Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Looking elsewhere

On the December "Start a new post," Anonymous wrote:

Look at what is happening at high schools elsewhere, that go beyond test preparation and offer things like video production (it's worth watching the creative and entertaining videos mentioned in this link):

December 23, 2009 12:02 AM

Friday, December 18, 2009

Hearing on Monday re: closing of Rooney

From the PG:

- Beyond Rooney is the issue of continued piecemeal closings without an overall equitable, logical and comprehensive plan for schools and where they will be located.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Foundations will pay $200k in taxes for superintendent

From the PG:

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Factors for merit pay plan

From the PG:

Monday, December 14, 2009


On the December "Start a new post" Anonymous wrote:

"From the HP newsletter:

Au revoir Fulton?

Pittsburgh Public Schools recently released a facilities study by DeJong that recommends closing Fulton Elementary. All Highland Park residents and home owners have a vested interest in keeping Fulton open.

In a separate report, A+ schools indicates Fulton student performance continues to increase (3rd gr. Reading 76%, 3rd gr. Math 78%, 5th gr. Math 89%). The principal, Mr. Kevin Bivins, has been leading and succeeding in his efforts to turn around and improve the school. As parents of a Fulton first-grader, we have been and continue to be happy with the education our daughter receives.

When my husband and I moved to Pittsburgh we looked for a neighborhood that would be family friendly. We fell in love with Highland Park. We’ve had such positive experiences with raising our children here: taking them to the playground, birthday parties or Jazz in the park, and bicycle parades on the 4th of July.

When our older daughter, Helena, was in pre-school at St. Andrews we began learning more about the magnet lottery. We weighed pros and cons for the Dilworth, Liberty, and Montressori magnets as well as the relocated French magnet at Fulton. We were very interested in her having a foreign language. To preview every school we had to schedule during a specific week, except at Fulton.

Mr. Bivins, the principal at Fulton French Magnet School was at the Bryant Street Festival. I asked, “When could I schedule to see the school?” His response? “You can’t. I want you to come in whenever you want. I want parents to see my school at any time”.

Helena’s kindergarten experience exceeded our expectations. Since Mr. Bivins has taken over as principal the reading and math scores have improved dramatically. He has made tough choices to resolve the previous 5th grade gap in reading performance. For the first time in 20 years Fulton has a waiting list for kindergarten. Attendance is up at all grade levels. As Fulton French Magnet School continues to improve it is also growing as an asset to our community.

The Highland Park community attracts young families for the same reasons we chose this wonderful neighborhood. Having not one, but two high quality schools in the neighborhood is a definite draw. As homeowners, we have watched our property values rise steadily as the entire neighborhood has been revitalized.

The recommendation to close the school is largely based on two significant and expensive maintenance issues. First is the addition of an elevator to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Second, the DeJong report claims a total replacement of the slate roof is required. According to the report the Fulton repairs would total an estimated $10.9 million.

If Fulton were to close, the current students would be forced to go to Fort Pitt ALA, K-5 in Garfield Heights. In comparison, the required repairs the DeJong report recommends for Fort Pitt are estimated to total $14 million.

To help insure that this report does not spell the end of the Fulton French Magnet Elementary school in our community, please take 5 minutes and make the following phone calls.

call Mark Roosevelt, Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent at 412-622-3600
call Dara Ware-Allen, our School Board Representative at 412-622-3500

Efforts to keep Fulton French Magnet Elementary open are being spearheaded by Tiffany Best. For more information and other ways you can help call Tiffany at 412-726-9300 or e-mail

We wish to thank to the Highland Park Community Club for their time and support with this issue of critical importance to our entire neighborhood.

For more information about this story please feel free to contact us:
Michelle Boyle
Ray Roberts"

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Merit pay plan for teachers

From the PG:

Saturday, December 12, 2009

"America's best high schools"

PG report on US News list of best high schools. PPS on the list are CAPA in the gold category and Brashear in the bronze category.

One year community planning process

On the December "Start a new post," Annette Werner wrote:

"At a meeting on the North Side called by Board member Mark Brentley, community members expressed strong support for the idea of a one year moratorium on school closings to allow time for a city wide community planning process.

Concerns included North Side middle school students not in a magnet having no option other than Arsenal Middle School in Lawrenceville, and Oliver High School students not in a magnet having no option other than crossing a river to Langley."

Gender specific classes

At this week's legislative review, administrative staff mentioned that gender specific classes had begun at Milliones 6-8 and Westinghouse grade 9.

Board member Mark Brentley noted that the Board had been not been told that gender spcific classes were beginning and that he felt the Board should have been informed or even consulted. The district solicitor quickly noted that there was no legal requirement to inform Board members (or presumably the public) about this type of change.

It does seem strange not to tell a community in advance that their children's classes would become gender specific and to seek input on the topic. Some Westinghouse parents have reportedly complained about higher levels of fighting in the boys' classes and girls feeling left out.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Not free money

From the PG:

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said today that if the city's universities can't identify $5 million in contributions to his government's operations by Monday, he will urge city council to vote for a 1 percent tuition tax on Wednesday.

"If they come up with a $5 million annual contribution to the city of Pittsburgh, we would in turn be willing to remove the Fair Share Tax from the table," he said, using his term for the tuition levy.

He said the figure is less than the $6 million-per-year contribution he believes the city's tax-exempt institutions agreed to in 2004, and represents just one-third of the $15 million the city needs to replenish its pension fund. Not just the universities, but other tax-exempt institutions could contribute to a $5 million contribution, he said, adding that the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center might be excused due to its $10 million-a-year pledge to the Pittsburgh Promise for college tuition aid.

Read more:

Saturday, December 5, 2009

NAACP Protests

From the New Pittsburgh Courier:

The article explains that the goal of the 7 week marches is to prompt the school board and administrators to take action agains the racial achievement gap and differences in the way students are treated. According to the NAACP education committee, closing the gap means devoting more resources to black students, hiring better qualified teachers and ensuring that black students are expected to meet higher standards.

Milliones/ U Prep

Article about Milliones in the New Pittsburgh Courier:

A few interesting points. The article notes that the school offers all middle school sports and next year will offer all high school sports. It also answers the question of how they are managing all these teams in a single school: two gymnasiums, like Brashear. The article notes that the school is designed to have "no more than 600 total students" (although with current attrition rates it will have much fewer).

In comparison the IB school has one gym for a planned 1000+ students- raising the question of whether another gym is planned but the cost not included in facilities estimates, or if the intention is to maintain this disparity in facilities.

And raising the further question of why the the need for multiple gyms was not discussed when the 6-12 configuration was first proposed.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Public hearing is on an earlier day and time this month

Due to holidays this month's public hearing is early in the month- Monday, December 7.

It is also at an earlier time: 5:45 or whenever the preceding charter public hearing beginning at 5:30 is over. Arrive early (at 5:00) to join the NAACP-led march for educational equity.

At the November 23 Town Hall meeting parents, students and community members raised concerns about a range of issues that rarely come up at board meetings. It would be good for some of these concerns to be expressed at a public hearing.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


On another post anon1 wrote:

"Another thing to take a look at is the possibility of uniforms. Waiting until new configurations are established to allow parents to vote on the topic should not be necessary. I am sorry to say Mrs. Colaizzi's objections to uniforms is all wet and has gotten old. Can't somebody convince her it is okay to lose a battle once in a while? I may have a faulty memory but I believe Mr. Brentley and Mrs. Colaizzi are in the same camp on the subject. You need only to watch the Excellence for All TV show and see the poise students in uniform project to know it is a good idea. Isn't there some data on the value somewhere?"

"One meeting"

From the PG:

In a welcome step, the district's panel will observe the open panel today at 4:00. The open panel is expected to evolve into a task force and culminate in a report to the district and the community.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Alternative panel

Yesterday's PG described a panel being formed by the district to address secondary schools in the East End. The district did not announce formation of the panel in advance or release a list of panel members, meeting dates or agenda, and meetings are closed to public observation.

