Anti-racism on the move in Parkland curriculum

Latest in a series of posts on Education

Gadfly has his antennae up for responses to the George Floyd murder in our area. Gadfly knows from experience that curriculum change is complex in the best of times and tips his hat to such activities during the pandemic. Dr Roy has made strong statements about similar changes in the BASD curriculum (see here and here). “We need to educate for anti-racism,” he said with definitive clarity. Taking on these activities during these trying times is sharp testimony to the impact of the Floyd murder.


selections from Kayla Dwyer, “Parkland sets racial equity plan into motion, including curriculum review and discussions on race.” Morning Call, September 23, 2020.

This school year, the Parkland School District will launch a curriculum review, staff training, a community committee and a slew of other initiatives around racial equity and inclusion, as outlined in an Equity and Inclusion Action Plan the school board unanimously approved Tuesday night.

A team of administrators has been collecting ideas for the plan for nearly two years, curriculum director Kelly Rosario told the board. They put pen to paper over the summer, shortly after the school board approved a resolution supporting an “anti-racist school climate,” declared in response to the national racial reckoning following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

The plan centers on student and diverse voices in three spheres: culture, curriculum and community. Though the goals have tentative timelines extending through August 2021, Rosario said the document is meant to be thought of as “living and breathing.”


  • Train staff on the effects of trauma on students and coping strategies.
  • Implement “class chats” on race and resiliency.
  • For new students, develop a new student club, peer buddy system and assign a teacher “adviser.”
  • Survey all students about school climate.
  • Form a staff/student committee to address student concerns.
  • Have an “Equity and Diversity Day” across schools.
  • Build a diverse employee pipeline, beginning with promoting the education field at the high school’s job fair and attending job fairs at colleges with diverse student populations.


  • Complete an audit of K-12 curriculum by October.
  • Develop a teacher committee to brainstorm what contemporary events should be added to social studies curriculum; collect feedback from students and parents.
  • Develop a plan for curricular changes that include multicultural perspectives to present to the school board in May 2021.
  • Review English curriculum in tandem, proposing modern novels that add multicultural perspectives.
  • Develop staff training on inclusive practices to roll out in February 2021.


  • Launch an Equity and Inclusion Community Committee in November, meeting quarterly.
  • Host a broader community event with guest speaker in April 2021.
  • Translate districtwide communications into Spanish.

Bethlehem schools hybrid, Allentown virtual

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 “Lehigh Valley has highest number of new cases”
Morning Call, July 26

Find full Bethlehem reopening info and a good video by Dr. Roy here

from Jacqueline Palochko, “Bethlehem schools looking to reopen with both in-person and online classes.” Morning Call, July 24, 2020.

Bethlehem’s full “Back to School Plan and Summary” can be
found in this article.

Bethlehem Area schools will likely reopen next month using a hybrid approach that allows for both in-person instruction and online learning.

The plan, which was announced Friday afternoon and will be voted on by the school board on Aug. 10, calls for students with last names beginning with A-L to attend school on Tuesdays and Thursdays, while others learn online. Those with M-Z last names will go on Wednesdays and Fridays as the others do virtual classes. All students will learn online on Mondays.

Elementary class sizes will average 10 students per day. Middle and high school classes sizes will have about 15 students per day.

Parents who prefer to have their children do virtual classes full time can enroll them in either the BASD Cyber Academy for the entire first marking period or the BASD e-classroom, which is a new program and allows students to transfer to physical classrooms by October. The e-classroom program will be taught by district teachers, some of whom cannot return to the classroom because of conditions that put them at higher risk of serious complications from the coronavirus. Registration for both ends Aug. 5.

If an individual tests positive for the coronavirus, families and students will be notified, but the district does not intend to shut down any schools or classrooms.

All students and teachers will wear masks in Bethlehem schools, following the state’s requirement. Parents are expected to provide face coverings, hand sanitizer and disposable cleaning wipes for their children. Tape on floor and signs in English and Spanish will remind students and staff to stay 6 feet apart.

Desks must be 6 feet from each other, when possible, and all facing the same direction.

Children who have different last names but live in the same household can attend school on the same day using the last name of the oldest child. Buses and bathrooms will be cleaned twice a day. At lunchtime, students will be seated in staggered arrangements to avoid sitting close to each other.

from Jacqueline Palochko, “Allentown School District to reopen schools virtually with hope of in-person classes later in fall.” Morning Call, July 24, 2020.

“The reality behind COVID is that it is taking lives,” [Superintendent Parker] said, during a virtual meeting that drew a large audience.

The board unanimously approved the plan for virtual learning, making Allentown the first Lehigh Valley district to keep school online when it resumes on Sept. 8. It’s a move that comforts parents worried about the virus but concerns those with children who need extra academic help.

Classes will start on schedule, Sept. 8, and the district hopes it can have in-person classes by November. Parker said it wasn’t an easy decision to recommend virtual learning for the area’s biggest school district, but he felt there were too many unknowns to allow the district’s 17,000 students, as well as staff, back in classrooms.

When the Allentown district surveyed parents this month, 60% said they were not comfortable sending their children back to school. Before the board voted Thursday, a number of parents spoke about the plan during two hours of public comment.

The district promised that online learning in the fall would be more robust and comprehensive than it was in the spring. It will expand the use of technology, including creating a model that will allow every student to receive a device. It will also develop external partnerships to support digital access for all students.

Even though it seems as if the area is in a better situation with the virus than it was in the spring, Allentown is still not in a good place, Allentown Health Bureau Director Vicky Kistler said at the meeting. There have been cases after day cares and public places such as restaurants and bars reopened, she said. “We have not yet learned to live with this virus,” she said.

For districts like Allentown, which has a number of crowded, old buildings, those guidelines are hard to follow because of limited space.

Underfunded districts educate over half of Pennsylvania students and the vast majority of Black and Hispanic students

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from Karen Beck Pooley, “Your View: Pa. school funding far from fair.” Morning Call, July 22, 2020.

On June 21, a Your View appeared in The Morning Call written by Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera in which he noted “Our education system is not without fault in perpetuating the systemic inequities and institutional bias that many of our communities have accepted as normal. Education is an institution rife with historic inequities in resourcing, inequities in discipline, and inequities in opportunity. These structures must be dismantled.”

He discussed important work underway: equipping schools to prevent or address racist incidents, training teachers and administrators to recognize inherent biases, recruiting more nonwhite teachers. But he made clear that much remains to be done to dismantle black and Hispanic students’ barriers to opportunity. And he tasked all of us with pressing “our elected officials to equitably resource our schools.”

Here’s how far we are from equitably resourced schools:

Pennsylvania currently ranks 47th (out of all 50 states) in terms of its share of public schools funding. . . . According to data from the education-focused Research for Action, several districts in our area receive even less of their budgets from the state: roughly 30% in Easton and Whitehall-Coplay, roughly 25% in Bethlehem, East Penn and Nazareth, and roughly 20% in Parkland, Salisbury and Saucon Valley.

This pushes more of the burden for funding public schools onto local communities, which, in Pennsylvania, cover 62% of the cost. And this means that disparities between communities become disparities between schools.

Given these dismal disparities, it is shocking that the resources the commonwealth distributes to local school districts are still not allocated in an equitable way despite careful study by the bipartisan Basic Education Funding Commission and the passage of its recommended Fair Funding Formula into law in 2016. The formula works like this: It considers several “student-based factors” (such as how many children are enrolled in a district and what portion are in poverty or are English Language Learners) as well as several “school district-based factors” (such as low densities in rural districts that might increase costs, as well as how districts’ local taxing effort and local taxing capacity (the market value of local real estate and residents’ combined personal income) compare to state averages). Taken together, these factors were meant to determine what portion of state funding each district should receive.

Standing in the way of allocating money to districts according to the Fair formula, though, is “hold harmless,” or Pennsylvania’s practice of ensuring that school districts receive no fewer state dollars in one year than they did the prior year.

The commission acknowledged these “changes in enrollment … bring additional funding challenges” for growing districts, forcing many to “absorb increasing educational expenditures with local revenue” as their state allocations fail to keep up. But the Basic Education Funding Commission and state Legislature ultimately showed a greater concern for those districts with declining enrollments, currently receiving more basic education funding than the fair funding formula suggests. Redistributing resources, the commission argued in its final report, “would have a significant negative impact on many school districts” and so proposed only distributing “new money” using the fair funding formula.

This “new money,” or the increase in basic education funding since 2016, accounts for just a fraction (roughly 10%) of all basic education dollars.

So while “hold harmless” sounds benign, it glosses over the fact that many districts are “held harmed.” These underfunded districts educate over half of Pennsylvania students and the vast majority of Black (78%) and Hispanic (82%) students. Most Black (51%) and Hispanic (52%) students are in districts that are underfunded by at least $10 million annually.

As Secretary Rivera stressed, “we need to use this moment, this outrage, this commitment to move forward.” Multiple bills that could be a start are currently sitting with both the Senate and House Education Committees: House Bill 961 would implement fair funding in full immediately; Senate Bill 362 and House Bill 1313 would do so over the next four years. It is long past time legislators focused on those “held harmed” by our methods for funding public schools in Pennsylvania.

