Op-Ed: Promoting Student-Centered Education Policy in Pennsylvania

I am honored to have been selected to lead one of the most important policy discussions facing Pennsylvania today.  As the new Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, I understand that the issues before us are as diverse as our Commonwealth.  It is therefore crucial that we work together to understand and address those issues so that all Pennsylvanians will have the opportunity to achieve success and experience upward economic mobility in an increasingly competitive and dynamic global environment.

To that end, I will be reaching out to all of the members of the Education Committee to gather their input, hear their policy priorities, and collect feedback.  I intend for the work of this Committee to be member-driven and bipartisan, with an emphasis on collaboration through an open, ongoing dialogue about the issues that we collectively face.

Further, we will be results-oriented.

Accordingly, I believe we have an obligation to focus the Committee’s energy on legislation that genuinely has a chance at becoming law.  This is not to say that we will not debate and advance an issue for further discussion, but I intend to prioritize advancing those bills on which there is agreement, while also continuing to engage in meaningful conversations to build consensus where it is lacking.

By building consensus and arriving at workable solutions, we can create sustainable change in Pennsylvania’s education system for the benefit of our students.

Specifically, I intend to emphasize those facets of education I believe are central to creating a student-centered system, including, but certainly not limited to:

  • Rigorous academic standards,
  • Meaningful, accurate, and fair systems of accountability and transparency,
  • Attracting and retaining high quality teachers and school leaders, and
  • Individualized and customized learning opportunities for students, to name a few.

Throughout my time in the General Assembly, I have believed in the critical role our teachers play in the classroom.  The data clearly tells us that they are the No. 1 in-school factor determining student academic achievement.  It is imperative that we do all that we can to ensure our students have access to high-quality teaching, and that those educators are given the resources they need to deliver a world-class education.

These ideas are among many that have been brought to my attention by educators, students, and their families, and I intend to continue to incorporate their views into the Committee’s activity over the next two years.

In addition to continuing discussions of bolstering school safety, reducing dependence on property taxes for school funding, and tackling student loan debt, one of our top priorities will be to make needed changes to the way we evaluate the performance of our teachers.

The General Assembly has already taken appropriate steps in the recent past to de-emphasize the use of standardized tests as the sole path to graduation.  The next logical step in that process is to reduce the overemphasis of those standardized tests in the statewide teacher evaluation system.

As the author of the original teacher evaluation bill in 2012, I can confidently say that the implementation of the current system does not match the original intent.  As such, it is our responsibility to get it right, and we are working towards that goal by collaborating with teachers and stakeholders to ensure effective implementation of an accurate, fair, and meaningful evaluation system. 

Accordingly, we must remove existing barriers within the system that have only served to limit the creativity of our professionals in the classroom.  Removing these barriers will leave more room for teachers to teach, unleashing their ability to be entrepreneurial and innovative in the classroom.

I would also like to devote attention towards increasing support for Career and Technical Education (CTE) and computer science education.  I firmly believe that developing strong CTE and computer science curricula will prepare students for success in the modern job market, cultivate a workforce with relevant skills, and secure Pennsylvania’s position in the expanding technology sector of America’s economy.

Finally, I would like to make higher education funding reform another priority of the Committee this session.  It is time that we take a look at higher education funding in a more holistic and comprehensive manner by studying all of the players in the system, including the state-related institutions, the state system, and the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA), among others. 

I am confident that, along with my own priorities outlined here, the Committee as a whole will be committed to a productive and results-oriented agenda over the next two years.  I am eager to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle so that together we can continue efforts to build a world-class model of success for our students in Pennsylvania.