Friday, January 30, 2009

PURE Reform on WQED

PURE Reform will appear on five showings of WQED's Black Horizons with Chris Moore, with the firs showing this evening. PURE discusses Schenley High School and apparent inconsistencies in the district's reaction to asbestos plaster failure in various district school buildings. Dates and times are:

Friday January 30 10:00 PM (Comcast Channel 200)
Sunday February 1, 2009 2:00 PM (WQED)
Wednesday February 4, 2009 8:00 PM (WQED)
Friday February 6, 2009 10:00 PM (Comcast Channel 200)
Sunday February 8, 2009 2:00 PM (WQED)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Plans for Peabody

From today's PG, "School officials stress fate of Peabody still undecided":

The article notes that per the district Peabody's enrollment is projected to shrink from 489 to 168 by 2014.

If that figure is correct then the fate of Peabody is obvious. But what is the source of this projected 65% drop in enrollment? Pittsburgh's school age population is declining by only about 2% a year, and the East Libery area is experiencing a revitalization. Information about the source of this enrollment projection should be obtained without delay.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers

On the "Bill Gates" post Anonymous wrote:

Many teachers have come to look at the PFT as being a shell of what it once was, a group that at one time did teachers a great good in garnering better salaries and working conditions. That time has come and past a decade or more ago. We now have secret votes for contracts and union positions and as such, few veteran teachers look upon PFT leadership as being a beacon that will lead our cause.In fact, the 50% policy was endorsed by PFT leadership, as were most issues that now affect the daily classroom teacher. This is a bleak time for caring teachers within this district. Parents should know what is going on.
January 28, 2009 2:25 PM

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Bill Gates: Small schools fell short

From today's PG, an editorial on "Bill Gates 2.0":

"Many of the small schools that we invested in did not improve students' achievement in any significant way... [S]maller size by itself proved disappointing."

"It is amazing how big a diference a great teacher makes versus an ineffective one... Research shows that there is only half as much variation in student achievement between schools as there is among classrooms in the same school. If you want your child to get the best education possible, it is actually more important to get him assigned to a great teacher than to a great school."

Monday, January 26, 2009

IB High School/ 13th year component

From Mark Rauterkus's blog:

I.B. High should have a 13th year component. New Prep School options for PPS could do wonders.
Posted by Mark Rauterkus at 11:00 AM
A 2008 Schenley grad is now in North Carolina in prep school. (Deandre Kane, Schenley 08, Patterson School in 08-09). He plays basketball. He wants to get a full-scholarship. He wanted to do better in the classroom and in the sports arena. He is taking 13th grade.Many of the kids who go to West Point and the other military academies also go to a prep school.

The new I.B. High (whatever its name) could provide a 'prep school experience' -- as in 13th grade -- for all the kids who graduate in good standing from any Pittsburgh Public School. This 13th grade option would help with students who want to get the full IB Diploma, but need more than 2 years to do the work, pass the tests, etc. The 13th grade option could be for kids who graduate from Westinghouse, Langley, Carrick, Perry, etc, -- who do not want to go straight into college. Perhaps, they didn't get the college of their choice. Rather, these students can take I.B. classes at IB High, save money, yet still get college credit (often) and mature in their book strength and test scores.

The leader of the Pgh Foundation, (Grant O) spoke at a public meeting last year (to Wireless Neighborhoods Annual Meeting) and he said that only 20% of the kids who graduate from college in PPS are able to graduate from college. The greater majority of the few that we do send to college don't succeed there.I.B. High could strengthen its numbers by offering 13th grade. Kids from suburban schools might choose to go here too. Tuition can be charged to those outside the district, of course.

The PREP experience is NOT like CCAC. Kids who go to CCAC begin the four-year eligibility clock in terms of NCAA sports participation. So, CCAC as a viable option is a problem for a kid who is working to get a sports scholarship. With CCAC classes, those students won't get the sport-scholarship aid nor even be recruited.