Gadfly doesn’t cover education matters as much as he should — and appreciates the calling of this article to his attention.

BASD to review African American history in the curriculum

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from Jacqueline Palochko, “Black Lives Matter movement prods Bethlehem and other districts to review how history is taught.” Morning Call, July 12, 2020.

Jared Dowling was surfing the internet three years ago in June when he noticed a Google Doodle paying tribute to Juneteenth. Having no idea what the event was, Dowling, a 2020 Freedom High School graduate heading to Syracuse University, spent all day reading about how it originated in Texas on June 19, 1865, when slaves learned of their freedom — two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.

In four years of high school, Dowling, who is Black, never learned about Juneteenth in classes. But that didn’t surprise him. “There was never going to be a heavy focus on things of that nature in history class,” Dowling said.

Schools do not honestly and accurately teach the struggles and history of African Americans, Bethlehem Area School District Superintendent Joseph Roy acknowledged. That’s why he is proposing that the district spend the next year reforming middle and high school history courses.

“Going way back, American history was to teach how great the country is,” Roy said. “And we are a great country, and I think we’re great enough that we can look at our failures and the progress we’ve made.”

By state law, Pennsylvania public schools must teach ethnic and racial relations, which could include segregation and racial profiling. By third grade, students are taught about the “treatment of minority groups in history.” But the state doesn’t mandate specific courses. Districts build their own curriculum, with approval from school boards.

Roy would like Bethlehem’s history classes to go into more moments that deeply affected African American communities. While the civil rights movement is taught, for example, it’s often quickly done at the end of the school year and not given enough time. Roy would also like classes to delve into historical policies that heavily contributed to income disparities facing African Americans today.

About 11% of Bethlehem’s 13,600 students are Black.

“We know about slavery and we know it’s bad, but then we jump through Reconstruction, Jim Crow, civil rights,” Roy said. “We don’t do enough to understand the long-term structural impacts.”

The lack of teaching of African American history is not a knock on teachers, Roy said. As a former social studies teacher, he only recently learned about Juneteenth himself and knows other events were left out of his lessons. It also goes back to what teachers were taught when it comes to race relations. That’s why he wants to make sure the district finds the right resources and offers the necessary instruction to teachers before reforming history courses.

“We have to have teachers learn more and be given the materials,” Roy said.

School board President Michael Faccinetto expects the board to support a review of the history curriculum.

“I think it’s important to teach an honest account of history, not a comfortable one,” Faccinetto said, adding that history classes should teach more about the struggles of African Americans between the Civil War and the civil rights movement.

A review of the history curriculum is a step in the right direction, Dowling, the soon-to-be Syracuse student, said. But the disparities in white and Black communities shouldn’t just come up in history classes, he said.

During his four years at Freedom, Dowling observed that he was the only Black student in his high school honors classes, the only Black student who ran for student council and the only one on the debate team.

There have been times in class, such as when slavery comes up, when Dowling has felt his white classmates’ eyes drift toward him in an uncomfortable way. But there isn’t anything wrong in feeling uncomfortable, Dowling said.

“We need to have those uncomfortable conversations so people know this is not OK,” he said. “Even if the class is overwhelmingly white, people should be educated on the plights the Black community has faced.”

BASD superintendent Dr. Roy: “We need to educate for anti-racism”

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from Joseph Roy, “Your View by Bethlehem school superintendent: How we will teach students to be ‘anti-racist’.” Morning Call, June19, 2020.

When we talk about racism, we tend to avoid actually using the word race. This is a perfect example of the advantages and power of primarily White leaders to choose the words we use. We talk about training for multicultural awareness, tolerance, diversity, equity, inclusion ― but we avoid the words race and racism.

We ended this sad legacy in the Bethlehem Area School District last August, when I challenged our teachers to be “anti-racists” and not just “not racist.”

Anti-racists actively look for and work to end policies and practices that have a disparate impact on black and Latino people. “Not racist” implies a bystander approach to racism. Anti-racism requires us to do something.

BASD is involved in powerful anti-racist work in early literacy, closing racial opportunity gaps and moving black and Latino students to higher levels of reading proficiency. Early reading proficiency is highly correlated with high school and college graduation and more successful life outcomes.

When we eliminate racial differences in reading outcomes, we are acting as anti-racists. BASD’s anti-racist work also includes working with community partners to expand high-speed internet access for students in their homes, reinstating middle school intramurals to engage students in after-school activities, revising our Gifted and Talented program policies and procedures, increasing access to dual enrollment college courses, implementing seminar courses to support black and Latino students, and expanding our community school and mental health partnerships to bring more services to students and families.

Despite this good work, recent messages from current and former BASD students made me realize our anti-racism work is missing a larger picture. These black, white and Latino students are closely watching current events, and simply asked, “Why didn’t I learn about this in school?”

Of course, our curriculum covers the Constitution, slavery, the Civil War, Jim Crow and the Civil Rights era. But we obviously fell short in educating these students on the deep-seated, wide-ranging and up-to-the-present consequences of racism.

BASD’s anti-racist work focuses primarily on supporting black and Latino students in overcoming the barriers they face as a result of racism. Like a doctor bandaging a wound, this work is important and necessary, but it is insufficient.

If we do not end the cause of the wound, we are always bandaging but never truly healing. We need to leverage education to end the cause of that wound. We need to educate for anti-racism.

Education’s most enduring contribution to ending racism must be to explicitly teach all students about the origins and continuation of racism. BASD students attend classes with a wonderful range of diverse races, cultures and languages. They are comfortable with differences between people in a way previous generations never were.

But our curriculum needs to expose our students to the history and horrors of racism. Nor have we done enough to teach the scientific, cultural and artistic contributions of black and Latino Americans.

In order to cure the disease of racism, we need all of our students to understand the impact of racism on society so they are prepared to live their lives as anti-racists. White students can be informed anti-racist allies of their Latino and black brothers and sisters.

When white Americans become anti-racists, the culture of white advantage, white supremacy and racial inequities will change.

As our country stands in yet another crossroads about racism and the role of policing in society, BASD commits to taking the following actions.

    • At the start of school, we will harness our students’ interest in and concerns about what they are now witnessing and teach for a deeper understanding of the historical context of present-day racism and social justice protests.
    • We will reform secondary American history courses to honestly and accurately include the realities of racism, the progress we have made and the long, difficult road that lies ahead. Our literature selections will continue to expand diverse authors and cultures. In order to move our country forward, we must educate students to become truly anti-racist.
    • We will undertake a review of the purpose, rationale and outcomes of our School Resource Officer program.
    • We will continue our ongoing equity and diversity work through Restorative Listening Circles, Trauma Informed Schools and Restorative Practices.

A well-educated citizenry is the goal of public education and the foundation of a democratic society. It’s well past time that we recognize citizens cannot be “well-educated” without learning why they must be anti-racists.

Our goal is that no BASD student ever asks again, “Why wasn’t I taught about this?”

Further conversation on the “Charter School Perspective” post

(29th in a series on Education and Charter Schools)

Karen Beck Pooley is a Professor of Practice of Political Science at Lehigh University, where she directs the Environmental Policy Master’s Program.  She also serves as a Senior Associate at czb LLC (an urban planning and neighborhood development consulting firm), and is a member of the Bethlehem Area School District (BASD) School Board and BASD Proud Parents.


Here are some replies to your invitation for conversation focused on the bullet points in your previous “Charter School perspective” post:

  • “[Charter schools] educate 7% of all public school students and do so with 15% less taxpayer funding than traditional school districts.”

I’m unclear where these numbers come from.  (I’ve seen similar statements made – sometimes stating 15%, sometimes 25%…)  In the Bethlehem Area School District, local taxpayers will pay nearly $31 million this school year in support of “school choice.”  That’s the tuition bill we’ve budgeted given the number of students living within the district slated to attend charters.  The district would spend well below that if those students returned to our schools – most could be accommodated in existing classrooms staffed by existing teachers where furniture and electricity is already waiting (all those fixed costs the district is already paying even in these students’ absence).

And this upcoming year is hardly an outlier – taxpayers have spent over $20 million on school choice for the last five years, funding school choice to the tune of $132.5 million.

School Year Charter Tuition
2015-2016 $21,622,269
2016-2017 $23,320,498
2017-2018 $27,115,979
2018-2019 $29,688,464
2019-2020* $30,751,221
Combined $132,498,431
*Estimated figure.

This year was the first in a long time the district was able to balance its budget with a 0% tax increase.  Gaps during these prior years, which ended up requiring tax increases, were all well below these charter school tuition figures. In other words, local school taxes would have held steady or even declined during this stretch if not for the burden of funding “school choice.”

  • We should consider why “these students want to leave” traditional schools: “The regular public school is either failing, unsafe, not meeting the educational needs of the student, or all the above.”

In considering why students leave local public schools for charters, it’s important to consider the way public schools have been portrayed, and how these portrayals often differ dramatically from what’s going on in actual classrooms.  (If you’re curious about what kind of education students receive in BASD, please don’t hesitate to visit one of our schools!)  In our area just a few years ago, there was this controversy prompted by a mailer went out to attract students to a new local charter:

  • “The truth is Pennsylvania’s charter schools are serving a higher percentage of minority and low-income student populations and working with less financial support.”

