Published: January 6, 2005
Standards and Accountability: Pennsylvania is one of six states with clear and specific standards at the elementary, middle, and high school levels in English, mathematics, science, and social studies/history.
The state offers tests aligned with those standards in all grade spans in English and math, but not in science or social studies/history. Pennsylvania’s tests at all levels rely primarily on multiple-choice and extended-response items.
Pennsylvania does not impose sanctions or offer help for all consistently low-performing or failing schools, including non-Title I schools, and the absence of such policies lowers its grade.
The state does not provide cash rewards to high-performing or improving schools.
Efforts to Improve Teacher Quality: Pennsylvania requires its teachers to pass basic-skills, subject-knowledge, and subject-specific-pedagogy tests to earn their beginning licenses.
But the state’s grade drops because Pennsylvania does not require teachers already in the classroom to complete performance-based assessments conducted by state-trained assessors, such as observations of their classroom teaching, to earn a more advanced license.
Teacher-preparation programs that prepare high school teachers must offer subject-area majors to receive program approval.
But middle school teachers are not required to complete a minimum amount of coursework in the subjects they plan to teach. All prospective teachers must complete at least 12 weeks of student teaching.
While districts are required to provide mentoring for new teachers, the state does not finance mentoring for teachers, and the absence of such funding also reduces its grade.
Also, Pennsylvania does not publish the passing rates of teacher education graduates on licensure exams by institution.
On the plus side, Pennsylvania’s Teacher Intern Certification Program, an alternative to traditional teacher-certification programs, requires that participants pass subject-matter tests and complete coursework in the subjects they will teach before they enter their own classrooms.
School Climate: Data from the background survey of the National Assessment of Educational Progress show that the state does better than average on indicators of student engagement. For example, 83 percent of 8th graders attend schools where school officials report that student absenteeism is not a problem, or is only a minor problem.
The state stands out as one of 17 that collect information from parents, students, or teachers about the conditions in their schools.
The state administers the Pennsylvania Youth Survey every two years. The survey asks students about factors that contribute to the school environment.
This school year, school districts may apply for funds under the Pennsylvania Accountability Block Grant for class-size-reduction efforts.
The grants allow school systems to assign at least one certified teacher for every 17 students, or two certified teachers for every 35 students enrolled in kindergarten through grade 3.
Pennsylvania has a limited open-enrollment policy and a charter school law rated moderately strong by the Center for Education Reform.
Equity: Pennsylvania’s rank of 43rd of the 50 states on the wealth-neutrality score indicates that wealthier districts tend to receive significantly more state and local revenue than property-poor ones do.
The state ranks 28th with its coefficient of variation of 13.3 percent, indicating moderate disparities in funding across districts.
Pennsylvania does poorly compared with other states on the McLoone Index, ranking 40th out of the 50 states.
The McLoone Index compares the total amount spent on students in districts below the median with the amount that would be needed to ensure all districts spent at least the median.
Spending: The state spent $8,328 per pupil in the 2001-02 school year, which was above the national average of $7,734 per pupil and placed the state 16th out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Pennsylvania ranks 30th among the states and the District of Columbia on the spending index. The index takes into account both the percentage of students in districts that are spending at or above the national average, and the degree to which other students in the state fall below that average.
The state is above the national average in the percentage of total taxable resources spent on education, but it barely kept its spending on pace with inflation from 1992 to 2002.
Vol. 24, Issue 17, Page 130