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Houston Hall has barely been open a week and already it's been home to Pennsylvania congressional hearing.

On Tuesday, six members of the Pennsylvania House Education Committee met at Penn to hold a hearing on problems facing urban education in Philadelphia. The hearing featured testimony by several Penn administrators and professors, as well as teachers from area public schools.

"There's been a lot of talk about what's going on in Philadelphia classrooms, what needs to be done," Graduate School of Education spokeswoman Susan Scerbo said of Tuesday's hearing. "The goal of today is to educate the Congress on the issues facing Philadelphia education."

The congressmen met for four sessions -- focusing on the national context of urban schools, testing and standards, teacher preparation and retention, structual issues and policy implication -- from 9:30 a.m on Tuesday until around 3 that afternoon.

Tom Gill, a professor of Education at West Chester University, kicked off the day by discussing how testing and statewide standards affect urban schools.

He told the six members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives that it was unfair to gauge the performance of urban studens in the same way suburban students are measured because they are often denied the opportunities and resources granted to their suburban neighbors.

"Test the children at their level to determine how to teach to them and to determine what progress they're making," Scerbo said.

Philadelphia Education Fund Director of Research and Education Betsey Useem also spoke at the hearing.

She testified to the importance of having teachers reach high levels of qualification before being handed the responsibility of a classroom of students, and advocated that Pennsylvania require that their teachers meet the more rigorous national standards instead of just the state level.

"We need to raise the standard of qualification for becoming a teacher," Useem said. "Studies show teachers who know more have their students learn more."

Useem also said it was important for urban school districts to be able to offer the same benefits to teachers that nearby suburban areas can.

"Philadelphia doesn't give any financial support," she explained, noting that many districts in the suburbs will subsidize a teacher's masters degree, while few urban districts can provide the same funding.

After the hearing broke for lunch, Penn Education Professor Margaret Goertz wrapped up the day by outlining the policy implications of many of the issues the group had discussed.

"What kind of assessments does the state need to put in place?" she asked in response to the lengthy discussion on testing and standardization. "I think these are the things the state needs to think about. What is the appropriate mix?"

Goertz also spoke to several other issues, including developing greater incentives for teachers and schools to change, ensuring quality teaching, providing resources for both teachers and new initiatives to improve education.

"States have been fairly reluctant to put a large amount of money into professional development," she said.

For GSE Associate Dean Nancy Streim, the session pointed out the many obstacles that still face urban education.

"Every time we turn around, there's another need that needs to be met," she said at the hearing.

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