News and Action Summary for April 24, 2015

Download a pdf version of the April 24, 2015 News and Action Summary!

News Summary 4-24-15

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News Posts, April 24, 2015

Here are news articles posted since the previous News and Action Summary:

Giving the Local Economy a Boost: The Impact of Raising the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage to $10.10 Per Hour by County

Death Penalty Opposition Intensifies

PA School Funding Lawsuit Dismissed

Standardized Tests Distort Schooling: Experts Reflect on Authentic Learning

Students’ Race Affects How Teachers Judge Misbehavior, Study Says

Vulnerable Voting Machine Raises Questions About Election Security

New Report: Rise in For-Profit Detention Corresponds with Millions in Lobbying by Private Prisons

Report: Fortune 500 Corporations Avoid Paying Billions in U.S. Taxes

Inequality and the Estate Tax: What You Need to Know

Updated Fossil Fuel Subsidy Report Available

There Are Big Flaws in Our Main Chemical Safety Law. A New House Bill Won’t Fix Them.

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Newly Posted Resources—April 24, 2015

Here are the most recently posted resources available for individuals and congregations:

Am I Eligible? Public Service Loan Forgiveness 101

State and Local Immigration: Toolkit for Action

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The Throwaways—April 25, Harrisburg

An award-winning film that “courageously explores the most pressing racial justice issue of our time: the mass incarceration and profiling of poor people of color”

Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow”

Free Public Screening: Saturday, April 25, 2015

Widener University School of Law, 3900 Vartan Way, Harrisburg, Administration Building – Moot Courtroom

Wheelchair Accessible

  • Reception—7 p.m.
  • Movie—7:30 p.m.

Questions and conversation with co-producer/director Bhawin Suchak and representatives from co-sponsoring groups after the screening

Sponsors: Harrisburg Friends Meeting, Community Responders Network, Harrisburg Center for Peace and Justice, This Stops Today Harrisburg (Black Lives Matter), Unitarian Universalist PA Legislative Advocacy Network

All Are Welcome!

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Standardized Tests Distort Schooling: Experts Reflect on Authentic Learning

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Federal school policy these days is limiting what children study at school.  The tests mandated by No Child Left Behind, the federal testing law, measure students’ progress in language arts and math.  Students are also tested in science once in elementary school, once in middle school and once in high school. And states had to promise to adopt college- and career-ready standards to qualify for Arne Duncan’s federal waivers from the most awful consequences of the No Child Left Behind Act.  College- and career-ready standards translate into the Common Core, one of two sets of curricula standards and the tests that accompany them. What all this means in practice is that much of what happens at school is driven by what is on the tests.

Our national obsession with standardized testing has motivated many people including parents and teachers to push back.  What about the skills that we all know determine people’s capacity to work together, to persist at their work, to question and talk about their work and about the issues citizens need to understand?  Test preparation doesn’t cover these things.  School needs to be more than test prep.

In late February Susan Engel, a professor of psychology at Williams College and founder and director of the Williams Program in Teaching, published a critique of standardized tests because, she said, neither do they show us much about what children know nor do they predict children’s success at school and in life:  “I have reviewed more than 300 studies of K-12 academic tests.  What I have discovered is startling.  Most tests used to evaluate students, teachers, and school districts predict almost nothing except the likelihood of achieving similar scores on subsequent tests.  I have found virtually no research demonstrating a relationship between those tests and measures of thinking or life outcomes.”

Engel then presents a list of seven abilities or dispositions she believes all children need to master at school. She suggests our testing ought to measure whether our schools are teaching these skills: “One key feature of the system I am suggesting is that it depends, like good research, on representative samples rather than on testing every child every year.  We’d use less data, to better effect, and free up the hours, days, and weeks now spent on standardized test prep and the tests themselves, time that could be spent on real teaching and learning.”  What are the seven abilities and dispositions Engel believes every child should develop at school?

