.

Children do not remember the test, they remember the teacher. We will fail our children if we lose focus of how vital a well-rounded education is to children’s academic and personal success.

5. This new evaluation system does not apply to teachers in charter or independent schools. Do you support this exemption? If not, what would you do to change it?

Charter schools should be held to standards identical to traditional schools, and as Governor I would ensure that our state wide evaluation methods hold charter school teachers accountable to the same metrics as traditional public school teachers.

6. Pennsylvania currently allows a “religious exemption” for state standardized testing, which many families use as a back door to opting out (Newsworks). Do you support the rights of all families to opt their children out of state standardized exams?

Granting a religious exemption may be appropriate in some cases, but we must ensure that it is not over-used.

7. Is there anything else you would like to tell the public about your views on education?

Nothing that state government does is more important than providing quality public education. As the mother of two Philadelphia public school graduates, I know how important public education is to our families. I’m the only candidate with a proven record of accomplishment in standing up to the old boys club in Harrisburg to make a difference in the lives of Pennsylvania families, and as Governor, I will bring that same sense of mission and determination to ensure that we recommit Pennsylvania to public education

During my service in the Pennsylvania Senate, I served for a decade as the Democratic Chair of the Education Committee. I pushed for greater investment in education, including fair funding for public schools, helped lead fights against school vouchers, and voted against the state take-over of Philadelphia schools, which led to the creation of the SRC.  As a longtime champion of early education, I also introduced State Senate legislation to provide state reimbursement for full-day kindergarten. In Congress, I am working closely with Senator Bob Casey, on the Prepare All Kids Act which creates a Prekindergarten Incentive Fund to award grants to states to establish, expand, or enhance voluntary high-quality pre-K programs.

You can read my complete comprehensive education plan on my website,, but I wanted to highlight the foundation points of the plan.

A Strong Start

Keystone Kids. Success in school begins with early education and that it is one the best opportunities for a return on public investment. Decades of research proves that quality preschool narrows the achievement gap, increases high school graduation rates, decreases the need for special education, helps prepare children to succeed in today’s competitive economy, and reduces health care and social welfare costs over time. One study found that every dollar invested in early education generates a $7 to $8 return on investment. As Governor, I will launch Keystone Kids – a landmark initiative to make access to pre-­‐kindergarten universal for all four year olds within a decade.

Full-­Day Kindergarten. In the State Senate, I successfully fought to expand access to full-­‐day kindergarten. As Governor, I will make full-­‐day kindergarten accessible to every child in Pennsylvania and ensure that school districts have the support that they need to achieve this goal.

Reducing Class Sizes. As a State Senator, I championed efforts to reduce class size in the early grades. Because of Corbett’s draconian budget cuts, many of our schools have been forced to increase class sizes across the board, hurting student achievement. As Governor, I will enable school districts limit class sizes in kindergarten through 3rd grade.

Reversing Tom Corbett’s Education Cuts In My First Term

I have released a plan to enact a moderate, 5-­‐percent severance tax on natural gas production that will raise billions of dollars to support transformational investments, especially in public education and early education. By growing the economy, re-­‐prioritizing the existing budget and drawing upon new resources from the shale tax, I will reverse Governor Corbett’s extreme cuts of almost $1 billion during my first term.

Fair Support for All of Pennsylvania’s Schools
It is unacceptable that investment to our schools is determined by political calculations in Harrisburg and not by school and student need. Current funding is not adequate, predictable, or fair, and we see the devastating consequences here in Philadelphia.

The quality of a student’s education should not depend on where they live in our state. As Governor, I will partner with all stakeholders to determine the necessary level of state support to ensure that all students receive a quality education. I will establish a transparent funding formula that recognizes student and school district characteristics, considers local effort and provides sustained, adequate and fair funding to every school in the Commonwealth.

The LEARN Conference: A Philly Teacher’s View

By Yaasiyn Muhammad

On March 1st, The LEARN Network hosted their annual conference at UPenn, and graciously provided a few passes for TAG teachers to attend. The conference brings together different viewpoints about education reform in Philadelphia. Below are one teacher’s impressions of the day.

The theme of the 3rd annual L.E.A.R.N. conference was “Achievement Gap or the Education Debt? Combating Racial Inequalities in Our Public Schools.” This theme acknowledges the existence of racial inequalities in the nation’s public school systems, a premise that I completely agree with, but some of the solutions proposed specifically by State Senator Anthony Williams are currently creating more inequality in the public schools of Philadelphia.

Screen shot 2014-03-06 at 10.57.00 AMWilliams, as the afternoon keynote speaker, supported his positions in favor of charter schools, cyber schools, and private school vouchers, each of these measures are taking funds away from the public schools of Philadelphia, in an attempt to provide parents with options. Williams claimed that these options are for the very families who are suffering because of this achievement gap, or as Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings and Dr. Camika Royal would put it, educational debt.

Interestingly, when an audience member presented data that stated that families with the highest needs were not tapping into these options, Williams quickly dismissed that notion. A member of the morning panel validated the point that the audience member was making–Ms. Kia Philpot-Hinton spoke on one of the benefits of charter schools. She stated that she placed her child in a charter school because she understood that the parents of children in charter schools were much more active in their kids’ education.

Williams even dismissed the notion that increased funding correlates with academic achievement. Williams touted himself as someone who is in the middle on this issue, acknowledging that there is an achievement gap, that he understands there is an historical context as to why it exists, and that he is open for any suggestions.

Screen shot 2014-03-06 at 10.56.56 AMDr. Royal, as a participant in the morning panel, presented the work of Gloria Ladson-Billings when addressing the theme of the achievement gap. Royal espouses the belief that the term achievement gap is a misnomer that works to compare racial minorities to their white counterparts, in a way that blames racial minorities for their shortcomings. Royal prefers the term “educational debt” explaining that there has been a debt ran up in our society, a debt caused by structural racism, racism that aimed to prevent minority groups from accessing quality education everywhere in this nation. From her statements, it seems that Dr. Royal would like for politicians and the public to understand this issue in light of that historical truth and shift the conversation about funding and academic achievement, in a way that it focuses on addressing inter-generational effects of discrimination.

By contrast, Senator Williams made a statement in his address that told everyone in the audience that he is not focused on addressing historical inequities. Williams said that a teacher who was a C student in their school of education was more likely to be an ineffective teacher. That statement is a reflection of the hyper grade-conscious, test-oriented culture that has infected our students, politicians, and even our teachers. This culture exists in public schools and is expanding the empathy gap present in our schools.

At a late morning session addressed the notion of an empathy gap, one of the most memorable panelists was Philadelphia teacher (and TAG member) Jaimie Stevenson. She saw the empathy gap as her inability to build and develop a relationship with all of her students because of her inability to appreciate his values. She pointed to the lack of flexibility in her lessons and assessments because of the test oriented focal points of her curriculum, therefore, the student who is interested in art can never express that interest in his English class, much worse, his teacher can never express an appreciation in his diverse talents.

Just as Williams sees teachers with C’s as hurting the educational achievement of their school system, our schools see the students who are tactile and art-based as not helping the school’s test scores, because the politicians running the school system are focused on test scores and not the diverse contributions students and teachers bring to education.

Yaasiyn Muhammad has been teaching history for 5 years. Last year he was laid off from Northeast High School after 4 years there. He currently teaches at Central High School.