We’re so proud of the Lower Merion School District’s chapter of buildOn that won the Student Leader Award in PSEA’s Celebrating Excellence Awards program this year. The chapter is part of a worldwide movement to break the cycle of poverty, illiteracy, and low expectations through service and education.
Last year, more than 300 community members from Lower Merion’s chapter volunteered a total of 12,474 hours. They worked on more than 100 projects in their community, including tutoring at Bethel Academy, delivering food to families in need, beautifying local parks, feeding the homeless, and much more. Since the program began, buildOn students and staff have also raised $750,000 to construct 10 schools and provide adult literacy programs in Haiti, Nepal, Nicaragua and Malawi.
Congrats to Lise Marlowe, a sixth-grade teacher at Elkins Park School in the Cheltenham School District, and member of the Cheltenham Education Association, for winning PSEA’s Celebrating Excellence Award this year in the category of Educational Leader. She has strived to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive for her students, community, and temple.
Lise brings survivors into her classroom to talk to her students, hires Temple University students to film their stories, and has written short books about several of them. Twenty years ago, she set out to teach her students about the enormity of the lives lost in the Holocaust. She asked students how long it would take to draw 6 million stick figures to represent the people killed in the Holocaust. Some thought it would take a few weeks or months. Two decades later, her students have drawn about 1.3 million stick figures, representing only the children under age eight who were killed.
With the number of Holocaust survivors dwindling, Lise tells her students that after they hear a survivor’s story, it is now their story to tell others.
The North Penn School District was honored once again with the “Best Communities for Music Education” designation from the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) Foundation for its outstanding commitment to music education. North Penn joins 623 districts across the country in receiving the prestigious award in 2019.
In cooperation with researchers at the Music Research Institute at the University of Kansas, and based on survey results, each year the NAMM Foundation selects school districts to be recognized as being among the Best Communities for Music.
Now in its 20th year, the awards program recognizes outstanding efforts by teachers, administrators, parents, students and community leaders who have made music education part of the curriculum. Designations are made to districts and schools that demonstrate an exceptionally high commitment and access to music education.
This week’s #TeacherTuesday highlights Karen Lyon, a retired teacher from Bristol Township who is still very active in her community. She serves on the board of Discovery Service Projects, an organization that helps Central American countries that have been affected by natural disasters rebuild schools, homes and community buildings. This group allows her to continue to engage students in her community with volunteer work.
“Every day I get to see students engaged and excited to use the skills they have learned to build careers after graduation. I am inspired by the graduates that come back to show what they have done and the families they have built.”
If you know a teacher who deserves to be recognized on #TeacherTuesday, let us know!
This week’s #TeacherTuesday highlights Gary Felmey, an electrical tech teacher at Eastern Center for Arts and Technology and a member of the Eastern Montgomery County Educators Association. “Every day I get to see students engaged and excited to use the skills they have learned to build careers after graduation. I am inspired by the graduates that come back to show what they have done and the families they have built.” If you know a teacher who deserves to be recognized on #TeacherTuesday, let us know!
Many of us in education have deep misgivings about the role standardized tests play in our schools. As a principal, I’ve had a front-row seat to incidents that illustrate why we should be seriously concerned. Let me tell you about one of them.
A few years ago, an assistant superintendent approached me about the performance of my kindergarten teachers. He had looked at the school’s scores from a commonly used standardized test and had identified an underperforming kindergarten teacher.
He pointed out that in one of my four kindergarten classes, the student scores were noticeably lower, while in another, the students were outperforming the other three classes. He recommended that I have the teacher whose class had scored much lower work directly with the teacher who seemed to know how to get higher scores from her students.
Seems reasonable, right? But here was the problem: The “underperforming” kindergarten teacher and the “high-performing” teacher were one and the same person.
I had just two kindergarten teachers. They each taught one morning and one afternoon class.
The idea that I should have the “high performing” teacher coach her lower-performing colleague was suddenly very concerning to me, not to mention impossible. It was clear to me that I couldn’t use standardized tests to distinguish high-performing from low-performing teachers. And this incident fed the doubts that I already harbored about using those same tests—which are meant to be “scientific”—to measure student learning.