The 13th year option would have a wonderful impact with the FOUNDATION COMMUNITY and the Pittsburgh Promise. (It should, in my not so humble opinion.) It is not prudent to send kids to college and have them rack up costly tuition bills only flunk out. That would drain the hope and the limited funds associated with the Pittsburgh Promise. It would be better to pay for the Pittsburgh Public Schools to handle the delivery of 13th grade for some who really want to work at the rigor of the I.B. classes and exams -- and then go to college the following year. Pittsburgh Promise funds could be invested into Pgh Public Schools for this 13th year option as a prep year before college. We should investigate and discuss and perhaps INSIST that the new I.B.School have a 13th year program.

For the sake of clarity, do not confuse U-Prep with a Prep Year. Pittsburgh Public Schools is opening a University Prep School in The Hill District. It will be a 6-12 school. It has nothing to do with this concept of a prep year at the I.B. High.
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State graduation requirements proposed

Proposal by the Rendell administration:

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Public Hearing Responses

At last week's Legislative Session, Board member Mark Brentley proposed improvements in the way that the administration responds to speakers at the monthly Public Hearing.

Currently, each speaker receives a postcard from the Superintendent thanking the speaker for his or her input.

Under Mr. Brentley's proposal, speakers would receive a letter that not only expressed appreciation, but also restated the issue or concern expressed by the speaker and provided an appropriate response, including any information requested. Responses would be sent within 48 hours.

Board member Randall Taylor seconded the motion but the other members voted against it. Part of the reason is that Board member Sherry Hazuda's Communications committee is working on a procedure for responding to speakers. There was also concern that the 48 hour turnaround was too optimistic, particularly because some concerns might require Board action.

If these measures are successful, the Public Hearing process may become a means for two way communication between parents/the community and the administration/ Board.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Teacher absenteeism

On another post, Anonymous wrote:

By the way, for your information, the school with 18 teachers out in a day (many times even) is your "flagship" school - Allderdice. Allderdice even manages to keep "building spares" (substitutes who automatically report as opposed to being called by sub service) on site every day because of absent teachers. If by some chance they aren't needed to cover classes, they are still paid for the day. And if this is the PPS "flagship", I'd hate to see what the other high schools are like...

Posted by Anonymous to PURE Reform at January 24, 2009 12:18 AM

Friday, January 23, 2009

PPS coaches for girls' teams

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

WTAE's Sally Wiggins did a report last night on the PPS Title IX "self-audit." You can watch the video at this link:

What the story failed to address, is the fact that the majority of the PPS girls' teams are being coached by men who are coaching 1 or 2 other sports. The girls' sports give them extra money in their pocket for often times, minimal work. One can put all the money in the world into a sports program, but if you have an unqualified coach who doesn't have a vested interest in his/her team, the money is wasted. There is simply no accountability for coaches in the PPS. The 1.9 million spent on coaches is money wasted. Who loses? Our student-athletes, especially the girls, are the losers.

Posted by Anonymous to PURE Reform at January 23, 2009 5:25 PM

Automatic 50%

On another post, Teacher wrote:

I am wandering off topic today and am hopeful that perhaps the Pure Reform Blog Administrators can start a new thread.With the close of the second nine weeks today, I have been busy calculating grades for my students, as are most PPS teachers. I am factoring in 50% scores where 0 scores previously stood. Please note, this means that I am giving half credit to students who decided NOT to do classwork, NOT to take part in discussions, NOT to do homework, NOT to do papers, NOT to study for tests, etc.

Please note that while most parents here cannot fathom this scenario because they value education and have instilled such thinking in their children, the very act of substituting 50% for 0 means many kids pass when they have no business passing. Furthermore, it means that in most cases, grades jump not only to 'D' status but to 'C' status. And in line with that, C students jump to B or A levels.

So I will put it to you, as PPS administration has failed to make any sense of this issue to classroom teachers: HOW DOES THIS MAKE SENSE? How can any teacher look at this as fair? How can any teacher look at the true efforts of a kid who works hard and only gets 'C' scores and then at the kid who simply puts forth no effort and say to himself, well, they are equal?Please explain it to me.

