Saturday, February 28, 2009

IB lottery results

Recently the PG had an article about the lottery results for the incoming sci tech student body

Cate Reed responded promptly to our request for similar information about the IB school student body:

Number of applications

Over 470 total applications were received. Of these, 227 were first choice applications. As of January 27, 2009:

237 applications (112 being first-choice) for 150 sixth grade openings.

235 applications (115 being first-choice) for 150 ninth grade openings.


The outreach process and lottery resulted in students being admitted in equal numbers from across the city

9th Grade Geography
[A map was included that shows push pins widely distributed throughout the city.]

6th grade maps are unavailable at this time—they are in the computer specific to foreign language

Race of Admitted Students

Students (Number and percentage) *

Black 169 51%

White 131 39%

Other 32 10%

* Total exceeds 300 because it includes small group of students taken in 7th, 8th and 10th grade.

Socioeconomic Status

Lunch Status of Admitted Students

Free & Reduced Lunch 40%

Regular Lunch 60%

Current School

The outreach process and lottery admitted students from 13 charter and private schools comprising about 12% of admitted students

School and #

Community Day 3

Falk School 7

Holy Rosary 2

New to district, previous school unknown 8

Northside Urban Pathways 1

Pittsburgh Urban Christian 4

Sacred Heart 7

St. Agnes 1

Winchester Thurston 1

Mt. Lebanon Montessori 1

St. Athansius 1

Cyber Charter 1

Urban League 2

Gender Number and Percent

F 179 56%

M 143 44%

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Curriculum issues

On another post the following comments were made:

Anonymous said...
While I applaud the comments in the editorial and while I can only commend the efforts of Pure Reform, some mention should also have been made about the poor curriculum which is being pushed by PPS. At some point, one wonders if the idea is mind control or simply efforts in apologetic posturing. Real questions must be put forward regarding just who is writing curriculum. The answer is not teachers. Instead, ivory tower groups not in the classroom are forming policy which is beyond questionable, and they are not doing it for free. More and more decisions are being taken out of the hands of classroom teachers and into the hands of either outside entities or individuals who have never been charged with the task of teaching class in PPS.I find it sickening that these types of people are devising what our kids should learn. I find it outrageous that these types of people are visiting classrooms and making pronouncements on the effectiveness of teachers. Forgive me for saying that most current PPS administrators wouldn't know an effective teacher if he jumped and bit him in the backside. Thew day the current superintendent moves onto greener pastures will be a positive day for kids in our schools. The day a new leader cleans house of many of the administrators now in the employ of Pittsburgh taxpayers will be just as happy. And the day PPS teachers find some manner to evict union leadership which has largely betrayed their best interests will complete the dream.
February 25, 2009 6:33 PM

Questioner said...
pHow can we make the public more aware of curriculum issues?It might help to have specific examples, ie "The 7th grade history curriculum has these issues:..."
February 25, 2009 7:07 PM

fixit said...
Can't the 4Sight tests be used to point out failures or at least holes in the curriculum? If an entire grade goes down from one test to the next isn't that an indication of a problem with the curriculum? I will take the opportunity to say again, on these school visits and in the 60% of the time directors spend in buildings they should have to teach a class or two.
February 25, 2009 8:24 PM

parent'o'3 said...
My understanding is that the 4sight tests are designed as predictors of PSSA scores. PSSAs, particularly reading, don't test the curriculum, per se, since they are given to every (public) school in the state. They have to test skills and concepts, but not specific content. There isn't going to be calculus on the 11th grade PSSA. There's also a difference between the "what" and the "how." Every teacher should know what students should know at the end of the year, in terms of content, skills, concepts -- in other words, a curriculum. That should be posted on the district website and every kid should know what those (minimum) standards are. That's what the district should be telling teachers. Competent, experienced teachers should be the ones that decide the how -- how do we teach these things so that the students learn and know it? Newer teachers should be observed and taught successful ways of teaching (notice I said wayS, because there isn't just one). As parents, we can demand that curriculum be listed -- what will kids coming out of a grade know. We should also demand to know what they plan to do to enrich the kids that already know those things going into the grade and how they plan to help the kids that still aren't secure in the year before's material. Sigh. But, they seem instead to be inundating teachers with a lot of HOW and a lot of do this and this and that micromanagement and never taking care of the big picture, other than calling for it to be "rigorous" and about "excellence." And then we're back to calling for transparency.
February 25, 2009 8:35 PM