Concerning findings about charters’ role in resegregating students (  Also, other findings from the report quoted above (Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes’ Charter School Performance in Pennsylvania 2019) include:

The latest study shows that overall, students in Pennsylvania charter schools showed similar growth in reading compared to students at traditional public schools while lagging behind in math and losing the equivalent of about 30 days of learning time…

“The evidence shows that Pennsylvania has substantial numbers of under-performing charter schools,” the report authors wrote. “To be clear, the proportion of sub-par charter schools has declined since our 2011 Pennsylvania study. However, with nearly one-quarter of the schools lagging in reading and one-third in math, the collective impact on students’ academic careers and later life outcomes remains of deep concern.”

The study found “overwhelmingly negative” results from cyber charter schools which require “urgent attention” from education leaders and lawmakers, the report said.


  • Charter schools are not private: “the sponsoring school district has oversight.”
  • The charters are not easy to get from the sponsoring school district, and they are subject to evaluation and withdrawal at any time.

Let’s be clear how much “oversight” a school district and local school board has. . . . Once a charter is approved, that charter (and charter school) is not reviewed again for five years.  (That means a charter school would be reviewed just twice as a student moves from kindergarten to high school graduation.)  Our district takes these reviews seriously – going over materials provided by the charter school; sending a contingent of administrators, educators, and board members to visit the charters to see programming in action; and debating what we’re seeing at multiple public meetings.

What we can do with all this is incredibly limited:  when we see problems, our only recourse is to propose adjustments to the school’s charter or propose rescinding it entirely.  That decision, though, will inevitably get kicked over to the Commonwealth’s Charter Appeals Board (CAB).  Looking at that board, the 5 current members were all appointed by Governor Corbett and are all serving long past the end-date of their initial term.  (These terms ended as recently as June 2018 and as far back as June 2015).  What’s more, 3 of these 5 members have direct ties to charter schools – as a teacher, parent, or spouse of an administrator.  The member filling CAB’s “school board member” position was voted off his local school board.  As a result, none are directly affiliated with or bringing the perspective of traditional public schools to Charter Appeals Board deliberations, which is why districts’ requests are typically denied.

And this is only for brick-and-mortar charters.  Cyber charters, which have an abysmal record with student success, are reviewed by Pennsylvania’s Department of Education (not by the districts).  Most of these schools have not been reviewed for well over five years and are technically operating with expired charters (


The charter school perspective

(28th in a series on Education and Charter Schools)

Jeff Piccola, “Your View by a former state senator: Why Pennsylvania needs its 180-plus charter schools.” Morning Call, August 28, 2019.

James Hanak, “Why it can be misleading to call charter schools ‘privately run’.” Morning Call, August 31, 2019.

Kevin Duffy, “Lehigh Valley Academy reveals plans for 3-story school in Bethlehem Township.” Morning Call, August 27, 2019.

Gadfly keeps thinking stories about charter schools have run their course.

Fooled again.

Gadfly has already told you that he hopes to visit our Charter Arts soon.

And finally he has access to statements from the charter school perspective.

In the third article linked above we have the latest on Lehigh Valley Academy’s building plans — which at some point, as Gadfly understands it, will have to get Bethlehem Area School District approval. LVA enrolls the most BASD students who attend charter schools.

You are aware that in Gadville we always want to know both sides of an issue.

Here are key points from the first two articles linked above that we should put alongside all that we have heard that is anti-charter, or at least all that we have heard about the budget aspects of charter schools:

  • “[Charter schools] educate 7% of all public school students and do so with 15% less taxpayer funding than traditional school districts.”
  • We should consider why “these students want to leave” traditional schools: “The regular public school is either failing, unsafe, not meeting the educational needs of the student, or all the above.”
  • “The truth is Pennsylvania’s charter schools are serving a higher percentage of minority and low-income student populations and working with less financial support.”
  • “The solution is and always has been educational choice.”
  • The governor should be focusing on the bigger picture: “He continues to neglect the issues in our major cities.”
  • The ills the governor wants to correct “rarely occur and, if they do, the charter school is shut down because those things are already provided for in the Charter School Law.”
  • The governor should hold traditional schools accountable instead of “giving them more money and rewarding them for failure.”
  • “Charter schools generally get students who are already performing at a low level because of the failing district school they came from.”
  • The governor is trying to eliminate “teachers’ unions and the school board associations.”
  • Charter schools are not private: “the sponsoring school district has oversight.”
  • The charters are not easy to get from the sponsoring school district, and they are subject to evaluation and withdrawal at any time.
  • “The local school district has complete control over whether to continue to provide funding for a charter school.”
  • “All charter schools are public schools. They are just different kinds of public schools.”
  • Charter schools are “accountable” to outside entities in ways that private schools are not.

We now have some specific counterpoint, and Gadfly invites conversation focused on these bullet points.


Jeff Piccola, “Your View by a former state senator: Why Pennsylvania needs its 180-plus charter schools.” Morning Call, August 28, 2019.

The headline in the print edition was “Pennsylvania charter schools provide a needed alternative.”

Gov. Wolf recently proposed a series of so-called reforms to the Charter School Law. He asserted that Pennsylvania’s Charter School Law is one of the worst in the nation.

If you look at the law from the perspective of high cost and failing school districts, he may be right. Charter schools, which are public schools, educate 7% of all public school students and do so with 15% less taxpayer funding than traditional school districts.

The question is: Why do these students want to leave? The answer is simple and can be simply stated by every parent who chooses to send their child to a charter school. The regular public school is either failing, unsafe, not meeting the educational needs of the student, or all the above.

Even many of our so-called “good” school districts are not meeting the needs of all their students. The truth is Pennsylvania’s charter schools are serving a higher percentage of minority and low-income student populations and working with less financial support.

The solution is and always has been educational choice. Unfortunately, until the late 1990s, the only alternatives to traditional school districts were expensive private or parochial schools, or home schooling.

These laws unleashed a tremendous wave of entrepreneurial effort that has resulted in over 180 charter schools in Pennsylvania . . . . The demand for choice in education is great. Over 135,000 students attend a charter school in Pennsylvania.

The governor says he is wants to limit enrollment in charter schools as well as put a moratorium on new cybercharter schools. However, while the governor’s sole focus is on charter schools, he continues to neglect the issues in our major cities.

Due to their abysmal performance as well as several other issues such as safety, these districts are experiencing a mass exodus of students whose families are opting for charter schools instead.

The governor also wants to hold charter schools to the same transparency, conflict of interest and discrimination standards that supposedly apply to all traditional public schools. I have been in and around charter schools for over 20 years, and the things the governor alleges rarely occur and, if they do, the charter school is shut down because those things are already provided for in the Charter School Law.

Incidentally, that is the great thing about charter schools. They are market driven and if they are not meeting the needs of the families they support, they go out of business, as they are being held accountable by parents, school districts and the Pennsylvania Department of Education. A traditional public school operating under the same low standards simply cites the lack of money as the cause for their issues and ask you, the taxpayer, to pay more in taxes while blaming their financial woes on charter schools.

The question that needs to be asked is what is this governor willing to do to hold the traditional public schools accountable. They educate 93% of public school students in the state, and have a disastrous record with regard to accountability. He is giving them more money and rewarding them for failure.

One thing you must remember is charter schools generally get students who are already performing at a low level because of the failing district school they came from. What you must look at is the academic growth of each student, each year, and note their progress toward achieving at the proper grade level.

The governor attacks charter schools and makes allegations about deficiencies in the law in order to set up a straw man so he can severely limit or eliminate charter schools. His political friends in the teachers’ unions and the school board associations hate charter schools because they hate competition.

James Hanak, “Why it can be misleading to call charter schools ‘privately run’.” Morning Call, August 31, 2019.

Charter schools are public schools that not only receive public funding, but these same schools are not truly private as a true “private school” would be.

Private schools are totally independent of the public school system when it comes to the running of that school — even though private schools may receive some funding from the state for curriculum and busing (for example).

A private school has its own board of directors that make all the financial decisions of the private school. The state has the authority to see that private schools are not acting illegally but the running of the school is left up to the private school board.

A charter school board of directors has the authority to run the day-to-day operations of a charter school. The local school district, however, has oversight responsibilities for the charter school. The local school district evaluates the application for a charter and grants the charter to the school. The initial charter and each renewal lists the charter school’s board of directors.

The charter that is granted by the school district is not easy to obtain. Those who create the charter application must demonstrate they have the expertise and the community support to run a fully accredited public school.

At any time, the school district may evaluate the charter school’s annual report or ask for additional reports/information from the charter school that can be used to evaluate whether the charter school is functioning properly. At any time, the school district may revoke the original charter or any renewal of the charter.

The local school district has complete control over whether to continue to provide funding for a charter school. Because the local school district has the authority to oversee the operation(s) of the charter, forcing it to fulfill the terms of the charter, stop doing anything that might be illegal and shut the charter school down if necessary, the charter school is not a “private” school.