  • Reading — Every child should be able to read well by the end of elementary school and should read regularly.
  • Inquiry — Schools should develop children’s natural desire to discover by helping them investigate deliberately, thoroughly and precisely.
  • Flexible thinking using evidence — Children need to be able to approach a topic in different ways, reason about it and write about it.
  • Conversation — Students need to practice listening and explaining, taking turns, marshalling evidence, exploring different points of view, telling stories.
  • Collaboration — Children must learn to navigate their social settings and be reflective about the way people treat each other.
  • Engagement — Children need to have opportunities to become absorbed and learn to concentrate.
  • Well-Being — Children need to expect to feel safe at school.

I encourage you to read Engel’s essay to learn how she suggests testing can be designed to evaluate how well schools nurture these abilities.

In a profound new reflection, Mike Rose, the UCLA professor who has spent a long career observing teaching and learning, also critiques how standardized testing has narrowed what children are taught.  Rose agrees that we ought to push back against the narrowed emphasis on reading, math and a little science.  Valuing similar priorities to Engel’s, Rose wants us to think about what are often called “the soft skills”—“punctuality and responsibility, self-monitoring and time management, the ability to communicate and work with others,” but unlike Engel, Rose is not rethinking testing.

Rose worries about the way we have come to parse instruction and to imagine we can teach separate skills or dispositions each one on its own, for nobody really learns that way.  “An ineffective way to develop soft skills in children or adults is to focus on soft skills alone, to lecture about them in the abstract or run people through games or classroom exercises that aren’t grounded on meaningful, intellectually relevant activity.  If we want to foster soft skills, we’ll have to start thinking about them in close connection with the cognitive content and interpersonal dynamics of the work people do.” (Emphasis added.)

Rose describes watching adults learning in a community college setting: “I observed adults in community college occupational programs as they developed skill in areas as diverse as fashion and welding.  While it is true that some students were from the beginning better than others at showing up for class on time and organizing their assignments, as students collectively acquired competence, soft skills developed apace.  Students became more assured, more attentive to detail, more committed to excellence, and they got better at communicating what they were doing and formed helping relationships with others.”

Rose is thinking about teaching and learning as an organic process of human development.  The things one learns and practices at school come together to form the person who is becoming more educated.

Notice that neither Engel nor Rose describes the kind of standardized testing that dominates our schools today as an essential part of education.

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PA School Funding Lawsuit Dismissed

From Education Voters of Pennsylvania (

We are disappointed that on Tuesday the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania dismissed the school funding lawsuit, citing that the courts have no role to play in ensuring that the state legislature adhere to the constitution by providing a “thorough and efficient” system of funding public education that provides all children in the Commonwealth with the most basic resources they need to meet state standards.

Education Voters of PA most strongly disagrees with the State’s assertion if they simply “keep the lights on” in schools they are providing Pennsylvania’s children with the quality of education they are guaranteed under the state constitution. We applaud the petitioners’ decision to appeal this ruling to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.  We look forward to the Supreme Court hearing the case and setting the law straight.

In the meantime, we must all continue to advocate for full and fair funding for our schools. The appeal to the Supreme Court could take well into next school year, and our students will not have another chance to go back to school and do it all over again.

Until our state legislature appropriates sufficient funding that matches student needs with adequate resources so all children have an opportunity to learn, the courts must be involved to provide oversight over school funding issues.

Go to to learn more about the school funding lawsuit and how you can support it and keep your eyes open for emails from us with actions you can take to support full and fair funding for our schools this year. 

In addition, Education Voters will continue to follow the progress of the school funding lawsuit and we invite  you to join us on monthly phone calls with the law centers, every 2nd Tuesday of the month at 12:30, to stay informed.

Thank you for your support of public education.

