Banana In The Tailpipe: PA’s New Graduation Requirements

If you are of certain age, say 40+, you remember a time when Eddie Murphy was “Eddie Murphy.”  At the height of his stardom, Eddie delivered comedic tour de forces in rapid succession. You know you remember staying in the house just to see which characters he would bring to life on Saturday Night Live.  Buckwheat and Gumby were my personal favorites.  His ascent was phenomenal.  Eddie’s stand-up comedy films were blockbusters of the highest magnitude. Like me, you remember and prefer Eddie before he started talking to animals and wearing fat suits in PG rated films. You remember the profane rated R Eddie.  Perhaps, Eddie’s most lasting contribution to popular culture came in one of the most memorable scenes of the original “Beverly Hills Cop.”  Thanks to Eddie, everyone knows that some bull shit is about to go down when you are told “don’t fall for the banana in the tailpipe.”


Well Black Philadelphians, I am emphatically warning you that Governor Corbett and the Department of Education are dangling bananas in close proximity to your tailpipe.  Here, I will do my very best to keep you from being caught off-guard like Sergeant Taggart and Lieutenant Bogomil in Beverly Hills Cop. Those guys didn’t see Eddie (Detective Axel Foley) sneak behind their car and placed bananas in their tailpipe to choke the engine and prevent them from following him.  I, however, see Governor Corbett and his band of DOE bureaucrats kneeling, bananas in hand, behind tens of thousands of cars in Philadelphia, Chester, Reading, Pittsburg, Lancaster and other urban areas across the state.

Don’t fall for the banana in the tailpipe!!

All you have to do is take your eyes off Jay Z and Beyonce for a moment and pay attention. For just a few moments let’s ignore the trails and tribulations of Benzino, Stevie J and Joseline.  Put down the remote, you can see Olivia Pope on DVR some other time.  I wanna show you something.

Here it is… Here comes the Bull Shit… this is the banana they are placing in your tailpipe… It can be seen on the PA DOE website:

“The Commonwealth’s graduation requirements will help guarantee that a Pennsylvania diploma reflects the skills and knowledge graduating students need to be successful in college and the workplace. These requirements will allow districts to ensure students are meeting state standards.”

At first glance, this appears to be well intentioned statement.  One might even think they want to help Pennsylvania’s public school students. After all, the requirements “help guarantee” that PA diplomas mean something. Moreover, the implementation of these requirements seems to be a benevolent act. It “allows” districts to meet state standards. What can be wrong with that? It sounds good… really good.

Ok… Let’s go… However, when you try to start your car, it putters, backfires violently and stalls leaving you stranded because you fell for the banana in the tailpipe.

Let’s look closely at the “new” PA High School Graduation Requirements for a Student Graduating in (or after) 2017…

Of particular importance is the following requirement:

“Students WILL be required to demonstrate proficiency in each of the content areas listed below by passing Keystone Exam, an Advanced Placement (AP) Exam, an International Baccalaureate (IB) Exam, or a local exam in the related content area. If necessary, your LEA must provide supplemental instruction until proficiency is demonstrated or criteria are met for project-based assessment participation.”

The chart below spells out the required exams over the years spanning 2017-2020. For present purposes, I will limit the discussion to the Algebra 1 and the literature requirement. Beginning in 2017, PA HS students will have to demonstrate “proficiency” in those two subjects as well as biology. In 2019 English Composition exams become mandatory. The following year Civic & Government will be added. In order to graduate, students will have to demonstrate proficiency in these areas. According to Webster, proficiency is defined as a high degree of competence or skill: expertise. Of course, we all WANT Philadelphia’s high school graduate to exhibit a high degree of competence in these academic subjects.

PSSA test schedule-page-0

The problem is the long-standing and persistent fact that the overwhelming majority of Blacks in Philadelphia’s dysfunctional public schools have absolutely no shot at meeting these requirements.  Historically, one of the most effective ways of discriminating against Black Americans has been mandating tests that white Americans knew they could not pass.