Dozens of Variables
I am married to a scientist. He runs tests on plant pathology, analyzes the results, draws conclusions, and uses the results to develop solutions to the problems he studies. I am in awe of the tidiness of the whole process.
I, on the other hand, am an educator. At best, every child is an experiment of one. We test the children’s learning with admittedly limited instruments—standardized tests—that were never designed to be used as a standalone analysis. A lot of classroom time is dedicated to preparing for these tests and giving them. Results are affected by dozens of variables that we can’t control: illness, hunger, sleep deprivation, unfamiliar forms of a test, limited command of English.
While my husband carefully chooses which plants and which growing conditions to use in his studies to get more accurate and replicable results, I cannot even begin to predict which variables have the most impact on any individual student when she takes a standardized test on any given day.
However, in our best attempt to mimic scientific experiments in education, we insist on measuring the success of a learning intervention by students’ standardized test results. These are the very same tests that have let us down by failing to accurately capture what a student knows and can do.
Many people say that we use these tests because we have no better way to measure learning. That’s not really a good answer, much less a reason to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of an intervention, or worse, about the performance of a teacher.
Occasionally I’ll hear a story about a student whose abilities teachers vastly underestimated, and then a test at school finally revealed the level of his or her true capability. I do not doubt those stories.
But my own experience of watching tests and students for many years is that standardized test results underestimate large numbers of students as learners, especially those who belong to minority groups. Most often, it’s the teacher—not the standardized test—who will recognize a student’s true abilities and understand that the student simply is unable to demonstrate on the test what she knows and can do.
Teachers—good teachers, who are with students day after day through all the variables of learning—are far more likely to know not only what a student can do but also how to increase his learning. If we focused on that and worked to build our strength as identifiers and promoters of children’s learning, we could have a real impact.
I fear that the charade of saying testing can inform instruction has diverted us from exploring what can really make a difference in a child’s learning. And the precious little time we have to bring children as far as possible, to nourish their potential, to have them become capable of successfully navigating whatever world they will live in with confidence as a lifelong learner, is simply not a gift to squander. As sociologist William Bruce Cameron wrote, “not everything that can be counted counts.”
Margaret Pastor is the principal of Stedwick Elementary School in Maryland. She has more than 35 years of experience in education, and is the co-author of One School’s Journey, about teaching through authentic projects.
This week’s #TeacherTuesday shines the spotlight on Will Melvin, an English teacher at Central Bucks High School South. Will is a candidate for PA Teacher of the year and a member of the Central Bucks Education Association. Will was inspired to teach by his freshman English teacher’s captivating passion and energy in the classroom. Now he brings that into his own classroom, making sure his lessons are “relevant in the 21st century to a new group of adolescents.”
If there’s a teacher you think deserves to be highlighted, let us know in the comments.
Over the past 30 years, the cost of living has risen, college tuition has soared, and the education profession has changed dramatically. Yet Pennsylvania’s minimum teacher salary has remained on the books at $18,500 per year, unchanged in the school code since 1989. Now there is a legislative proposal, recommended and supported by Gov. Tom Wolf, to raise the minimum salary across the state to $45,000.
Why is this so important? There was a time when the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania issued more than 14,000 licenses to new teachers each year. In the last few years, that number has dropped to fewer than 5,000. Pennsylvania, like other states around the country , is experiencing a chronic shortage of certified teachers, not only in our urban areas, but here in Bucks and Montgomery Counties as well. What’s more, the problem is most acute in the areas of math and science, which are critical to a 21st century education, and special education, where the number of students identified and needing services has increased dramatically over the past 30 years.
Exacerbating the situation is the fact that up to 50 percent of new teachers leave the profession in the first five years. Experts estimate that the teacher attrition rate is about 8 percent annually, with higher rates in urban districts. We need to find ways to not only recruit a diverse educator workforce, but to retain them in our classrooms across the state.
The Council for the Advancement of Public Schools (CAPS) believes that increasing the minimum teacher salary can address this growing teacher shortage by offering better compensation. Great schools depend upon great teachers, and we can’t attract the next generation of educators if our best and brightest students aren’t going into the profession. If we truly value those people who are responsible for enlightening the next generation, we need to ensure that their starting salary is commensurate with other professionals in the state who have equivalent levels of education.