In response, two board members have announced formation of an alternate committee to meet at the same time at district offices. From the PG:

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Panel on east end high schools

From the PG, the District has formed a panel to discuss secondary schools in the East End.×tamp=1259666608830&javascriptEnabled=true

Once again the district has not released a list of members of the panel, and meetings are closed to the public. And, formation of the panel was not announced in advance. There seems to be a real fear of broad public awareness of these committees and how they operate.

Start a new post; search PURE Reform's blog

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".

To search PURE Reform's blog, use the "search function on the upper left of the blog.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Title IX audit report

On the October "Start a new post" Anonymous today wrote:

When is the Title IX audit report being released? Isn't it way over due?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

EFA report

For months PURE Reform has requested a report on the district's EFA goals. The 4 year EFA period ended with the 2008=2009 school year. The PG indicates that a report has been released:

Once again the benchmarks are described as "aspirational," even though at the time they were issued they were described as "How [the district] will hold [itself] accountable." Even small movement in the right direction is celebrated as "progress" toward the goal, regardless of how far off the result is from the benchmark that was set.

Report on EFA goals

PURE Reform has long requested a report on the district's EFA goals. The 4 year period set for the goals ended with the 200-2009 school year. The PG indicates that a report was issued this week.

Once again the benchmarks, which were presented as a means for "how [the district] will hold [itself] accountable," are described as merely aspirational. As long as there was some movement in the right direction on a goal, "progress" toward the goal is celebrated- even if the result is nowhere near the benchmark that was set and even though changes in district results in general mirror results for the state as a whole.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Office of Teacher Effectiveness director

From the PG, the district has named Sam Franklin to head the Gates initiative on teacher effectiveness.

Superintendent claims that African American test results "have exceeded our wildest expectations"

From the Tribune:

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

District hopes to avoid mistakes made with a prior large grant

From the Tribune- it's good to hear from someone with a historical perspective!

Report on EFA goals

From the PG:

Of 38 goals, 8 were met.

Townhall meeting coverage by PG

From the PG, coverage of Randall Taylor and Mark Brentley's townhall meeting:

Monday, November 23, 2009

A Plus Boardwatch report card

From the PG:

Pittsburgh Promise fundraising efforts

From the PG:

Keystone Achievement Awards

From the PG:

The article notes that in Pittsburgh "seven schools have received the award for all six years the awards have been given: Banksville PreK-5, Dilworth PreK-5, Linden K-5, Phillips K-5, Rogers CAPA middle school, Sterrett 6-8 and CAPA high school."

Four K-5 schools, two middle schools and no K-8 schools- but the district has moved away from the K-5/ middle school structure.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Townhall meeting w/ RTaylor and MBrentley on Monday

From the PG:

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Tuition tax/ Pittsburgh Promise

From another post:

Mark Rauterkus said...
Do you think the Pgh Promise Board should suspend Mayor Ravenstahl from his ceremonial role there (with the Pgh Promise) in light of his new dream / promise to tax college tuition?

November 18, 2009 9:20 AM
Questioner said...
People shouldn't be suspended from or kept off of boards, committees, etc. based on their positions on issues. More problematic is when a board or committee member has a conflict. The mayor ran into this issue himself when he complained that the board evaluating his proposal to tax college students included current and former college administrators.

November 18, 2009 9:37 AM
Mark Rauterkus said...
Should I jump to the Nazi counterpoint (famous in internet discussions) now or later?

I just posted about no time like the present on my blog.

Here is the thing. We don't allow those that abuse children to take care of our kids. That is a protective measure, understood. part of conventional wisdom.

The tax on tuition, something that Luke defends and hatched himself, moves one way. That direction is at the polar opposite of where the Pgh Promise is moving. It is counter productive squared.

Help like that, we need to scorn and live without.

November 18, 2009 9:46 AM
Questioner said...
It's a little different from child abuse. Child abuse is not a position on an issue, and it is illegal. In addition, the mayor could argue that a tuition tax will in the long run be best for students by supporting a healthy city; the same could not be said for child abuse.

November 18, 2009 9:51 AM
Mark Rauterkus said...
It is different, of course.

But, the tuition tax is illegal as well.

The tax on students goes to support the retired city workers, not a healthy city. We rob from the young and give to the retired.

November 18, 2009 10:21 AM
Questioner said...
But, if new ways are not found to support retired city workers the money will come out of other city services. It would be better to present and debate alternatives than remove the mayor from boards.

November 18, 2009 11:06 AM
Mark Rauterkus said...
Luke is in the boat and rowing the wrong way.

The sins of yesterday need not be paid off with the dreams of tomorrow.

Rather than cut off the future, just don't pay the past. JUST being the big word there.

That is the discussion not being dealt with. Chapter 1 = patronage. Chapter 2 = money for nothing. Chapter 3 = winning elections and keeping power. Knock yourself out with those debates.

The only way Luke stays where he is and got where he arrived is because of the old guard.

GM had legacy costs too. PAST workers who got paid for nothing makes life impossible unless the gov comes to stimulate.

If I'm on the Pgh Promise board and Luke wants to make the job impossible, in spirt and in terms of real losses to the program, then I'd show him the door.

Luke's talking about $15M per year. The Pgh Promise was to build to $150M forever.

That means in a decade or so, the Pgh Promise is gone. They only churned. That's what I mean as counter productive squared.

November 18, 2009 11:24 AM
lisa said...
if there is going to be a tax on college students, then WHY is it not the same amount for each student? How does a CMU student use so much more in city services than a Pitt student? Making the tax 1 percent of tuition just fosters more anger towards the tax. The 52 dollar emergency services tax is annoying, but at least its the same for everyone.

November 19, 2009 4:46 PM
Anonymous said...
Note to Mark, you're mixing apples and oranges here. I'm no fan of Mr.Ravenstahl and less of a fan of his tax proposal, but this is no time to play politics. It's always about the money.
The issue shouldn't be confused, however. Someone has said that UPMC, its director and leadership should be the ones targeted first and foremost for taxes and I can only concur. One need only look at the monster which is UPMC to understand that health care overhauls are sorely needed.
Yet, 1% of annual tuition is not going to jeopardize the Promise.I abhor the tax idea, but let's be honest.

November 19, 2009 8:41 PM
Mark Rauterkus said...
I am being honest.

What is an apple and what is an organge to you? Prove something in the post.

$15M tax per year = sucked from college spending

Pittsburgh Promise = college spending

In its life, the Pgh Promise = $150M = 10 years of tuition tax.

Apples & apples. $ & tuition. Subtract 1. Add another = Minus wins before you (& Luke) know it.

Bottom line. The tuition tax deflates the Pgh Promise. Tuition tax will wipe the Pgh Promise away.

November 19, 2009 10:00 PM
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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Gates Foundation Grant for teacher effectiveness

From the PG:

The amount offered is $40M but the district feels it needs $85M; it is not clear who will contribute the balance. A goal outlined in the proposal is to increase the percentage of teachers who produce gains significantly above the state average from 28% to 41%. (More information is needed on what a "significant" gain would be, given that the district has called gains of a few percentage points or less "significant"- do they mean gains that are measurable or "statistically significant"?). Another goal is to increase the HS graduation rate from 65% to 76% (since current graduation rates greater than 85% are often mentioned in district materials, the 76% must be under the "RAND method" which was used a few years back but never (publicly) updated).

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Public hearing/ protests re: treatment of black students

From the PG:

Monday, November 16, 2009

Community meeting w/ District 2 Director

On the November "Start a New Post," Kathy Fine wrote:

"I attended a community meeting at Dilworth School hosted by Dara Ware Allen, new school board director from District 2. There were four parents there as well as Ms. Ware Allen's family and School Board Director Bill Isler.

After a brief introduction of her background, Ms. Ware Allen asked for concerns/questions.

One parent said that she was impressed with the district's communication regarding the new magnet process, but expressed concern that if a student is applying to CAPA as their first choice and another magnet as their second, if they do not get into CAPA, they are not entered into the lottery for another magnet (I think because the admission processes are different for CAPA than the other magnets, students in the past would apply to CAPA and get in while taking a slot at one of the other magnets from someone else).