Then let's hear from Dr.Barnett about achievement gaps and disparities.

Posted by Teacher to PURE Reform at January 23, 2009 3:45 PM

PPG Blog for Letters to the Editor

The PPG, recognizing public interest in sharing comments on Letters to the Editor, has made letters available in blog format- see the link below. Hopefully this feature will also become available for selected news stories as well.

The staff of the editorial page is introducing a new Web site feature. Each day, the letters to the editor that have been printed in the newspaper, as well as those published online only, will be in a blog format, called Open Letters:

This means that, in addition to writing letters to us for possible publication as usual, you will be able to respond immediately to letters to the editor and your comments will appear on the Web site. To participate, all you need to do is register once and then sign in anytime you want to access the blog.

You will be able to comment on as many letters as you like, as often as you like. Doing so has no impact on any quotas used for letters to the editor.

We’re looking forward to seeing far more of your responses to our letters to the editor than we ever could accommodate in the newspaper. But please remember, because your comments will not be edited, to keep it civil. Failure to do so can result in ejection from the site.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Asbestos Issues in Schenley vs. Other School Buildings- New featured topic

PURE Reform's latest featured topic has been posted. It is a response to a January 12, 2009 memo by Superintendent Roosevelt, "Asbestos Issues in Schenley vs. Other School Buildings."

To read PURE Reform's response, go to the Featured Topics tab of the website.

Gifted Pilot Program

Today's PG describes a pilot program for student to receive gifted instruction in their home schools rather than the Gifted Center. Trying the idea out before adopting it across the board seems to be a good move, as is delaying the start of the program when it was found that it would benefit from more preparation.

Monday, January 19, 2009

PURE Reform's report on proposed community service/leadership charter school posted

PURE Reform's report on a proposed charter school focusing on community service and leadership and incorporating gender specific classrooms is posted on the Announcements tab of under the December 15, 2008 date when a public hearing on proposed charter schools was held.

Testimony of Dr. Marilyn Barnett, NAACP Posted

At the January 12, 2009 public hearing Dr. Marilyn F. Barnett, Chair of the NAACP's education committee, spoke requesting information on teacher absenteeism. Her presentation was prompted by research done by the Allegheny Institute

Dr. Barnett's testimony has been added to the PURE Reform report on the January 12, 2009 public hearing, available through the PURE Reform announcements tab.

Friday, January 16, 2009

"Growth" as a way to meet NCLB requirements

The PG has an editorial noting problems w/ conditional approval to allow PA schools to meet NCLB requirements by showing "growth."

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

700 transferring to a magnet?

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

Found this on the PPS district web site when I went looking for a 2-hour delay. It would be nice to have ALL of the numbers. I like the 700 student number being thrown out there as the number of private school kids who are transferring to a magnet for next year. Of course, there is no mention of how many typically come into the system for high school from PUCS, Carlow, or from various Catholic schools that go to 8th grade. . . From the sounds of this article, the population in city schools will be going up. I will believe it when I see it in September.

Monday, January 12, 2009

PURE Reform's testimony on apparent inconsistencies in district treatment of asbestos plaster failures available

PURE Reform's testimony on apparent inconsistencies in the district's treatment of asbestos plaster failure presented at the January 12, 2009 Board of Education Public Hearing is available on PURE Reform's announcement tab.

Go to the January 12 date and click on "PURE Reform REPORT."

NOTE: Due to time constraints, the testimony presented at the hearing was somewhat abridged. The announcements tab contains the full text of the written copy provided at the hearing.

A+ Schools to begin grading school board performance

According to this PG article, volunteers will attend agenda review and legislative review sessions.

One question is- will copies of the agendas be given to volunteers in advance? Without the agendas, these meetings can be boring and difficult to follow.

Another question is- if much of the actual discussion of issues is moved to committees- should volunteers sit in on these meetings as well?