Who would be impacted by this new minimum? There are 288 school districts in Pennsylvania where a total of 5,152 experienced educators earn less than $45,000. Of these educators, 76 percent are women. Even worse, there are 1,130 education professionals who make less than $40,000 per year. Half of these teachers have more than three years of experience, 20 percent have more than six years of experience, and 26 percent have master’s degrees. And a few of them are right here in Bucks and Montgomery Counties.
The governor’s proposed minimum salary increase would not impact local school district budgets. It would only require an increase of one-quarter of 1 percent (. 0025%) in the state’s basic education funding line item. This translates to less than half a penny on the dollar. It’s the right thing to do for the people who educate our children. It’s time to give these professionals the respect they deserve.
If you agree that well-educated professionals shouldn’t struggle to make ends meet, please contact your legislators to express your support today.
Alan M. Malachowski is a music teacher in the North Penn School District and a member of the Council for the Advancement of Public Schools (CAPS).
Her principal, Brea D’Angelo, has been quoted as saying, “When you walk into her classroom you are transformed into a world of true deeper learning.” Melissa states, “Student choice and autonomy is an important part of my classroom environment and how I can build strong relationships with my students.” And she adds, “When you give students choice in their reading and in their learning goals you can engage them at a higher level. Students in my class are passionate about what they are reading and what they are learning because it is student driven and they know that there is no such thing as one size fits all.”
What other amazing educators are engaging our learners? We’ll continue our #TeacherTuesday posts throughout the summer, so let us know and we’ll profile them in the upcoming weeks.
Bucks and Montgomery counties’ seven technical schools have equipped their students well as the 2019 graduating seniors prepare for jobs in the workforce, enter the military, study abroad and attend universities such as Lehigh, Drexel, University of Pittsburgh, Fairleigh Dickinson and Embry Riddle Aeronautical University.
Technical Career Graduates
Of a graduating class of 342 at Bucks County Technical High School (BCTHS) in Fairless Hills, 98 are headed to the work force, with several joining construction unions or working for SEPTA, and another 24 entering the military. Nearly two-thirds are bound for further education at universities, community colleges and technical/trade post-secondary schools. The valedictorian and salutatorian are both headed to Drexel, and others will join the ranks of new students at Lehigh University and the University of Pittsburgh.
These grads were awarded more than $500,000 in scholarships and grants from colleges they plan to attend as well as $50,000 in cash scholarships received on senior award night.
At the Eastern Center for Arts and Technology (EASTERN) in Willow Grove, where students from nine school districts in Eastern Montgomery County attend half-day programs, 228 completed one of 14 different areas of study. Thirty-eight, or 17 percent, of graduates will work in related fields and 16, or seven percent, are headed to the military.
Technical Career Graduates 2
Another 64 percent, or 146 graduates, are pursing related post-secondary education at schools such as the University of Arizona and Drexel. One graduate will spend the next year in Germany through the Congress Bundestag Youth Exchange Program before returning to the US to attend Johnson and Wales University.
The EASTERN Foundation, supported by businesses, various community organizations and individual donors, awarded $40,000 for academic and technical achievement to 128 students.
The Middle Bucks Institute of Technology (MBIT) in Jamison is graduating 235 students. During the 2018-2019 school year, they earned a total of 1,642 industry certifications in fields as diverse as nursing, dental assisting, welding, cosmetology, Adobe Photoshop, network cabling, fire-fighting and emergency medicine. Of these newly minted grads, 179 are beginning full- or part-time jobs and six are starting apprenticeships in carpentry, electrical and plumbing with local unions. Thirteen grads are entering the Air Force, Army, Marines and the Navy.
One hundred are pursuing full-time study and another 47 will attend post-secondary schools and universities such as the Pennsylvania College of Technology, affiliated with Penn State University, the Connecticut School of Broadcasting, the University of Miami and Bucks County Community College.
Across Bucks and Montgomery counties, there are countless opportunities for students to explore and pursue their interests while often earning college credits. We invite parents and students to investigate how they can get a competitive advantage by enrolling in a Career and Tech Ed School. Learn more about the opportunities offered.