Two parents expressed concerns over the facilities study's recommendation to close Fulton, citing increasing enrollment and test scores.

I asked three questions/concerns:

Will she advocate for the reconstitution of the Peabody and IB site selection committees in light of the recommendations of the facilities report? Will she advocate for the formation of the Schenley committee and ensure that the membership is open to stakeholder's with diverse viewpoints?

The facilities reports was somewhat misleading by putting renovation costs in "like new" dollars. Estimating costs to make a building usable for 30 or so years would have been more relevant.

Will she advocate for more transparency/openness from the administration? I related how the district deflected my request for information regarding Excellence for All goals to the districts lawyers. Bill Isler stated that the information that I was requesting was in the A+ report, however review of that document revealed that some of the information was in the report, but most was not.

Ms. Ware Allen Wrote everything down on a large pad without comment except to clarify what the parents were asking."

Plan for city schools

From the PG "Plan for city schools could shuffle students again":

Monday, November 9, 2009

A+ troubled by PPS racial achievement gap

The PG notes that according to the PG, the PPS achievement gap in reading has widened since 2005 even while statewide the racial achievement gap in reading has decreased.

Plans for summer school

From the PG:

Friday, November 6, 2009

Hill District meeting on restructuring

From the PG:

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Year round school

On last month's post for this topic, Anonymous recently left this comment:

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Year round school":

"After recently touring a charter school which has always been yer-round, I am giving this more thougth and I must say I like the idea. Western PA in particular has a population high in thinkers of status quo as the only option. We seem to want the best outcomes but are unwilling to change our lifestyle to get it.

Funny story. A few years ago the PPS superintendent was fielding questions from parents about the amount of PSSA prep during a school day. The methods of getting ready varied from building to buildin and finally one Dad explained that he told his kid NOT to work on a PSSA Prep packet given as homework. The packet was given on a Friday and those hours between Friday at dismissal and Monday at first bell apparently should be off-limits for any learning. I find that the best work I do to help my kid with homework happens on weekends when we are less hurried and have the opportunity to take a rest and tackle it with a clear head. Call me crazy! P.S. I am bothered by ZERO comment count."

Posted by Anonymous to PURE Reform at November 5, 2009 9:11 AM

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Transportation and facilities

On another post Anonymous wrote:

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Coaches and looping":

"Where did the non-returning kids go? Parents are looking at options for 8th graders moving on to ninth and I feel strongly that the transportation system here is a serious drawback to promoting attending a magnet. Some neighborhoods are located in transportation friendly communities. South Side is one area where public transportation seems to be above average, but other southern neighborhoods provide fewer options. It would be interesting to see how many students getting bus passes to attend a high school magnet actually use the pass everyday. My informal polling tells me more kids get rides from parents and others than you might expect. This indicates a situation where students getting less support from home have options that require real dedication and desire on their part."

- 17 went to other Pittsburgh public high schools including 6 to Peabody and 5 to Brashear.

- 7 went to the Student Achievement Center or CEP

- 5 went to charter schools

- 3 went to private schools

- 1 moved out of state

- 19 are "inactive". It would include students who dropped out or moved out of the district or whose whereabouts are just unknown.

As for magnets, transportation does seem to be a huge issue. While people filling out forms may say "Kids can travel up to 45 minutes for a magnet program" in reality it would have to be one awesome program. Due to bus schedules you are probably looking at a kid leaving the house at about 6:30 am including in the cold, rain and ice, carrying a heavy bookbag and sometimes oversized projects and with pretty severe penalties for being late. In reality it's probably not something most would try without a parent with a car as backup. Central locations can help cut down travel hassles.

Neighborhood tensions

On another post Mark Rauterkus wrote:

"Would love to see a full-blown discussion on the blog in another thread about the perception of a civil war in our neighborhoods and how it is impossible for some to fathom a merger among different neighborhoods.

What's up with that?"

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Facilities consultant recommendations

From the PG:

Monday, November 2, 2009

Coaches and looping

Mark Roosevelt spoke to parents at the recent Excellence for All
> meeting. Video captured by Mark Rauterkus. On Mark's blog, points are being made about the overhaul of athletics and afterschool, in particular that there would be less of a
> pressing need to loop the teachers (ie, to have teachers follow the kids
> from 9th to 12th grade) when the kids are in sports and activities
> with empowered coaches.
> Full blog posting with the slide show:


School closing recommendations to be made today

From the PG:

"...schools and buildings DeJong Inc. recommends closing will be identified at a 5:30 p.m. meeting of the school board business and finance committee."

"Parents United for Responsible Educational Reform says it will demand ample opportunity for public input and documentation of how DeJong arrived at its recommendations. Also, group member Annette Werner of Shadyside said that when the district translates DeJong's report into a course of action, officials should present an entire plan rather than roll out pieces one at a time."

Year round school

From the PG Letters to the Editor "The education of a child goes beyond school" and "Family values":

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Start a new post; search PURE Reform's blog

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".

To search PURE Reform's blog, use the "search function on the upper left of the blog.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Secretary of Education says states set the bar too low

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Library closings/ school closings

Here's what the audit of proposed libary closings will cover, from the PG. It's an approach that would have been very useful in connection with Schenley.

• An assessment of the "reasonableness" of the library's financial projection.

• A determination of how much the library will save "by each branch closing, consolidation."

• An evaluation of "whether realistic alternatives were considered by library management/trustees."

• An evaluation of the criteria "for the changes in the branch operations as well as the application of those criteria to branches impacted by the closings."

• A comparison of budgets and business practices with "similarly sized and organized libraries . . .

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

New superintendent contract

Tribune article about the plan to get around the requirement under state law to wait until the final year of a contract before agreeing to a new contract, by having the superintendent resign and be hired under a new contract:

The article notes that terms of the new contract, such as any change in the amount of compensation, will not be disclosed until after a contract has already been approved.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


According to the Post Gazette, PPS K-12 enrollment as of October 6 is reported to be 26,123, only a 2% drop from last year's enrollment.

However, a spreadsheet adding the numbers for each school as reported by the Pittsburgh Board of Ed website on October 1, 2009 shows 25,769 and that includes preK students attending school in a PPS building. Last year the number of preK students in PPS buildings was well over 1,000, suggesting total K-12 enrollment of less than 25,000.

The number of K-12 students in PPS should be equal to the sum of the number of students in each Pittsburgh public school, less the number of preK students, so why aren't the numbers matching up? Any ideas?

IB 6-12
Allegheny 6-8
Allegheny K-5
Arlington Pre K-8
Arsenal 6-8
Arsenal Pre K-5
Banksville Pre K-5
Beechview Pre K-5
Brookline K-8
CAPA 6-12
Carmalt Pre K-8
Classical 6-8
Colfax K-8
Concord K-5
Dilworth Pre K-5
Faison Pre K-8
Fort Pitt Pre K-5
Fulton Pre K-5
Grandview K-5
Grennfield K-8
King Pre K-8
Liberty K-5
Lincoln K-8
Linden K-5
Manchester Pre K-8
Mifflin Pre K-8
Miller Pre K-5
Milliones 6-12
Minadea Pre K-5
Montessori Pre K-8
Morrow Pre K-5
Murray Pre K-5
Northview Pre K-5
Phillips K-5
Rooney 6-8
Roosevelt Pre K-5
Schaefer K-8
Schiller 6-8
Sci Tech
South Brook 6-8
South Hills 6-8
Spring Hill K-5
Sterret 6-8
Stevens K-8
Student Ach Ctr
Sunnyside K-8
Vann Pre K-5
Weil Pre K-8
West Liberty K-5
Westwood K-8
Whitier K-5
Woolslair K-5

Monday, October 19, 2009

"Academy" for new teachers

From the Tribune, Gates money is expected to fund an Academy that will among other things address "the belief system and mindsets" of teachers:

Sunday, October 18, 2009

IB program/ call for parent involvement

On the October "Start a new post," Anonymous wrote:

Schenley/IB parents left out of the loop again

A diploma program IB teacher recently related this story:

IB diploma teachers have been asking for a reconvening of the IB steering committee so that teachers in the diploma program could have a chance to have their voices heard and generate more parental involvement in the development of the IB 6-12 school. The DP coordinator has made this request for us several times to Cate Reid with either no response or a reply that she would get to that at some point in the future. Last week, the IB faculty worked together for 3 hours on some common issues regarding the program. There is a growing sense of unease among IB diploma teachers who feel like their concerns "from the trenches" are being dismissed and that the school is starting to feel like a big middle school rather than a complete IB program that blends a new program into a strong well-established one.