Questions about district's policies re: asbestos plaster failure

At tonight's public hearing PURE Reform will report on conditions at school buildings with extensive asbestos plaster and request clarification as to the district's policies regarding asbestos plaster.

The PG was kind enough to cover this issue in advance of the meeting:

We need to clarify however that PURE is not claiming that Schenley was safe to use "as is" for the Fall of 2008. Rather, PURE is asking whether the district's maintenance and safety precautions and standards for the other buildings are consistent with those applied to Schenley.

At a later date, with a clear understanding of district policies and practices regarding asbestos plaster (including what types of conditions are considered "safe" or "unsafe") options less expensive than total renovation for making Schenley as safe as other district buildings with pervasive asbestos plaster might present themselves. But certainly we have insufficient information at this time to draw any conclusions as to the Schenley building.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Bloomfield-Garfield IB location summary available

PURE Reform's summary of the January 7, 2009 Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation meeting above the proposed Peabody location for the IB program is available on PURE Reform's announcement tab. Go to the January 7 date and click on "PURE Reform REPORT."

Parent Engagement "Fitwits" summary available

PURE Reform's summary of the January 6, 2009 Parent Engagement meeting is available on PURE Reform's announcement tab. Go to the January 6 date and click on "PURE Reform REPORT."

This meeting explained Fitwits, an interesting new program to promote fitness, exercise and good nutrition among children.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

High school and middle school literature selection

On the "One teacher's experience" post Anonymous 8:13 wrote:

Let's look at the 12th grade curriculum. Are you familiar with what seniors are reading right now? Do you think the book by Wideman deserves to be in a scholastic curriculum? Do you think Invisible Man needs to be a part of the curriculum? Does it make sense to continually push the racism card, whether it be books and stories detailing the slave days, of Civil Rights, etc? Is this doing more to widen the gap between races or to bring people together? Is there an agenda at work or just a bleeding heart approach? Hasn't every ethnic group suffered some sort of persecution in this country? Why are we not reading about it?Does it make sense that so many good writers whose messages transcend race and gender have been pushed aside in favor of being politically correct? Come on fixit, expand your horizons.
January 9, 2009 8:13 PM

Anonymous 10:33 said...

Anonymous 8:13, I have been suggesting to several parties for a few years now that our literature selections at all grade levels are too focused on African-American themes. I bring it up every year at PSCC meetings, and meetings of parent groups. I have told this to curriculum coaches,english teachers, principals and at least one director face-to-face. My opinion is that it does nothing to build better relationships between students in classrooms. Cover the material once, not again every year. I also asked direct questions about some of the middle grade novels selected. They are too dark in feeling. If you were not depressed before reading a few, you will be afterward. They have won awards, some, but the grade level is already a sensitive few years, why keep repeating the "sad" message? I think this is why a lot of kids abandon reading. They hated the books they "had" to read. I once suggested that teachers picked the books they wanted to use to teach the standards and then compare how those kids did on a PSSA with other kids. I bet the teacher who was given some authority over what she taught made better lessons from the material.

Back to the achievement gap issue. Our curriculum is now being written by PPS techers with help from some department at Pitt, right? Somebody is providing a starting point. Too much is being determined in response to the ruling based on the lawsuitfiled in the early 90s by the Advocates for African-American Education. The new civics program was a nice PR move, putting a focus on Pittsburgh in the big year's celebration, but will it help students be better citizens? If part of being a better citizen is being a more cooperative and responsible student?
January 10, 2009 10:33 AM

Friday, January 9, 2009

Sci Tech Academy/ Advanced classes

Sam Franklin with the Sci Tech school provided information about the advanced classes that will be offered at the school:

The Academy plans do include AP English and AP Calculus. In the four concentration areas the Academy's advanced courses do not align with current AP offerings, one reason why we decided not to go with AP in our four science, technology, engineering, and math concentrations. Courses like Genomics, Cellular Communications, Infectious Diseases, Environmental Consulting, Material Cycles, Electrical Design etc. are not offered by the College Board, Each concentration takes students beyond the traditional high school curriculum in their focus area and we are very confident that universities will recognize the merit of the program. See the Document Library under the Parents/Students tab on our website, for more information.

