Pittsburgh Public Schools, JuJu Smith-Shuster celebrate new program that provides free glasses for students

Pittsburgh Public Schools, JuJu Smith-Shuster celebrate new program that provides free glasses for students

Students at Pittsburgh King K-8 got a reminder from a local celebrity that wearing glasses can be cool.

Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster said he wore glasses as a kid, and that they helped him in school, while playing sports and while playing video games.

“I think it’s very, very cool,” he said.

King students gathered in the gymnasium Friday morning to celebrate the launch of a new program that will provide free eye exams and glasses to Pittsburgh students who need them. Twenty-one King students got the first pairs through the partnership between Pittsburgh Public Schools and Vision to Learn, a Los Angeles-based non-profit that aims to provide vision care to low-income children across the country.

Mr. Smith-Schuster helped make sure the new glasses fit, and posed for a photo with each student.

“Everything’s closer now,” said 11-year-old Dion McCoy, who selected a new pair of black and blue frames.

Vision to Learn was founded in 2012 and now serves low-income communities in 256 cities in 13 states. Pittsburgh Public is the first district the organization has partnered with in Pennsylvania, and eventually its leaders plan to take their services to schools in the surrounding districts and counties.

School nurses will continue to give each Pittsburgh student annual vision screenings, and the students who fail will be referred to the Vision to Learn mobile clinic, which will move from school to school. There the students will receive an eye exam, and if they need glasses, they get to choose a pair they like and receive them for free…

Read full article here

PENNSYLVANIA: Wilkinsburg pins its hopes on a reorganization of its elementary schools

PENNSYLVANIA: Wilkinsburg pins its hopes on a reorganization of its elementary schools

By Elizabeth Behrman, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The students in Stacy Mazak’s kindergarten class couldn’t stand still as they waited their turn at the dunk tank.

They had already spent 15 minutes hula-hooping and decorating the street in front of their school with chalk and 15 minutes in the inflatable bounce houses the Wilkinsburg School District gets for the annual field day events. Now, they were anxious to knock one of Turner Elementary School’s other teachers into the water.

One student, 6-year-old Breonna Pollard, said she didn’t feel the same excitement about moving on to first grade next year.

“I want to stay with Ms. Mazak,” she said, scooting out of the way of the splash when one of her classmates hit the dunk target with a softball.

But under the district’s reorganization plan for next school year, Ms. Mazak and Breonna will be moving to a new school together.

With the district’s middle- and high-school students now attending Pittsburgh Westinghouse Academy in Homewood, Wilkinsburg administrators are re-focusing their efforts on the district’s younger students. After years of program cuts and an exodus of families who opted to enroll their children in private or charter schools, district leaders are embarking on an ambitious plan to boost enrollment and re-vamp Wilkinsburg’s two elementary schools.

Read the full article here.

Commonwealth Education Blueprint

Commonwealth Education Blueprint

The Commonwealth Education Blueprint is a multiyear effort founded and managed by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) to develop and implement a statewide vision for the future of public education. Through this comprehensive project, education stakeholders from across the state and from many areas of expertise collaborate to proactively determine what education should look like in years to come.


Pennsylvania will provide an equitable, exceptional public education that empowers all learners to achieve a meaningful, productive life in our democratic society.

The Process & Your Involvement

The project steering committee conducts meetings and collects data (ongoing since Oct. 2017) toward drafting the Blueprint. They have also been convening Blueprint study groups, focus groups and, now a statewide survey.

Your involvement is critical to the Blueprint’s success! We hope you will participate in this short surveyto build the foundation for public education in the future. Please complete it by May 31, 2018: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/edblueprintpa

What’s Next?

After all of the data has been compiled and analyzed, a comprehensive report will be and will serve as the driving document to set and benchmark milestones toward achieving the vision and shaping all future education-related legislation and advocacy. We hope you will join us in distributing the Blueprint and this vision later in 2018.

For more information about the Commonwealth Education Blueprint, contact Ashley Lenker White, senior director of strategic initiatives, at (800) 932-0588 or ashley.white@psba.org.

DeVos gets pushback on attempt to preempt state consumer protection

DeVos gets pushback on attempt to preempt state consumer protection

By Charlene Crowell

Beginning with a controversial nomination that ended in a tie-breaking Senate confirmation vote and continuing throughout her tenure as Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos has faced unceasing criticism. While Administration officials would be inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt, many across the country would argue that she is not serving the public’s interests.

A recent interview on CBS’ 60 Minutes provided an opportunity to address the nonstop criticism before a national audience. Instead, it prompted a new wave of critiques from viewers and news outlets alike.