Again, the point was to have steering committee reconvened. Toward the end of the meeting, there was a brief discussion with a PFT representative, asking for the union's assistance in getting this steering committee back on track.

The union rep called Derek Lopez right there and reported back right after the phone call. Mr. Lopez said the committee is no longer needed, that the recommendations from the committee were now in the hands of Dr. Walters and that it was up to him to have implement those changes. This caught everyone off guard, including the several DP teachers who had been on the steering committee and felt that the job of the committee was far from done.

Schenley parents, IB parents -- are you still out there? Are you willing to roll up your sleeves again and help?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

"We can't reform education without fighting poverty"

From a letter in today's NYT:

"Disabled schools are just one product of governments at all levels that fail to provide impoverished families and communities with the resources to raise and educate children successfully.

How about turning schools in poor neighborhoods into year-round community centers, with health and dental services, nutritious meals, up-to-date-libraries and computer labs, after-hours tutoring and recreation for children, and job training, counseling, recrdation and educational classes for adults?....

Remaking schools into community centers... would be far more effective than allowing more charter schools and establishing a system of teacher merit pay..."

Friday, October 16, 2009

A love of learning

A suggested discussion for the weekend:

To what extent will changes made in PPS over the past few years foster a love of learning among Pittsburgh public school students?

More consulting contracts

From the PG:

On contract is for an online system to screen teaching applicants to select for certain personality traits.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Brain targeted teaching

Bonuses for administrators

On another post Anonymous wrote:

Where's the outcry, folks. Bonuses totaling $385,000 and NONE of these individuals are in the classroom. ZERO. ZIP. NONE.In particular, take a look at the central office raises.Unbelievable. What a great job. No wonder why so many people who can't make it as teachers stay in education. They simply go into administration.I'm just waiting to read the outcry here. I'm sure it's forthcoming. And I'm just as sure that when teacher negotiations begin, we'll remember these figures, right? You know--salaries and raises for individuals NOT in the classroom.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Testimony on limited opportunities for Schenley students

See the third testimony at .

Pittsburgh Promise delay in payments

On the October "Start a new post," Anonymous wrote:

It is October 13, and my child's Pittsburgh Promise has not been paid to the bursar's office of her school. If there is a Promise made, shouldn't that Promise be kept?!

Public Hearing testimony posted

PURE Reform's testimony from last night's public hearing has now been posted. Go to the website, announcements tab, and click on "PURE Reform Report" under the October 12, 2009 item.

It is premature to sign Roosevelt to an extension

Kathy Fine's Letter to the Editor is in today's PG:

Sunday, October 11, 2009

EPA tells schools to test caulk for PCB's

From the WSJ:

The article discusses a warning by the EPA regarding schools built or renovated between 1950 and 1978. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PBS), which have been linked to a variety of health ailments, were used to make caulk more flexible until 1978, when they were banned.

Aged caulk around windows and doors may now begin to peel, brittle or caulk and, according to the EPA, should be tested for PCB's and removed if there is a significant level of PCB's. According to the article, a NYC public school has been sued over this issue.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Lack of librarians at PPS

From the PG Letters to the Editor:

"The closing of Carnegie Library branches is a tragic circumstance. It is even more tragic for families and children when the following is considered: Nine Pittsburgh public schools currently have no librarian and no plans to hire new ones. Many, if not most, Pittsburgh public schools must share a librarian between two or even three schools -- cutting service to one or two days per week."

Friday, October 9, 2009

Promise contributions in lieu of the public service fund

From the PG:

"...Pitt officials noted that some organizations -- though not Pitt -- opted to give to the Pittsburgh Promise of college tuition aid rather than the Pittsburgh Public Service Fund."

- As a practical matter the UPMC contribution itself is in lieu of a contribution to the service fund. However, the public never had a voice in this matter, or even in the specifics of the program. This is because it was presented as "free money."

New Parent Portal

On the October "Start a new post," AmyMoore wrote:

Parent PortalAt the recent EFA meeting, Mark Conner told us that the Parent Portal is up and accessible to parents. The PP takes the place of the old dashboard and will hopefully be a more stable system. You can access it by going to the site and clicking on the link on the left that says Parent Portal.

To open a new account, you need the student's id number which can be found on old report cards or progress reports (which are due this weekend). Unlike the dashboard that required the parent to go to the school with a picture id, this portal can be accessed from home.

At this time the site will have the student's schedule, current grades(after report cards), achievement records including 2006 & 2009 PSSA scores , 4 Sight scores, and the student's permanent record, attendance records, enrollment history, and a magnet application. Additional info will continue to be added.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Possible new post-secondary scholarship program

From the Tribune:

This program also would pay tuition for students staying in PA for post-secondary education. The GPA requirement would be 3.0. The article does not discuss how it would mesh with the Pittsburgh Promise, but perhaps if a new program paid tuition the Promise could be used for room, board, books, etc.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Loophole lessons

From today's PG

"Loophole lessons

In regard to your editorial, "Option Year: Roosevelt Is Worth Locking Up In a New Contract" (Sept. 19), you mentioned how there is a state law that limits the contract for a Pittsburgh superintendent to six years and how you would be in favor of the board considering a loophole to keep Mr. Roosevelt. Would this be good use of a teachable moment?
How about teachers asking their students to find a local or state law and then looking at all the loopholes they can find to get around that law? Students who are successful at that assignment can grow up to be school board members, lawyers, business leaders, bankers, union leaders, editorial board members, etc.


PSSA science results

From the Tribune:

School by school results; Pittsburgh Public Schools start with # 13854 on the left.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Blue Ribbon School

It has been noted frequently that CAPA was chosen as a "Blue Ribbon School"- but what exactly does this mean?

Here is the link stating the purpose of the program: (to honor "public and private elementary, middle and high schools that are either academically superior or that demonstrate dramatic gains in student achievement to high levels" and "serve as models for other schools throughout the nation."

Here is the link for eligibility: (FAQ's).

Here is a link for the program at CAPA during the G-20:

School buildings that merge art and architecture with education

From the NYT, an article about schools that "challenge long-accepted notions dating back to the 1950's of school buildings as no-frills projects designed to fulfill safely specifications and to be completed as quickly and cheaply as possible..."

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Parents as partners

At last week's legislative meeting, board member Randall Taylor commended district efforts to strengthen the role of families in support of homework, and encouraged the board and Superintendent to further increase efforts to train parents to become important partners in their children's education.

There are of course some families not in a position to become partners, but that is no reason to give up on working with parents who do have the potential to become more involved. And for those who do not currently have that potential, a suggestion was made on this blog last month to have school social workers focus intensively on the most troubled families. In some schools 12 social workers might not be too many. One size does not fit all. For many parents expectations are too low, while others are not meeting the most basic requirements.

Early childhood center at the sci tech school

At last week's legislative meeting, 5 board members voted to place an early childhood center at the sci tech school. 3 members abstained and 1 member was absent.

An abstaining board member pointed out that space at the sci tech school is limited and that it is the board's stated policy to place ECC's at elementary schools as a means to encourage families to go on to enroll their children in that elementary school. Due to the lack of discussion, viewers were left to wonder and speculate as to the reasoning of the 5 members voting in favor of an ECC at the sci tech school.

Deliberations at board meetings

At the most recent legislative meeting, board members were repeatedly reminded that the meeting should focus on announcements (and presumably voting). Deliberations are to take place in committee meetings. Accordingly, announcements of a Halloween parade and the magnet fair were made.

