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Pennsylvania Schools Are Falling Behind

Assessing the PIL Standards

The last few years alone, many Pennsylvania schools have fallen behind. While the debate is still growing about the cause [or the possible causes] for the state’s menial performance scorecard, the Commonwealth is betting on school leaders to make a difference in the classrooms. But the reliance on school professionals is not a new phenomenon in Pennsylvania.

In the late 1990s, the state adopted a robust professional program to strengthen professional standards. It was perhaps a way to revamp failing schools across the state. To this day, however, the results are mixed about the effects of the program. As announced on the outset of this post, many schools across the Commonwealth are still struggling.

The purpose of the program was to help local school leaders turn failing school around. Another goal (perhaps unstated) was to help leaders make the best of available means to improve their school. Of course, I am referring to the Pennsylvania Inspired Leadership standards (also known as PIL or PILS).

Revamping School Leadership

Few observers believe there is a cure, which could remediate all education-related ills across the Commonwealth. Educational practitioners, academicians, experts, and parents alike have identified many reasons, which, they believe, could have contributed to the problems facing local schools.[1] Poor school leadership is one of them. The PIL initiatives seemingly came about in that spirit.

Over the years, parts of the program have witnessed a transformation. The PIL is now a “Fix-it” initiative for failing schools. The common belief is that when a school is failing, there is a need to revamp school leadership. Still, the problems linger. School performance is low; student performance is low; the achievement gap among Pennsylvania students is widening.

The issue that often dominates the debate about failing Pennsylvania schools is a lack of funding. Few people would dispute that Pennsylvania has one of the worst funding mechanisms in the country. Some observers have flat-out called it “Exclusionary” and “Racist,” for the school districts that often suffer from lack of funding are in rural and urban neighborhoods, notably Philadelphia. These schools often serve poor White families, African-American, and Latino communities.

Leadership Quality versus School Funding

Is there a correlation between the PIL initiatives and school funding? Well, at this point, the answer is not clear. Obviously, the PIL has not provided the cure many expected.

Nonetheless, this is a popular program in Pennsylvania. Some are convinced the program has been helpful to both school leaders and teachers. It can be hard to dispute that understanding, considering the program has been in effect for almost two decades now.

In the present context, I will not address the financial issues that plague the Commonwealth at length. But I admit the degree of the financial disparity that exists throughout Pennsylvania is staggering. Many observers have credited that dreadful reality to local politicians, whom appear unable or unwilling to find common grounds to come up with a fair and equitable funding apparatus for the state.

Affected Regions

Observers often argued that quality of leadership is a major problem across the state. The understanding is that most schools are failing in Pennsylvania because of poor leadership. These places often need leadership improvement.

The problem is that these schools cannot attract qualified professionals to make a real difference. The view is that many school districts do not have the adequate financial means to offer competitive salary to professionals. Among the issues often cited in these regions are low funding, leadership turnover rates, teacher salary, and student discipline, among others. Thus, many of these schools are stuck in a labyrinth of low performance.

For many years now, Pennsylvania schools have experienced low performance. Even during the Obama Presidency (Race to the Top initiatives), the problem worsened in various school districts. Of course, there were a few signs of progress. But the problem has not ameliorated for most school districts across the state.

Low performance is acute in many Pennsylvania regions. But certain parts of the state often suffer the most. Apart from Philadelphia, observers often cite Harrisburg and York as some of the worst school districts in the state. When it comes to student performance, the achievement gap has widened considerably over the years.

No doubt, many Pennsylvania students have been left behind. Because of poor funding, many school districts are falling behind as well. Some are left to fend for themselves.

At this point, it is not clear whether the PIL standards could make a tangible difference in this great Commonwealth. It is not clear whether school professionals have enough financial means to make a real difference in the classrooms. Indeed, many Pennsylvania schools are falling behind. For many observers, it is not a surprise.

Assessing the Cause of Menial Performance

The question I am asking is to what extent the PIL has been useful in the state. But before we delve in the debate, let me say the PIL program is not a typical educational policy. The impact of its application is not popular outside the walls of school buildings. Few people know about these professional standards.

In the next few installments, I will examine the issues at length. I will explore the role school leaders often play in revamping failing school districts. Be on the lookout for my next post on the subject.

[1] This includes scholars and school practitioners alike.

Ben Wood Johnson, Ph.D.

Ben Wood Johnson, Ph.D.

President/CEO at BWEC, LLC.
Dr. Johnson is an author, educator, and philosopher. He is a multidisciplinary scholar. He writes about Philosophy, Legal Theory, Public/Foreign Policy, Education, Politics, Ethics, Race, and Crime. Dr. Johnson graduated from Penn State and Villanova University. He is fluent in French, Portuguese, Spanish, and Italian. Dr. Johnson enjoys reading, poetry, painting, and music.
Ben Wood Johnson, Ph.D.

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