All charter schools are public schools. They are just different kinds of public schools. Instead of being accountable to the general public through a publicly elected school board, they are accountable to their own independent school board, the local school district school board and to the parents of their school who can “vote” with their feet if the charter school is not meeting their family needs. This is very different from being a “privately run” school.

Kevin Duffy, “Lehigh Valley Academy reveals plans for 3-story school in Bethlehem Township.” Morning Call, August 27, 2019.

Here’s what seems to be the rub at our local level: money.

Plans for the size and scope of a proposed new Lehigh Valley Academy Regional Charter School in Bethlehem Township have begun to take shape.

LVA’s sketch plan presentation to the township Planning Commission on Monday calls for a three-story, 200,000-square-foot building with 476 parking spaces and enough parking for 35 buses, said Terry DeGroot of Terraform Engineering.


“BASD Proud Parents” touts programs and provides resources on the charter school issue

(27th in a series on Education and Charter Schools)

Karen Beck Pooley is a Professor of Practice of Political Science at Lehigh University, where she directs the Environmental Policy Master’s Program.  She also serves as a Senior Associate at czb LLC (an urban planning and neighborhood development consulting firm), and is a member of the Bethlehem Area School District (BASD) School Board and BASD Proud Parents.

Gadfly thought the chatter on charter schools was dying down. But his clipping file seems always full. Remember that for us in Bethlehem, the charter school concern is budgetary. There seem to be no academic or administrative problems such as plague many districts. In fact, Gadfly — grandfather of dancers and actors — hopes to have a pleasant visit at our Charter Arts school in the near future.

Jacqueline Palochko, “Lehigh Valley charter schools tell Allentown School District to ‘live within its means’; reject tuition pay cut.” Morning Call, August 21, 2019.

“Sounding Board: Should state reform charter school law?” Morning Call, August 21, 2019.

Your View by state senator: Charter school costs have created a ‘crisis in education’.


Hard to believe that another school year is nearly underway!  There’s a lot to look forward to in Bethlehem Area School District (BASD) schools this year:  the ongoing implementation of the district’s nationally recognized literacy program, Reading by Grade 3 (RBG3); the start of BASD Empower, which will provide all 8th through 10th graders with a Chrome Book for use at school and at home this year (and which will extend to all middle and high school students next year); and expanded access to the arts for all elementary and middle school students thanks to support from the Kennedy Center’s Any Given Child program.

These exemplary programs are just some of the many things our group, BASD Proud Parents, loves to tout.  Not only do we aim to “shine a light on the innumerable ways our schools are working for our children and our communities,” though.  Our mission is also “to educate parents and our community about issues that impact our public schools and to empower parents, students and neighbors to make our voices heard.”

Along these lines, we’ve spent a lot of time on charter schools.  We hosted a screening of Backpack Full of Cash and public discussion about the film last spring, and we’ve met with state legislators about how the current methods for funding charters short-change public school students and over-burden taxpayers, how the current system for monitoring charter schools (particularly cyber charters) is woefully inadequate, and how little say the public has in charters’ budgetary and programmatic decisions.  We were thrilled to hear that Governor Wolf is committed to tackling these issues, and that local legislators, including Senator Pat Browne, agree that we are at a “crisis point,” with the Commonwealth’s 22-year-old charter law threatening “significant detrimental effects on all of our students’ progress in school.”

If you would like to learn more about charter schools – what they are, how they are funded, what their funding means for local school districts and local taxpayers (given that Lehigh Valley taxpayers now spend more than $100 million on charter schools annually) – please take advantage of the resources BASD Proud Parents has compiled.  (They’re available on our website:  Please reach out with comments or questions.  Please help us plan more community events to keep this conversation going.  And please help us support our elected officials as they grapple with drafting the reforms designed to most benefit students and community members.


The link to BASD Proud Parents — Gadfly loves such community organizations — can always be found on the Gadfly sidebar if you ever need it.

Charter schools: “The system must be changed”

(26th in a series on Education and Charter Schools)

Another good article in the string of thought-provoking pieces on charter schools, which we have been following because of their impact not only on the quality of education for our kids but also the budget strain from what seems to be an unfair system.

Pressure on legislators is needed.

See that great community organization BASD Proud Parents on this issue too.

Paul Muschick, “Why we should blow up Pennsylvania charter school system and start over.” Morning Call, August 18, 2019.

The proposal from Gov. Tom Wolf on Tuesday to overhaul the state’s charter school system is aggressive, welcome and long overdue.

The current system is unsustainable. School districts are paying too much money — $1.8 billion statewide last year — and those figures are only going to increase. Allentown’s costs have doubled to $60 million, 20% of its budget, in just five years.

And that money is going to charter schools that are public schools in name only, in many ways.

They don’t have the same level of accountability and transparency as school districts. It’s hard to consider them truly public if they aren’t held to the same standards, such as publicly bidding major expenses, releasing details of every dollar spent and answering to a local, publicly elected school board.

Wolf’s heart is in the right place. But I fear this may be just another example of him banging his head against the Republican wall in the Legislature, similar to his attempts to levy a severance tax on natural gas mining.

His administration can impose some changes on charter schools. But the biggest need — changing funding formulas — requires legislative action. And Republicans are the party of school choice.

Democratic Auditor General Eugene DePasquale has been calling for changes to the charter school law for years and the Legislature hasn’t listened. Let’s see if the governor has any more pull.

Those discussions should start with revising the faulty thinking of a student’s per capita funding “following them” from their school district to a charter school.

It doesn’t always cost charter schools, especially cyber charters, that much to educate the same student. And districts don’t see an accompanying dollar-for-dollar reduction in their costs.

Unless an entire classroom of students at the same grade level moves to a charter, a district can’t cut the expenses, including the teacher’s salary, that go with that classroom. State officials need to come up with a better formula.

Cyber charters especially make out under that formula now. They collect the same tuition rate as traditional charter schools but have substantially lower costs. Taxpayers are overpaying more than $250 million annually, according to a February study by Education Voters of Pennsylvania, a project of the left-leaning Keystone Research Center.

I have a few suggestions in addition to Wolf’s recommendations:

* Reimburse districts for some charter tuition costs.

* Don’t require school districts to pay tuition for private school students or home-schooled students who move to charter schools.

There is a place for charter schools. But if they are going to be publicly funded, they must operate under the same rules as traditional public schools, and be funded realistically.

The system must be changed to make that happen.

“Can I get an amen?” says Dr. Roy

(25th in a series on Education and Charter Schools)

This article, though targeted at Allentown’s charter school controversies, reflects the Governor’s response to problems we’ve followed here on Gadfly from discussions with our BASD boss Dr. Roy.

Jacqueline Palochko, “Gov. Tom Wolf calls for charter school changes that could ease Allentown schools deficit.” Morning Call, August 14, 2019.

Gov. Tom Wolf called Tuesday for changes in the special education and cybercharter funding formulas that, if adopted by a reluctant Legislature, would save Allentown and other financially strapped school districts millions.

Calling the charter school law “flawed” and “outdated,” Wolf told reporters in Allentown he also is instructing the state Department of Education to develop new regulations that would allow districts to limit student enrollment at charters that do not provide a “high-quality” education, and to boost oversight over charter school management companies.

Democrat Wolf’s call for changes in reimbursement formulas dictating how much public school districts must pay charter and cyberschools for students would save districts like Allentown, now facing a $6 million deficit, millions.

But passage in the Republican-controlled state Legislature, which created the charter school system, is far from guaranteed.

Ana Meyers, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools, called Wolf’s proposals “blatant attacks on charter schools.” Meyers also claimed that Wolf could be abusing his authority through executive order and regulatory action.

At Harrison-Morton Middle School, Wolf said he wants a “level playing field” for all charter and public schools.

Besides proposing a legislative change in the areas of special education funding and cyber charter tuition payments, Wolf is also asking the state Department of Education to develop regulations to:

Allow districts to limit student enrollment at charters that do not provide a high-quality, equitable education to students.

Require transparent charter school admission and enrollment policies that do not discriminate based on intellectual or athletic ability, race, gender or disability.

Ramp up oversight of charter school management companies.

Establish a clear process that requires charters to accurately document their costs and prevent charters from over-charging districts for educational services.

Bethlehem Area Superintendent Joseph Roy, a vocal critic of charters, began his comments with: “Can I get an amen?” Roy called charter school and traditional public school funding a “separate and unequal system.”

Sketch plans for $50m charter school

(24th in a series on Education and Charter Schools)

Gadfly has been following charter school news because of the budget impact on our Bethlehem Area School District taxes. See the “Charter school” link on the Gadfly sidebar.

Of special interest will be LVA’s request to the BASD for permission to build.

Sarah M. Wojcik and Jacqueline Palochko, “Lehigh Valley Academy prepares to make new school pitch in Bethlehem Township.” Morning Call, August 12, 2019.

The Lehigh Valley Academy Regional Charter School is moving forward with plans to build a school in Bethlehem Township, filing sketch plans with the township last week.

