Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Cynicism about PPS

On the December "Start a New Post" Anonymous wrote:

Maybe this post could be about the PPS website- what caused me to suggest it is that when one searches for schools, the names are alphabetized...except, when one types "S," the new Science and Technology school appears before Schaeffer, Schenley, and Schiller. Is this an honest mistake? Do they not know how to alphabetize? Is this a push to try to get more interest in the new school? This may seem cynical..but, hmmm.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Report on EFA Meeting/ HS Reform Posted

PURE Reform's report on the December 18 Excellence for All Steering Committee meeting about High School Reform has been posted on PURE Reform's Announcement's page (go to http://www.purereform.com/ "Announcements" tab).

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Allderdice Hall of Fame

On the December "Start a New Post" Anonymous wrote:

"How disheartening to see NOT ONE woman nominated for Allderdice's Hall of Fame. Could they not have chosen at least one woman out of the four chosen? What does this say to all the female students...You don't count!"


Please fill us in- where was this announced? Is the Hall of Fame something new or is this a yearly award?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Obama pledges $10 Billion for early childhood ed

Not yet clear how the money will be allocated.


Reform in Chicago

On the December "Start a New Post," Anonymous wrote:

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Start a New Post": http://schoolsmatter.blogspot.com/2008/12/from-houston-miracles-to-chicago.htmlHere's an interesting story -- and the report it references might be good for PURE Reform to look at, too! Posted by Anonymous to PURE Reform at December 16, 2008 11:29 PM

This is a discussion of the effectiveness of "top down reforms" in Chicago (which is the district run by the Secretary of Education to be). The PURE mentioned in the article is a different group w/ a similar name (lots of parents seeking responsible education apparently!).

Monday, December 15, 2008

One district replaces AP courses- carefully

From the NYT:

"Scarsdale adjusts to life without advanced placement courses"

This article is interesting not only for its discussion of the pros and cons of AP courses, but also for the way the courses were phased out and replaced with an alternative, which included checking in advance with top universities.

Change for the Sake of Change?

On the December "Start a New Post," Anonymous wrote:

It appears to me that schools are being changed for the sake of change. It would be wonderful if when plans are made to move and reinvent schools the students going to those schools were really, truly considered. 'New and improved' schools need to be 'improved' not just 'new'.The district's 'salespeople' are old time snakeoil salesmen (and women). They promise that everything will be 'new' and 'better'. Questions are never fully answered (Why?) Parents need to start asking questions and not be satisfied until they are given answers they really understand.

Schenley Building Committee

On the December "Start a New Post" PURE Reform wrote:

Word is that the committee to investigate uses for the Schenley Building will commence in the new year after the new facilities director is hired. Pure reform will continue to monitor the progress on this committee and be involved on the committee itself.

Girls' Sports/ Title IX Audit

An audit will look into whether girls and boys' sports are receiving equal treatment in the PPS system.


Specifically mentioned is a lack of athletic opportunities for girls at Peabody High School.

It would be interesting to know whether a lack of athletic opportunities for girls is particularly problematic at small high schools, and if so how this problem can be remedied. It is difficult to imagine how (without some very creative efforts) opportunities at Peabody will be improved over the next three and a half years as the school is being phased out and, reportedly, there will be no new incoming 9th grade classes.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Schenley Building Removed from District Insurance

From the PPG:


The district's chief financial office asks how he can justify spending money on a building that kids are not attending.

But wouldn't most people maintain insurance on for example a house that they owned, even if they were no longer occupying the house and were not sure what they would do with the house? Occupied or not, the house would be an asset worth protecting.

Community relations provide an additional justification. How can the district ask for the community's support on a whole range of initiatives, but ignore the community's interest in this property and historic landmark?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Technical Education

Here's an interesting op ed from earlier this week discussing plans for technical education that were developed but not acted on in 2004.


Friday, December 12, 2008

Westinghouse Community Meeting

PURE Reform's report on the second Westinghouse community meeting.

This discussion is of more than general interest for many areas outside of Homewood, since Westinghouse will apparently be the new "home school" for students in Highland Park, Bloomfield, Garfield, Polish Hill, Shadyside, etc. who do not apply or are not selected in the lottery for a magnet school, or who do not maintain the grade requirements set by a magnet (ie, at least C's in all core subjects at the IB school).

Thursday, December 11, 2008

"Obama Vows Public Works on Vast Scale"

From Sunday's New York Times:

"Although Mr. Obama put no price tag on his plan, he said he would invest record amounts of money in the vast infrastructure program, which also includes work on schools..."

An official at the National Commission on Energy Policy remarked, "He is advocating things like guaranteeing every American a college education..."


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Public Hearing Testimony Posted

At yesterday's Public Hearing there were five speakers associated with PURE Reform.

Topics were Comprehensive High Schools, Former Schenley Building Insurance, IB and Pittsburgh Peabody, Budget/CEP and Parent Engagement. All testimony has been posted at www.purereform.com (announcements tab under this December 8, 2008 item).

The issue of building insurance for the Schenley building is new to this blog. Again, the district has a tin ear when it comes to one of the most beloved school buildings in this district.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Parent Engagement Events

It sounds like Parent Engagement is being kicked up a notch!

From the Director of Family and Community Engagement:

Attention Parents and family members

It is not too late, you missed the first one, but we still 2 more chances to meet in 2008. Parent Engagement Tuesdays are exciting, interactive, informative sessions designed to equip parents with the tools necessary to get and keep your child(ren) on the path to the Pittsburgh Promise. Select the date, time and location that fits your schedule and please RSVP to Wanda Spencer at wspencer1@pghboe.net or 412-622-3617.