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Students’ Race Affects How Teachers Judge Misbehavior, Study Says

Education Week Teacher

“Racial disparities in school discipline are well-documented … A new study … aims to dig a little deeper into this by looking at how a student’s race may play into teachers’ reactions to discipline problems … Studies … presented a total of 244 K-12 teachers … with a fictional student’s disciplinary records. The records were labeled with either a stereotypically black name (Deshawn or Darnell) or a stereotypically white one (Greg or Jake) … Teachers who had the black student’s file were more likely to feel ‘troubled’ by the student’s behavior and to recommend more severe punishments for him after the second instance of misbehavior … Researchers also asked the teachers to rate how certain they were of the student’s race. They found that teachers who were more sure that the student was black were also more likely to feel that the student was a ‘troublemaker’ and that his behaviors were part of a pattern … Teachers involved in the study were predominantly white and female, much like the teaching profession.”


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Urge PA Legislators to Keep Background Checks for Gun Purchases

From CeaseFirePA (

The gun lobby in PA is determined not only to fight common sense policies to keep us safer but also to advance dangerous ideas that make it easier for guns to get into the wrong hands.  Once again, bills are moving through the General Assembly to eliminate Pennsylvania’s Background Check System (PICS).

Can you let your State Senator know this is unacceptable at

Make no mistake — this effort is not about efficiency or economy. It is simply an effort to dismantle a system that is working as a dependable, reliable law enforcement tool.  The PA State Police consistently report that PICS has more records than the National Background Check System, and is a tool that blocks gun sales to prohibited purchasers. It is a legitimate law enforcement tool.

We’re going to listen to the experts on this one — the State Police who run the PICS system.  Please tell your Senator in Harrisburg to do the same to protect PICS and protect PA.

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Giving the Local Economy a Boost: The Impact of Raising the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage to $10.10 Per Hour by County

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MW Impact

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf and the General Assembly are currently considering proposals to raise the state’s minimum hourly wage.

This Policy Watch examines the local impact of a minimum wage increase to $10.10 per hour.  On the right are fact sheets for each county including detailed demographic data including age, gender and family income of the workers that would get a raise if the minimum wage were increased to $10.10 per hour.

Boost Wages, Boost the Economy

When a significant number of jobs in Pennsylvania don’t pay enough for our neighbors to afford the basics – things like food, car repairs and eyeglasses – the local economy slows down. For many in our communities wages are so low that they are forced, even while working, to rely on the local food bank to help make ends meet. Policies to raise the wage and benefits floor can help restore spending on the basics and, in the process, boost the local economy.

There are several proposals before the Pennsylvania legislature to raise the minimum wage.  One of those proposals, an increase in the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, would boost the wages of 1.2 million workers, or 23%, of the state’s resident workforce. In total, wages in Pennsylvania would increase by $1.8 billion.  The higher spending that would result from these wage increases would generate 6,000 jobs.

Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour would benefit 2.9 times as many workers and boost total wages more than five times as much as an alternative proposal to increase the minimum wage to $8.75 per hour.

The majority of workers in Pennsylvania that would get a raise as a result of a statewide minimum wage increase are adults (87%) working full-time (50%). On average the Pennsylvania workers that would benefit from a minimum wage increase earn 41% of their family income.

Increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour would result in a meaningful boost to family incomes in Pennsylvania and help grow the state’s economy.

Read the full Policy Watch at

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State and Local Immigration: Toolkit for Action

From the Interfaith Immigration Coalition (

Check out this toolkit on Immigration at the State and Local Level!

As issues on immigration are jammed up in courts and won’t move in Congress this year, there are still many active fights at the local and state level that will help define whether our communities are restrictionist or welcoming.

Attached is a non-branded toolkit we’ve been working on and finally finalized with the help of several other key leaders in the Interfaith Immigration Coalition.

Please take a look at this state and local toolkit to see how you can be part of stopping anti-immigrant initiatives while passing policies that show the welcome at the local and state level.


  • How to Organize
  • Driver’s License
  • Racial Profiling Prevention
  • TRUST Act
  • Sanctuary Cities
  • Municipal ID
  • Tuition Equality
  • Stopping Anti-Immigrant Bills



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