The school, which comes with a preliminary $50 million price tag and would house kindergarten through 12th grade, was originally planned for Hanover Township, Northampton County, but Lehigh Valley Academy nixed that plan because of “insurmountable zoning issues.” It won’t face that problem at the 58.7-acre Bethlehem Township tract along Hecktown Road, north of Route 22. That’s because the land, owned by the estate of Fred Jaindl, is zoned agricultural and a school is among the permitted uses.

Because LVA is a regional charter school, it needs permission of both Bethlehem Area and Saucon Valley school districts. As of last week, LVA had not filed a formal request with Bethlehem Area, Superintendent Joseph Roy said. Most of LVA’s 1,700 students come from the Bethlehem region.

The sketch plans on file in Bethlehem Township indicate the building could support 1,950 students. The plans show athletic fields at the rear of the building, behind a 326-space parking lot and bus dropoff area. Two parking lots, each with 75 spaces, are in front of the building.


The charter school problem: what you can do (23)

(23rd in a series on Education and Charter Schools)

Hardly a week goes by it seems without some dire charter school news.

New report shows overwhelmingly negative results for PA’s cyber charter students

But last post in this series I promised that there was some action you can take if, indeed, you see the problem with charter schools that has certainly been evident in our series here.

Contacting our representatives and signing petitions:

PA Republicans pass massive charter school & school voucher expansion

CALL TO ACTION –   Act now to push for necessary change to the Charter Appeals Board (CAB)!

The issues here, as we have seen, are the quality of charter school education in general and unfair funding that has direct impact on our tax bills.

Gadfly urges your personal action here.

Thanks to Karen Beck Pooley and to BASD Proud Parents for keeping us informed.

Charter school round-up (22)

(22nd in a series on Education and Charter Schools)

There is something we can do if we are concerned about the impact of charter schools on our Bethlehem Area School District budget particularly.

That will come in the next post in this series.

But first let me clean out the mail bag on this issue — with thanks.

Here’s more to think about.

Sarah Hall, “Reform sought as cyber charter school costs top $42M in NEPA districts.” The Citizens’ Voice, April 7, 2019.

  • Cyber charter schools are privately operated, publicly funded schools authorized by the state and paid for by school districts. Advocates say cyber schools provide options for families seeking choice for their children’s educations. Children learn virtually on charter school-provided computers, at no cost to the families. The cost comes to the districts instead. Bills in the state House and Senate would allow districts with their own cyber programs to stop paying tuition to cyber charter schools. If a student decided to attend the cyber charter school, the family would be responsible for the tuition.

“A call to action from Pennsylvania’s urban school superintendents.” April 11, 2019.

  • It’s also time to stop kicking the can down the road on charter funding reform. Pennsylvania’s charter law needs an overhaul, including setting the bar higher for charter operators. It’s not about district schools versus charter schools. It’s about high-quality schools, period. The state’s charter funding model needs to reflect that.
  • One example is the chronic underperformance of cyber charter schools, which are costly to taxpayers and fail to deliver for students. Thirteen of the state’s 14 cyber charter schools are on the list of the lowest performing schools in Pennsylvania. School district-operated cyber charters perform better at a fraction of the cost.

Stop the Charter School Expansion Bills!

  • Last week Republican members of the House Education Committee advanced two charter school expansion bills that deliver the charter school industry’s wish list. We anticipate that the House will vote on these bills in early June.
  • By a party-line vote of 14 to 10, committee members passed House Bills 356 and 357. These bills strip communities of the ability to plan and exercise appropriate fiscal and academic oversight over their public education systems. These bills also weaken accountability, allow for the unfettered expansion of even the lowest performing charter schools, and fail to protect taxpayers and students from failing schools.
  • By a party-line vote of 14 to 10, committee members passed House Bills 356 and 357. These bills strip communities of the ability to plan and exercise appropriate fiscal and academic oversight over their public education systems. These bills also weaken accountability, allow for the unfettered expansion of even the lowest performing charter schools, and fail to protect taxpayers and students from failing schools.

Dr. Roy, right on cue (21)

(21st in a series on Education and Charter Schools)

Gadfly no sooner re-awakens the charter school thread than an essay by our Dr. Roy and Allentown superintendent Thomas Parker appeared!

Thomas Parker and Joseph Roy, “Why tighter controls are needed for charter schools.” Morning Call, June 1, 2019.

Our message to the General Assembly is clear: The need to overhaul Pennsylvania’s charter school law is real and urgent. School districts need better tools to hold charter school operators accountable to families and taxpayers.

The commonwealth has an ethical and moral responsibility to its public school students to ensure charter schools are held to the same state academic standards as district schools. It also has a fiscal responsibility to taxpayers to ensure funds invested in charters are a good investment and are safeguarded against misuse. Current charter law falls woefully short on these fronts and many others.

HB 356 and 357 create more risk for students, local districts and taxpayers. We vehemently oppose these bills. The legislation would undermine local control by allowing charter schools, including the poorest performers, to expand without the authorizing district’s knowledge or approval. These new and unbudgeted expenses would wreak financial havoc for the school districts that would have to absorb them.

Newly proposed charter legislation also frees charters from oversight that is necessary to ensure they are meeting academic standards. They make it harder to close underperforming charters and allow unfettered expansion of charters — even those with failing performance — without regard for their ability to successfully operate. The proposed standard charter application form lacks information on an applicant’s experience, finances, past performance and operational ability, all of which are necessary to meaningfully assess whether the applicant can sustain a school that meets the needs of the very students it aspires to serve.

Two other bills, HB 355 and HB 358, would correct questionable charter school practices such as staffing boards with family members. They set clear conflict-of-interest provisions, require schools to follow accepted accounting standards and promote budget and operating transparency. These changes are welcome and long overdue, but do not offset the harm to school districts from the overall charter package.

School districts statewide are proactively advocating for significant amendments that promote high-quality charters. Real charter reform must require greater accountability. It must set clear performance goals for charter schools and hold them to the same need-based special education funding model as school districts. It must also give authorizers the tools needed to ensure charter operators are living up to their promise and providing our students the education they deserve.

Pa. Attorney General Eugene DePasquale is often quoted as saying that our charter school law is the worst in the nation, but this article passed on by Dr. Roy earlier indicates California and New Jersey vie for that honor as well.

Jeremy Mohler, “Charter schools are starting to look a lot like payday lenders and for-profit colleges.” In the Public Interest, March 28, 2019.

The Los Angeles Times published an expose of a wealthy couple who have pocketed millions of public dollars running charter schools across Los Angeles. Clark and Jeanette Parker founded Today’s Fresh Start Charter School in 2003 and quickly expanded it into three campuses. They eventually began paying themselves high consulting fees and $800,000 annually to rent buildings they own, all with taxpayer money. They now live in a 7,700-square-foot home in Beverly Hills with an estimated value of about $15.3 million. dropped a bombshell five-part investigative series with the point blank headline: “Millions of your tax dollars have disappeared into NJ’s flawed charter school experiment.” The highlight of the series is deep dive into the nationwide web of investors, developers, and Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) — which get massive tax breaks — cashing in on charter school buildings. Some familiar faces appear: Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street banks.

Charter schools, as we reported last time, are part of Allentown’s severe budget woes. Fortunately, as also reported last time, BASD has avoided a tax increase for now, though Lehigh Valley Academy is proposing a new $50 million campus.

Though the quality of the three charter schools in Bethlehem is fine and they are free from the corruption that is pervasive elsewhere, Dr. Roy continues to lead the charge for badly needed legislative change.

Catching up on the Charter School issue (20)

(20th in a series on Education and Charter Schools)

Last time Gadfly weighed in on charter schools was two months ago, reporting on a great meeting with Dr. Roy.

Where o’ where did those last two months go?  Let him try to catch up a bit here.

First, let’s remember what triggered this information gathering: concern about the size of the charter school line in the BASD budget and thus the impact on our taxes. As reported several posts back in this thread: “Approximately 2100 BASD students attend charter schools (12 different ones but 50% at one particular charter school), about 13% of the total student population, at a cost of 29 million in charter tuition this year, which is roughly 10% of the budget.”

The BASD budget

Theresa O’Brien, “District in the black; no tax hike likely.” Bethlehem Press, May 21, 2019.

The good news. The tentative 2019-20 BASD budget “includes no increase in the tax millage for the first time in several years, and uses only $1.6 million from the general fund balance to make up a shortfall.”

Board member Dean Donaher commended those involved in the process for bringing in a zero-tax-increase budget without losing any programs and while “maintaining momentum” on strategic initiatives of achieving grade-level reading proficiency, delivering personalized learning and growth, and meeting students’ social and emotional needs.

Well, relative good news. If the charter school chunk were less, then there would be more money in the system for education needs and maybe no need to draw from the general fund balance. But at least looks like no tax increase. And, if I remember correctly, Dr. Roy said charter school attendance was leveling off.

Lehigh Valley Academy

Lehigh Valley Academy is the charter school to keep an eye on. 50% of the BASD students going to charter schools go to LVA. Several posts back in this series, Gadfly profiled LVA.

Jacqueline Palochko, “Lehigh Valley Academy now looking in Bethlehem Township to put its $50 million school.” Morning Call, May 30, 2019.