Questioner said...
This is an interesting idea:"Every teacher should know what students should know at the end of the year, in terms of content, skills, concepts -- in other words, a curriculum. That should be posted on the district website and every kid should know what those (minimum) standards are." Is this available anywhere, even if not on the website? For ex, if I have a fifth grader and I asked for this information at the beginning of the year, would teachers be able to give me that information?
February 25, 2009 8:54 PM

Anonymous said...
A lot of salient points here but some misconceptions need to be cleared up. First of all, the 4Sight is commonly called a predictor of PSSA results. Many of us have come to look at such comments as bollocks, and this is especially true in Reading. I am not sure how much is being paid to the creators of this test, but one would think that there should be no room--none whatsoever--for running the same stories and questions EVER again during a given child's academic career. Nonetheless, it is common to see reading selections repeated. Additionally, you will excuse me for saying that PSSA's and 4Sights share the same general style, but PSSA's offer a more devious way of doing things. Someday, some local administrator will have the gumption to get up and call the tests what they are---a sham. What else can you call tests that seek to confuse or bore young readers more than anything else and still call itself a barometer of how well or poorly a child reads. Sadly, I doubt any administrator in this district will ever exhibit such gumption. Secondly, you talk about teachers knowing what their students should know at the end of the year. Agreed. This is humorous, however, in that each English teacher is traveling a mighty choppy road. They get their unit curricula a few days before they are to implement it. They are told that the curricula is to be followed verbatim. They are told that what they think is important is negligible, at best. Stick to the script, and shut up.
February 25, 2009 10:33 PM

Anonymous said...
While we are discussing curricula, can someone tell me why my son, a junior in high school, was expecting ALL subs today because his IB teachers are ALL in curriculum meetings? Maybe instead of having pep rallies with the superintendent, the teachers could work on curricula during their scheduled inservice days.
February 26, 2009 9:50 AM
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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Pres. Obama Address Joint Session Congress Remarks on Education

From yesterday's address:

The third challenge we must address is the urgent need to expand the promise of education in America.

In a global economy where the most valuable skill you can sell is your knowledge, a good education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity – it is a pre-requisite.
Right now, three-quarters of the fastest-growing occupations require more than a high school diploma. And yet, just over half of our citizens have that level of education. We have one of the highest high school dropout rates of any industrialized nation. And half of the students who begin college never finish.

This is a prescription for economic decline, because we know the countries that out-teach us today will out-compete us tomorrow. That is why it will be the goal of this administration to ensure that every child has access to a complete and competitive education – from the day they are born to the day they begin a career.

Already, we have made an historic investment in education through the economic recovery plan. We have dramatically expanded early childhood education and will continue to improve its quality, because we know that the most formative learning comes in those first years of life. We have made college affordable for nearly seven million more students. And we have provided the resources necessary to prevent painful cuts and teacher layoffs that would set back our children’s progress.

But we know that our schools don’t just need more resources. They need more reform. That is why this budget creates new incentives for teacher performance; pathways for advancement, and rewards for success. We’ll invest in innovative programs that are already helping schools meet high standards and close achievement gaps. And we will expand our commitment to charter schools.

It is our responsibility as lawmakers and educators to make this system work. But it is the responsibility of every citizen to participate in it. And so tonight, I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training. This can be community college or a four-year school; vocational training or an apprenticeship. But whatever the training may be, every American will need to get more than a high school diploma. And dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It’s not just quitting on yourself, it’s quitting on your country – and this country needs and values the talents of every American. That is why we will provide the support necessary for you to complete college and meet a new goal: by 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

I know that the price of tuition is higher than ever, which is why if you are willing to volunteer in your neighborhood or give back to your community or serve your country, we will make sure that you can afford a higher education. And to encourage a renewed spirit of national service for this and future generations, I ask this Congress to send me the bipartisan legislation that bears the name of Senator Orrin Hatch as well as an American who has never stopped asking what he can do for his country – Senator Edward Kennedy.