However, while announcements may be useful, viewers are likely to be at least as interested in the deliberations and reasoning behind the legislative votes. New measures to put meeting minutes online will be of little use if the meetings consist of announcements of plays and events, as this information is more easily obtained by means other than reading minutes. If meetings are to be limited to announcements and yes/no votes, then deliberative meetings should also be televised or at least have minutes made promptly available.

Superintendent's goals

At this week's legislative hearing the superintendent's goals for the upcoming year were voted on. The goals have not yet been posted on the district's website. One board member noted that the goals were very general and that this contrasted to new processes being put into place to measure the progress of teachers.

Another board member pointed out that there is a measurable goal: progress on a majority of the 42 PSSA points. (The 42 points apparently come from the tests given in seven grades, 3rd through 8th plus 11th, multiplied by 2 for testing in Math and Reading. then multiplied by 3 to represent progress in decreasing the below basic percentage and increasing the proficient/advanced and the advanced percentages.)

A third board member said that measures for evaluation of the other goals would be developed by the time performance is evaluated next summer. However, it would seem unfair to hold the superintendent accountable for a measure not disclosed to him well in advance of next summer's evaluation. If there are to be measures other than the 42 points they will need to be developed very soon.

EFA goals and accountability

As discussed in PURE Reform's Featured Topics section, the initial four year period for Excellence for All goals has now been completed ( ). At last week's Legislative Hearing a board member asked about the EFA goals. Questions included whether these were authentic goals and whether new goals would be set.

Superintendent Roosevelt responded that at the time the goals were set, they made it very clear that these goals were just aspirational and confirmed that they expected to be judged on the extent the goals were met. He noted that there was progress on some goals but not others. For example, he noted that the goal for 3rd grade reading proficiency was 80% and that although actual 3rd grade reading proficiency at the end of the four year period was only 62%, that 62% represented 3/5 of the 80% goal. He also said that new goals would be set. When questioned about why we should not aspire to 100% advanced achievement, the superintendent said that the numbers chosen were intended as a way to mark progress and that while he is not contented he believes they did well.

However, rather than stating "We aspire to reach x% proficiency," the EFA objectives state that given percentages of students "will be" proficient. Moreover, the goals seemed to be very precise, actual targets- for example, "58% of 11th grade students will be Proficient in Math." The choice of numbers like 58% rather than a rounded number like 60% gives the impression of specific rather than general goals. There does not seem to be any indication at all that the goals were aspirations.

And, even if the heading "How We Will Hold Ourselves Accountable" referred only to accountability for some unstated degree of progress, it is important to remember that the starting proficiency percentage was not zero. For example, starting proficiency for 3rd grade reading was 50%, so that a 12 percentage point gain to 62% proficiency was only 40% of the targeted 30 percentage point improvement.

The next EFA plan should set forth the percentages that will actually be considered sufficient progress along the path to 100% proficiency.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Special ed and inclusion

Some very informative new information was added today to the September post on special ed and inclusion. So that it is not overlooked, it is being added below for an October post.

September 23, 2009

PSSA/ special education/ inclusion
This PG article explains how the special education subgroup is measured for AYP purposes, and suggests that the need to meet PSSA standards may be prompting some districts toward greater inclusivity of special ed students: also notes an upcoming change in state standards that will make it easier for districts to make AYP in the special ed subgroup.
Posted by Questioner at 9:48 AM


Stephanie said...

I have been involved as a parent advocate for my daughter and other children with disabilities for the past 20 years. I wanted to share my perspective of the impact of excluding students with disabilities has on our districts AYP scores. Please bear with me on this lengthy posting. I will post this in 3 sections.

PPS used to have a REAL Inclusive philosophy where many students with special needs participated in regular education classes with non-disabled peers.

Many years ago advocates fought to have students with special needs included into the PSSA numbers because it forced the teachers and administration to teach the kids what everyone else was learning. Not a dummied down curriculum or a different curriculum. We welcomed NCLB and the high expectations that every child should and could learn, including students with disabilities, and it held school districts accountable.

Also during this time there was a decision on a 10 year lawsuit called GASKIN. The lawsuit states students with disabilities have been denied their federal statutory right to a free appropriate public education in regular classrooms with necessary supplemental aids and services. In particular, the plaintiffs allege that PDE has systematically failed to enforce the provisions in federal law requiring local schools and school districts to offer a full continuum of support services allowing disabled children to be educated in regular classrooms. Out of this Gaskin case, came a type of monitoring tool that forced districts to collect data and show where each student with disabilities were being educated.
October 1, 2009 2:05 PM

Stephanie said...

This tool is called Penn Data (LRE Monitoring). This database told PDE if school districts were choosing to include students with all other non-disabled peers in the general education classes or if they were choosing to exclude students by sending them to full day programs in special education classes or to center schools. With this data, the Gaskin panel then labeled each district as being on a Tier.

Not being on a tier was the best, Tier 3 was being watched. Districts in Tier One or Tier Two would be subjected to new requirements as part of PDE’s regular cyclical monitoring of all 501 Pennsylvania districts. As part of the cyclical monitoring process, districts in Tier One or Two Tier would be obligated to provide data on inclusion practices and undergo specific staff training designed to target the particular LRE deficiencies identified in compliance monitoring. We can tract this via /Penn DATA and Gaskin Tier process that PPS went from not being on the watch list to tier 3 in 2005-2006, tier 3 in 2006-2007, tier 2 in 2007-2008, tier 2 in 2008-2009.
October 1, 2009 2:06 PM

Stephanie said...

Prior to 2005, the Pittsburgh Pubic School District was not on the list because PPS was the MODEL district for including students with disabilities, the best and correct way (with supports!). The students with special needs were doing a good job and making progress toward meeting AYP, and the students were being taught the regular education curriculum to the best of the teacher’s abilities with appropriate supports and the kids were being successful. At this time, the Students with Exceptionalities department was run by a special education director who cared about parents, teachers and students.

When MR was hired the Director of Students with Exceptionalities position was changed, a different director was put into place and all of a sudden many students stopped being included and were being put into more restrictive placements, like special education classes all day or placing them outside the district in segregated places and programs.

Including students with special needs with appropriate supports was the key to success and AYP success! PPS used to have 3 full time inclusion specialists that moved around the district providing technical support to teachers and staff. Now, they don’t have any. This past year (2009) the school board voted to eliminate the Inclusion Specialists positions. The kids are not being exposed to the regular education curriculum, therefore not making progress in the general education curriculum or making AYP.
October 1, 2009 2:06 PM

amymoore said...

Thanks, Stephanie, for the additional information. I don't think many people really understand the issues as they relate to special education. Just this afternoon, I had a discussion with an AA friend who thought that the subgroup reporting causes more harm than good. By continually reporting that the school failed to make progress due to its subgroups, the subgroups are being blamed. Your comments show the other side of the argument: if the subgroups are not recorded separately, it is easy to ignore them.
October 1, 2009 2:34 PM

Start a new post; search PURE Reform's blog

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".

To search PURE Reform's blog, use the "search function on the upper left of the blog.

Monday, September 28, 2009

"Obama: More school, less play"

From today's PG:

The article notes that "Education Secretary has a vision of schools as the heart of the community."

- Investment in quality buildings in which people enjoy being for extended periods of time, located in places that are safe and easily accessible, would further this vision.

Extension of superintendent's contract beyond 2011 under consideration

From the PG, the current contract ends in 2011 but an extension beyond that time is being considered:

- The article mentions a desire for stability for the district, but there does not seem to be anything in place or planned that would prevent the superintendent from choosing to leave early, extension or not.

Saturday, September 26, 2009


On another post, Mark Rauterkus wrote:

"What areas within PPS are sources for great trust for you?"

Thursday, September 24, 2009

"When I Ruled the World"

A new marketing video for the Pittsburgh Promise is set against Coldplay's "When I Ruled the World." It shows images of Jonas Salk and steel mills and makes observations along the lines of "once Pittsburgh mattered in the world" and that it is up to our current generation of students to make it matter again.