Achievment Gap

On the "Open Processes/ Sharing Data" post PPSParent wrote:

Speaking of data, here's an interesting excerpt about test scores and achievement gaps (at least scroll to compare the recent years chart to the previous years chart)

Uncertainty over Westinghouse High persists

From today's PG:

Open processes/ sharing data

Once again, some thought-provoking insights from Mark Rauterkus (blog):

Scrub your speech of these phrases, Mr. Roosevelt and PPS Administrators
Posted by Mark Rauterkus at 7:03 AM

The Tribune Review has the expression in the paper again today, "We looked at the data, ..."

Wave the red flags. Time out. Wash your mouth out with soap.Last night I was at another meeting in the east end hosted by the Bloomfield-Garfield Corp. brass. Three school administrators were given the curtesy of an extended introduction and speaking time and I heard these same phrases again. The PPS (Pgh Public Schools) Administrator said, "We want to bring the numbers to the table." She was convinced of a certain course of action because she was privileged to have seen the numbers, the data, the research. She was hopeful that the numbers could be shared with others who are "at the table." Then, once their facts were spilled, the table would be on-board and see the light.

A third verse of the same theme boils down to an evaluation of the work and outcome suggestions of a special community task force. About 30 members of the public were hand-picked, names still not released to the public, for guidance. These folks formed a task force to make a suggestion as to where to put the long-term home of the district's I.B. program. The I.B. program had been harbored within Schenley High School, which was dismantled last year.
The data that the I.B. long-term site selection task force was able to wrestle with has not been released. Who was on the task force wasn't released yet. And the work product, the meeting minutes, the in-depth decision justifications and any hint of financial impacts -- all are still under wraps.

I don't want the data to be revealed to those who are 'at the table.' I want it to be revealed to everyone everywhere. I don't want to hear how the district administrators have access to findings and raw performance measures yet the people who pay for the schools do not.Often, those numbers are not released because they are embarrassing. Frankly, what is more embarrassing is trying to make fixes to the district while having heads in the sand.

The behaviors we've come to expect within the schools and within the planning process is atrocious. It is unforgivable that the Bloomfield Garfield Corporation has to ask for the results of a community task force that includes more depth than what is read in the Post-Gazette. The questions should not even need to be asked. The insights and details should have been posted to the web all along. Agendas, minutes, attendance at meetings, presentations, facts, figures, costs, projections, historical graduation rates, numbers of certified teachers, costs of additional faculty education, timelines for training, space figures at schools, busing costs, new renovation costs, re-sale projections, etc., etc., etc.I'm sure most of this has been thought of by someone. Well, I'm not sure, but I give them the benefit of the doubt. I want to see it. And, I want everyone to see everything.

We don't know how many kids went to classes at the ALAs (Accelerated Learning Academy) as the school year started two to three weeks before the other schools. What was the August 1st attendance in 2008 and 2007? Now we hear the school year at the ALAs is going to shorten. Why? How successful has it been so far?I don't need to know WHO was in class. I need to know how many were there, how many were to be there, and for teachers too. And, reports as to the effectiveness of these extra school days, by date, needs to be a measure that is revealed.

These few examples are only the tip of the iceberg. How much is paid each year to Microsoft for software licenses? How much is going to be paid for proprietary licenses with the Science and Technology Jr./Sr. High? How much will be saved by using and Linux? Who was on the High School Reform Task Force? Where was that group's work product. All of that went out the window by they way when the asbestos excuse was found at Schenley. A group had meetings for nearly two years and nothing of those meetings was able to be release nor implemented. What about the budget for the Pittsburgh Promise?I'm not asking for new audits. I'm asking for an open process.

