Parents with children attending the city’s public schools have had plenty worries this past year.
First parents had to worry if their child’s school would be closed because of underutilized buildings and budget finances. Next, parents had to worry if the schools that remained opened would have enough resources, guidance counselors, school aides, music and sports programs.
Now parents have to worry if some administrators in the School District of Philadelphia were giving answers to tests to teachers who passed them on to students.
Three Philadelphia public school principals have been fired for cheating on state standardized tests and more employees could be terminated for participating, a district spokesman said last Thursday.
New principals have been assigned to Lewis C. Cassidy Academics Plus School, Kensington Urban Education Academy and Robert E. Lamberton Elementary School.
The three principals were implicated in a state investigation that began two years ago after an unusually high number of student responses were changed to correct answers on an exam administered by the state.
The cheating scandal appears to be widespread.
The Tribune reported Friday that“twenty-nine individuals suspected of heating no longer work for the district, but 40 employees are still active. Those former employees could face disciplinary action, including losing their education credentials.”
The scandal is another national embarrassment for the district.
The scandal has gotten the attention of The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.
The Wall Street Journal reported Jan. 23 that “Nearly 140 teachers and administrators in Philadelphia public schools have been implicated in one of the nation’s largest cheating scandals,” according to district officials who also said that they expected to discipline or terminate several school-based employees over the next few weeks in connection with the allegations.
There is no comfort in the fact that Philadelphia is not the only district embroiled in a cheating scandal.
There have been charges of cheating in school districts in Atlanta, Baltimore, El Paso, Texas and Washington, D.C.
To its credit, the School District of Philadelphia has recently implemented tighter testing protocols, such as ensuring tests are kept under lock until they are distributed to students.
The Philadelphia cheating scandal harms students because schools use test scores to determine which students need help. Administrators and teachers involved in the scandal must be held accountable to send a clear message that cheating and test-score manipulation will not be tolerated in the district.
Some momentum is building in the fight to fairly fund Pennsylvania public schools.
Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, and the mayor of the state’s largest city, Philadelphia’s Michael Nutter, a Democrat, agreed this week that something needs to be done to make school funding in the commonwealth more fair.
On Monday, Nutter used an appearance at a Martin Luther King, Jr. birthday ceremony to call for full funding of public schools, including changes in the formula used for funding Pennsylvania schools.
The mayor has been criticized by some for not being more aggressive in lobbying Corbett for more education funding in the midst of the Philadelphia School District’s drastic cuts to staff and services.
At the King Day ceremony attended by the governor, Nutter spoke passionately about the importance of full funding of public schools.
“The funding for equality and justice must be one for fair and full funding for educating all of our young people across the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and certainly here in Philadelphia,” Nutter said before a ceremonial ringing of the Liberty Bell at noon in honor of King. “And I believe that you cannot be free without an education. Not just an adequate deduction, but a superior education, to be a first-class citizen in this country”.
Later, at the annual King Day luncheon, the mayor continued to speak out on school funding.
While the passion Nutter displayed was refreshing his commitment on public school funding is known. He has long been on the record for calling for a new statewide student-weighted formula that equitably brings full and fair funding to public school children regardless of whether they go to district-managed or charter schools.
However, Corbett’s remarks on Wednesday that the state’s school funding system should be changed were unexpected. The governor said he is interested in a bill that would set up a commission to develop a formula to distribute funds for K-12 education. The bill is pending in the Senate.
“Let’s get a true, fair funding system of all schools of Pennsylvania, not for one district or another,” Corbett said. “It’s not fair right now, OK? So we need to address that.”
Responding to a request for comment, Pennsylvania Department of Education spokesman Tim Eller stated in an email message, “Gov. Corbett cares about all students across Pennsylvania and believes that every Pennsylvania student, regardless of zip code, background or family income, deserves access to a high-quality public education.”
It is no secret that the governor’s handling of education has emerged as a major issue in his campaign to seek reelection.
Now that the governor acknowledges that Pennsylvania’s public school funding is unfair, we would like to see him use his leadership to aggressively push for a change in education funding.
A Commonwealth Court judge made the right decision last week when he struck down a requirement that nearly all of Pennsylvania’s 8.2 million voters show photo identification at the polls.
We agree with state Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard L. McGinley that the law imposes an unreasonable burden on the right to vote and that officials failed to demonstrate the need for it.