Lunch or dinner will be served

Parent Engagement Tuesdays Topic
Parents Rights and Responsibilities Under Title 1, NCLB
How to advocate for your child

12/09 12:00 Noon - 1:30 PM YMCA North Side
600 W. North Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15212

12/16 6:30 PM - 8:00 PM Pittsburgh Phillips K-5 (South Side)
1901 Sarah St.
Pittsburgh, PA 15203

Mark A. Conner
Director of Family and Community Engagement
Pittsburgh Public Schools
341 S. Bellefield Avenue, Ste 422
Pittsburgh, PA 15213
Phone: (412) 622-3941
E-mail: mconner1@pghboe.net

Saturday, December 6, 2008

IB Committee Recommends Peabody Building

As expected, of the limited choices given to the IB Committee the Peabody building was selected.


No information yet as to where students in the Peabody feeder will go or as to the cost of renovations to Peabody.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Board to Vote on Peabody; Reports of Fights

We are receiving reports that the Board is about to vote to move IB to Peabody.

There are also reports of fights or attacks in that area involving Peabody and Schenley students.

Parent Engagement December 2008

PURE Reform's meeting from the December 2, 2008 Parent Engagement meeting has been posted on the Announcements tab of www.purereform.com (go to the listing for this event and click on "PURE Reform REPORT."

Board considers $33-$55M to Reopen Connelly

From the PG, the board has discussed reopening Connelly for career and technical education (classroom training only, automotive would stay at Brashear). The current cost estimate is $33-$55M.


It would be useful to know the student capacity for the building so that a cost per student figure could be calculated.

Of course, 3/4 of Schenley (1000 students) could be renovated for $60M (and due to lower labor and energy costs, that figure is probably lower now- work for contractors is way down).

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A+ Schools Survey on School Board Governance

A+ Schools is conducting a survey about school board governance at

Access the survey by visiting this link: http://www.zoomerang.com/Survey/?p=WEB228KG6CLXLV.

The first set of questions is somewhat confusing- choices as to a list of actions/ behavior are "unacceptable, discouraged, acceptable, encouraged" and it is not clear for example if the person responding is intendended to indicate whether the school board finds certain behavior (such as giving priority to the needs of the board member's own district) acceptable, or whether the person responding finds the behavior acceptable; and, it is not clear what to do if the official position of the board is that a listed action or behavior is "encouraged" but in practice the action or behavior does not take place.

But A+ is to be commended for raising these issues and seeking community input.

"Reizenstein Will Most Likely Move to Peabody"

From the Shadyside Action Committee Minutes of November 13, 2008:

· Peggy Ott, Skip Schwab of ELDI and Rob Pfaffmann, Zoning Chair of SAC met with Paul Gil, the COO of the School Board about Reizenstein School. Reizenstein will most likely move to Peabody. The group reminded Mr. Gil that the Reizenstein property is zoned residential and the community will work to preserve this zoning classification.

Start a New Post

To start a new post, reply to this post with your question, comment or suggestion for a new topic. The adminstrator will then start a new post with your topic as a title.You can post anonymously if you prefer. Click on "post a comment". Type in the word you see for word verification. Choose how you would like to be identified in the post click "publish your comment".

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Preliminary Budget

The district's Preliminary Budget for the upcoming year can be found at


The public may comment at a special hearing on Tuesday, December 2 at 12:00 PM (registration to speak required by 10:00 AM that day) or at the general monthly public hearing on Monday, December 8 at 7:00 PM (registration to speak require by noon that day).

Friday, November 28, 2008

Community Education Partners (CEP)

At the most recent Board meeting Board member Mark Brentley brought up CEP, mentioning fights at the school and the issue of whether the CEP contract should be terminated next September. He raised the question of whether this service could be handled in-house.

PURE Reform has requested a copy of the CEP contract and performance information. A copy of the contract is to be provided, but the district solicitor is looking into whether the district is required to release performance information.

Aside from questions of whether it is best to concentrate large numbers of disruptive students in a single building there are also issues of cost and whether the $30M+ allocated for this contract could have been put to better use- or, at least, whether public views on whether to take on this large debt should have been sought in advance.

Superintendent's Goals

The School Board voted to approve a set of goals for the Superintendent for the 2008-2009 school year. Prior to the vote Board member Thomas Sumpter noted that these goals were the result of a great deal of work, and that he felt the new goals were a great improvement over those in place previously.

Randall Taylor noted that the goals contain few quantifiable measures for accountability, and suggested that input from the public should be sought on proposed goals before they are approved. Other Board members felt that the public could make suggestions through Board members. However, it does not appear that an announcement was made that the Board was working on this issue or that proposed goals were made available for review. On the pbghboe.net website under our district/ superintendent, there is no listing of goals for this year or prior years and a search on the website for "superintendent's goals" brings up nothing.

The Superintendent's contract does contain "Performance Priorities"; it is not clear if the "goals" are updated priorities or if the goals are in addition to the priorities.


There was a suggestion that the goals are a personnel matter. However, to the extent that the goals determine which major initiatives the Superintendent should pursue, they would seem to be more a matter of public policy and less a private personnel matter.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

PVAAS Forum by A + Schools

A+ Schools is holding a forum on the Pennsylvania Value Added Assessment System (see below and remember to RSVP). If you cannot make the forum, add your questions as a comment and we'll see if we can obtain answers.

For example, it would be interesting to know whether PVAAS provides information relevant to PURE Reform's Featured Topic "Another Look at PSSA Scores 2008"; school specific information that would reveal how particular schools are doing; and how Pittsburgh students are progressing relative to students in the rest of the state. And, if PVAAS does not provide this information- why not?

What is the Value Added at Pittsburgh Public Schools? What is PVAAS anyway?

