The purpose of this blog is to clearly explain the costs and responsibilities of local communities in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in educating children. I thought I would begin with what we might consider the goal posts of a kindergarten through 12th grade (K-12) education: high school graduation.
Commencement is a glorious moment. Take for example the small town of Kennett Square in the southeast corner of the state. On a Friday evening in early June, spirited young men and women process down the front steps of the high school and take their seats in front of rows of animated guests. Everyone has some investment in this night. The students receive diplomas, recognizing what they have accomplished supported by a broad group of school, family and community partners and taxpayers. The diplomas represent both human and financial investment. To better understand the purpose and scope of this investment, I will focus specifically on secondary, or high school grade levels. What does your community provide in a high school education? What does the State require schools to provide?
Pennsylvania School Code
“Public education prepares students for adult life by attending to their intellectual and developmental needs and challenging them to achieve at their highest level possible. In conjunction with families and other community institutions, public education prepares students to become self-directed, life-long learners and responsible, involved citizens.” PA School Code Act 22, 1949
The State mandates that all children attend school (or be enrolled in an alternative program) until the age of 17. Since the signing of the Free School law in 1834, children in Pennsylvania have had the right to attend a publicly funded school. Today, Pennsylvania is divided into 500 local school public school districts. While the school code does not require students to complete high school programs, it holds local districts responsible for providing programs and setting standards for all children to reach a certain level of knowledge and competency, expressed as a set of graduation requirements.
Students in grades 9-12 complete the following number of course units in the following core curricular areas: 4 English, 3 Mathematics, 3 Science, 3 Social Studies, 2 Arts/Humanities and 5 Electives. Students in publicly funded schools (traditional schools and charters) have an additional requirement for instruction in the Environment and Ecology.
Non-public high schools must offer a minimum of 120 hours of instruction in each of 21 courses (listed above.) Publicly funded high schools must offer a minimum of 180 days, which includes a minimum 990 hours of instruction. This means students receive a minimum of 5 .5 hours of instruction each day.
In addition to the core curricular subjects noted above, non-public schools may provide, and publicly funded schools must provide courses in the following areas: World Languages, Vocational Technical Education, Business Education, Technology/Computer Science and Family and Consumer Science.
High school graduation requirements for public schools in Pennsylvania are undergoing an historic change with the institution of the Keystone exams. Beginning in the 2013-2014 school year, students will be required to pass exams in English, Mathematics and Biology. (The lengthy Pennsylvania assessment test currently given to high school student in the spring of junior year will be eliminated.) Many other states, such as Rhode Island have gone this route in recent years. There will certainly be much debate as we make the switch.
Finally, all public school high school students are required to complete a culminating project. The purpose of the project is for students to demonstrate higher-level critical thinking skills.
A Local View:
In 2005, the Kennett Consolidated School Dstrict (KCSD) Board of Directors voted to increase the graduation requirement for science to four courses. The usual sequence is : Earth and Space, Biology, Chemistry and Physics. In addition, the district offers Advanced Placement (AP) courses in Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Computer Science.
In Kennett, the culminating project, or graduation project, must be completed by senior year. Students select their own topics and work under the direction of a faculty advisor. Failure to complete work within deadlines can result in loss of privileges such as attending prom, senior dinner dance, or in some cases, participating in commencement exercises.