Octorara on List of Academically Challenged Schools

Reposted from Daily Local News:

Image Courtesy of Pennsylvania Department of the Auditor General

Image Courtesy of Pennsylvania Department of the Auditor General

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said his recent performance audits of the Pennsylvania Department of Education show the department did not provide adequate assistance to 561 academically challenged schools with 310,000 students enrolled.

On this list are several schools in the Coatesville, Octorara and Oxford school districts. These schools include, in Coatesville Area School District: Caln Elementary, Coatesville Area Senior High, Friendship Elementary, Rainbow Elementary, Reeceville Elementary, Scott Middle School; in Oxford Area School District: Penn’s Grove School and Oxford Area High School; in Octorara Area School District: Octorara Junior High School. The Chester County Technical College High School and the Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School are also on the list.

The 89-page audit report, which covers July 1, 2010, through Aug. 1, 2015, includes the results of two performance audits of PDE and 30 recommendations for improvement to address four findings:

  • PDE failed to provide additional assistance to poor-performing schools,
  • Board of Education failed to update the master plan for basic education since 1999,
  • PDE failed to monitor special advisors and assistants, and
  • PDE relied on retired employees to fill critical positions and violated the state employees’ retirement code.

“The Pennsylvania Department of Education is failing our students and the taxpayers by essentially overlooking 561 academically challenged schools,” DePasquale said. “It is astonishing to me that so many schools — with more than 310,000 students — may not be receiving the extra support they need to help their students succeed academically. If PDE continues to overlook these institutions and the students they serve, more and more children will struggle scholastically further down the road.

“It also is disturbing that for 16 years, the state Board of Education — which is responsible for setting statewide education policy — failed to develop and implement a statutorily required basic education master plan to be issued every five years. The plan should be current, and it should be aligned with the ever-changing education landscape, including technological advances, requirements under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, and the explosion of charter schools,” he said. “The world is far different than it was in 1999, and our educational system must have a plan that can adapt to meet changing demands.”

When auditors used school performance profile scores for 2013-14, they identified 814 academically challenged schools with scores below 70. Of those, 561 schools received no substantial assistance to improve academic performance. The only schools that received additional academic assistance were a fraction of the schools classified by the federal government as “Title I” — schools that have a high percentage of students from low-income families.

Special assistance for academically challenged schools may include specialized staff, referred to as Academic Recovery Liaisons, who work with school administrators to develop and implement programs tailored to each school. … Continue reading →

3 thoughts on “Octorara on List of Academically Challenged Schools

  1. Isn’t it ironic that the report concludes the PDE must provide the academic and “FINANCIAL” support necessary for the students to have the best opportunity to succeed? Yet, here we sit 5 months after the budget was due and there is still no progress in doing exactly what this report says must be done and what every parent and teacher knows must be done. Instead of providing even basic adequate funding the legislature is providing no funding and forcing schools across the state to borrow money and go further into debt, which will make this situation even worse! Shame on this do nothing legislature.

    • Mr Jones,

      Thank you for your comments. I agree with some of what you have written. However, there are some things we must keep in mind. The most recent breakdown of Octorara’s “per student cost to educate” provided to the Board and public was about average for Chester County… keeping in mind that, as a rich county, average in Chester County is above average for Pennsylvania. Those numbers are about 2 years old (see https://octorarataxes.wordpress.com/2013/10/17/basic-math-octoraras-18981-93-per-student-price-tag/). At that time, the “cost to educate” was $15,579 per student, compared to the $18,981.93 overall cost per student, which was on par with the wealthiest districts in Chester County (see https://octorarataxes.wordpress.com/2013/02/15/octorara-per-student-spending/). Today, the overall cost per student is around $20,500 per student. The cost per student is increasing at a rate faster than the budget is increasing because of a declining student population… you may remember my post from last year about enrollment being at a low.

      My point here is that if there is some thought that not enough money is being spent to educate Octorara students, that opinion is difficult to support if one knows the facts. Our labor costs are a big part of this ssue. In Pennsylvania, the average starting salaries for teachers is $41,901 and average overall salaries are $62,992. In Octorara, the starting salary is almost $50,000 (and will above that with the new contract), and the average overall salary is $67,409. Throwing money at the problem does not work.

      The failure of the PDE, that I am concerned with, is that there were suppose to assigned Academic Recovery Liaisons to work with the District to develop and implement tailored programs. The audit showed PDE did not provide proper oversight, and did not step in when they should have. Now, you could probably say that there is money linked to those actions to help poor-performing schools. However, the idea that we are not spending enough is hard to defend when one knows how much we actually do spend.

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