If you are looking for answers to these questions join us for a PVAAS briefing on Wednesday, December 3, 2008. The meeting will be held from 6PM to 8PM at Pittsburgh University Prep in the Milliones Facility, 3117 Center Avenue in the Hill District.

Jennifer Ross from the PA Department of Education, Dr. Linda Lane, Deputy Superintendent of the Pittsburgh Public Schools, and three PPS Principals, Melissa Friez from Peabody, Derrick Hardy from Vann, and Cindi Muehlbauer from Arlington, will be on hand to lend their perspectives and expertise and answer your questions.

Because we value your time and participation, A+ Schools will provide dinner as well as childcare for children over 1. Please let us know you are coming by calling (412) 258-2660 ext 101 or by clicking HERE.

PVAAS is new information made available in A+ Schools’ 2008 Report to the Community released earlier this month. PVAAS is measure of growth in PSSA achievement produced by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. PVAAS estimates whether or not selected grade levels made progress no matter where their starting point was. If you haven’t already seen the 2008 Report to the Community you can check it out at www.aplusschools.org/cspr08.html. Let us know if you would like a hard copy by emailing us at info@aplusschools.org.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sports Proposal from Mark Rauterkus

Sports Proposal from Mark Rauterkus:

Hi Fellow PPS Parents!
We have plenty of work to do in terms of getting our kids fit and into great activities after school and with scholastic athletic teams. This is a big area of concern of mine for the past years. Now with the new schools, we've got to step it up a great deal. This is what I think may happen.

The new high school with a working name of Science and Technology to be open in fall of 2009 is going to be in the existing Frick facility in Oakland. The kids there will be able to play sports along with the kids who attend the University Prep school -- now open for grade 9 only. This joint athletic program is done for one or two sports in suburban areas from time to time. But, I've not seen it done for the entire athletic program -- until now. I'm pushing for these schools to have the same colors and mascot(s) -- and I'd love it to be The Zombies. And, most of all, we should try to jump start the parent/ community booster groups for these schools as well.

The kids that are going to be in the I.B. High (IB World) -- are at the Reizenstein facility. They'll need a new school name and mascot. The OLYMPIANs seem to make the most sense, as an outgrowth of the Spartans. I feel that we should let the mascot of The Spartans go to a slumber -- until Schenley H.S. is re-established. What becomes of that school is still unknown (to me).

Furthermore, CAPA is getting middle grades next year and what was Rodgers did have sports opportunities for the kids. Rodgers X-Country already started to wear the design and colors (blue/white) of CAPA. Capa's football team is still undefeated -- giggle. They use the mascot of the invisible rainbow unicorn. Kwel. It might be okay to have CAPA kids team up with the IB High kids for sports that they don't offer at CAPA. And, CAPA needs to get into the flow with a couple of offerings -- x-country, rowing perhaps. In my not so humble opinion, the existing structure with the kids at CAPA playing with their 'home school' is unthinkable.

Furthermore, we've got to get the new programs to compete with the WPIAL and try to re-establish the city league as a great time for holiday tournaments, post-season all-star games and other special events with rivals -- but not a day-in-and-day-out exclusive option. This is going to take a lot of effort and coordination -- as well as political will. If anyone wants to join me in these efforts and advoacy efforts, please contact me with a phone call or email. Other insights welcomed too.

Mark Rauterkus412 298 3432Mark@Rauterkus.com

IB Courses/ Rigor

On the November "Start a New Post" Anonymous wrote:

From an IB 6 - 12 Power Point handout :"Students can take three paths... "Full" Diploma with all exams, Diploma courses with some exams or Only take Diploma courses."

From a Washington Post article:And since the exams are written and graded by outside experts to match college standards, there is no way to dumb down the teaching of the course without being caught, as long as every student takes the exam.http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/05/21/AR2007052100975.html

- Since students can just take the courses, is there a danger that the demanding course work will be scaled back?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Public HS Options

On the November "Start a New Post" Annette Werner wrote:

I attended a presentation by Bill Isler today about Pittsburgh Public Schools: Excellence for All.

I raised the question of a family considering a move to Highland Park, Shadyside or other East End neighborhoods outside the Allderdice feeder pattern. Since magnet lotteries are uncertain and a student may try a magnet and change their mind, or (as Kathy Fine asked) simply want a full service comprehensive high school, what is there for these families to fall back on?

Mr. Isler said that at this time students could go to schools like Peabody and Westinghouse and that comprehensive high schools are to be improved at some point through magnet programs. So I guess the fallback for many families would have to be private school.

Will this approach lead to quality public schools and strong neighborhoods in the long run? Maybe- but I would sure like to know that there are places where it has worked before counting on it.

November 23, 2008 1:24 PM

Saturday, November 22, 2008

PPS Plan for a Transit Strike

On the November "Start a New Post" Anonymous wrote:

This morning"s Post-Gazette and the PPS website outline the district's plan for the possibility of a PAT strike. Hopefully, this will not occur, and I do applaud the district for coming up with a plan. But I am concerned about what that plan is- changing the starting time for a number of high schools to 6:30 am! Since studies have shown that high schoolers are barely awake at the regular starting time, how does the district expect them to be able to be ready for school, get to a bus stop, and be awake for class! I would expect to see a greater percentage of students choosing to go or ending up going, to school late or not at all. For those students who may be teetering on the edge of whether to stay in school, this may be the straw that will break the camel's back. Also, I am concerned with the lack of concern for the safety of the students waiting in the dark and the cold at 5:30-6:00 am. It seems that the starting time should be pushed to later in the day, not earlier, or the district should hire more buses, since it will be asking for a reimbursement of the monthly fees from PAT. Hopefully, parents of the students of affected schools will register their protest to the district.

