Education in Pennsylvania

There are numerous elementary, secondary, and higher institutions of learning in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania is home to 501 public school districts, thousands of private schools, many publicly funded colleges and universities, and over 100 private institutions of higher education.

In general, under state law, school attendance in Pennsylvania is mandatory for a child from the age of 8 until the age of 17, or until graduation from an accredited high school, whichever is earlier.

As of 2005, 83.8% of Pennsylvania residents age 18 to 24 have completed high school. Among residents age 25 and over, 86.7% have graduated from high school. Additionally, 25.7% have gone on to obtain a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Primary and Secondary Education
Pennsylvania’s public schools are operated and funded under the authority of the General Assembly and local school boards, whose members are elected. There are many types of public schools, including elementary, intermediate, middle school, junior high, high, junior-senior high, vocational-technical, and charter schools. Each public school is headed by a school principal, who reports to the superintendent of schools appointed by the board of the school district.

There are 500 public school districts in Pennsylvania, consisting of 3,287 schools and 120 charter schools. Two school districts do not have high schools. As of the 2005-2006 school year, there were 1,871,060 students enrolled in public schools in Pennsylvania, of whom 74.6% were Caucasian, 15.9% were African-American, 6.8% were Hispanic, 2.6% were Asian/Pacific Islander, and 0.2% were Native Americans. The average per pupil expenditure was $10,738, and the pupil/teacher ratio was 15.2:1.

As of the 2007-2008 school year, there were 265,545 students enrolled in private K-12 schools in Pennsylvania.

State students consistently do well in standardized testing. In 2007, Pennsylvania ranked 14th in mathematics, 12th in reading, and 10th in writing for 8th grade students.

In 2004-2005, Pennsylvania elementary and secondary schools ranked 8th in revenue and 11th in spending out of 50 states and the federal district In 2009 Pennsylvania spends $25 billion dollars in public education when federal, state and local taxation dollars are combined.

Approved Private Schools and Charter Schools for the Blind and Deaf
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has 36 Approved Private Schools including the Charter Schools for the Blind and Deaf. Students attending these schools come from across the commonwealth. The private schools are licensed by the State Board of Private Academic Schools. They provide a free appropriate special education for students with severe disabilities. The cost of tuition for these schools is paid 60% by the state and 40% by the local school district where the student is a resident. Pennsylvania currently has four PA chartered and 30 non-charter APSs for which the Department approves funding. These schools provide a program of special education for over 4,000 day and residential students. Parents are not charged for the services at the school. The majority of these schools are located in the southeastern region and southwestern region of Pennsylvania.

Public Cyber Charter Schools
In 2009 there are 11 public cyber charter schools available to Pennsylvania students K-12. These public schools receive funding from the state and federal government. Students attend through online enrollment. The local school district remits the payment for the tuition costs. Cyber school students are provided with a computer, books and materials by the cyber school entity. The students meet the same academic requirements, under No Child Left Behind, as traditional bricks and mortar schools.

In 2006-07, there were approximately 15,838 Pennsylvania students enrolled in cyber charter schools. The cyber charter schools are required to submit annual reports to the Pennsylvania Department of Education

By Pennsylvania law, all K-12 students in the district, including those who attend a private nonpublic school, cyber charter school, charter school and those homeschooled, are eligible to participate in the extracurricular programs including all athletics. They must meet the same eligibility rules as the students enrolled in the district's schools.

Dual enrollment
The state's Dual Enrollment program permits high school students to take courses, at local higher education institutions, to earn college credits. Students remain enrolled at their high school. The courses count towards high school graduation requirements and towards earning a college degree. The students continue to have full access to activities and programs at the high school, including the graduation ceremony. The college credits are offered at a deeply discounted rate. The state offers a small grant to assist students in costs for tuition, fees and books. The amount of funding for the district varies widely across the Commonwealth. Under the Pennsylvania Transfer and Articulation Agreement, many Pennsylvania colleges and universities accept these credits for students who transfer to their institutions. Over 400 schools district offered this program in 2009.

Many schools participate in intramural sports, and most outside competitions are sponsored by the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, which hosts 23 statewide championships in 16 different sports.

Academic Achievement Assessment
Each year, the state conducts a series of tests (called assessments) to evaluate the progress students are making in attaining essential content and skills. All public schools including: school districts, charter schools and cyber charter schools are required to participate. Some private schools have elected to participate.

