SCHOOL BOARDS and district officials have criticized Gov. Tom Corbett almost from the start, but his education changes should be no surprise. He has done pretty much what he promised during his campaign.
The fruits of the Republican reforms won't be known for years, though taxpayers have cause for concern. While the system needed repairs, there is no evidence much of what Corbett signed into law actually works.
But one bullheaded rush to change seems almost certain to prove detrimental. As reported in The Times Leader Tuesday, school officials – Dallas High School Principal Jeff Schafer among them – believe the mandate that all 11th-grade students take the new Keystone Exams in three subjects this year can potentially cut 20 to 30 days out of student instruction.
That's up to 16 percent of the 180 school days required by state law being dedicated to testing and test preparation. And as Schafer also noted, unlike the 11th-grade Pennsylvania System of School Assessment math and reading tests, which were only given to 11th-grade students and are now eliminated, Keystones are being given in ninth and 10th grade as well – three quarters of a typical high school enrollment could be affected.
Keystones are also given in three subjects this year, increasing the impact. More subjects are to be added in coming years.
As Schafer pointed out, everyone knew Keystones were coming this year. What they didn't know until last summer was that Keystones would be required in 11th grade, and that results on the algebra I and literature exams would replace PSSA math and reading results in determining whether schools meet state-mandated academic goals.
A conspiracy theorist might conclude replacement of PSSAs with Keystones purposely was rushed to make public education look bad, thus helping the Republican administration justify an ongoing push for increased privatization of the system through tax credits, vouchers and looser rules for charter schools.
After all, as Tuesday's story also noted, students statewide have been doing poorly in limited Keystone testing compared to results in PSSA math and reading. Schafer conceded that even Dallas, which has consistently been at or near the top of standardized test results for years, will likely see a drop in scores because of the hasty switch (a drop he promised will be short-lived).
But one doesn't need a conspiracy theory to show how wrongheaded this move was. One needs only to look at the loss of instructional time as juniors prepare for and take tests in subjects they studied up to two years ago, rather than studying and testing in more advanced topics.
At a time in their education when students are supposed to be contemplating a future of college selection and careers, the state now has them reviewing their first year of high school.
And thus Corbett has managed to make his education reforms literally backward-looking.