Posted by Anonymous to PURE Reform at November 22, 2008 10:55 AM

Excellence for All Steering Committee Meeting

A PURE Reform report of the Excellence for All steering committee meeting held on November 20, 2008 is available on the announcements tab of www.purereform.com; go to this listing under Past Events and click on "PURE Reform Report of Event."

University Prep

Annette Werner said...

I knew little about University Prep except that the University of Pittsburgh is somehow involved, and so I visited the school's open house yesterday. It seems likely that this school will be very successful.

The school features the following:

A dedicated counselor is scheduled to meet with each student at least once a year to discuss college plans (so for example students will receive guidance in 9th grade or earlier).

A one million dollar grant will allow students to start visiting colleges as early as 9th grade, and families can become involved in the process through a special family education plan.

Another grant will allow each student to receive a laptop computer.

The University of Pittsburgh in not only sending professors to teach some classes, but is also working on professional development.

The school offers French currently, will soon offer Spanish, and hopes to become the first PPS to offer Latin.

Students reading below grade level are enrolled in special "Read 180" programming to bring them up to grade level.

An emphasis on goal setting, achievement, critical thinking and teamwork is apparent.

The principal seems to be enthusiastic, thoughtful and innovative and students and teachers seem to be happy and involved.

Since PURE promises not to gloss over the hard questions, we do need to ask whether it will be possible to provide this level of resources and attention across the board so that the school can truly be a model for other Pittsburgh public schools. And, while entry in 6th grade rather than 9th grade is said to be a major benefit of 6-12 schools, only half the students will enter at the 6th grade level.

November 22, 2008 1:43 AM

Friday, November 21, 2008

Hey all you blog readers

We have a lot more readers than commenters. It will be more interesting if everyone shares their views, at least occasionally.  Go ahead, try it, we promise it doesn't hurt at all!


A rumor has surfaced that PURE Reform is hoping to remove the Superintendent.

This idea seems too silly and paranoid for anyone to take seriously- but just in case, we would like to confirm that removal of the Superintendent has never been a topic of any PURE Reform meeting or communication. We are focused on transparency, public input and issues, not personalities.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Middle School Disciplinary Issues

In his blog, Mark Rauterkus discusses a City Paper article on middle school disciplinary issues.

EDUCATION: MIDDLE SCHOOL DISCIPLINARY PROBLEMS SPIKE (News)By: Chris Young - November 20, 2008A drastic one-year increase in disciplinary problems in Pittsburgh's middle schools has some education experts wondering whether public school officials should be teaching the district's code of conduct along


Where do you begin with this quagmire?Once upon a time, there was talk that next year was to be the year for "discipline." That was to be the year-long focus. Then that year came and passed and not much changed -- except a lot of new schools were hatched and other priorities trumped the notion of "discipline" being the top worry.To be certain, discipline is a hard thing to witness and see. It isn't as obvious as test scores nor new windows that won't open because they've been screwed shut. Discipline is hard to witness from the outside, most of all. Those that are in the schools can see it. But those who are 'educational advocates' or on nonprofit boards have to be lucky to hear what's what.Be safe. Push where you can. Pull when it makes sense. Get others out of their comfort zones and into positive acts of growth and learning.

PPS Preliminary Budget 2009

The preliminary PPS budget for 2009 is $526.3M.


This is larger than the budget for the entire city of Pittsburgh. The news article reports significant increases in the amount spent on charter schools ($35.8M, up from $27.7M in 2008) and transportation costs ($23.9M up from $20.9M in 2008). With fuel costs apparently lower in 2009 and enrollment down, a question is whether school closings are resulting in greater transportation costs.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Public Hearing

Copies of testimony by two PURE Reform steering committee members at this months PPS Public Hearing can be found on the Announcements page- go to the announcement for the November 17, 2008 Public Hearing and click on PURE Reform Report.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Schenley HS Added to "Endangered List"

Preservation Pennsylvania has added the Schenley HS building to its list of endangered historic resources.


A sobering look at PPS Performance

From an article in last week's Tribune:

"The Costs of Pittsburgh's School Failures"

"...a very large fraction of graduates who are able to take advantage of the Pittsburgh Promise scholarship program will be ill-prepared for post-secondary education and will probably require heavy remediation if they enroll in college -- adding to the enormous cost already incurred getting them through 13 years of public education in Pittsburgh.

Neither the students nor taxpayers can be benefiting much from such a system."

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Maintaining Standards

On the November "Start a New Post," Anonymous wrote:

Two bits of information I found alarming:1)As per the BOE website...If an assignment is not turned in it still receives a grade of 50% and,2) Some teachers have been directed to assign less homework because the students who are not turning in the work are ruining the Board's statistics for improvement.WHAT ARE WE TEACHING THE STUDENTS!!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Addendum to 3 Year Review Available

PURE Reform's addendum to the 3 Year Review, covering August 2008 to date, is now available. To read the Addendum, go to the end of the 3 Year Review.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Pittsburgh Promise- New Information

A post last month involved whether a college or other post-secondary school might reduce scholarship funds the college might otherwise have offered, to take into account the availability of the Pittsburgh Promise.

At today's Pittsburgh Promise informational meeting at University Prep, the director of the Promise indicated that this type of offset is a real possibility and an issue that the Promise cannot fully control. However, Promise officials will be meeting with various post-secondary directors next week to discuss this issue. At a minimum, the goal is that Promise funds do not essentially go to benefit universities.

A full summary of the meeting will be posted shortly on the PURE Reform announcements page (below the announcement of today's meeting).

