Thursday, October 30, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

5 big issues this new school year

WITH DR. HITE announcing last Friday that the Philadelphia public schools will open on time, it signaled the imminent start of a new school year. I think there are at least five things that will be major issues this year in schools and colleges.

First, in the governor's race between Tom Corbett and Tom Wolf, education and educational funding will be the top issue. Wolf so far has had some success in perpetuating the big lie that Corbett callously cut school funding by a billion dollars. I have written extensively that Corbett increased funding but schools had less money when the funds they got from President Obama's stimulus plan ran out.

This school-funding issue is also important because Tom Wolf wants to add school funding by raising taxes on the Marcellus Shale people and those who he deems to be above the middle class. Wolf gave the Allentown Morning Call his plan to make the first $30,000 of everybody's income exempt from the state income tax and raise the rate from 3.07 to 5 percent. In Wolf's view this would be a progressive tax on the wealthy.

However, an analysis by Chris Comisac, of the online news service Capitolwire, says that those tax rates mean that anyone earning over $77,800 a year would see an increase. Watch for Corbett to remind middle-class individuals of this analysis.

A costly and controversial school story involving the unaccompanied children who crossed into the United States illegally will play out nationwide, and locally here in the Indian River School District, in Sussex County, Del. I interviewed school-board member Donald Hattier on my radio show and he told me that Indian River had more than 70 non-English speaking students come to Sussex Central in the 2013-14 school year and they were expecting an influx of more than double that of the kids who came here illegally.

It's clear that this wave of kids will create tremendous difficulties for school districts. Pennsylvania this school year also will be a center of debate over the Pennsylvania version of the national Common Core standards. This is year three of the standards, and the first year that the curriculum and the high-school exit tests, called the Keystone tests, have to be fully implemented.

I interviewed Susan Bokun, founder of the Bucks County chapter of Pennsylvanians Against Common Core, and she shared concerns about teachers teaching to the test, invasion of privacy based on all the information from parents and students around the test and fears of an agenda of indoctrination based upon various history questions. Watch for many students not to score "proficient" on these tests, and for the debate about how to remediate them.

There will be continued debate on college campuses this fall about proficiency. Just recently, Princeton University, which led the charge a few years back against grade inflation (too many students getting A's), sent signals that it was quitting its policy due to recruiting pressures and the disadvantage it placed Princeton students when competing for jobs against those from schools that still had grade inflation.

Catherine Rampell, writing in the Washington Post, notes that at Yale, for example, 62 percent of undergraduate grades are A's and A-minuses and at Princeton they aimed for 35 percent. She notes, and I agree, that as students shell out more and more money for colleges, they expect high grades.

As sad as it is that colleges are in a grade-inflation race, the big story on campuses this year, involving their standards to stop sexual assault, is even sadder. Because of the perception that colleges have mishandled rape allegations, legislators in California are pushing to adopt policies forcing colleges that receive public money to define when "yes means yes." The Associated Press reports that that means there must be "an affirmative, unambiguous and conscious decision" by each party to engage in sexual activity. The legislation says that it's not consent if the person is drunk, drugged, unconscious or asleep." Good luck with that.

So, this school year will be a mix of tax dollars, election influence, test anxiety and silliness. It's the start of edu-crat season. I can hardly wait.


Teacher-turned-talk-show host Dom Giordano is heard weekdays 9 a.m. to noon on WPHT 1210-AM Radio. Contact Dom at 

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