Also as reported earlier, LVA is planning on a new building at substantial cost. This morning’s paper indicates that the proposed site of that building has now changed from what Gadfly reported earlier. LVA rents now, and owning its own building would be more economical. LVA will have to seek permission from both the Bethlehem Area and Saucon Valley school boards to change locations because it is a regional charter school.

Other charter schools

There seem to be no especial administrative or educational quality issues with the three Bethlehem charter schools — the kind that characterize many school districts and charter schools. But there are enough such issues in the Lehigh Valley to keep us continually conscious of a nagging bad side to charter schools. These are the kinds of things we don’t want happening here.

Innovative Arts, Catasauqua:

Sarah Wojcik, “Innovative Arts Academy Charter School makes argument to stay open while Catasauqua blasts school’s poor academic scores.” Morning Call, May 22, 2019.

Catasauqua administrators painted the Innovative Arts Academy Charter School as a school that’s habitually failing students academically. Charter school administrators sought to portray the school as one where students in need of extra attention found solace and purpose while staff contended with a demographic of economically disadvantaged students with unexpected challenges.

Allentown School District:

Jacqueline Palochko, “Allentown school board to try again to borrow $10 million to avert financial crisis.” Morning Call, May 1, 2019.

A week after a deadlocked school board left the Allentown School District in budgetary limbo, a new attempt will be made Tuesday to borrow $10 million to avert a financial mess. . . . costs weighing on the district are charter school tuition.”

Ok, there’s a catch-up on some of the factual context. Gadfly will return shortly to catch up on some more substantive issues suggested by followers Dr. Roy, Karen Beck Pooley, and BASD Proud Parents.

High-five to all concerned for tending the budget nicely!

Charter schools: The Roy Report (19)

Take the “Connecting Bethlehem” survey

(19th in a series on Education and Charter Schools)

Gadfly promised a report on his March 28 meeting on the charter school issue with BASD Superintendent Dr. Joseph Roy and hastens to get to it this morning before his notes go stone cold.

It was a great meeting. Dr. Roy is a warm individual and especially “warm” over the issue of charter schools. He was extremely gracious and overflowed with information.

Not wanting to eat up too much of a busy man’s time, Gadfly told Dr. Roy that the focus of his visit was narrowly on why our students are going to charter schools, but Dr. Roy thought it important to start at the beginning — with the privatization movement itself.

More on this basic and wider issue in subsequent posts, but, as promised, let’s focus here on that question of why our local students are going to charter schools.

BASD doesn’t have surveys, but here are some of the reasons, in no particular order, that Dr. Roy has gathered from interactions with parents of charter school students.

A range of local reasons from the very practical to the highly academic.

  • full-day kindergarten: not an issue now because BASD offers it, but this was attractive to some parents because of work situations
  • transportation: BASD does not bus everybody but is required to do so for charter schools
  • uniforms: conventional in some cultures
  • cachet (good SAT word): a private school education without the cost
  • bullying: need for a change of scene
  • the academic program: such as LVA’s IB curriculum

Gadfly will reach out to Lehigh Valley Academy in particular, the school that enrolls the most BASD students, to see what they can tell us about why parents are choosing charter schools.

But Gadfly would like to hear from charter school families themselves. Gadfly doesn’t know any. Is there no one among Gadfly followers with charter school experience that could help fill in the picture for us with personal motivations?

And look soon for more on the general charter school movement from my conversation with Dr. Roy.

Take the “Connecting Bethlehem” survey

The BASD Proud Parents program on charter schools (18)

(18th in a series on Education and Charter Schools)

“Our children have a backpack full of cash, and the schools should vie for the privilege of having that backpack turned over to them.”

Last week the BASD Proud Parents (sorry, I used the wrong name in the past few posts) showed the documentary Backpack Full of Cash at Nitschmann, a film focused on the Philadelphia school system, “ground zero” of the school choice movement. The film is highly critical of charter schools, and, though Bethlehem is quite different than Philadelphia, the film was timely for us and valuable.

But, first, Gadfly wants to say something about BASD Proud Parents. The Gadfly project is allll about citizen engagement, and BASD Proud Parents is allll about that as well! Take at look at their great web site (now linked on the Gadfly sidebar as well), and be sure to listen to their thoughtful representatives on the audio linked below.

So, again, this film is highly critical of charter schools and other forms of school choice that are draining students and dollars from the public school system.

A reminder of some facts presented earlier in this series of posts: approximately 2100 BASD students attend charter schools (12 different ones but 50% at one particular charter school), about 13% of the total student population, at a cost of 29 million in charter tuition this year, which is roughly 10% of the budget.

The film trailer will provide you with some good soundbites that illustrate the core issue, such as “reformers say all that money [$600 billion] can be managed more efficiently if the system is run like a business” v. “It’s about privatizing, not improving public education.” Take two minutes and listen to the trailer for a good introduction to the issues.

After the film, Julie Gallagher (no relation) and Emily Schenkel gave a brief presentation that Gadfly recorded and linked for you here, with their slides.

Listen to Julie explain the slides:


Basd 2

Emily presented a series of “asks”:

  • sign a petition thanking Sen. Boscola for co-sponsoring legislation limiting cyber-charter schools
  • sign a petition for limiting the activity of the Charter School Appeal Board (until funding is equitable, stop the CAB activity (you can sign that petition here)
  • contact your legislator (contact info on the BASD Proud Parents web site)
  • sign up on the BASD Proud Parents web site to continue to receive relevant information
  • send BASD Proud Parents success stories of public school education

Interesting: Julie was careful to say “no aspersions” on the three charter schools located in Bethlehem.

It’s becoming clearer and clearer to Gadfly that for us here in Bethlehem the problem is not so much poor quality charter schools but the funding system and the solution for that is with the legislature.

Parting words: “We have to educate ourselves, so that we can empower our children.”

Well done.

Gadfly has an appointment with Dr. Roy tomorrow and is especially interested in what we know about why those 13% of our students are going to charter schools, and especially why so many are choosing Lehigh Valley Academy. Do we have surveys? Data? Interviews?

Charter schools: need to explore what school choice really means (17)

(17th in a series on Education and Charter Schools)

Timely to our discussion is the showing of the “Backpack full of Cash” documentary this Thursday, March 21, 6:30pm – 8:00pm at NITSCHMANN MIDDLE SCHOOL, sponsored by Bethlehem Proud Parents – Free!

Anna Smith is a life-long Southside resident and Director of the Community Action Development Corporation of Bethlehem, a non-profit dedicated to improving the quality of life in south Bethlehem by fostering economic opportunity, promoting community development, and empowering residents to actively participate in the decision-making process regarding the future of our diverse community.


When discussing the concept of school choice, I think it’s important to ask “what is the role of public education in our society?” Scholars typically cite three primary goals of public education in a democratic society—1. Prepare individual students with skills necessary to succeed in our society (individual economic opportunity); 2. Prepare students to fill positions in the US job market (vocational training); and 3. Prepare students to be full participants in our democracy (education for active citizenship). Most schools try to balance these three aims as they design policies and curriculum, and throughout US history, there has been tension among the proponents of each approach. However, I doubt many would propose wholly eliminating any of these aims.

The concept of school choice allows individuals to privilege the first goal—individual pursuit of human capital for future personal gain—at the expense of the third goal (and potentially the second). Universal public education that integrates children of ALL races, ethnicities, incomes, abilities, religions, etc., in preparation for participation in a diverse society is antithetical to the concept of school choice in a society where major inequities exist in funding and resources across these demographic lines. If we allow individuals to act solely in their self-interest, many (if not most) students who already have access to more resources are going choose other options (private schools, charters) as a way to escape from underfunded public schools, creating both a vicious cycle of underfunding and a segregated system where marginalized students become further marginalized and isolated. When we center the question on the societal goals of free, universal public education, school choice just doesn’t make sense. Are we willing to give up the lofty goals of a society in which equal opportunity for success and civic participation is guaranteed to all? While we’re far from that reality, the more we expand opportunities for school choice, the more we concede that our society was set up to be unequal, and we abandon all aspirations toward meritocracy.

Many people like the idea of school choice, but I think it is worth exploring what that really means, and if it actually allows us to sustain a diverse democracy. Is making it easier to acting solely in one’s own interest good for our society as a whole?


More info on Lehigh Valley Academy (16)

(16th in a series on Education and Charter Schools)

Timely to our discussion is the showing of the “Backpack full of Cash” documentary this Thursday, March 21, 6:30pm – 8:00pm at NITSCHMANN MIDDLE SCHOOL, sponsored by Bethlehem Proud Parents – Free!

This info from Sara Satullo and Karen Beck Pooley much appreciated:


IB is integrated into the curriculum, but not all students earn an IB degree. To do so, students must take exams akin to Advanced Placement tests. Not all do so. This is from the 2016 charter school renewal hearing for the school: “The school’s Class of 2016 included 50 graduates and 11 of the students were awarded a full IB-diploma, while a number earned some certificates but did not take all of the exams, Mauser [Susan Mauser, LVA CEO] said.”


