Help Promised for Pa.'s Struggling Schools

Philadelphia schools and privately operated charter schools dominated a Department of Education list released Tuesday of Pennsylvania's 92 lowest-performing schools that will be in line to get help under a new strategy to meet federal guidelines.

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Acting Education Secretary Carolyn Dumaresq said the department hopes to have eight to 10 "academic recovery liaisons'' ready by November to work with groups of principals from the 92 schools as part of Pennsylvania's waiver from the No Child Left Behind Law, in which it must undertake an effort to help struggling schools.

The list included 47 Philadelphia district-run schools, 20 charter schools _ including several cyber charter schools _ and five schools apiece in Harrisburg and Pittsburgh. Four are in Chester-Upland, two each are in York and Lancaster and there was one each in the Allentown, Duquesne, Easton Area, Greater Johnstown, Norristown Area, Upper Darby and William Penn school districts.

The schools were determined by a blend of elements that included poor performance on standardized tests and whether they receive certain categories of federal aid, either for high concentrations of low-income students or poor test performance.

The department is seeking people with at least a decade of administrative experience in school curriculum to serve as contracted liaisons. The department has set aside $800,000 in federal money for the effort, Dumaresq said, adding that she expects Gov. Tom Corbett's budget proposal due out in February to include some assistance targeted to the schools.

Dumaresq said the academic recovery liaisons will work with school principals to try to ensure that the curriculum, teaching materials and teacher training and practices are all appropriate to help children in struggling classes.

Tapping regional liaisons isn't necessarily a new concept, but it could be more effective this time because there is more student test data available to help highlight problems and how to deal with them, said Jim Buckheit, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators.

Superintendents also often welcome having an outsider come in and push school boards or teachers to take action, he said.

"School districts are big organizations and they're sometimes difficult to change and sometimes even school superintendents need some help to make that change happen,'' Buckheit said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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