Of course our students should be inspired to achieve, but this video just seems off, especially given the commentary about Pittsburgh in connection with the G-20 summit. News reports include headlines like "What a difference 25 years made in Pittsburgh; Hope, grit, sweat resurrected a city felled by rust" and point to Pittsburgh as a model for green and sustainable projects and economic transformation in general. And certainly there were accomplishment between Jonas Salk and green buildings... Andy Warhol and Dr. Thomas Starzl (liver transplanation) come to mind. Of course more can be done, but "sweep the streets I used to rule" does not seem to fit the city that in a single year won both the Super Bowl and the Stanley Cup!

PPS celebrates even its own modest accomplishments. It would be hard to believe that actual Pittsburghers had any role in making this video.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The District works for the taxpayers

On the September "Start a new post," Anonymous wrote:

Last night, the Jefferson Hills School District suspended its superintendent for attempting to preclude the hiring of a well respected and well qualified teacher in one of the Thomas Jefferson School District buildings. While the superintendent was within her rights to not hire the teacher, she apparently went the extra mile in insuring she would not be a full time staff member.

This item spoke volumes to me.

A hundred parents came out in support of a teacher who was heretofore simply a sub. A school board kept in mind that the most valuable commodity a district has is its teachers. It kept in mind that it works for the taxpayer. A superintendent was presented with the fact that she too works for the taxpayer, and that her teaching staff is the most valuable asset where employees are concerned.

And then I remembered where I live.

I remembered a school board that is clueless about teaching staff and its value, that plays politics instead of prudence where voting is concerned, that honors a superintendent that has largely destroyed education in the district and placed more unqualified individuals in administrative positions than the Bush administration.I remembered that it would appear that no one has the guts to remind our leadership that the interest of the students and their taxpaying parents come first, that the teachers are the ones pushing forth learning, and not someone so out of touch that one would think he is reading a fairy tale.

Thanks, Thomas Jefferson. You've renewed my faith. Somebody in this region has it right.

Posted by Anonymous to PURE Reform at September 23, 2009 9:18 PM

PSSA/ special education/ inclusion

This PG article explains how the special education subgroup is measured for AYP purposes, and suggests that the need to meet PSSA standards may be prompting some districts toward greater inclusivity of special ed students:

It also notes an upcoming change in state standards that will make it easier for districts to make AYP in the special ed subgroup.

PSSA/AYP/struggling districts

From the PG:

The article notes that PA's State Education secretary reports that 95 percent of districts and 78 percent of schools meeting their AYP targets. The article notes that

"Because schools and districts received credit for improvement or growth, some districts made AYP even though their scores were considerably below the state targets for proficiency.
One dramatic example is the Duquesne City School District, which made AYP, where just 6.3 percent of the high school students scored proficient or above in math and 25 percent in reading."

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Graduate Pittsburgh Summit

- Something we really need!:

November 12, 2009
YWCA of Greater Pittsburgh (Downtown)

More than one million American high school students drop out every year.
That’s one student every 26 seconds, and nearly 7,000 young people every school day.

As part of the national Dropout Prevention campaign, 105 summits are being held in states, cities and communities nationwide over the next two years to stimulate discussion of the problem and generate solutions.

On November 12, 2009, Mayor Ravenstahl is hosting the “Graduate Pittsburgh Summit: Creating a Community-wide Strategy to Combat the Drop-out Crisis,” at the YWCA (Downtown) in an effort to develop a localized action plan to increase graduation rates and improve college readiness in our community.

Please feel free to circulate the attached “SAVE THE DATE” throughout your network. The invitations will follow.

For more information on the Graduate Pittsburgh Summit please contact ……..

Thank you for your assistance.

Sabrina S. Saunders, MSPL
Manager of Youth Policy

Office of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl
541 City-County Building 414 Grant St. Pittsburgh, PA 15219
412.255.2637 direct 412.255.2258 assistant 412.255.2174 fax

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Asbestos inspection report

At yesterday's public hearing, PURE discussed the results of a plaster inspection at three Pittsburgh public schools. The complete discussion is at the bottom portion of this page:

PURE noted that

'The report shows numerous areas of plaster damage in these schools. In 30 to 40 classrooms at each school, there was an area of damaged plaster where repair was listed as a “high priority”'

and called for an evaluation by an independent expert of the risks and relative condition of the plaster in these schools and the Schenley building.

State/ Pittsburgh PSSA comparison

At yesterday's public hearing, PURE Reform presented charts comparing State of Pennsylvania and City of Pittsburgh PSSA scores over the past four years. The complete presentation including charts is at

From PURE's report:

First, it is interesting how city scores and state scores tend to follow the same trajectory, rising and falling from year to year by similar percentages. In other words, each time the scores went up or down in the PPS, these results were nearly identical in the statewide results. This pattern raises the question of whether tests are easier or more difficult in particular years. We will be following up on that question.

Second, we all know that urban school districts tend to have lower levels of proficiency than the state average. However, we were interested in how the PPS is doing in closing the gap between local and state scores. What we found is that for most grades the gap has pretty much stayed the same or grown. Out of the scores evaluated from 2004-05 to 2008-09, only four comparisons showed any decrease in the gap between PPS and statewide scores while ten comparisons showed no change or an actual increase in the gap. These findings make it clear that we have much work to do to ensure that our students are prepared to be competitive in an increasingly competitive job market.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Milliones enrollment

On the September "Start a new post," SolutionsRUs wrote:

Interesting note: The PPS "flagship school" known as University Prep or Pittsburgh Milliones has open slots in 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th grades.

I have been puzzled from this school's inception that a district that prides itself on using data and best practices would ignore the many experts that say that poor students concentrated in one school often fare less well than poor students in schools with a more diverse socioeconomic population.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

President's address to America's schoolchildren

The transcript is available at:

High school students at "below basic"

On the August post about trends in high school achievement, Anonymous wrote:

"Looking at only the % of kids that are advanced or proficient does not take into account whether or not kids are progressing from below basic to basic. Increasing percentages of advanced kids could still mean a growing achievement gap if the below basic kids aren't taken into account also."

This was an interesting question and so PURE graphed the trend in the portion of students at the below basic level for the classes of 2005 through 2010. Again the approach is longitudinal, showing the percentage of students in these classes at the below basic level in grade 8 and again in grade 11. Results are in the bottom two graphs at and show a recent increase in students at the below basic level.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

PSSA and AYP results for 2008-09

Results can be found at:

AYP reading target met through new "growth model"

From today's PG:

The article reports that for the grade 3-5 span the district easily met the math target without any special allowances, but that for reading AYP was met based on a new "growth model" measurement created by the state.

State audit of CTE curriculum

From today's PG:

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

"106 ways parents can help students achieve"

One of PURE Reform's core values is parent engagement.

In recognition of the start of a new PPS year tomorrow, here is a link to a list of "106 ways parents can help students achieve." The publication points out that between birth and age 18 children spend just 9% of their time in school and notes that after decades of research, "the link between parental involvement and higher student achievement is undeniable."

This list was brought to our attention earlier this year by one of the PURE blog's commentators. Please post any additions to the list or comments that are especially relevant to PPS.

PPS classroom and school blogs

On the September "Start a new post," Mark Rauterkus wrote:

Where are the best classroom and school blogs in PPS? them above.

September 2, 2009 8:27 AM

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Start a new post; search PURE Reform's blog

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".

To search PURE Reform's blog, use the "search function on the upper left of the blog.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

$50 million requested to improve teacher effectiveness

From today's PG:

- As a starting point, it would be interesting to know if institutions like Pitt's School of Education have looked into improving teacher effectiveness, what was done and when, and what the results were.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Transparency Watch by Topic

PURE Reform's Transparency Watch has been updated and organized by topic and is available at:

Middle grades summer camp

From the PPS website:

Summer Middle-Grades Program

Save the date for next summer: July 12 – August 13!*

A Premier Summer Camp… for FREE!