Thursday, November 6, 2008

"Final Draft Strategic Plan"

Mark Rauterkus' blog notes thatthere is a Final Draft of the Strategic Plan, but recommends another round of public comment and revision.

See https://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=7481330&postID=9035346679907946173

Validity of Standardized State Test Scores

Based on this article from last week's New York Times it appears that in today's high stakes, high pressure testing environment, improved proctoring and monitoring of standardized state tests may be necessary- to protect teachers and principals as well as students.

"School's Success Gives Way to Doubt"
(the 80 reader comments on the article are also interesting).

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Reflections

Election Day 2008 appears at least in part to be a decisive rejection of the current Presidential administration, which has been characterized by an emphasis on spin over substance as well as an overall lack of transparency.

The expectation of greater openness will extend to all levels of government, including the administration of our schools and other local bodies.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

High School Size/ Choice

With the recent emphasis on "themed" schools, another type of high school choice may be overlooked: school size.

While a small school may be best for some, for others a large school (750+ in grades 9 - 12) with a full range of activities, sports and electives and a large pool of classmates may be best.

Just as the Strategic Plan includes a K - 8 school near each student, consideration should be given to making a reasonably convenient, full service 9 - 12 high school available for all students. This arrangement would provide true "choice."

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Environmental (or Env & Health Sci) Magnet

Last night the Pitt Honors College sponsored a lecture by Paul Ehrlich, a Stanford professor of conservation studies, focusing on his book about Human Evolution and the Environment. There appeared to be about 1ooo people who came out on this cold Monday evening to hear his lecture.

Clearly there is enormous interest in Pittsburgh in environmental issues, and based on Professor Ehrlich's presentation this interest is well-founded. He spoke for example about how we are facing greater environmental threats than global warming, and that when it comes to global warming there are greater dangers than rising sea levels. His closing message was that as great as the threats are there is hope that we can address these dangers, but to have even a chance of doing so we need environmental education on a vastly greater scale than is now in place.

Why then has there been no consideration of an environmental high school magnet? Yes the sci tech school will offer environmental studies as one of 4 majors, but this is a very small school (even if all 100 of each class were to stay with the program and graduate and one of 4 choose the environmental major, that would be only 25 graduating seniors a year). The school is also perceived as targeting lower achieving students, while there are students at every level passionate about this topic. If the people of Pittsburgh were consulted about a magnet or "theme" they would like to see, environmental studies (as a springboard for the study of math, science, literature, art, etc) would most likely be at or near the top of the list (witness the popularity of the environmental charter elementary school).

Monday, October 27, 2008

Strategic Plan Comments Now Available

Comments on the draft Strategic Plan by both A Plus Schools and PURE Reform are now available (see PURE Reform's Links tab and go to the section on "Strategic Plan").

A Plus Schools is to be applauded on its comments emphasizing two way communication, transparency and public engagement.

Achievement Gap

On the "Parent Engagement Tuesdays" post:

justaparent said...
Regarding the achievement gap and the students less well-served by PE efforts. There was a meeting of Title I parents held in June at Frick. This was not a building meeting but a district meeting. During the meeting a Mom shared a flyer she had gotten from a community organization describing the details of the achievement gap and the low graduation rate for several areas of the city including the hill. The school district did not create the flyer apparently, but did provide some of the information cited on the flyer. The tone of the flyer was severe and it was meant to stir outrage and action. Only time and grades will tell if it started people thinking and becoming more involved in the PE that takes place in the home.
October 27, 2008 8:53 AM

Parent Engagement for HS

On the "Parent Engagement Tuesdays" post bloggers wrote as follows:

Anonymous said...
Why is all of the parent engagement aimed at younger kids? Do our high school kids not need their parents anymore? Have we given up on them? I understand that it is a vicious cycle: high school parents aren't involved, so the high school staff doesn't expect or plan for involvement, so the few parents who do want to remain involved get the impression that they are not wanted and on and on . . .
October 26, 2008 10:00 AM

For a lot of us, the biggest roadblock to PE in high school is the kid we send to school each day. Still it is doable. Lots of parents of band kids and cheerleaders and kids of sports teams make a group of involved parents. Could the HS trick be to make sure every student has an extracurricular? Not any easy task considering most of our students take public transportation to and from school.
October 27, 2008 6:50 AM

Parent Engagement for K - 8

On the "Parent Engagement Tuesdays" post bloggers wrote as follows:

Kathy Fine said:
"My vision of encouraging "parent involvement" is very different. If we really want to reach the parents that are not currently engaged, we need a much more aggressive methodology. How about having parent engagement taking place once or twice a month at each and every school in the district, so that it is much more accessible to parents without transportation? Tout these meetings as "free dinner for the family with free child care". Have varying topics such as "reading to your child", "homework help", etc. Use the Harlem Children's Zone model and make an aggressive attempt (phone calls, fliers door to door) to spread the word. The current methods of parent engagement is targeting the same parents that are engaged anyway! We need methods that will reach the parents that are not currently engaged and whose children will benefit the most from increased involvement. "

justaparent said...
PSCC meetings are held monthly at every school. What attracts parents is a good MATH NIGHT, or a meeting about an EIGHTH GRADE TRIP. District level PE suffers poor turnout because in order to do some of the things mentioned in purereform's report on the PE Tuesdays YOU GOTTA BE HOME. I think a good indicator on parent interest will be the turnout at individual buildings on the Promise Nights. If these events prove to be a big draw that is what the PE strategy should be, meetings with one focus, advertised well in advance. To be fair, there are some schools who hit the ball out of the park on parent engagement activities. My info may not be current, but at least a couple years ago ATA and Montessouri were often mentioned as schools worthy of leading the way to successful PE. In my own experience, a good principal can present the same info as a superintendent and make it more meaningful at the school level.
October 25, 2008 8:57 PM

Anonymous said...
as a veteran of PE in PPS and a Mom with PPS grads I can tell you a lot of what you mentioned has been done over the years. Child care and training to help parents help their kid improve was pretty common.Some of what I read in the report made me smile. A lot of the same advice given I heard years ago. READ TO YOUR CHILD, should really be replaced with LISTEN TO YOUR CHILD READ OUT LOUD. This will give you a better idea of how he is doing in school.

