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

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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!!

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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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