Jonathan Cetel is the founding executive director of PennCAN. He lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Talk about a whirlwind two months.

Back in May I introduced you to PennCAN, our big idea for propelling smart education policies forward—the kinds of policies that will give all children in the Keystone State access to a great school.

That day I also introduced you to the three policy goals we’d be advocating for as part of our 2012 legislative campaign: 1) Measure Teacher Effectiveness 2) Expand High-Quality Options and 3) Start Smart.

And now—two months, four bills, two issue briefs and 1,200 action takers later—the legislative session is over, and so is our campaign.

So how did we do?

Measure Teacher Effectiveness: A win!

For the last 40 years the state has prescribed the same, vague evaluations for our teachers: a quick observation and either a “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory” checkmark, with little feedback to actually help them grow. So we set out to change that by building on the success of the evaluation programs piloted by the Department of Education in 122 districts.

We published an issue brief highlighting the need for more meaningful evaluations. We introduced you to Jennifer Wright, a Pittsburgh teachers who wants all teachers to benefit from the kind of robust evaluation system that her district piloted. We relied on the leadership of Representative Ryan Aument, who championed the teacher evaluation bill throughout the entire session. And then when the bill stalled out, we asked you to urge House and Senate leaders to get it moving again—and more than 1,200 of you did.

The result? Last weekend Pennsylvania enacted a new teacher evaluation system, one that will incorporate both student performance data and careful observations to help schools identify which teachers are succeeding and which ones need extra support.

As the state puts this system into place, PennCAN will be working to make sure these new evaluations are used to improve instruction and inform decisions involving professional development, hiring, tenure and layoffs.

Start Smart. A win!

In February, Governor Corbett proposed cutting the $100 million Accountability Block Grant that districts use to fund early childhood education. Without this critical funding, many school districts—already reeling from past budget cuts—would have been forced to shut down their kindergarten programs altogether.

We know how essential kindergarten is to setting students up for future success so we joined the chorus of advocates demanding the restoration of these funds. Fortunately the Senate and House listened, and thanks to their commitment to the program, the final budget includes the full $100 million we advocated to restore.

Expand High-Quality Options: a win and a loss.

We set out to expand to expand high-quality options for Pennsylvania families in two ways:

Educational Improvement Scholarship Credit: A win!

We spent a lot of our time in Harrisburg advocating for the Educational Improvement Scholarship Credit, a new $50 million tax credit for businesses that give scholarships to low-income students assigned to failing schools so they can attend private or out-of-district public schools. And so did Representative Jim Christina, who showed tremendous leadership by shepherding the bill through the entire process.

Reform Pennsylvania’s charter school law: A loss (for now).

At 4:46 p.m. last Saturday, the House passed a charter school reform bill by a vote of 118-79. This was groundbreaking. The vote represented months of negotiations between House and Senate leadership, the Governor’s Office and influential interest groups like the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools and the Pennsylvania State Education Association.

Before, during and after the victory in the House we spoke with lawmakers about ways to expand high-quality charters throughout the Commonwealth—things like creating an independent charter school authorizer, increasing charter schools’ fiscal and academic accountability, and studying funding inequities and how to fix them. We based these conversations on the research in the issue brief we published on expanding high-quality school choices.

But in the end, the Senate and House couldn’t resolve their differences before time ran out.

We’re not giving up though. We’re going to continue to fight for a better charter school so that the 40,000 kids on waiting lists get a chance to attend a high-performing school. And with your help, we will succeed.

We are severely disappointed by the failure to pass charter reform legislation, but three out of four ain’t bad.

And we’re only just getting started.

In less than two months of work we published two issue briefs, an op-ed, and a letter to the editor. We joined our partners in two rallies to expand high-quality options. We had more than 1,200 advocates like you take action. We drove this mobile billboard through Harrisburg and launched an online advertising campaign to raise awareness around expanding high-quality options. And we topped it all off with plenty of good old-fashioned pounding-the-pavement advocacy.

That’s in two months. Imagine what we can do in a year. I can’t wait for PennCAN’s next chapter, and I hope you feel the same because it won’t get written without you. Together we will keep fighting for great schools for Pennsylvania students, because great schools change everything.


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