Education in Pennsylvania facts for kids
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There are numerous elementary, secondary, and higher institutions of learning in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania, which is home to 500 public school districts, thousands of private schools, many publicly funded colleges and universities, and over 100 private institutions of higher education.
In general, under state law, school attendance in Pennsylvania is mandatory for a child from the age of 8 until the age of 17, or until graduation from an accredited high school, whichever is earlier.
As of 2005, 83.8% of Pennsylvania residents age 18 to 24 have completed high school. Among residents age 25 and over, 86.7% have graduated from high school. Additionally, 25.7% have gone on to obtain a bachelor's degree or higher. In 2009, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 87.9% of Pennsylvanians aged 25 or older have attained a high school diploma or better.
- NCLB AYP levels
- Academic achievement assessment
- Public cyber charter schools
- Dual enrollment
- College remediation
- College graduation rate
- Approved Private Schools and Charter Schools for the Blind and Deaf
NCLB AYP levels
Under No Child Left Behind each state set its own rates for Adequate Yearly Progress. Children with disabilities received customized testing related to their IEP (Individualized Education Plan). While Science is tested in 4th, 8th and 11th grades, no AYP level is set. AYP is reported at a district level, a school level and a tested grade level. Attendance and graduation rates are included in achieving AYP each year. A school district can achieve Adequate Yearly Progress status even though one or more of its schools do not. If a school or school district does not make adequate yearly progress, it is required to create a School Improvement Plan to address academic deficiencies and submit it to Pennsylvania Department of Education for review and approval.
Pennsylvania backloaded AYP setting it as follows:
Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) results are reported for the student body as a whole and for subgroups several: boys, girls, low-income students, students who are limited English proficient, minorities and children with disabilities as mandated by NCLB. The law gave each state the power to define subgroup size, in Pennsylvania 40 students in the group. Additionally, the law permitted schools to report data using a statistical device called a confidence interval. When a school achieves AYP via a confidence interval a (CI) is noted on the school's official state report card of academic achievement.
In 2011, 94 percent of the 500 Pennsylvania public school districts achieved the No Child Left Behind Act progress level of 72% of students reading on grade level and 67% of students demonstrating on grade level math. In 2011, 46.9 percent of Pennsylvania school districts achieved Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) based on student performance. An additional 37.8 percent of school districts made AYP based on a calculated method called safe harbor, 8.2 percent on the growth model and 0.8 percent on a two-year average performance.
Academic achievement assessment
Each year, the state conducts a series of tests (called assessments) to evaluate the progress students are making in attaining essential content and skills. All public schools, including school districts, charter schools and cyber charter schools, are required to participate. Some private schools have elected to participate.
The PSSAs began in 1998 as a state education initiative. Reading and mathematics were tested in 5th, 8 and 11th grades. With the passage of No Child Left Behind, the state added reading and mathematics testing in 3rd, 4th, 6th, and 7th grades. The content of the tests are based on the Pennsylvania Academic Standards. A writing assessment was added that examines student skills in informational writing and persuasive writing. The schools were provided with a writing rubric and sample prompts to guide their instruction along with specialized training for teachers. In 2007, the science tests were administered to 4th, 8th and 11th grades. The results were provided to the schools, but not made public. Beginning in 2008, the science test results were made public.
Results on the PSSAs are reported as: Advanced, Proficient, Basic and Below Basic. The scores that constitute each level were established by working groups of Pennsylvania teachers when the examines are developed. The Pennsylvania Department of Education reports these results to the schools and each student's parents. Additionally, they PDE reports them to the community via an Academic Achievement Report Card website. These results are reported for the entire state, by each school district, by each school, by each grade in that school and by subgroups. These subgroups include: race, gender, student's family income, special needs and English language learners. The report cards also provide graduation rates for each school district, school attendance rates and teacher qualifications.
Beginning in 2009, the Department of Education began reporting the results for each individual student as a part of the PVAAS report. (Pennsylvania Value Added Assessment System). This permits the state, the school district and the school to track each student's progress from one year to the next. Growth in achievement, regardless of the level of proficiency reached, is the focus of this assessment system. When students make 10% progress over last year, the school is credited with adequate yearly progress.
2009 statewide graduation rate and attendance rate
All students - 89%, Attendance rate - 94%
Males - 88%, Attendance rate - 94%
Females - 91%, Attendance rate - 94%
White - 93%, Attendance rate - 95%
Black - 77%, Attendance rate - 91%
Latino/Hispanic - 72%, Attendance rate - 92%
Asian - 93%, Attendance rate - 96%
Native American - 83%, Attendance rate - 92%
Individual Education Plan - 83%, Attendance rate - 92%
(Special needs) English Language Learners - 73%, Attendance rate - 93%
Economically disadvantaged - 79%, Attendance rate - 92%
Statewide 11th grade results
2012 - 67% on grade level
2012 - 59% on grade level, 24% below basic.