Kathy Fine said...
From the comments regarding my post regarding parent engagement, it is apparent that there are many interpretations of what "parent engagement" is, all of them correct. But what I was addressing was what I see as one of the major areas of concern in our public schools; the ever looming achievement gap and how address it. So my comments regarding parent engagement speak to the large percentage of under served or at risk students in our schools whose parents are not engaged in their children's schooling. What the Harlem Model demonstrates is that you can run programs but if you do not get the targeted population to attend, the programs do little good. That's why in the Harlem model, outreach is paramount and door to door solicitation is common. I realize that we have some very hard working principals pushing for this engagement, but we need a comprehensive, district wide push and I don't believe that the methods being utilized in the current PE meetings are going to address this specific population of parents.
October 26, 2008 2:15 PM

Parent Engagement for Ages 0 - 5/ Childrens Zone

As suggested, we will break out the Parent Engagement discussion by age group. On the Parent Engagement Tuesdays post bloggers wrote:

Anonymous said...
In the Harlem model, parents of infants and toddlers are targeted for intervention by the outreach workers. The parents in the charter school are "already there" by selection bias, as they have signed up for this school. According to Heckman's phenomenal meta-analysis, the most cost-effective way to affect educational outcomes is to change parenting behavior as it relates to children ages zero to three. For example, talk to babies and children, sit on the floor and play with them, sing to them, praise them for curiosity, take them places and explain everything, let them play with old fashioned toys like blocks and shape sorters and finger paints, do not physically punish them and TURN OFF THE TV! This is what Geoffrey Canada teaches parents in his eight week "Baby College" course in the Harlem Children's Zone. Until we can reach the parents of infants and toddlers, we will be playing a very expensive game of catch-up. Once the parents are engaged at this level, it is imperative to keep them engaged.
October 26, 2008 8:19 PM

Questioner said...
I think there would be tremendous community support for a program like this. It would seem that in the $500 million per year school budget something could be cut in favor of this type of program, maybe with matching funds from the city.
October 26, 2008 9:17 PM

Friday, October 24, 2008

Parent Engagement Tuesdays

On the October "Start a New Post" Kathy Fine wrote:

I attended my first "parent engagement" meeting at Phillips k-5 on the Southside. What I got from this meeting is that the crux of the "parent engagement" strategy from the district is that parents at each of these meetings are responsible for going back to their homes schools to encourage volunteerism and parent involvement in their children's school performance (assistance with homework, good nutrition/sleep habits, reading to children, etc).
I question how parents are going to be able to do this. When will they see other parents to spread the word regarding involvement? Are parents really expected to challenge other parents regarding behavior at home?

My vision of encouraging "parent involvement" is very different. If we really want to reach the parents that are not currently engaged, we need a much more aggressive methodology. How about having parent engagement taking place once or twice a month at each and every school in the district, so that it is much more accessible to parents without transportation? Tout these meetings as "free dinner for the family with free child care". Have varying topics such as "reading to your child", "homework help", etc. Use the Harlem Children's Zone model and make an aggressive attempt (phone calls, fliers door to door) to spread the word. The current methods of parent engagement is targeting the same parents that are engaged anyway! We need methods that will reach the parents that are not currently engaged and whose children will benefit the most from increased involvement.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Searching PURE Reform's Blog

If you are interested in a particular issue, you can search PURE Reform's blog for key words. Check the upper left hand corner for the box that says "SEARCH BLOG."

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Westinghouse Plans

On another post Anonymous wrote:

The plan for Westinghouse is for it to specialize in sports science. That's science of sports, not sports and science. The thought is that since families in Homewood will go to sporting events they will naturally send their children to a school that specializes in sports. I can tell you that families in Homewood will also go to fashion shows, church, and restaurants. So maybe the district would be better off creating a religious fashion institute with a great cafeteria. What children need is a straightforward education. Everyone knows that small class size is a strong factor in a student's academic success. Give the children what they need and they will thrive. I don't think they need to decide the course of the rest of their lives at age 11.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Allderdice/ Comprehensive Neighborhood Schools

On the October Start a New Post Anonymous wrote:

Allderdice Parents Beware: Don't assume the Superintendent does not have plans to turn Allderdice into a theme based school. He wants to turn every high school in the district into a theme based 6-12. My children are currently in a K-8 private school, but we plan on sending them to Allderdice for high school. My husband and I want our children to receive a comprehensive high school education at their neighborhood high school just like we received in the suburbs. We do not want our children to have to decide their future career paths as young as ages 14, 15, 16 or even 17. After all, how many of us didn't even know what we wanted to major in once we got to college? We will not limit the education of our children by having to decide on a "theme" school. Instead we will have to pay for private school or move to the suburbs. Rumor has it that Allderdice is next. The Superintendent already closed a model of urban education by closing Schenley so don't think Allderdice is immune to his high school reform agenda. Parents want comprehensive neighborhood schools! Parents, make yourself heard before it's too late!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Pittsburgh Promise $ Resulting in Lower Financial Aid

On the October "Start a New Post," Anonymous wrote:

Has anyone considered the double edge sword of the Pittsburgh Promise? Yes, the money of last resort should be available if it is properly funded. BUT what is to stop any college or loaning institution from thinking, "Hey, you are eligible for 'x' amount of money from Pittsburgh Promise so we will lower your financial aid by that much. In the end you college cost will be the same!!