The PSSAs began in 1998 as a state education initiative. Reading and mathematics were tested in 5th, 8 and 11th grades. With the passage of No Child Left Behind, the state added reading and mathematics testing in 3rd, 4th, 6th, and 7th grades. The content of the tests are based on the Pennsylvania Academic Standards. A writing assessment was added that examines student skills in informational writing and persuasive writing. The schools were provided with a writing rubric and sample prompts to guide their instruction along with specialized training for teachers. In 2007, the science tests were administered to 4th, 8th and 11th grades. The results were provided to the schools, but not made public. Beginning in 2008, the science test results were made public.

Results on the PSSAs are reported as: Advanced, Proficient, Basic and Below Basic. The scores that constitute each level were established by working groups of Pennsylvania teachers when the examines are developed. The Pennsylvania Department of Education reports these results to the schools and each student's parents. Additionally, they PDE reports them to the community via an Academic Achievement Report Card website. These results are reported for the entire state, by each school district, by each school, by each grade in that school and by subgroups. These subgroups include: race, gender, student's family income, special needs and English language learners. The report cards also provide graduation rates for each school district, school attendance rates and teacher qualifications.

Beginning in 2009, the Department of Education began reporting the results for each individual student as a part of the PVAAS report. (Pennsylvania Value Added Assessment System). This permits the state, the school district and the school to track each student's progress from one year to the next. Growth in achievement, regardless of the level of proficiency reached, is the focus of this assessment system. When students make 10% progress over last year, the school is credited with adequate yearly progress.

2009 State wide Graduation Rate and Attendance Rate
All Students - 89%, Attendance rate - 94%
Males - 88%, Attendance rate - 94%
Females - 91%, Attendance rate - 94%
White - 93%, Attendance rate - 95%
Black - 77%, Attendance rate - 91%
Latino/Hispanic - 72%, Attendance rate - 92%
Asian - 93%, Attendance rate - 96%
Native American - 83%, Attendance rate - 92%
Individual Education Plan - 83%, Attendance rate - 92%
(Special needs) English Language Learners - 73%, Attendance rate - 93%
Economically disadvantaged - 79%, Attendance rate - 92%

State wide Reading 11th grade results
2010 - 67% on grade level
2009 - 65%
2008 - 65%
2007 - 65%
2006 - 65%
2005 - 65%
2004 - 61%

State wide Math 11th grade results
2010 - 59% on grade level
2009 - 56%
2008 - 56%
2007 - 53%
2006 - 52%
2005 - 51%
2004 - 49%

College Remediation
According to a Pennsylvania Department of Education study released in January 2009, more than 40% of Pennsylvania high schools' graduates required remediation in mathematics and reading before they were prepared to take college level courses in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education or community colleges.

College Graduation Rate
Less than 66% of Pennsylvania high school graduates, who enroll in a four-year college in Pennsylvania, earn a bachelor's degree within six years. Among Pennsylvania high school graduates pursuing an associate degree, only one in three graduate in three years. Per the Pennsylvania Department of Education, one in three recent high school graduates who attend Pennsylvania's public universities and community colleges takes at least one remedial course in math, reading or English.

In 1988, the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed Act 169, which allows parents or guardians to homeschool their children as an option for compulsory school attendance. This law specifies the requirements and responsibilities of the parents and the school district where the family lives.

Higher education
There are dozens of notable private liberal arts colleges and universities located throughout Pennsylvania, as well as many publicly supported community colleges and universities. The state provides funding to (1) the Commonwealth System of Higher Education, consisting of four universities; (2) the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, consisting of 14 universities; and (3) 14 community colleges.

Commonwealth System of Higher Education
The Commonwealth System of Higher Education consists of four prominent universities, which are publicly supported but are operated and controlled independently. These institutions are:
    Lincoln University (Pennsylvania), which serves approximately 2,000 students.
    Pennsylvania State University, one of the ten largest public universities in the United States, which serves more than 84,000 undergraduate and graduate students at 24 campuses, the largest of which is in State College, Pennsylvania.
    Temple University, which serves over 34,000 undergraduate and graduate students on several campuses in the Greater Philadelphia area.
    University of Pittsburgh, which serves approximately 34,000 undergraduate and graduate students in western Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education
The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education consists of 14 universities in which more than 112,500 students are enrolled. It is led by a 20-member Board of Governors, each of whom serves a four-year term, with the exception of three students, who are chosen from among the universities’ student government association presidents and serve until graduation. The members include individuals selected by the Governor of Pennsylvania, and four legislators chosen by the majority and minority leaders of the State Senate and House of Representatives. The Governor of Pennsylvania or a designee also is a Board member, as is the state Secretary of Education.