- Statewide Science 11th grade results
2012 - 42% on grade level, 17% below basic.
2011 - 40% on grade level, 19% below basic.
2010 - 39%
2009 - 40%
2008 - 39%
2007 - tested, results withheld from public
Statewide 8th grade results
2012 - 79% on grade level, 9% below basic.
2012 - 76% on grade level, 12% below basic.
- Science on grade level Statewide
2012 - 59% on grade level, 21% below basic.
2011 - 58% on grade level, 23% below basic.
2010 - 57%
2009 - 55%
2008 - 52%
2007 - tested results withheld from public
Statewide 7th grade results
2012 - 76% on grade level, 11% below basic
2012 - 80% on grade level, 10% below basic
Statewide 6th grade results
Official testing results began for sixth graders in the Spring of 2007
2012 - 68% on grade level, 14% below basic
2012 - 77% on grade level, 9% below basic
Statewide 5th grade results
2012 - 65% on grade level, 14% below basic
2012 - 73% on grade level, 10% below basic.
Statewide 4th grade results
Official testing results began for fourth graders in the Spring of 2007
2012 - 72% on grade level, 14% below basic
2012 - 82% on grade level, 9% below basic.
- Science on grade level Statewide
2012 - 82% on grade level, 6% below basic
2011 - 83% on grade level
2010 - 81%
2009 - 83%
2008 - 82%
2007 - tested results withheld from public
Statewide 3rd grade results
Official testing results began for sixth graders in the Spring of 2006
2012 - 74% on grade level, 16% below basic.
2012 - 80% on grade level, 7% below basic.
Public cyber charter schools
In 2015, there were fourteen (14) public cyber charter schools operating in Pennsylvania. While many provide a Kindergarten through 12th grade curriculum, some are targeted at subgroups like 9th through 12th grades. Students attend through open, online enrollment. The local school district remits the payment for the tuition costs. Cyber school students are provided with a computer, books and materials by the cyber school entity. The students meet the same academic requirements, under the No Child Left Behind, as traditional bricks and mortar schools. While brick-and-mortar charter schools are authorized by the local school board, of the public school district in which they are located, cyber charter schools are authorized by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Local school boards have no power over cyber charter schools. Some public school districts have instituted their own cyber school options, in an effort to lure back cyber charter pupils who reside in their district.
In accordance with a Pennsylvania law passed in 2005, all K-12 students residing in a public school district, including those who attend a private nonpublic school, cyber charter school, charter school and those homeschooled, are eligible to participate in the local public school district's extracurricular programs, including all athletics. The public cyber charter and public charter school pupils must meet the same eligibility rules as the students enrolled in the district's schools.
- Pennsylvania Cyber Charter schools 2015
- 21st Century Cyber Charter School 6th-12 (Downingtown, Chester County) 844 pupils (2015)
- Achievement House Cyber Charter School  9th-12 (Exton, Montgomery County) 885 pupils (2015)
- ACT Cyber Charter School 9th-12 (Philadelphia) 110 pupils (2015)
- Agora Cyber Charter School K-12 (Philadelphia) 9,290 pupils (2015)
- Aspira Bilingual Cyber Charter School K-12 (Philadelphia) 139 pupils (2015)
- Central PA Digital Learning Foundation Charter School K-12 (Hollidaysburg, Blair County) 181 pupils (2015)
- Commonwealth Connections Academy Charter School K-12 (Cumberland County) 8,768 pupils (2015)
- Education Plus Academy Cyber Charter School K-6th (Wayne) 751 pupils (2015)
- Esperanza Cyber Charter School K-12 (Philadelphia) 110 pupils (2015)
- Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School K-12 (Beaver County) 9,344 pupils (2015)
- PA Distance Learning Charter School K-12 (Dauphin County) 534 pupils (2015)
- Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School K-12 (Chester County) 2,444 pupils (2015)
- Pennsylvania Virtual Charter School K-12 (Montgomery County) 2,482 pupils (2015)
- SusQ Cyber Charter School 9th-12 (Bloomsburg, Columbia County) 118 pupils (2015)
Data per the Pennsylvania School Performance Profile 2015
In 2012, there were 16 cyber charter schools operating in the Commonwealth. Over 105,000 students attend a public cyber charter school in 2012. While many provide a Kindergarten through 12th grade curriculum, some are targeted at subgroups like 9th through 12th grades. These public schools receive funding from the state and federal government. The local school district remits the payment for the tuition costs. Cyber school students are provided with a computer, books and materials by the cyber school entity. The students meet the same academic requirements, under No Child Left Behind, as traditional bricks and mortar schools. While brick-and-mortar charter schools are authorized by the school board of the public school district in which they are located, cyber charter schools are authorized by the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
- Pennsylvania Cyber Charter Schools in 2012
- 21st Century Cyber Charter School 6th-12 (Chester County)
- Achievement House Cyber Charter School 9th-12 (Montgomery County)
- ACT Cyber Charter School
- Agora Cyber Charter School K-12 (Philadelphia County)
- Aspira Bilingual Cyber Charter School K-12 (Philadelphia)
- Central PA Digital Learning Foundation Charter School K-12 (Blair County)
- Commonwealth Connections Academy Charter School K-12 (Cumberland County)
- Education Plus Academy Cyber Charter School
- Esperanza Cyber Charter School
- Frontier Virtual Charter High School closed June 2012
- Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School K-12 (Beaver County)
- PA Distance Learning Charter School K-12 (Dauphin County)
- Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School K-12 (Chester County)
- PA Learners Online Regional Cyber Charter School K-12 (Allegheny County)
- Pennsylvania Virtual Charter School K-12 (Montgomery County)
- Solomon World Civilization Cyber Charter School opening fall 2012
- SusQ Cyber Charter School 9th-12 (Columbia County)
- per Pennsylvania Academic Achievement Report (AYP) website 2012
In 2009, there were 11 public, cyber charter schools available to Pennsylvania students K-12. In 2006-07, there were approximately 15,838 Pennsylvania students enrolled in cyber charter schools. The cyber charter schools and brick and mortar schools are required to submit annual reports to the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
The state's dual enrollment program permits high school students to take courses, at local higher education institutions, to earn college credits. Students remain enrolled at their high school. The courses count towards high school graduation requirements and towards earning a college degree. The students continue to have full access to activities and programs at the high school, including the graduation ceremony. The college credits are offered at a deeply discounted rate. The state offers a small grant to assist students in costs for tuition, fees and books. The amount of funding for the district varies widely across the Commonwealth. Under the Pennsylvania Transfer and Articulation Agreement, many Pennsylvania colleges and universities accept these credits for students who transfer to their institutions. Over 400 schools district offered this program in 2009.
According to a Pennsylvania Department of Education study released in January 2009, more than 40% of Pennsylvania high schools' graduates required remediation in mathematics and reading before they were prepared to take college level courses in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education or community colleges.
College graduation rate
Less than 66% of Pennsylvania high school graduates, who enroll in a four-year college in Pennsylvania, earn a bachelor's degree within six years. Among Pennsylvania high school graduates pursuing an associate degree, only one in three graduate in three years. Per the Pennsylvania Department of Education, one in three recent high school graduates who attend Pennsylvania's public universities and community colleges takes at least one remedial course in math, reading or English.
Many public and private schools participate in intramural sports and most outside competitions are sponsored by the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, which hosts 23 statewide championships in 16 different sports. The PIAA sets an eligibility standard that permits a student to be failing two core academic courses and continue to practice and play. Some school districts have set a higher eligibility level especially for core courses required for graduation. Ultimately, eligibility is determined by the local school board.
In 1988, the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed Act 169, which allows parents or guardians to homeschool their children as an option for compulsory school attendance. This law specifies the requirements and responsibilities of the parents and the school district where the family lives.
Approved Private Schools and Charter Schools for the Blind and Deaf
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has 36 Approved Private Schools, including the Charter Schools for the Blind and Deaf. Students attending these schools come from across the commonwealth. The private schools are licensed by the State Board of Private Academic Schools. They provide a free appropriate special education for students with severe disabilities. The cost of tuition for these schools is paid 60% by the state and 40% by the local school district where the student is a resident. Pennsylvania currently has four PA chartered and 30 non-charter APSs for which the Department approves funding. These schools provide a program of special education for over 4,000 day and residential students. Parents are not charged for the services at the school. The majority of these schools are located in the southeastern region and southwestern region of Pennsylvania.
The fourth-oldest institution of higher learning in America, and arguably the oldest university, is the University of Pennsylvania, founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1740.
Data from the indentured servant contracts of German immigrant children in Pennsylvania from 1771-1817 showed that the number of children receiving education increased from 33.3% in 1771-1773 to 69% in 1787-1804. Additionally, the same data showed that the ratio of school education versus home education rose from .25 in 1771-1773 to 1.68 in 1787-1804. The increase in the number of children being educated, and the fact that more students were being educated in school rather than at home, could help explain how near-universal literacy was achieved by 1840.
Lincoln University, founded in 1854 and later named for President Abraham Lincoln, was the nation’s first historically black university to provide arts and sciences education and degrees to African-American students.
Until the Civil War, almost all education was conducted either in private schools or at home. Public schools first came on the scene in the second half of the nineteenth century.
The forerunner to the Pennsylvania Department of Education was created in 1834. The State Board of Education, which adopts regulations for the Department, was created in 1963.
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