Share Your Comments

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Shift of IS Students to IB

On the October "Start a New Post," Anonymouse wrote:

One topic that has been lost in all of the discussion facilities is what has happened to the programs that were once thriving at Schenley High School. While we all agree that there was a large population of under served students at Schenley that needed to be addressed, we have forgotten about the ludicrous shift of all International Studies (IS) into the IB program. The IB program was a small but valuable part of Schenley and in Mark Roosevelt's attempt to bolster his "themed high school" reform, he has lumped all IS/IB students together without any consideration about whether all these students belong in the IB program.

- Maybe students non interested or not prepared to change to IB account for some of the "missing students" at Schenley and/or the 50 student decline in enrollment at Schenley since the start of the year mentioned on another post.

In general it seems that of the students who would have gone to Schenley, U Prep may help those who were struggling; IB will be offered to advanced students, and there is nothing really planned for those students in the middle.

IB Site Selection/ Lack of Real Community Input

On the October "Start a New Post" Anonymous wrote:

As we discuss high school reform, one recurrent theme nags at me. The administration is constantly throwing around terms like "community involvement", "parental engagement", "stakeholder input" and "customer service". Yet time and time again, decisions are made that are in direct conflict with stakeholders' legitimate concerns and with very little transparency. The latest in this string of "make the decision, ask for community input and then do what we planned to in the first place" is the committee formed to determine the location of the IB program. This committee has been meeting for over 2 months and we have yet to hear a peep. Why hasn't a comprehensive list of IB committee members been published? Which facilities are being considered? What will happen to the students enrolled at whichever facility is chosen for the IB program? Will the committee's recommendations be released to the public in enough time before the final vote for a thorough public vetting? Seems to me that this process is no different than any other demonstrated by the district.

Decline in PPS Enrollment/ Schenley Decision

Today's Post Gazette discusses whether the decision to close Schenley may have contributed to the 1600 student decline in PPS enrollment (last year's decline was about 1200).

The article, quoted below, indicates that Frick 9th grade and U Prep 9th grade enrollment together total 270. Wasn't the freshman class at Schenley generally about 350 the past few years? (Numbers drop off a great deal in 11th and 12 grade due to students who leave before graduation.)

The article also notes that 10th thru 12th grade enrollment at Schenley is now 694. So, total Frick 9th grade, U Prep 9th grade and Schenley enrollment is 964. Wasn't total Schenley enrollment near 1100 the past few years?

Of course some of the "missing" students are simply at another PPS, but the numbers may suggest a lack of enthusiasm about the options that replaced Schenley.

.... "Critics displeased with Mr. Roosevelt's changes, including the closing of the Pittsburgh Schenley High School building in June, have suggested that he's driving some families from the district.
Mr. Roosevelt yesterday disputed that idea, saying enrollment numbers conform to state projections that are based on demographics.
He added that ninth-grade enrollment at Pittsburgh Frick 6-9 in Oakland and the new university-prep school in the Hill District show that the Schenley decision hasn't caused parents to pull students from the district.
Frick and the university school together have about 270 ninth-graders, most of whom would have gone to the Schenley building had it remained open. Mr. Roosevelt said enrollment at the Reizenstein building in Shadyside -- new home to Schenley's 10th, 11th and 12th graders -- is a healthy 694."

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

3 Year Review Now Available

PURE Reform's Three Year Review of District Initiatives is now available on the PURE Reform website (http://www.purereform.com/review.html). Please leave any comments on this post.

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Friday, September 26, 2008

Automatic 50%

There has been discussion in the media and among the board about the PPS rule that grades cannot be entered as less than 50%. So presumably, even if a student refuses to do an assignment at all, that student will receive a mark of 50%.

As an alternative, how about the "makeup" policy that some schools have- ie, work below a certain grade can be "made up" for a mark equal to the orginal grade and the makeup grade. For ex, a student with a 40 who got a 90 on a makeup would have a grade of 65. This way the students who were really making an effort and correcting their mistakes would be rewarded, while those who refuse to do the work at all or who simply cannot do the work would, as is appropriate, repeat the class.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Sports at Schenleystein

On the September "Start a New Post," Anonymous wrote:

This might fit the category of Promise, Promises but I think it deserves its own heading: Sports at Schenleystein.I heard from another parent that there were problems getting the boys from UPrep to soccer and that they just started last week. Is it true that we don't have enough boys to field a jv soccer game? What were the numbers last year? I know that the ESL students would be lost but have we lost more than that? One of our concerns with the all-IB school is the loss of sport opportunities. Will sports die out completely with the smaller schools? Does anyone know if other sports at Schenley have been affected?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Schenley PSCC Minutes

On the September "Start a Post" Ammo wrote:

I hope to have an abbreviated version of the Schenley PSCC minutes on the blog no later than Monday. The meeting was over 2 hours long and my "official" minutes were 3 pages; much of it not really related to reform issues.

CAPA Renovation Cost Increase

This week's agenda review revealed that CAPA renovation costs are now projected at 20% more than the $5 million figure given at the time of the merger, with further cost increases expected.

The explanation given is that based on input from teachers and parents, the scope of the project has increased. However, one board member pointed out that teachers and parents could have been consulted about the scope of the project before the $5 million figure was put out. And in fact the Hileman report, "The Realities of the Proposed CAPA-Rogers Merger" (see Links tab) anticipated such extra costs as rooftop recreation space and a middle grade library.

