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Host: Scott LaMar
Pennsylvania Acting Secretary of Education Carolyn Dumaresq, Ed.D., will answer your questions about our schools live Thursday night at 8 on Smart Talk on witf-TV. Dr. Dumaresq will explain the new PA Core Standards that will require all public school students in Pennsylvania to pass proficiency tests in science, math, and language arts before graduating.
The State Board of Education approved the controversial plan two weeks ago after agreeing to several changes. The board revised the original plan by limiting the requirements to students in public schools, electing not to impose a statewide curriculum or reading lists, and not expanding its collection of students' personal information. The core standards will affect the Class of 2017.
Gov. Tom Corbett pushed for the changes after hearing from employers that students are graduating high school without the skills and knowledge needed to compete in the global economy. There are, however, plenty of critics, many of whom point to the price tag for the plan. It could cost districts $300 million to implement the standards at a time when many of them have cut programs and laid off teachers to balance their budgets.
More than 40 states have adopted new proficiency standards for K-12 schools. Pennsylvania will require students graduating in 2017 to pass Keystone Exams in Algebra 1, Biology 1, and language arts. There will be a state-approved alternative to the exams. The Independent Regulatory Review Commission, the state Attorney General, and the House and Senate education committees still must approve the regulations before they take effect.
The state's largest teachers' union, the Pennsylvania State Education Association, supports the board's revisions but still frowns upon what it calls "high-stakes graduation exams." That's the same kind of criticism you will hear from many school superintendents, including our guest, Don Bell, Ed.D., superintendent of the Northern Lebanon School District. Joining Dr. Bell in opposition to some aspects of the new requirements is Joan Duvall-Flynn, a retired teacher who chairs the education committee of the Pennsylvania State Conference of NAACP Branches.
Duvall-Flynn wrote in a recent op-ed piece published in The Patriot-News, "So even if they've successfully met the requirements of their local school districts, graduating seniors who fail to achieve the arbitrary number on the new and "rigorous" tests in English, biology and algebra will not receive their diplomas. That means no college, no technical school, no military, no job."
School administrators further worry that the state will not provide financial support for remedial help for students who fail to score proficient on the exams, effectively creating a new unfunded state mandate. Another very vocal group of critics are conservative lawmakers and political activists who dislike an "overarching government" intruding on local decisions about public schools. They decry what they call a "one-size-fits-all approach" to learning and an over-emphasis on testing.
Mission: Readiness, a non-partisan group of senior retired military leaders, favors "smart investments in America’s children" and strongly backs PA's new standards. The group cites statistics that "75 percent of 17- to 24-year olds in the U.S. cannot serve in the military, primarily because they are too poorly educated, too overweight, or have a serious criminal record." Members argue that proficiency tests before high school graduation ensure that the diploma students receive means they have learned and earned it through academic rigor.
Jacob Dailey, a consultant with the Pennsylvania Business Council, favors the PA Core Standards as essential to Pennsylvania's global competitiveness. He will appear on the program, as well.
(This article has been updated to reflect Mr. Dailey's appearance.)
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