“Why Bethlehem school board approved charter school agreement.” Morning Call, November 29, 2016.

in 2016, when the LVA charter was up for renewal, Karen writes that the Bethlehem School Board generated “a long list of concerns and several reasons for denying the charter outright” and sought to negotiate an amended charter, but LVA “rejected all of [their] requests and offered no realistic counterproposals.”

Karen indicates that our Board was hamstrung by experience with the state Charter Appeals Board. Gadfly has read elsewhere that the Charter School lobby is among the most powerful in the state.

Provisions rejected by LVA included ceasing to cover school lunches, aligning LVA and BASD calendars to reduce transportation costs, and holding monthly public Trustee meetings.

Gadfly has an appointment with Dr. Roy next week on the questions Gadfly posed at the end of his last post.

Charter schools: What makes Lehigh Valley Academy so special for BASD students? (15)

(15th in a series on Education and Charter Schools)

Timely to our discussion is the showing of the “Backpack full of Cash” documentary this Thursday, March 21, 6:30pm – 8:00pm at NITSCHMANN MIDDLE SCHOOL, sponsored by Bethlehem Proud Parents – Free!

Half of BASD’s total charter school enrollment is in LVA, for whom BASD pays $12m/yr.

LVA is seeking $45m for a new building and may be increasing its enrollment.

“30 percent of [LVA’s] students are Hispanic, 36 percent are white and 12 percent are black. Almost 50 percent are considered economically disadvantaged. The charter school has a 95 percent graduation rate, almost 10 percentage points above the state average.” (from Morning Call)

What makes Lehigh Valley Academy charter school so special? What’s the draw?

Please bear with a long description. Remember that as taxpayers we are paying $12m/yr. for LVA.

LVA’s distinctive feature seems to be the International Baccalaureate program (IB).

IB’s distinctive feature seems to be “International Mindedness.”

“LVA is the only fully authorized International Baccalaureate World School in Pennsylvania that offers an IB continuum to all students in grades K-12. Beginning with full-day kindergarten and continuing through a student’s senior year, LVA emphasizes inquiry-based learning and critical thinking to prepare a student for higher education and the 21st century globalized environment.”

“The aim of all IB programmes is to develop internationally minded people who recognize their common humanity and shared guardianship of the planet. Central to this aim is international-mindedness. International-mindedness is a multi-faceted and complex concept that captures a way of thinking, being and acting that is characterized by an openness to the world and a recognition of our deep interconnectedness to others.”

“To be open to the world, we need to understand it. IB programmes therefore provide students with opportunities for sustained inquiry into a range of local and global issues and ideas. This willingness to see beyond immediate situations and boundaries is essential as globalization and emerging technologies continue to blur traditional distinctions between the local, national and international.”

“An IB education fosters international-mindedness by helping students reflect on their own perspective, culture and identities, and then on those of others. By learning to appreciate different beliefs, values and experiences, and to think and collaborate across cultures and disciplines, IB learners gain the understanding necessary to make progress toward a more peaceful and sustainable world.”

“An IB education further enhances the development of international-mindedness through multilingualism. All IB programmes require the students to study, or study in, more than one language because we believe that communicating in more than one language provides excellent opportunities to develop intercultural understanding and respect. It helps the students to appreciate that his or her own language, culture and worldview is just one of many.”

“International-mindedness is also encouraged through a focus on global engagement and meaningful service with the community. These elements challenge the student to critically consider power and privilege, and to recognize that he or she holds this planet and its resources in trust for future generations. They also highlight the focus on action in all IB programmes: a focus on moving beyond awareness and understanding to engagement, action and bringing about meaningful change.”

IB learner profile
In grades 11-12, IB offers 2 tracks:

Diploma Programme: Prepares students for effective participation in a rapidly evolving world. This is a demanding two-year curriculum that meets the needs of highly motivated students,and leads to a qualification that is recognized by leading universities around the world.

Career-related Programme  is a framework of international education that incorporates the values of the IB into a unique programme addressing the needs of students engaged in career-related education. The programme leads to further/higher education, apprenticeships or employment.
The Diploma Programme curriculum

The Diploma Programme (DP) curriculum is made up of six subject groups and the DP core, comprising theory of knowledge (TOK), creativity, activity, service (CAS) and the extended essay. Through the Diploma Programme (DP) core, students reflect on the nature of knowledge, complete independent research and undertake a project that often involves community service.

The three core elements are:

  • Theory of knowledge (TOK), in which students reflect on the nature of knowledge and on how we know what we claim to know.
  • The extended essay, which is an independent, self-directed piece of research, finishing with a 4,000-word paper.
  • Creativity, activity, service, in which students complete a project related to those three concepts.

How is TOK structured?

As a thoughtful and purposeful inquiry into different ways of knowing, and into different kinds of knowledge, TOK is composed almost entirely of questions.

The most central of these is “How do we know?”, while other questions include:

  • What counts as evidence for X?
  • How do we judge which is the best model of Y?
  • What does theory Z mean in the real world?

Through discussions of these and other questions, students gain greater awareness of their personal and ideological assumptions, as well as developing an appreciation of the diversity and richness of cultural perspectives.

As part of theory of knowledge (TOK), each student chooses one essay title from six issued by International Baccalaureate (IB).

The titles change in each examination session. Upcoming and past TOK questions include:

  • “To what extent are areas of knowledge shaped by their past? Consider with reference to two areas of knowledge.”
  •  “’There is no reason why we cannot link facts and theories across disciplines and create a common groundwork of explanation.’ To what extent do you agree with this statement?”
  • “There is no such thing as a neutral question. Evaluate this statement with reference to two areas of knowledge.”
  • “’The task of history is the discovering of the constant and universal principles of human nature.’ To what extent are history and one other area of knowledge successful in this task?”

Some examples of the 4,000 word extended essay are:

  • “An analysis of costume as a source for understanding the inner life of the character”
  • “A study of malnourished children in Indonesia and the extent of their recovery after a period of supervised improved nutrition.”
  • “Doing versus being: language and reality in the Mimamsa school of Indian philosophy.”
  • “The effects of sugar-free chewing gum on the pH of saliva in the mouth after a meal.”
  • “To what extent has the fall in the exchange rate of the US dollar affected the tourist industry in Carmel, California?”
  •  “What level of data compression in music files is acceptable to the human ear?”


So the above should give us some idea of what the distinctive feature of LVA is.

Gadfly is not sure if the IB is required of all students or it is an option, a track. Need to find that out.

Gadfly also needs to know more about 1) how LVA is promoted, publicized (if at all) among BASD students, and 2) whether both BASD and LVA have done surveys on why these students are choosing to attend LVA.

So, with luck, more info later.

How are you feeling about the $12m?

Remember: timely to our discussion is the showing of the “Backpack full of Cash” documentary this Thursday, March 21, 6:30pm – 8:00pm at NITSCHMANN MIDDLE SCHOOL, sponsored by Bethlehem Proud Parents – Free!

Charter schools: a Catch 22 for public schools (15)

(15th in a series on Education and Charter Schools)


I like school choice, too. I don’t like school choice that can be made at the expense of our public schools, which is what our current system amounts to. The system we have now essentially amounts to a Catch 22 for public schools. People pull their kids and put them in charters because they are unhappy about the quality of their education, which diverts more funding from public schools, which lowers the quality of education further, which results in the loss of more students to charters. This cycle goes round and round, with educational quality in public schools going down as it does. If something is broken we should fix it instead of continuing to divert resources to alternatives. The current system does just that.

Josh Popichak

Now where was I? Oh, yes, charter schools (14)

(14th in a series on Education and Charter Schools)

Gadfly went to sleep on charter schools. We were beginning to think about how they affect the Bethlehem Area School District. Through cost. Taking resources from other needs. They are funded through our tax dollars. And thus they affect us all through our wallets.

It’s been a month since Gadfly posted on charter schools. Let’s pick up the ball again.

In post 11 Where do all the students go and why? (11) we saw that approximately 2100 BASD students attend charter schools, about 13% of the total student population, at a cost of 29 million in charter tuition this year, which is roughly 10% of the budget.

And we saw that BASD-area students go to 12 charter schools, but about half to the Lehigh Valley Academy Charter School.

Gadfly suggested that we take a closer look to try to figure out why so many are going to charter schools and especially to LVA.

Gadfly has to admit he kinda likes the idea of choice.

We can see some differences in the schools that would account for their attraction.

Two follow structured national and international programs. LVA is “an IB World School.” International Baccalaureate. Circle of Seasons is based on the Core Principles of Public Waldorf Education.

Several have a special focus. Like the Arts. For instance, our Charter Arts on 3rd St. is “a place where being an artist is celebrated.” Admission is “academically blind.” Students are accepted based only upon their artistic talent and potential. They audition for acceptance into one of seven arts majors: dance, instrumental music, literary arts, production design, theatre, visual art, and vocal music

Interesting. If you have a special talent you want to develop, or if you simply believe that such training has a general beneficial and perhaps utilitarian value, you can choose a school with a specific focus.

One looks very career/job oriented. Executive Education says “Our unique business education program is designed to meet the needs of the Lehigh Valley.  With the growth of the Neighborhood Improvement Zone, we want to be able to provide quality employees for new jobs that are made available by this growth.”

