Why policy matters for our schools.

In the United States the federal role in education is limited. Most education policy is decided at the state and local levels; however, federal policy impacts state and local education decisions.

Federal overview
The United States Department of Education (ED) is the agency of the federal government that establishes policy for, administers, and coordinates most federal assistance to education. ED’s mission is to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.

Federal legislation, regulations, guidance, and other federal education policy documents include American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which authorized Race to the Top, and No Child Left Behind.

State overview
The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) “drafts and updates policies and procedures to offer guidance to school leaders, educators, parents and students to help create a high-quality learning experience from early childhood through adulthood.” The Public School Code of 1949 outlines the scope of the PDE, as well as the authority of the local school districts. The code has been revised numerous times since its initial approval to keep pace with changes in areas such as educational trends, pupil services, finances, technology, and pupil health and welfare. The PDE also compiles and analyzes statistics about schools, school districts and student progress.

PA Academic Standards
Working closely with the PDE, the Pennsylvania State Board of Education adopts academic standards in 12 subject areas. Benchmark measures define what students should know and be able to do at specified grade levels.  Currently, the Board is developing the Common Core Standards and measures for assessing achievement of those standards.

The PDE relies upon the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA), a standards-based assessment administered in all Pennsylvania public schools, to measure how well students have achieved in reading, mathematics, science and writing according to Pennsylvania’s academic standards. The PSSA assesses the following academic areas: mathematics (grades 3-8, and 11), reading (grades 3-8 and 11), writing (grades 5, 8, and 11) and science (grades 4, 8 and 11). A given school is measured by how well its total student body achieved, as well as by how well state-defined subgroups achieved. Subgroups are groups of students who share the same race, ethnicity, language, poverty, or have special educational needs. A subgroup must have at least 40 students to be counted separately.

According to the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB)Act, students must be 100% proficient in reading and math by 2014. NCLB also requires states to determine annually whether schools and districts in Pennsylvania make Adequate Yearly Progress, also known as AYP.

Additional Information about the Pennsylvania Department of Education:

Local overview
School districts operate under the local control of an elected School Board of Directors. Although the policies and procedures developed by the PDE and the State Board of Education serve as guidelines, each district’s School Board has the authority to determine how to instruct toward mastery of the academic standards. In Upper Darby School District, it is the policy of the School Board to adopt the recommendations of the Superintendent of the Schools. For students with disabilities, federal law and PDE policy require each local education agency, which is usually the school the student attends, in consult with the Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) team, to make educational placement decisions based on certain principles.

Note:  If parents/guardians determine that there is a deficiency in a district’s program once it has been implemented, they can file a formal complaint with the PDE.

Data about particular schools
The PDE provides links to the following information, from which parents/guardians can access data about particular schools in the Upper Darby School District:

Academic Data and School Report Cards
Graduation Rates
Drop Out Rates
Student Progress
Average Daily Attendance by Schools
Contact Information for Schools

 What this means for UDSD students
According to the Upper Darby School District Superintendent’s Report in April 2012, in the 2010-2011 school year, 94 percent of nearly 300 subgroups of the Upper Darby School District students who took the PSSA met or exceeded proficiency targets. However, the PDE determined the District failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress toward achieving the goal of 100 percent proficiency by 2014.

In Upper Darby School District, the 2012-2013 Academic Realignment Program for grades 1-5 was framed as a necessary step to save the schools, and ultimately the district, from continued, persistent failure to make AYP.

Mandates at the State and Federal levels dictate certain aspects of the districts’ spending. The one area where districts in Pennsylvania have complete discretion is in anything that falls under Chapter 4 of the Pennsylvania School Code. Chapter 4 covers matters dealing with curriculum and instruction. Districts must provide a curriculum and instruction that addresses the state standards. All of the details as to how that is best achieved are left to the discretion of the local School Board. In UDSD, the recommendations are made by the administrative team, presented to the School Board by the Superintendent, and then approved by the School Board of Directors, per District policy.

In 2012, the recommendations made by the Superintendent included reducing instructional time in the elementary program in the related arts – art, music, physical education, and library science – to increase instructional time in social studies and science. In keeping with the Public School Code, the Superintendent was not required by the PDE to articulate the details of the plan. The Superintendent would be required to present the details of a new curriculum to the School Board, and would also be required to present details about new instructional methods; however, UDSD policy states, “The Board reserves the right to determine which units of the instructional program constitute planned instruction and are subject to adoption by the Board.”