Some Jim Crow laws, like Pennsylvania’s onerous graduation requirements, did not specify race.  Nonetheless, they were written and applied in ways that very effectively discriminated against Blacks.  For example, many racist states, counties and cities used so-called “literacy tests” administered with informal loopholes and trick questions to bar nearly all blacks from exercising their right to vote.  The appeal of this tactic is easy to understand from a white supremacist perspective.  Consider for a moment that more than 130,000 Blacks were register to vote in Louisiana in 1896. Eight years later in 1904, after the implementation of  literacy tests only 1,342 Blacks remained on the voter rolls.  Nearly 99% of Blacks were ineligible to vote because they “failed” the so-called literacy tests.

Jim Crow is reemerging.  Black public school students will have an extremely difficult time graduating under these requirements.  Most won’t make it.  More importantly, Governor Corbett, the Secretary of Education and everyone in the Department of Education know this is the case.  For Black students, graduating from Philadelphia public high schools, beginning in 2017 will be damn near as hard as it was for Blacks to vote in the deep South in 1904.  Truth be told, only a small percentage of Philadelphia’s Black students can meet the”new” graduation requirements.

Manufacturing a generation of “non-graduates” is the true goal of the PA DOE’s policy shift.

Every year, the DOE administers standardized tests. According to the DOE these tests “measure how well students have achieved in reading, mathematics, science and writing according to Pennsylvania’s world-class academic standards. By using these standards, educators, parents and administrators can evaluate their students’ strengths and weaknesses to increase students’ achievement scores.”

While we have considered the dictionary definition of “proficiency,” we need a clear understanding of what the the PA DOE means by “proficient.” Remember, in order to graduate from PA high schools, students MUST demonstrate proficiency on the state tests.

Pennsylvania’s Department of Education has identified four levels of performance:

The Advanced Level reflects superior academic performance. Advanced work indicates an in-depth understanding and exemplary display of the skills included in the Assessment Anchors.

The Proficient Level reflects satisfactory academic performance. Proficient work indicates a solid understanding and adequate display of the skills included in the Assessment Anchors.

The Basic Level reflects marginal academic performance. Basic work indicates a partial understanding and limited display of the skills included in the Assessment Anchors. This work is approaching but not reaching satisfactory performance. There is a need for additional instructional opportunities and/or increased student academic commitment to achieve the Proficient Level.

The Below Basic Level reflects inadequate academic performance. Below Basic work indicates little understanding and minimal display of the skills included in the Assessment Anchors. There is a major need for additional instructional opportunities and/or increased student academic commitment to achieve the Proficient Level.

By combining the percentages of Black students scoring Advanced and Proficient, we can get a clear picture of how many students would have graduated in recent years if the 2017 standards were already in place. Put another way, the most recent test results serve as a very good indicator of what is likely to happen in 2017 and beyond. Let’s be clear… Governor Corbett and the supporters of the new graduation requirements already know what percentage of Black students are “proficient” in academic subject areas.

Let’s take a look at the Math scores. At the top, Philadelphia’s public schools are very impressive. At Masterman HS, 97.9% of the Black students are proficient in math. Black Central HS students also performed very well with 93.8% of the students demonstrating proficiency. However, is must be noted that these schools have always been the highest performing and toughest to gain admission to in the School District of Philadelphia.

PSSA - Math-page-0

In reading, Black Central students were the top performers with 97.2% of the students demonstrating proficiency. Masterman was next, coming in at 96.7%. They were followed by Black Girard Academic Music Program and Carver Engineering & Science students at 95.3% and 90.2% respectively.  Clearly, Black students at these exclusive “magnet” schools are doing well.

Student performance levels are very important to PA superintendents and principals in the district. That is how the “effectiveness” of administrators is measured. There are consequences when students don’t perform well.

So, exactly what happens, under the “new” graduation requirements, when students cannot pass or demonstrate proficiency? According to the DOE, “Waivers to Commonwealth graduation requirements will be granted by the Secretary of Education on a case-by-case basis with determinations communicated to the LEA no later than 10 days prior to graduation.” This means that some bureaucrat in Harrisburg will determine if non-proficient students can graduate 2 weeks before the graduation date.

People…. The car is sputtering badly at this point… you are barely able to get the engine to turn over much less accelerate into traffic…. The banana is in the tailpipe….