These education policies will open the doors of opportunity for our children. But it is up to us to ensure they walk through them. In the end, there is no program or policy that can substitute for a mother or father who will attend those parent/teacher conferences, or help with homework after dinner, or turn off the TV, put away the video games, and read to their child. I speak to you not just as a President, but as a father when I say that responsibility for our children's education must begin at home.

New sex-ed curriculum approved

From today's PG:

Op Ed: "You call this reform?"

Op ed piece by a PURE Reform co-founder in today's PG, calling for community buy-in and transparency in the school reform process.

Subtitle: The Pittsburgh school district needs to be more responsive.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Eradicating implicit racial bias

Today's NYT includes an op ed piece describing a study done by 3 major universities which found that most whites seem to have a hidden racial bias (pro white).

The study found that learning to see people as individuals diminished discrimination.

Another study described by the article found that whites who are so worried about appearing prejudiced that they act colorblind around blacks, avoiding talking about race even when race is relevant, are viewed by blacks as more prejudiced than whites who do not behave in this way.

The role of diverse schools is obvious.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Executive directors

On another post Anonymous wrote,

"Parents hear that the executive directors are spending 60% of their time in school buildings, true? Is that classroom time, time meeting with the principal and senior staff or time in a conference room clearing messages and emails? What they should be doing is acting as a substitute teacher, even if only for a few periods. Or they should be the staff member sitting in the hallway handing out detention slips to late arriving students. Or they could slip into coveralls and cruise the halls to see what is happening in our high schools, undercover, or coveralls, I guess. "

- Who are these "Executive Directors"? How many are there? Are there directors for high schools, directors for middle schools and directors for elementary schools? Who do they report to?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Petition for inspection delivered/ public hearing testimony posted

PURE Reform's testimony from the February 16, 2009 Public Hearing has now been posted. Go to the website, announcements tab, and click "PURE Reform REPORT" for the February 16 item.

As the testimony explains, PURE Reform called again for transparency and public participation in school reform, and delivered a petition with signatures of 150 city residents requesting an inspection and evaluation of asbestos plaster in 4 city schools. Signatures continue to roll in and we will send these additional petition sheets to the Board.

Thank you to all who signed the petition!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Should members of the School Board be paid?

The 9 members of the PPS Board oversee an annual budget of a half billion dollars- larger than the annual budget for the City of Pittsbugh. Meetings are frequent, constituents have questions, and there are stacks of documents to review. Unlike City Council positions, however, School Board member is a volunteer position.

In order to attract the best candidates would it be better to pay School Board members, at least as a half-time position? Some say that with a volunteer system members serve because they care about the schools and children, rather than pay. However, there may be people who care very much about the schools and children but have no time left after working one or more jobs to support themselves and their families. Paying members would also be a real acknowledgment of their value to the school district.

Stimulus package funding for education in Pennsylvania

From the PG, the economic stimulus packages is expected to provide $3.6 billion for education in Pennsylvation.

The Bloomfield Garfield Corporation announces that BGC "has invited a representative from Senator Arlen Specter’s office to speak the first week of March. The presentation will review the federal stimulus package budget as it relates to the community improvement initiatives with special emphasis on educational support program funding and funding constraints. The presentation date and time will be announced."

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Healthy school bus fund

On the February "Start a new post" Kathy Fine wrote:

Cleaner Buses = Healthier Students

As part of the Rachel Carson Legacy Challenge, the Pittsburgh Public Schools will unveil their Healthy School Bus Fund, which will provide over $500,000 for making school buses in the city cleaner, and safer for children. This exciting project will be announced at the Rachel Carson Reception at the Heinz History Center on April 20th at 5:00 pm.

The Healthy School Bus Fund is a joint project of the Pittsburgh Public Schools, The Heinz Endowments, Clean Water Action, Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP), and Clean Air Task Force. This partnership was inspired by the multitude of scientific studies that have revealed how dangerous exposure to diesel exhaust really is. While school bus transport remains the safest way for children to travel between school and home, the young passengers are exposed to high levels of diesel pollutants that impede respiratory systems, cause asthma attacks, and have been linked to a wide variety of other adverse health effects including heart attacks, strokes, cancer and premature death. Studies have shown that dangerous particulate matter from diesel emissions accumulates inside the school bus cabin and reaches levels that are 5-10 times more potent than the outdoor air.