“Voting laws are designed to assure a free and fair election; the Voter ID Law does not further this goal,” McGinley wrote in a decision that will likely now go before the state’s Supreme Court.
McGinley said the law is not constitutional because it does not require that a valid photo ID be convenient and available to voters.
“As a constitutional prerequisite, any voter ID law must contain a mechanism for ensuring liberal access to compliant photo IDs so that the requirement … does not disenfranchise valid voters,” McGinley wrote.
Gov. Tom Corbett’s lawyer, James Schultz, said they could seek a review by the full Commonwealth Court or appeal directly to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
If would be a mistake for the governor to appeal the decision.
Corbett should discontinue from defending an unnecessary law that would have negative consequences on voting.
The law has proven to be controversial and divisive since it was approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed by Corbett last March over the protest of every single Democratic lawmaker.
In the trial over the law, state officials did not even bother to provide any evidence of significant voter fraud in Pennsylvania. No case was made for what problem the law was designed to solve.
The photo identification requirement, one of the strictest in the nation, is clearly a cynical attempt to suppressing the votes of the poor, students and seniors and other Democratic-leaning groups.
McGinley cited “overwhelming evidence” that hundreds of thousands of qualified voters lack the identification that complies with the law. He criticized the state’s educational and marketing efforts as ‘largely ineffective and consistently confusing.”
Judge McGinley’s decision on Pennsylvania Voter ID is an important victory in the fight to protect the constitutional right to vote.
Comcast Corp. announced Wednesday it will build a second and taller skyscraper in Center City.
The new skyscraper will redefine the city’s skyline, create thousands of jobs and improve Philadelphia’s image as a city of innovation and state-of-the-art technology center.
The building promises to be impressive.
Comcast and developer Liberty Property Trust said the proposed $1.2 billion; 59-story building will be 1,121-feet tall and located adjacent to the 58-story Comcast Center downtown that is currently Philadelphia’s tallest skyscraper.
The skyscraper will include several three-story atriums and be topped by a blade that will push it some 200 feet higher than the company’s current global headquarters downtown.
The tower is expected to be among the top 10 tallest building in the United States, and will be the largest private development project in Pennsylvania’s history.
British architect Norman Foster will design the glass and steel building that will include a Four Seasons hotel and a block-long lobby with a glass-enclosed indoor plaza that will connect with Suburban Station.
“At ground level this ‘urban room’ embraces the city,” said Foster in a statement quoted in the New York Times. “It opens the building to the public and anchors it as a vital neighborhood.
The skyscraper which will be called the Comcast Innovation and Technology Center on the 1800 block of Arch Street will become home to as many as 4,000 employees.
The new building will include the operations of local broadcast television stations NBC10/WCAU and Noticiero Telemundo62, the Spanish-language news program. It will accommodate the company’s growing work force of technologists, engineers and software architects.
The new building will not only boost Comcast Corp., the nation’s largest cable TV provider and owner of NBC Universal, it will help growth and the image of the region.
President Barack Obama sought to use the power of the Oval Office to urge university presidents to commit to expanding access to higher education.
Obama summoned university presidents and leaders of nonprofits and other education groups to the White House Thursday to rally around the critically important goal of widening opportunities for disadvantage students.
“We still have a long way to go to unlock the doors of higher education to more Americans and especially lower-income Americans,” he said. “We’re going to have to make sure they’re ready to walk through those doors.”
Expanding access to higher education is one of the most pressing national issues. It is investment that pays dividends in terms of lifting more people into middle class and increasing the nation’s brain power.
The president and first lady Michelle Obama are the beneficiaries of efforts to expand opportunities which allowed them to attend the nation’s elite universities. Obama graduated from Columbia University and his wife from Princeton University, and both graduated from Harvard Law School.
The first lady spoke in personal terms about expanding access to higher education.
“The truth is that if Princeton hadn’t found my brother as a basketball recruit, and if I hadn’t seen that he could succeed on a campus like that, it never would have occurred to me to apply to that school — never,” Mrs. Obama said.
The first lady added there are many more American children from modest backgrounds who have “a world of potential,” but need to know how to access college.
The good news is that schools that participated in Thursday’s program have agreed to help low-income students connect with colleges that can meet their needs and then trying to ensure that they graduate.
It is important that the education leaders are also seeking to ensure that lower-income students aren’t disadvantaged by lack of access to college advisers and inability to prepare for entrance exams like the SAT and ACT. Expanding college access to higher education begins at making sure students are properly prepared at K-12.