Several have a multicultural or dual language emphasis. Appealing, perhaps, to immigrant populations.

The Lincoln founder “dreamed” of opening a public school where “at-promise” children and youth, who live in “at-risk” environments, and who are deemed “at risk” by our society, would receive a free, high-quality public education. As one of their students said, it was created “for students who want or need a second chance to have a better future.”

One has a mission statement quoting the Great Law of the Iroquois Confederacy. Wow!

Interesting range.

And like I said, I kinda like the idea of choice.

So Gadfly is getting more and more the idea that the “problem” with charter schools is not so much the curricular aims but how the schools are funded and how they are accountable.

Let’s come back next time and look in a bit more detail at LVA, the choice of about half of our BASD charter school students.

Sinkhole risk for LVA – why not Southside? (13)

(13th in a series on Education and Charter Schools)

John Marquette is a retired librarian/archivist, author, historian, and a resident of Bethlehem. His current project is focused on the restoration of the interior of the Archibald Johnston Mansion in Housenick Park. 


Putting aside the merits of charter schools for a moment, I’m concerned about the proposed Jaindl Boulevard location for Lehigh Valley Academy. It’s not a question of neighborhoods, it’s one of geology. More specifically, it’s about the risk of sinkholes on the 31 acres under consideration.

Pick any excavating contractor out of the phone directory or Google and ask how often they are called to either of the Hanovers, Bethlehem, Palmer, or Forks townships to remediate sinkholes. The geological formation under the rich topsoil is karst — porous limestone. When disturbed, and more importantly, saturated with water, it dissolves and collapses. Buildings built atop them or near them follow. A property I’m associated with on Bath Pike (less than a mile from the school’s site) just spent nearly $15,000 to obtain a site study and fill in a hole. *

Former farmlands and meadows in the Lehigh Valley are at their highest and best use when left more or less alone. Developing them poses risks of creating sinkholes, and the risks for the charter school end up being borne by the taxpayers in the Bethlehem Area School District, either for sinkhole insurance or for remediation of new holes.

The Morning Call covered Parkland’s problems with a sinkhole at a middle school right before the beginning of this academic year. It is costly. We have brownfield properties available on the South Side ready for a school, if the new owners cooperate. Why not ask them?

The state has a great interactive map of sinkhole locations on its Department of Conservation and Natural Resources website (


* I can show you the paperwork from the excavators with our estimates. The geology is very well known. Somebody is going to make a lot of money on the land deal, and you and I apparently will be footing the bill.

Lehigh Valley Academy Charter looks to build (12)

(12th in a series on Education and Charter Schools)

“Bethlehem Area Superintendent Joseph Roy, a vocal critic of charter schools, said he doesn’t see the need for the charter school to build a new school with taxpayer money.”

“Most of LVA’s 1,700 students come from Bethlehem Area. The district is paying more than $12 million this year for 1,035 of its students to attend LVA.”

BASD is trying to hold the line on a tax increase, though charter school tuition is increasing $1m. Of the 12 charter schools that approximately 2100 BASD students attend at a taxpayer cost of approximately $30m, 50% attend Lehigh Valley Academy Charter. LVA is “eyeing” a possibly $45m building of its own and increasing enrollment. LVA needs BASD permission, but, if denied, can appeal to the state Charter School Appeal Board.

Gadfly is still looking through the web sites of the 12 charter schools listed in our last post on this charter school topic.

Jacqueline Palochko, “Bethlehem Area School District looking at no tax increase.” Morning Call, February 12, 2019.

“Facing one of its lowest deficits in recent years, the Bethlehem Area School District is aiming to hold the line on taxes for property owners in the 2019-20 budget. . . . Because of the low deficit, board President Michael Faccinetto said he’d like to see what the budget would look like without a tax increase. ‘I’m not saying it’s a done deal, but we’re in the position where we can at least entertain it,’ he said.”

“As has been the case in recent years for school districts, charter schools and employee pension payments are top cost drivers. Bethlehem Area is looking at an almost $1 million increase in charter school tuition that would bring the district to paying almost $31 million.”

Jacqueline Palochko, “Lehigh Valley Academy Regional Charter plans a $45 million school building.” Morning Call, February 14, 2019.

“Wanting to get out of the business of paying rent, the Lehigh Valley Academy Regional Charter School is looking to build a 200,000-square-foot building at a cost of $45 million.”

LVA current rented space, 1560 Valley Center Pkwy

“At its Jan. 16 meeting, the board approved a $10 million sales agreement that could be for land. . . .  ‘The LVA Board of Trustees recognizes that owning our own facility is significantly more cost effective, fiscally responsible, and sustainable in the long term,’ the news release states. The charter school needs the permission of both the Bethlehem Area and Saucon Valley school boards to change locations because it is a regional charter school.”

“Most of LVA’s 1,700 students come from Bethlehem Area. The district is paying more than $12 million this year for 1,035 of its students to attend LVA. The news release says the new building would be for 1,950 students, suggesting LVA is looking to expand enrollment.”

“The charter school opened in 2002 and follows the International Baccalaureate curriculum, a globally focused program that requires students to take a series of demanding tests to receive an optional IB diploma.”

“LVA enrolls a diverse population; more than 30 percent of its students are Hispanic, 36 percent are white and 12 percent are black. Almost 50 percent are considered economically disadvantaged. The charter school has a 95 percent graduation rate, almost 10 percentage points above the state average.”

Jacqueline Palochko and Jon Harris, “Lehigh Valley Academy eyes Jaindl land for new charter school building.” Morning Call, February 15, 2019.

“Lehigh Valley Academy Regional Charter School is eyeing 31 acres of Jaindl-owned land in Northampton County for its proposed 200,000-square-foot school. The charter school would pay $10.9 million for the land at 5300 Jaindl Blvd. in Hanover Township, according to the seller’s agreement between the charter school and the estate of Frederick J. Jaindl. The land is near Route 512.”

LVA possible new building, 5300 Jaindl Blvd

“Smith, the charter school’s board of trustees president, said LVA wants to own its own building because it’s more fiscally responsible than renting. The charter school pays more than $3 million annually in rent, he said. LVA plans to take out a loan for the new school, Smith said.”

“The charter school needs the permission of both the Bethlehem Area and Saucon Valley school boards to change locations because it is a regional charter school. It serves grades kindergarten through 12th. LVA has not yet filed a formal request with Bethlehem Area for a move. Saucon Valley Superintendent Craig Butler declined to comment. If either school district does not approve the location change, the charter school can appeal to the state Charter School Appeal Board.”

“Most of LVA’s 1,700 students come from Bethlehem Area. The district is paying more than $12 million this year for 1,035 of its students to attend LVA.” [Plans are to increase enrollment to 1,950 students.]

Where do all the students go and why? (11)

(11th in a series on Education)

Gadfly still wrapping his wings around charter schools.

Approximately 2100 BASD students attend charter schools, about 13% of the total student population. Charter schools cost Bethlehem taxpayers 29 million in charter tuition this year, which is roughly 10% of the budget.

Where do they go?  And then the next question is why do they go?

They go to the following 12 charter schools, only 3 of which have Bethlehem addresses. 5 have Allentown addresses, and 1 each to Catasauqua, Fogelsville, Emmaus, and Easton.

Charter schools are about choice.

So why do they go? Gadfly wonders if there are any surveys that shed light on this question.

(Another interesting statistic would be what is the percentage of BASD students to the total enrollment in each of the charter schools.)

We have profiled in previous posts 2 of the 3 charter schools with Bethlehem addresses. Gadfly who has two granddaughter “performers” who went to a public school in Massachusetts that excelled in the Arts can understand the attraction of our Charter Arts. And to Gadfly the appeal of the Dual Language school is also quite understandable.

Here are the 12 charter schools in descending order of the 2100 BASD students attending. Let’s spend some time browsing through – especially the “top” schools – to try to sense what the draw is.

Almost 50% go to one school — what’s up with that?

Lehigh Valley Academy Charter School
1560 Valley Center Pkwy #200, Bethlehem, PA 18017

Executive Education Academy Charter School
555 Union Blvd, Allentown, PA 18109

Lehigh Valley Dual Language Charter School
675 E Broad St, Bethlehem, PA 18018

Lincoln Leadership Academy Charter School
1414 E Cedar St, Allentown, PA 18109

The Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts
321 E 3rd St, Bethlehem, PA 18015

The Arts Academy Charter School
1610 E Emmaus Avenue, Allentown, PA 18103

Innovative Arts Academy Charter School
330 Howertown Rd, Catasauqua, PA 18032

Arts Academy Elementary Charter School
601 Union St, Allentown, PA 18101

Easton Arts Academy Elementary Charter School
30 N 4th St, Easton, PA 18042

Seven Generations Charter School
154 Minor St, Emmaus, PA 18049

Circle of Seasons Charter School
8380 Mohr Ln, Fogelsville, PA 18051

2 Roberto Clemente CS
136 S 4th St # 1, Allentown, PA 18102

Like Gadfly, this is probably the first time realizing the local “universe” of charter schools. What are you thinking?