Let’s consider a few real world cases. At Sayre HS in West Philadelphia, only 4.8% of the Black students demonstrated proficiency in Math. That means 95.2% “failed” or were non-proficient. Over 100 Black students took the exam, so that means the DOE would have to consider 97 or 98 waivers on a “case-by-case basis” from Sayre alone. That’s assuming the highly competent and thorough SDP administrators submit these waiver requests to the DOE in a timely manner.

At John Bartram HS, only 8% of the 187 Blacks tested at proficient levels. That means the DOE would have to consider another 172 waivers on a “case-by-case basis.” Only 9.2% of Strawberry Mansion’s students were proficient, this school would generate over 60 waiver requests. Universal Audenreid students came in at 9.7%, out of 124 Black students, 112 would need waivers from the DOE to graduate. Over 190 Overbrook HS students would need waivers to graduate. Is the picture becoming clearer?

You’re beginning to realize your car simply won’t run… The banana is in the tailpipe. You ain’t goin nowhere… Axle Foley is laughing at you as he drives away.

Now, here’s where they say fuck you Black Philadelphia.

According to the PA DOE, “Chief School Administrators requesting waivers for more than 10% of a graduating class must also submit for the Secretary’s approval a written improvement plan enhancing instruction, curriculum, and supplemental services in alignment to the Keystone Exams.” In Math, only Masterman and Central would NOT have to submit “improvement plans.” The vertical vertical black line represents the 90% proficient threshold.

PSSA - Reading-page-0
Virtually every principal might as well start writing the improvement plan right now. The data for reading is not much better. Only four schools would NOT have to write plans for “enhancing instruction, curriculum, and supplemental services.”

Here’s the question: Who is going to pay for enhancing instruction, curriculum, and supplemental services? Look at the charts. According to DOE criteria, all but 2 to maybe 4 Philadelphia public high schools require these interventions. Where will the funding come from?  This is yet another UNFUNDED mandate thrust upon districts already being choked financially.

Let’s keep it 100, as the kids say. Philadelphia is the midst of an unprecedented series of budget cuts. In 2013, the Philadelphia school system laid off 3,783 employees, including 676 teachers and 283 counselors. Along with teachers and counselors, those losing their jobs included 127 assistant principals and 1,202 aides who monitor the cafeteria and playgrounds. Most recently, The SDP raided the The existing Philadelphia Federation of Teachers Health and Welfare Fund, which has about $40 million built up in it. There ain’t enough cigarette smokers in Philadelphia to finance the massive levels of intervention that will be required under the graduation requirements pushed through by Governor Corbett’s DOE.

Fuck you Black Philadelphia…

We must stop pretending. Only about 28% of Philadelphia’s Black males were graduating in four years anyway. These new graduation requirements will make it much, much tougher to maintain that abysmal graduation rate. It will surely drop significantly.  Governor Corbett knows this. Remember, he’s the one that put the banana is your tailpipe.

The forecast is crystal clear. Uneducated and undereducated young Black men and women will inevitably dibble and dabble in black market economic pursuits. Even those that remain committed and engaged in the educational process for 13 years (K-12) will emerge with Certificates of Attendance, not diplomas. How will employers, college admissions offices, trade schools and trade unions value those Certificates? They will certainly be worth significantly less than traditional diplomas.

Black Boy

Corbett and his cronies are literally betting that young Black males will resort to criminal activity to survive.

He foresees a need for additional prison beds in and around Philadelphia. Pennsylvania is spending $400 million to construct two new prisons at the SCI-Graterford site in Montgomery County after slashing nearly $1 billion in public education funding. The funds are in addition to the $1.8 billion corrections budget signed by Republican Governor Tom Corbett, an increase of $208,000 from last year (capital projects are counted separately).

Corbett is making room for 1,000 new prisoners at Graterford. This $400 million is an investment in “public housing” for the undereducated Black males currently muddling through Philadelphia’s woefully inadequate public schools. The two newly constructed prisons will replace the current Graterford, which now houses just more than 3,000 inmates. The new Phoenix prisons will be 2,000 inmates each.  Corbett’s Department of Corrections will transition the current inmate population to the new prison, which will leave us with an additional approximately 1,000 inmate beds.

Those beds will inevitably be filled by those who fell for the old banana in the tailpipe trick.

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