Prediction: The $40 - $60 million cost projected for the high school reform plan (see Links tab "Beyond Schenley") will balloon by at least 30% to $52 - $78 million, with increases caused by underestimating the scope of work attributed instead to parent/teacher requests.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

"Parents are the most important piece"

From today's Post Gazette article about the Blue Ribbon Award to Manchester Academic Charter School (one of only a dozen PA schools public and charter to win this year's award)-

"Parents are the most important piece... If you don't have a parent doing the homework, reading to their child- there's nothing we can do to help that child if we don't have the parent's commitment."

PPS in contrast seems to emphasize curriculum, school configuration, school choice and standardized test goals with relatively little mention of parents.

Monday, September 15, 2008

A+ Schools

On the September "Start a Post," Bethoven wrote:

"I feel the PURE Reform website sould not promote ANY A+ school event or meetings. I feel it is promoting them. I think PURE reform needs to remain netural. "

Mark Roosevelt's Raise

On the September "Start a New Post" Bethoven wrote:

"ROOSEVELTS RAISE????What does everyone think about this and about our board members who I personally feel are brainwashed and simply rubberstamping everything. "

In an August board meeting that was televised, several board members explained that Roosevelt had actually done everything that his contract had called for him to do. Of course, it seems like Roosevelt had a large role in determining what his contract would call for him to do, just as he determined what the Excellence for All goals would be, all with little public input. We have requested a copy of the contract.

Friday, September 12, 2008

"Community Input"; IB Location

On the September "Start a New Post," Anonymous wrote:

Why are the stakeholder's in our public schools (parents, students and teachers) being ignored during the reform process? It seems to me that while meetings are held and committees are being formed to "gather community input", these meetings/committees are a sham, with decisions already being preordained by the district before any meetings are held or committees' recommendations reviewed. Case in point: the newly formed committee to determine where the IB program will be located. The committee was told that Reizenstein and Schenley buildings are off the table and that only Westinghouse and Peabody can be considered. With Westinghouse being located in a neighborhood perceived as unsafe, that leaves Peabody, which is, I believe, where the district wanted the IB program to be located all along. Viola! Community input manipulated to get the outcome that the district wanted in the first place!

Promises to Schenley at Reizenstein; Frick 9th Grade

On the September "Start a Post" blog, anonymous wrote:

What is your take on the promises made to the Schenley family? Is the administration doing a decent job of following through on what has been promised? Is transportation working? How about sports and activities? What about our freshman class at Frick?

- Impressions?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Incidents/ Schenley-Peabody

Recently Schenley students were advised to stay out of East Liberty after school. If anyone has first hand or other credible information on incidents leading up to/ prompting this announcement the information would be much appreciated.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Carrick Engineering Magnet

On another post Newbie wrote "I know I am looking several years ahead and won't have a high school student to worry about soon. I watched the school board meeting and feel confused. There was discussion of a program being at Carrick and turning into a magnet in 2009. Apparently Allderdice has an engineering magnet already. Why are some board members worried about kids not wanting to travel to Carrick and talking about magnets needing to be centrally located yet the engineering magnet could hardly be called centrally located? I know many people who love the magnet programs. Location is a bigger issue in high school than in elementary or middle, right? I probably won't watch another meeting. I will read the blog. So thanks. "

We will have to watch the broadcast, but do you mean that the Allderdice engineering magnet could hardly be called centrally located, or the proposed Carrick magnet is not central? Another question is- if the district is moving to theme based schools- why is Carrick remaining a comprehensive school with a magnet?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

PSSA- Student not trying

On another post Wits-End wrote "What is the true scoop on PSSA results? A blogger on another blog asked what a 223.9% improvement meant? The first PSCC meeting should be an eyeopener when class and building results are talked about. The test is useless for many kids and does not reflect their abilities. I know kids who just fill in circles to get it over with and then they have MONTHS to wait to get caught. Hopefully the parents and teachers realize what the kid did in March or April and that they have coasted without guilt til the results hit the mailbox. I know. It is a character flaw. Maybe the polling method of "plus or minus" should be applied to the results. Anyway, I, errr, I mean the MOTHER has tried to take everything away from the child except his clothing, and it did not work. This kid just won't take the test seriously. His grades are not at all bad on his report card. Any advice would be welcome."

Is the child in high school, or in a lower grade? High school students already have so many tests that count for more- PSAT's, SAT's, subject matter SAT's, AP's, IB's, tests for class- that they may understandably focus on those tests. If a lower grade student- is the PSSA the only standardized test? Maybe an incentive (rather than a disincentive) would help, or an explanation that this practice is important to prepare for future tests that do really count for something.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Extra elementary school reading at the expense of other subjects

Anonymous wrote in another post "Starting this year all elementary schools are required to have a minimun of three periods of reading (up from 2 periods last year). This is at the expense of science music, gym, social studies and art. Although some students need this extra time spent on reading, many are being denied the benefits of a basic liberal arts education. A better approach would be to provide tutoring for the students that need extra instruction."

Are there other parents with thoughts on this issue?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

SHS/ Reform

Anonymous wrote in another post, "I am a parent of a soon to be 10th grader at SHS. What reform is set to follow for us?"

By SHS, do you mean "Schenley at Reizenstein"? If so, I believe that for current 10 - 12th grades not much reform is planned-the idea seems to be to wait for Schenley to "fade out." However, I did hear something about IS students being required to change to IB- I'm not sure if that is all students, but if so the IS/IB program would be "re-formed" to an entirely IB program.

Monday, July 28, 2008

CAPA merger report

Does anyone have a copy of the report done by the CAPA merger committee? If so we could make it available for future reference through our website.

Monday, July 21, 2008

PURE Reform

This is the place to ask questions, leave comments or otherwise make yourself heard about the Pittsburgh Public Schools reform plans.