Community Colleges
Pennsylvania community colleges served 189,000 students in credit programs and over 256,000 students in non-credit programs during the 2005-2006 school year. On average, annual 2005-2006 tuition and fees were $2,327. Many community college students transfer to four-year programs at colleges and universities.

Financial Aid
The Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency is a financial aid organization which provides grants, administers loans, and affords other services to post-secondary students. The agency has consistently been listed by the U.S. Department of Education as having one of the lowest default rates among all major guarantors through its highly successful default prevention initiatives.

The fourth-oldest institution of higher learning in America, and arguably the oldest university, is the University of Pennsylvania, founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1740.

Data from the indentured servant contracts of German immigrant children in Pennsylvania from 1771-1817 showed that the number of children receiving education increased from 33.3% in 1771-1773 to 69% in 1787-1804. Additionally, the same data showed that the ratio of school education versus home education rose from .25 in 1771-1773 to 1.68 in 1787-1804. The increase in the number of children being educated, and the fact that more students were being educated in school rather than at home, could help explain how near-universal literacy was achieved by 1840.

Lincoln University, founded in 1854 and later named for President Abraham Lincoln, was the nation’s first historically black university to provide arts and sciences education and degrees to African-American students.

Until the Civil War, almost all education was conducted either in private schools or at home. Public schools first came on the scene in the second half of the nineteenth century.

The forerunner to the Pennsylvania Department of Education was created in 1834. The State Board of Education, which adopts regulations for the Department, was created in 1963.

Many regulations and programs regarding elementary, secondary, and higher education are administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, which is led by the Secretary of Education appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the State Senate.

The current Secretary of Education is Dr. Gerald L. Zahorchak, who was nominated by Governor Edward Rendell on October 5, 2005, and confirmed by the Senate on February 7, 2006. Dr. Zahorchak, a career educator, previously served as the deputy secretary for elementary and secondary education, and as the superintendent of the Greater Johnstown School District.

The State Board of Education is the principal administrative regulatory body for elementary, secondary, and higher education in the state. It has numerous responsibilities, including approving or disapproving an application for the creation of a new school district, or change in the boundaries of an existing school district; applying for and administering federal grants for education; adopting master plans for basic and higher education; and adopting policies for the Secretary of Education to apply in regulating schools and universities.

The State Board of Education has 22 members, ten of whom serve as the Board’s Council of Basic Education and ten of whom serve on the Board’s Council of Higher Education. Seventeen members are appointed by the Governor, with the approval of the Senate, and each serves a six-year term. Four members of the Board are members of the General Assembly who serve as long as they hold majority and minority chairs of the House and Senate Education Committees. The current chairperson of the State Board of Education, also appointed by the Governor, is Joe Torsella. The Secretary of Education serves as the chief executive officer of the Board and does not vote as a member of the Board.

The state is divided into 29 intermediate units, which provide services to the 501 public school districts and 2,400 non-public institutions.

State Education Budget
The state budget provides for extensive financing and regulation of education programs. The state budget allotted over $11.4 billion for education-related programs in the 2008-2009 fiscal year. Governor Rendell’s proposed 2009-2010 budget suggests a 1.5% increase in education expenditures.

The Rendell Administration has successfully proposed a number of education-related programs, including funding of pre-kindergarten and full kindergarten education. On February 3, 2009, in his annual budget presentation, Governor Rendell proposed a tuition relief program to make college more affordable for Pennsylvania residents. The proposal would benefit families earning up to $100,000 a year who have students attending any of Pennsylvania’s 14 community colleges or the 14 public universities in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. When the proposal was made, Education Secretary Zahorchak stated that the plan would start in the fall of 2009 with incoming freshmen and benefit more than 170,000 students once it is fully implemented. He also predicted that the plan would help approximately 10,000 students who would not otherwise be able to afford college or who would leave Pennsylvania to attend college. The proposal suggests funding through revenues collected from the legalization and regulation of video poker in bars and clubs in Pennsylvania.