Pennsylvania to adopt new academic standards
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Pennsylvania this week is riding the wave of national change in education.
First, Pennsylvania was among 35 states and the District of Columbia on Tuesday to enter the next round of the federal Race to the Top competition, which, among other things, encourages schools to adopt changes such as performance-based pay for teachers.
Pennsylvania officials hope the state will win as much as $400 million.
Then, there was the final release on Wednesday of the Common Core State Standards, which is an effort to get all states to adopt the same academic standards for math and English language arts.
Like many states, Pennsylvania already has its own standards, but it is likely to adopt the new standards developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.
Fifteen years ago there was major debate over whether setting academic standards just for Pennsylvania would intrude on local control. Standards ultimately were adopted about 10 years ago.
"Certainly, we have seen in the last year and a half a huge pace of change. Part of that is there was readiness for it," said Thomas Gluck, acting state secretary of education, noting state education officials, for example, pushed for common standards.
Ron Cowell, president of the Education and Policy Leadership Council, a Harrisburg-based education organization, said events may be pushing Pennsylvania and other states at a faster pace although in a direction many were headed anyway.
On the common standards, Mr. Cowell said there is increasing awareness of common interests.
"There's probably a fair amount of commonality of thinking in terms of what kids ought to learn about literature and grammar and math, etc., whether you're in California or Pennsylvania or Florida."
He noted that Americans are realizing that their children are not just competing with other students in their districts or even their states but are competing around the world.
"I think that's moving state ed and state policy leaders to think that in some areas on some issues there is a common public interest that is shared as a nation," he said.
In addition, he said, states are finding that having their own standards -- and tests to assess them -- is costly.
A draft of the common core standards was issued in March and received more than 10,000 comments.
The Pennsylvania State Board of Education agreed to adopt the common standards as long as a review showed they were at least as rigorous as the state's current standards and there was time for public comment.
A Pennsylvania study showed that the proposed draft was largely in concert with the existing state standards. The common core also permits states to add up to 15 percent of their own standards to fill any gaps.
The standards are available at www.corestandards.org.
The state board's review is continuing, but the board is expected to vote at its meeting June 30 and July 1 on the common core itself, with any additions to come later.
"We'll have some tweaking to do, but it's not going to be a significant leap or departure for our educators," Mr. Gluck said.
He said the next step will be developing tests of the standards. Pennsylvania is participating in three consortia seeking money to develop tests that would be used by multiple states.
A commitment to the common core was part of the application Pennsylvania filed to try to secure Race to the Top money, now in the second phase.
In the first phase, only two states -- Delaware and Tennessee -- were awarded money. Forty states and the District of Columbia applied.
Pennsylvania was one of 16 finalists, finishing seventh. All of the finalists who didn't win entered the third round of competition, including Ohio, which placed 10th in the first phase. Some states, such as West Virginia, which placed 36th in the first round, dropped out.
Pennsylvania's application includes signed agreements with 122 school districts and 69 charter schools. The application also is endorsed by 154 organizations, state education officials said.
Only one district -- Marion Center Area in Indiana County -- withdrew its previous memo of understanding. A few additional districts or charter schools joined the list after the first phase, and some charter schools inadvertently left off the initial application were added.
"In Phase 1, our application was well received, so we've headed into Phase 2 in a strong position," Mr. Gluck said. "We've taken the comments of the reviewers and sharpened our arguments and adjusted some of our tactics and feel good about our opportunities for an award early this fall."
Mr. Gluck said the state's application builds on the state's last seven years of investment "with a very coherent approach to building student achievement" that would be taken deeper if the state wins the competition.
Gov. Ed Rendell said the money would allow the state "to double the rate of pace at which we achieve our goal of getting every student able to perform at grade level or better."
Linda Hippert, executive director of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, said the state, through the common core and Race to the Top, is "positioning itself as a 'leader' in education, one who will be the model for others to follow."
First Published June 3, 2010 12:00 am