More important than these recent headlines, however, is the Department’s attempt to stop states from holding student loan servicers and collectors accountable. Claiming that state consumer protection laws “undermine” federal regulator requirements, a non-binding memo is yet another assault on the 44 million Americans who together struggle with a still-growing $1.5 trillion in student debt.

It was about this time last year that Secretary DeVos withdrew three memos that would have required loan servicers, in their renegotiated contracts, to provide more intensive “high touch” servicing for borrowers threatened with default. Then late in the summer of 2017, she withdrew inter-agency working agreements between the Department and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) commonly known as Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs). Prior to her joining the Education Department, these same MOUs led to a series of major enforcement actions against for-profit colleges like Corinthian and ITT Tech, as well as the nation’s largest student loan servicer, Navient.

With rollbacks in oversight and enforcement, the Education Secretary must think the department is doing a great job serving student loan borrowers that states should just butt out.  A new departmental memo claims as much.

In response, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Healey, who filed a lawsuit earlier this month that alleged overcharges to students by the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency was just as direct as she was quick to speak up.

“Secretary DeVos can write as many love letters to the loan servicing industry as she wants, I won’t be shutting down my investigations or stand by while these companies rip off students and families,” Healey said in a statement to The Intercept. “The last thing we need is to give this industry a free pass while a million students a year are defaulting on federal loans.”

Thank goodness for state AGs like Healey. Federal enforcement of consumer protection is currently at a real low.

When Mick Mulvaney was named Acting CFPB Director, a change of direction from consumer enforcement to education and information was promptly announced with a series of more changes. In Mulvaney’s view, CFPB would no longer use aggressive enforcement to hold financial service providers accountable. On his watch, consumers have basically been told not to expect much from CFPB, while businesses have been catered to and even asked to advise Mulvaney and company of what appropriate regulation looks like.

So, if the Department of Education is not going to work with CFPB to resolve complaints and CFPB is not interested in consumer enforcement, why try to tie the hands of states who only seek to protect their own residents?

Whitney Barkley-Denney, a policy counsel with the Center for Responsible Lending, addressed the impacts to consumers of color.  “Due to racial disparities in income and wealth, the consumers hardest hit by these debts are consumers of color. While the federal government continues to find ways to placate these companies, states are ready and willing to serve the best interests of borrowers and taxpayers.”

The National Governors Association (NGA) agrees with Barkley-Denney.

In a related statement, the NGA said, “Last week’s declaration on student loan servicing from the U.S. Department of Education seeks to preempt bipartisan state laws, regulations and ‘borrower bills of rights’ currently in place and under consideration in more than 15 states…. States have stepped up to fill the void left, we believe, by the absence of federal protections for student loan borrowers, from potential abusive practices by companies servicing student loans.”

Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers was even more candid.

“With this move, she [Secretary DeVos] has castrated any state legislators and attorneys general from providing meaningful oversight of student loan services, yet she continues to fail to do so herself,” said Weingarten.

In 2017, a CFPB report showed that during the past five years, more than 50,000 student loan complaints were filed. Additionally, more than 10,000 other related debt collection complaints were filed on both private and federal student loans.

Where these complaints originate is equally eye-opening.  In just one year, from 2016 to 2017, the growth in the number of student loan complaints exceeded 100 percent in 11 states: Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington State and West Virginia.

It’s enough to make one wonder, ‘Who is our federal government actually serving?’

The post DeVos gets pushback on attempt to preempt state consumer protection appeared first on The Westside Gazette.

Changes in 529 college savings plans allow families to use funds for K-12 tuition

Changes in 529 college savings plans allow families to use funds for K-12 tuition

Families with children enrolled at Winchester Thurston School have not begun asking how they can use 529 plans to pay the private school tuition, but administrators at the Shadyside-based private prep school believe that’s only because many of them still have unanswered questions.

“While the new federal tax law has made provisions for families to use 529s for K-12 education, the state of Pennsylvania is still determining how it will treat these withdrawals from a tax perspective,” said Nancy-Rose Netchi, director of marketing and communications at Winchester Thurston School.

“We expect some families may choose to exercise the 529 option if they find it’s beneficial to them after consulting with their tax adviser,” she said. “From our perspective, the new 529 provision simply gives some families an additional vehicle they can use to invest in an independent school education.”

While the federal tax overhaul made withdrawals for K-12 tuition tax-free, 529 plans are administered by states, and not every state law automatically complies with the new rules. The problem is some state legislation specifies that a 529 plan must be used for “higher education,” while other states simply follow the federal code.