And, the way that is done in our modern time is with the internet. It goes deeper than a few PowerPoint slides as well.Some months ago I spoke to this same theme with the school board when I heard that the PARENT DASHBOARD system was being scratched. This had been a valuable tool for some parents with some teachers for some kids as they could see homework assignments and class attendence -- nearly real time. But, the district pulled the plug on that window into the schools. (Go figure.) Rather, a new, beefy, whiz bang system, developed in-house, was being rolled out. It would be able to grade tests and measure classroom, school, grade and district results -- more than just an individual score. It was in beta testing and was fast as lightening -- and those on the school board were prohibited from seeing it. They were to authorize it, but they were not able to evaluate it.The elected school board members were kept in the dark. And, by-and-large, they were okay with that. It is worse than being a back-seat driver -- as they were being stuffed in the trunk. Meanwhile, the citizens are not even in the car. We're getting out of the way, happy it doesn't mow down our kids as they walk to and from school. I don't want to hear, ever again, about the data that the district sees that is hidden from what anyone anywhere else can see.
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Thursday, January 8, 2009

IB Program 6th and 9th Grade at Capacity

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

According to Cate Reed, IB slots for both 6th and 9th grades are at capacity with 150 students each. As of December 19, there was a waitlist of at least 10 for each of these grades. Some general applications were also submitted after December 19.

The district will not be able to tell us the number of students who wrote in 9th grade IB as their first choice since that would require going back to the database and determining this information by hand. Similarly, no information will be available as to the number of students who wrote in 9th grade IB as their second or third choices.

Overall, looking at all grades and all programs, about 71% of applicants received their first choice, but the system does not calculate for example the percentage of applicants who put 9th grade sci tech as their first choice and received that choice through the lottery.
January 8, 2009 4:31 PM

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

One teacher's experience with violence in our high schools

From a commentator on Mark Rauterkus's blog:

ALA days/hours proposed to be shortened

"The board also discussed proposed changes to the eight accelerated learning academies, which opened in August 2006 with a school year 10 days longer and a school day 45 minutes longer than the district standard.

Christiana Otuwa, executive director of the academies, proposed cutting two of the ten extra ALA days from the calendar and about 20 minutes from the ALA school day. The changes would take effect next school year." (last para).

- This is surprising because the longer school year and day seemed to be one of the main features that made ALA's different from schools that are not ALA's.

District defends 50% minimum grade policy

Monday, January 5, 2009

Reduction in Science Labs or Lab Time

On the "Miffed" post science1 wrote:

science1 said...
The topic of labs in comprehensive high schools was discussed around the time of open house earlier this year. A neighbor later mentioned to me that some PPS buildings already do not offer conventional science labs due to cost. I believe it was Brashear where they are already eliminated or in the process of being eliminated. I will do my best to follow up and report back here. To better communicate on the topic I will no longer be Anonymous.
January 5, 2009 9:47 AM

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Marketing IB

From the Bloomfield-Garfield post:

PPSparent said...
Did anyone go to the magnet fair? One person who went, looking for her 8th grader said that the CAPA presenters were awesome and that the IB group was disorganized and off-putting. She knew people that had liked IB, and had also liked Schenley, but said that after talking to the people at the fair, she crossed it off their list. I'm not sure who was there at the fair, but I can think of a couple of people associated with the program whose gloomy/snippy presentations are off-putting to those of us with kids already in the program! Threatening that kids will never get jobs in the coming economy without a global outlook is not as inspiring as they seem to think. The same message could be much more positively presented.Instead of selling what is a great program, they make it sound like taking bad-tasting medicine.
January 4, 2009 11:53 AM

Mark Rauterkus said...
I was at the magnet fair in Frick. It was jammed. It was not well done. Okay, but not well. And, at the magnet fair, there was a lot more push to the Sci Tech, of course.But, you know, that is not a deal breaker. Not ideal. Can be improved upon. But the one fair experience isn't the end-all-be-all. The whole event was a blunder -- however, some good info was delivered if you could extract it.
January 4, 2009 3:56 PM

Friday, January 2, 2009

Bloomfield-Garfield group requesting info and input on proposed IB location

It would be great if other community groups would get involved as well.

Start a new post

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