Pittsburgh Public Schools is proud to announce the launch of the 2010-2011 summer camp (name to be determined by the community) for all 2009 – 2010 5th, 6th, and 7th grade students. The summer camp will offer a comprehensive approach to literacy, life skills, high school and college readiness, and of course summer fun. Students will participate in literacy instruction and extracurricular activities infused with themes to broaden their exposure to the community and the world around them. Each camp location will be themed and students will have the option to choose their themed site. In addition to participating in daily literacy instruction and activities, campers will also have the opportunity to engage in fun activities every afternoon through partnerships with organizations around the city of Pittsburgh. (Are you an organization interested in becoming an Activities Partner?)

*Dates are tentative

- Is PPS up to running a summer camp, with so much already on its plate?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Title IX Audit

On the August "Start a new post," Anonymous wrote:

The Title IX audit results should have surely been announced by now. Remember the Board made a big deal out of this "self-audit" they paid Peggy Pennepacker $10,000 for. I don't know of one person who ever saw the woman. The Board shouldn't need this much time to take her "results" and put their own PR spin on it.

Posted by Anonymous to PURE Reform at August 27, 2009 6:45 AM

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

"SAT scores slip as gap widens for minorities"

From today's WSJ:

The article notes that results are "discouraging in light of a more than 25-year effort to improve U.S. education" and that gains on state tests often are not reflected on national tests.

However, it also notes that a record number of students took the exam and that while in 1999 only 29% of test takers were minority students, in 2009 40% were minorities.

For a meaningful measure of progress or lack of progress, it would seem that adjustments should be made to reflect factors such as the percentage of test takers from low income families.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

High school achievement levels shown in new Featured Topic

A new Featured Topic has been posted showing the progress of the classes of 2005 through 2010 in reaching proficency during each class's first three years of high school. Go to:

School board appointment

From the PG:

Lawsuit involving harrassment

On the August "Start a new post," Anonymous wrote:

Sexual Harassment Article in PG

Is anyone else bothered that the leadership in this new 6-12 school will be the same administrators and counselors in this article about Frick? If people are truly concerned about 11 year old girls being in the same building as 18 and 19 year old young men (I know, I know, they're in different wings), why aren't parents up in arms about this article? Parents and a few teachers have expressed similar concerns about this kind of behavior being tolerated way too much at Frick. A couple teachers have even told me that their attempts to intervene in similar situations have often been ignored or even twarted by the principal. Is anyone out there discussing this?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Lunch schedule

Some high school students are reportedly scheduled for lunch at 10:00.

Does this raise any issues? For example, if a student entitled to a free lunch eats at 10:00, is that meal sufficent to allow a student to participate in after school activities which may last until late afternoon?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

ACT results suggest most students unprepared for college

WSJ article:

Of four subjects- English, reading, math and science- students were least prepared for college science.

The article also notes that according to a Department of Education report released in April of this year, US high school students "haven't made any significant progress in reading or math for nearly four decades." This study was based on National Assessment of Education Progress results. It quotes a representative from an advocacy group who notes that the class of 2009 was in the 5th grade when NCLB was passed.

Initiative to determine equality in city schools

PG article describing project by A+ schools:

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Pennsylvania state test results

More test stuff...

A PG article reports that Pennsylvania was the only state whose public schools showed improvement in both reading and math at three achievement levels for 2002-2008.

The president of the organization that prepared the report noted that both state and local action were likely responsible. He did not however address the issue of whether there are safeguards in place to prevent states from making tests easier each year.

Tribune article on regression of classes' PSSA proficiency scores over time

From yesterday's Tribune:

PPS expected to receive a Gates grant

From today's PG:

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Exit exams

On another post, deegazette wrote:

My opposition to exit exams comes from a taxpayer's perspective. We CAN'T afford them right now. I thought we had dodged that bullet for the foreseeable future. I make it a rule to not disparage on blogs but here's an exception: Tell those knuckleheads in Harrisburg to back off and invest in education initiatives that have more positive impact.

August 18, 2009 9:21 PM

Monday, August 17, 2009

PURE Reform testimony posted

PURE Reform's testimony from today's public hearing has now been posted. Go to the announcements page and click on today's date, "PURE Reform Report."

Topics included a longitudinal look at PSSA scores (ie, following the same class over time) and the trend in PPS PSSA scores from 2000-2001 to the present. Also the next installment of Transparency Watch was presented.

In addition, a number of speakers from the Pittsburgh NAACP spoke about the NAACP's strong opposition to the recent proposal for graduation exams.

Public schools try public relations push

From today's Wall Street Journal, "Hard-hit schools try public relations push":

PPS is mentioned.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Downward spiral?

Monday' s PPS press release quotes the PA Secretary of Education as stating:

"Six years ago it appeard as though Pittsburgh schools were in an irreversible downward spiral."

However, reports from 2003 and 2005 do not seem to show a downward spiral.

See this RAND report for 1997-2002 page 17 showing an upward trend in PPS scores and a narrowing of the gap between PPS and state PSSA scores:

See also this 2005 report by the Council of the Great City Schools (page 24):

It would probably be helpful to compare progress between 2001-2005 and 2005-2009, also taking into account demographic changes that may have taken place during that period.

More than half PPS make AYP

From the PG:

The article notes that 7 of 9 middle schools made AYP, but only one high school made AYP.

And, that 16 of 18 K-5 schools made AYP, but only 5 of 14 K-8 schools.

So, in terms of making AYP, the most successful configuration seems to be K-5 and 6-8- even while middle schools are being eliminated.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

"Substantial progress?"

The district's report to the Education Committee states that

"In 2006-2007 the District made modest growth in student achievement."

"In 2007-2008 the District made substantial progress across the board."

"In 2008-2009 the District continued to make substantial progress in student achievement at almost all grade levels."

Overall, the impression is that substantial progress was made over the past 3 years, but how well does the data support these claims?

In reading from 2005-2006 to 2008-2009 the change in proficiency was:

Grade 3 51.3% to 62.3%

Grade 4 54.6% to 56.2% Less than 2 percentage point increase

Grade 5 47.6% to 52.1%

Grade 6 51.2% to 47% Decrease

Grade 7 53.6% tp 54.8% Less than 2 percentage point increase

Grade 8 58.3% to 71.4%

Grade 11 51.5% to 50.7% Decrease

So, while progress in reading in three grades over the last three years truly does seem to be "substantial," it is difficult to see how progress in the other four grades can be considered "substantial."

Sunday, August 9, 2009

EFA PSSA goals- four year results

PURE Reform's summary of the results for the district's PSSA goals for the 2004-05 to 2008-09 period has now been posted. Go to the Featured Topics tab of and click "Excellence for All Goals: Results".

The summary shows that 6 of the 19 PSSA goals were met and that 5 of the 6 successful goals were for 8th grade.

Friday, August 7, 2009

New fitness opportunity at Schenley; fitness challenges for students

On the August "Start a new post," Mark Rauterkus wrote:

It is time to play water polo. At Schenley in the fall, at JCC Monroeville in the evenings in August, at Citiparks' Hill District's Ammon Rec Center pool in days in August (11 am), and elsewhere.

Let's talk about productive, fit, challenges for our kids beyond the school year and school day. What did you do this summer for enrichment? What's up next? Are you and your kid going to run the Great Race?

August 7, 2009 8:55 PM

Start a new post; search PURE Reform's blog

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".