Read the full article here:

Despite funding increases under Wolf, Pa. school districts still ‘treading water’

Despite funding increases under Wolf, Pa. school districts still ‘treading water’

In announcing a budget plan that included more money for Pennsylvania schools, Gov. Tom Wolf this week trumpeted the growth in state education spending during his tenure.

“The first thing I did when I got to Harrisburg was to draw a line in the sand on education,” Wolf told lawmakers during Tuesday’s budget address, as he declared that investments in schools were paying off.

But the tide of expenses continues to wash over that line, school officials say.

“Districts are still pretty much just treading water,” said Mark DiRocco, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, citing increasing costs for pensions, special education, and charter-school payments.

If Wolf’s plan for next year is enacted, it will increase the state’s main pot of money for schools to nearly $6.1 billion, an increase of just under 10 percent since he took office in 2015…

Read the full article here:

PENNSYLVANIA: School District of Lancaster seeks to address racial gap in suspensions

PENNSYLVANIA: School District of Lancaster seeks to address racial gap in suspensions

(Harrisburg) — Over the past two-and-a-half years, out-of-school suspensions in the School District of Lancaster dropped by 42 percent. However, a sharp disparity exists between who gets suspended.

African Americans make up 17 percent of the district’s student body, but they account for more than 30 percent of suspensions.

For other racial groups, the suspension rate is either proportional or lower than the population.

Superintendent Damaris Rau says the gap became clear when administrators reviewed suspension data last summer.

Now, she says, they’re taking a closer look at the root causes of suspension.

Read the full article here:

PENNSYLVANIA: Act 45 Program: Quality School Leadership Identification (QSLID) Process

PENNSYLVANIA: Act 45 Program: Quality School Leadership Identification (QSLID) Process

The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) is offering a training opportunity to districts seeking a competency-based approach to hiring principals. Registrants may elect to learn 30 Act 45 hours for participation in the training.

Research tells us that hiring the right principal is critical to school improvement, particularly in the lowest performing schools.  With the right principal in place, student achievement can dramatically advance, and schools can retain effective teachers.  Principal leadership is the second most influential school-level factor impacting student learning; no school has ever turned around without a strong principal leading the way.  Securing the right principal lends itself to consistent leadership. The Quality School Leadership Identification (QSLID) process is an opportunity to create a hiring system that will retain effective school leaders.

PDE and the American Institutes for Research have developed a process for school districts seeking a competency-based approach to hiring principals in turnaround and non-turnaround school contexts. While QSLID was originally designed for the hiring of principals, a parallel process has been designed for the hiring of teachers.  Upon completion of the course, participants will walk away with a complete hiring process and district-specific documents and protocols for both teachers and principals.

This program includes one day of face-to-face training, pre-scheduled webinars, journal/feedback reflections, and documentation of QSLID implementation.

Note dates and locations below:

  • PaTTAN Malvern – March 13, 2018  (Snow date: March 19)
  • Baldwin-Whitehall School District – March 5, 2018  (Snow date: March 27)    

To register: Contact Melanie Novak at melnovak@pa.gov

Registration deadline: February 9, 2018

Questions? Contact Jean Dyszel at c-jdyszel@pa.gov

Inside the ESSA Plans: What Are States Doing About Goals and Timelines?

Inside the ESSA Plans: What Are States Doing About Goals and Timelines?

By Stephen Sawchuk, Alyson Klein, and Andrew UjifusaEducation Week logo

EDUCATION WEEK — This week, Education Week is bringing its trademark analysis to the remaining state plans for fulfilling requirements of the Every Student Succeeds law. On Monday, we had a look at the states’ proposed “school quality” indicators, €”the required but nonacademic portion of each state’s plan to judge schools. Today, we’re going to take a look at states’ goals for raising student achievement and their timelines for doing so in the plans awaiting federal approval.

One thing we’ll keep stressing again and again this week: how far federal policy has moved since the days of the No Child Left Behind Act (ESSA’s predecessor). Read on.

So, what kinds of goals are states setting?

Some states chose fixed goals that aim for all students, and all subgroups of vulnerable students, such as those qualifying for subsidized school lunches or English-language learners, to reach the same target (such as 80 percent proficiency). What’s nice about this kind of goal is that it sets the same endpoint, making it easier to see over time how achievement gaps are expected to close. States in this category include: Arkansas, Hawaii, Kansas, Mississippi, (grades 3-8 only), Ohio, Minnesota, New York, Rhode island, South Dakota, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

Read the full article here: May require an Education Week subscription.

Source: Education Week Politics K-12