These blatant health risks to children are a call to action. Retrofit technology exists that reduces toxic diesel emissions by at least 85%, removing most of the health risks. These emission controls are proven effective through years of testing, and are applied to all 2007 and newer diesel vehicles at the factory. These new, clean vehicles will not entirely replace the Pittsburgh Public Schools existing diesel school bus fleet for another 15 years or more, making it imperative that we protect the many thousands of students who will be exposed in the meantime.

The Healthy School Bus Fund does just that, at no cost to the school district or the school bus companies. The Heinz Endowments has generously provided the initial $500,000 for this fund, and more fiscal support is expected to come from The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the Allegheny County Health Department. We will continue our fund raising effort until all eligible buses operating within the Pittsburgh Public Schools are retrofit with clean, healthy technology. There will be a press conference on Tuesday February 17 at 1:30 PM.

Anyone interested in attending should contact:Jennifer EnglandSenior ConsultantPink Coat Communications(412) 5 13 9091 (c)

February 11, 2009 9:35 AM

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Asbestos issues Q & A

PURE Reform's latest featured topic, "Asbestos Issues Raised at the January 12, 2009 Public Hearing Question and Answer," has now been posted on's Featured Topics tab.

Making answers available to public hearing speakers is a real step toward greater public participation and engagement.

On the topic of asbestos, however- it still appears that similar asbestos plaster issues at different schools have been treated differently.

No written evaluation of CEP done by PPS

On the February "Start a new post" Kathy Fine wrote:

In the contract between the district and Community Education Partners (CEP), the private firm hired to administer the Clayton facility for behaviorally troubled students, there is a requirement that states "At the conclusion of the first year and every year after, CEP will participate with the District Review Team in an annual assessment of student academic and behavioral performances."

PURE Reform requested a copy of said review for the first year under the "Right To Know Act" and was told, "it has been determined that there is no public record responsive to your request....Although the District Review Team and CEP have met annually to review performances, such meetings have not produced written records" and that "Furthermore, the reviews were based upon individual student's academic, discipline and attendance records, which are not public records..."

This is certainly not the transparency that we are longing for.

February 10, 2009 2:32 PM

- It is difficult to believe that no written evaluation is being done on work under a $30M+ contract.

Head Start improvement needed

On the February "Start a new post" Kathy Fine wrote:

Interesting piece on the inadequacies of Head Start. We should be learning from the mistakes made and incorporate the best practices on the documented successful HS programs. This seems to justify the conclusions that Geoffrey Canada makes in his book "Whatever it Takes", that Head Start will not be effective if we do not address the lack of cognitive development in the very early years (0-3).

February 10, 2009 2:22 PM

Various interventions large and small affecting achievement

On the February "Start a new post" Kathy Fine wrote:

Op ed piece from the NYT states that little things, as opposed to costly curriculum and facilities changes, can make a huge difference in student

February 10, 2009 2:15 PM

Special report on STEM education by PG


Friday, February 6, 2009

Closed schools/ effects on students

From today's NYT- Something for PPS to consider when closing schools:

"Eric A. Hanushek, a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution who studies school accountability systems, said the inherent danger in closing schools is its potential negative effect on the most vulnerable students. Inevitably, he said, new schools will spend a few years tinkering with their programs.

'Closing schools has good publicity value,' he said, 'but to me the first priority is trying to take care of the kids who are in a school that has been declared to be bankrupt.' He suggested providing students at schools being reinvented with vouchers for private schools or preference for enrollment at more successful public schools."

- The current approach too often seems to be one of waiting for current students to "fade away."

"Average" students a focus of a NY school district

From today's NYT- expanding opportunities for students "in the middle."

Thursday, February 5, 2009

African American students/ AP exams

NYT article: African American students are seriously underrepresented among students taking/passing AP exams and no state has closed this gap.