To search PURE Reform's blog, use the "search function on the upper left of the blog.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

PELA questions

On the July "Start a new post" what next wrote:

This question concerns PELA. The PPS website provides minutes of legislative board meetings and the ability to watch previous board meetings. PELA was mentioned during the press conference at Sunnyside on the PSSAs. The June legislative meeting included time spent on PELA (pages 313-315 minutes). Is PELA to principals as Broad is to superintendents? IS PPS in such dire need of principals that we open PELA to non-PPS principal recruits? How do individuals outside PPS even know how to apply to PELA? Do we advertise in a magazine that we have the academy available? When the grant money used to begin PELA is all gone will it continue?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

PPS requesting input in planning for summer literacy programs

Announcement from Mark Conner:

Calling all future middle school parents,If you have a child that will be in middle school (6th through 8th grade) during the 2010/11 and or 2011/12 school year and even if you don’t, your input is requested and severely needed. As we discussed in May, the focus of the ARRA or “economic stimulus” money will be on middle school literacy. We know that literacy is the most important skill a child can learn; a literate child can go anywhere. It is also true that many kids that drop out in 9th grade do so because of academic problems, we want to end that Now. You also know that we plan on extending the school year through the use of summer camps…this is where you come in. We have hired an exciting team of people to plan and implement these summer programs, they have made parent engagement a top priority and they want you involved from the beginning. Join us and meet the team on August 27, 2009 at 6:00 at the Hill House, 1835 Centre Ave. (Hill District)Please RSVP to Wanda Spencer at or call at 412-622-3617. Light refreshments will be served so it is important you respond. Thank you in advance for making yourselves available during the summer; we appreciate your help in designing programs that will benefit our students. Mark A. ConnerDirector of Family and Community EngagementPittsburgh Public Schools341 S. Bellefield Avenue, Ste 422Pittsburgh, PA 15213Phone: (412) 622-3941 E-mail:

PSSA 2009 Preview

From today's PG:

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Retaining PPS families

This seems to be a perennial topic...

From another post:

Anonymous said...
As a PPS Parent, PPS Teacher I am scared for the future of our schools. The money wasted? How about that rally for district employees. I was told that the money was fondation money and if it was not used it would be lost. It was used, but it was a waste. These foundations dictate how the money is to be spent, none of the money goes directly to teaching or even to our crumbling schools.

What is scary is all the house for sale signs I see all over the South Hills part of the city, Brookline, Westwood, Banksvile, ect. people are not complaining to the school board, there leaving. I have two on my street and they have school age children. When Thompson dropped the residency requirement for teachers many of my comrades ran for the suburbs. I stayed out of a sense of pride, being a PPS grad. The way things are going maybe I should reconsider. I have to say I considered leaving the district as a teacher the last few years because of the hostile enviroment I have to work in.
Frustrated and losing hope
July 21, 2009 2:07 PM

Parent said...
I agree that many people don't bother to complain or to do so very loudly. They figure this is what the city offers and they should take it or leave it -- and many choose to leave.

Parents that do get involved have generally been those more likely to stick around in the past. However, under this administration particularly, the more involved you become (particularly outside of a single classroom or school) the more quickly you realize that the devotion to "parent engagement" is a crock.

They handpick parents to be on various committees and then say that parents were involved. Most parents and teachers I know who have been on some of these committees figure out pretty quickly that they're being shepherded through a process designed to get the outcome they planned on.

It's not a good combination for successful schools -- letting the less involved just slip away and make those who want to stay and be involved in improving schools increasingly cynical and angry and aware of how very little impact they can have. I think teachers see this too -- you can either be a part of their already made plans and have no real influence using your own knowledge or you can shut up and do what you can in your own classroom can leave.
July 21, 2009 2:23 PM

Anonymous said...
Re: parents/teachers figuring that outcomes have already been decided- committee member attendance seems to go way down after the first meeting or two. Many people seem to find the committees are not what they hoped, or to decide they are not worth the time.
July 21, 2009 2:49 PM

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Candidates Identified

Since the "Candidates not identified" post changed partway through to "Candidates Identified," this new post will be for discussion of the candidates.

From the "not identified" post:

Questioner said...
Updated article describing the applicants.
July 15, 2009 1:08 AM

Anonymous said...
I'm glad that the names of the applicants were published but there is no mention of the fact that 2 of the applicants from Highland Park have never had children in the PPS. Both of them have sent all of their children through the Sacred Heart-Central Catholic route. In fact, the mayor didn't go to public school either! One of the applicants was on the high school reform team, so we can most likely expect an alliance with the MR administration. She is also the mother of a toddler, and will also be in the same position as Heather Arnet as a working mother who will have to leave her child to come to the numerous meetings (too many) that the school board has.

There is no mention as to where Shannon Barkley lives, and is Downtown, where Matt Harm lives, in District 2?Lastly, there is still no mention of a very real reason that Heather Arnet is no longer on the board- she will be moving out of the city and the PPS district. Her house has been sold and she is in the moving process.
July 15, 2009 8:49 AM

Mark Rauterkus said...
It is bad when Board members 'bail.' And, H.A. is not the first. Dan R did too, (thankfully).Interesting to note that some of the 8 are NOT even in the district. Could this be true? And, Dick S. - OMG. That pick would be a hard one to cope with, short and long term.
July 15, 2009 10:25 AM

Anonymous said...
Let's face it. The mayor and Roosevelt will consult (despite saying otherwise)and will chose the person most likely to be an ally of Roosevelt's. I bet that the chances of one of the PURE Reform members getting it are slim to none. Roosevelt doesn't want anyone questioning his questionable decisions. That would be like letting a fox into the hen house.Re: Heather ArnetWhy is she leaving the city? Does anyone know?
July 15, 2009 10:45 AM

Anonymous said...
Unfortunately, anon is likely on target. I think most of the candidates are qualified to run, Ms.Fine especially. I think if anyone is lacking, it is Mr.Skrinjar and yet, given his connection to the O'Connor Administration and knowing how both the Roosevelt and Ravenstahl administration work, his appointment would not surprise me.With them, it's never what you know but where your allegiances lie. Please don't misunderstand me. I think that Dick is a good man, just not the right person for this position.
July 15, 2009 1:36 PM

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Many ALA vacancies posted

On the July "Start a new post," Anonymous wrote:

The most recent teacher postings included MANY ALA positions. Teachers can't change positions unless they are displaced or there is an opening somewhere because of retirement, resignation, etc. Where have/are all these people gone/going that there are so many vacancies? Also there were several positions that were one part in one building and another part in a differnt building. The next board minutes should reveal if there have been a number of retirements/resignations leaving all these positions open.

School board applicants not identified

From today's PG:

The article notes that three candidates have voluntarily identified themselves, but that the mayor's office is not identifying the remaining candidates because they were not told in advance that their names would be made public.

A spokesperson for the mayor indicated that candidates would be contacted and the office would consider releasing names after the appointment is made.

The article also refers to "demands of some PURE members that the new District 2 representative be more critical of the administration than Ms. Arnet had been." It is important to emphasize that to "be more critical" refers to the need when appropriate to critique or question more closely the administration's proposals, practices and announcements.

Monday, July 13, 2009

PSSA scores to be released

PSSA scores are to be released at a presentation by the district on July 23.

Ideally, the data would be released prior to the presentation so that those attending would have time to study the information and prepare questions in advance.

Here is a link to a useful article on how to evaluate results of this type of test. For example, city gains/losses should be compared to statewide gains/losses as a clue to whether the test has become easier or more difficult. State results should also be compared to results on national tests such as the Terra Nova and SAT.

While some may disagree with conclusions drawn by the article (for example, that more charter schools are needed), it does seem to provide information that will be very relevant in interpreting the upcoming PSSA results.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

"Lessons to be learned from dropouts"

From today's PG, deputy superintendent Linda Lane would like to investigate why students have dropped out and whether anyone reached out to these students prior to the time they dropped out.

"Fundraising not the only goal of Pittsburgh Promise"

From today's PG:

The article states that goals of the Pittsburgh Promise include "luring people back to the city after decades of neighborhood decline and spurring neighborhood revitalization," and that the Promise's executive director has stated that he wants to stop the population decline by 2012.

However, as has been noted in other PG articles, the rate of population decline has slowed and demographers are predicting a leveling of population. State department of health data shows live birth rates leveling off after 2001. So, Promise or not, it seems that Pittsburgh's population level is stabilizing.

For many people, though, the need to pay city taxes remains a great deterrent to living in the city. City taxes are not likely to be lowered until non-profits that operate similarly to for-profit companies pay taxes more like those for- profit companies.