Method for Teacher Evaluation

On the February "Start a new post," Mark Rauterkus wrote,

Can't find jack about the "Charlotte Danielson Framework" -- a method for the evaluation of teacher. Mr. Roosevelt spoke highly of this at the accountability talk last week. My early research is not fruitful. Anyone?

February 5, 2009 11:57 AM

BGC meeting on Peabody # 3

On the February "Start a new post," Mark Rauterkus posted a link to a post on his blog discussing this meeting.
February 5, 2009 9:42 AM

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Role of counseling office

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

What is the role of the counseling office in a public city school? I would guess that the counselors at most public schools are overworked, so how much help with college plans is reasonable to expect from the overworked counselors? In Pittsburgh, what is the role of the CAS facilitators in this process?
February 4, 2009 10:12 AM

Kathy Fine said...

Anon 10:12, thought that you might find this interesting. This is the question that we asked regarding counseling and the PPS response:

Activity 1.6 (from PPS strategic plan):
Create a plan including activities and timelines for students and families to provide non-academic support form Promise readiness.
• Redefine the role and refocus work of counselors on Promise Readiness.
• Develop messaging on the Promise.
• Provide training to District school leaders and staff to serve as Promise messengers.
• Create Promise Monitoring Plans for students beginning Grade 6.

Question from PURE Reform on Activity 1.6:
How will this be done? Will there be more counselors hired? Will secretaries be hired to ease the counselors’ paperwork load?

PPS Response:
The District is currently working to review and refine its current counselor model. At this time, the work is still in its early stages. It is too early to assess staff needs at this time.The District is moving to an automated attendance system, which will considerably ease counselor duties so that more of their attention can be devoted to counseling students.

In addition, the District is developing Pathways to the Promise—a system that will provide students with additional support and families with additional assurance their children’s progress is being reviewed and assistance provided.Pathways to the Promise also will help counselors in connecting students to activities or interventions that can help them meet their individual goals and student achievement requirements.The Pittsburgh Promise is a program designed to help students and families of the Pittsburgh Public Schools plan, prepare and pay for education beyond high school at an accredited post-secondary institution within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. In test market surveys, the term Promise Ready had immediate brand recognition that linked The Pittsburgh Promise with the academic culture andopportunities provided by the Pittsburgh Public Schools. The Pathways to the Promise is a district– wide commitment to build a culture and provide appropriate supports, intervention strategies and communications that will reinforce high expectations, promote aspirations for higher education, and ensure that students are Promise Ready and on track to be eligible for scholarships awarded throughThe Pittsburgh Promise.Pathways to the Promise is intended to help students prepare to meet the future and to dramatically change the educational trajectory of Pittsburgh Public School students. Our goal is to make sure all students are “Promise-Ready” and on course to graduate and take advantage of a Pittsburgh Promise scholarship. To support this goal, we are developing Pathways to the Promise, a program available at all schools to better monitor and communicate student progress at important learning transitions such as 3rd grade, 6th grade, and 9th grade:

􀂾 3rd Grade: We will do more to communicate reading progress and ways to provide support at home. This is a time when students should be transitioning from learning to read to reading to learn. It is essential for students to be able to read at grade level by the end of the 3rd grade so that they can read to learn in grades 4 and 5.

􀂾 6th Grade: This is a time when students are transitioning from concrete to abstract thinking and will benefit from more reminders about the importance of good behavior. We will share information about each student’s academic progress in reading and mathematics, as well as attendance and citizenship.

􀂾 9th Grade: We will do more to help students and families understand Grade Point Average (BPA) and attendance, both of which count towards Promise eligibility starting with the 9th grade year. 9th Grade Nation, a program that helps ease the transition between the middle grades and high school, will continue to expand and provide ways to keep students engaged and on course to graduate

February 4, 2009 10:23 AM

Search PURE Reform's blog

You can search for particular subjects in PURE's blog by using the "search" function on the upper left of the blog.

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".

PA Governor's School to be discontinued

From today's PG- Governor's School to be discontinued for budgetary reasons.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Excellence for All Meeting

PURE Reform's report on the most recent EFA meeting has now been posted. Go to the January 27, 2009 item on the Announcements tab of

Also, Mark Rauterkus notes that he did some videotaping at this event. He has posted it on his blog at: