Wednesday, February 25, 2009

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.


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.

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:..."

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

Anonymous said...

Excuse me Anon 950. I'm sure this comes as a huge surprise to you but most teachers are reviewing curricula on their OWN time. Many teachers do not have the luxury of having the opportunity to do it during the school day, inservice days included.
It is a shame, and a disservice to our children that parents and other community members continue to have this misconception that teachers spend their inservice days at "pep rallies".

Anonymous said...

Anon 121, I was not criticizing teachers who I know work extremely hard and put in many hours of their own time. But after several days of 4sight testing and more days of PSSA testing with many more to come, the kids need to have teachers in their classrooms. Someone needs to come up with a better system. I don't have a misconception; my son has subs.

Stephanie Tecza said...

The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) does have Standards for Academics they are identified as State Board of Education Academic Standards 22 Pa Code Chapter 4. The Standards are located on their web site. PDE lists the Standards by subject and grade level in Arts & Humanities, Career Education and Work, Civics and Government, Economics, Environment and Ecology, Family and Consumer Sciences, Geography, Health, Safety and Physical, Education, History, Mathematics, Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening Science and Technology.

PDE aligned Pennsylvania's PSSA Test to the State Standards, so when you look at the standards you will notice they provide standards for grades 3, 5, 8, and 11th. I believe that soon students in all grade levels will have to take specific PSSA tests for certain subjects every year.

In regards to special education and NCLB, PDE Department of Special Education has aligned the State Standards and the Individual Education Plans so that students with disabilities can also be challenged to reach the same standards as all kids.

I understand that there is some controversy regarding expecting students with disabilities to achieve standards that are expected for all kids but as an advocate for students with disabilities data shows students do make great gains when they are exposed to the general education classroom and the Standards.
I also wanted to mention Pennsylvania has developed and use an Alternate Assessment (PASA) as well as alternate Standards that are used for students that are on the lower academic functioning level of special education. This accounts to about 2% of the total amount of students with disabilities in a given school district.

Anonymous said...

Anon, you have an administration that believes so much in testing that we have become the data district. Our kids are over-tested. Roosevelt's administration has a woman in charge of data and that data study seems to supercede the idea of what actually transpires in the classroom. It trumps any thoughts a teacher might have about how students might learn.
The trouble with continuous testing is that kids become complacent and tend to look at tests as unimportant. These aren't guinea pigs we are talking about, but rather, young, impressionable minds that glean tests as being run-of-the-mill and reflective of standard operating procedure. That is, data results vary and is generally unreliable in this regard, no matter how much of your tax dollar Mr.Roosevelt wants to spend on tests.
There is a disconnect within the district. The idea is that data reveals everything and that the qualms of teachers is largely unimportant.
And with regards to your commentary on teachers, it was underhanded. Most teachers now get their curricula shortly before it is to be implemented. Most MUST do things on their own time. Most would love to use school prep time to actually get some work done....they simply aren't allowed to, instead being bombarded with new initiatives that come from the ivory tower. Your comments about your kids have merit. Your kids' teachers would agree.
Let's go one better---
11th grade English students across the district are now doing PSSA preparation every day. This was the norm during this week and will continue up until the tests themselves. Whatever they were doing was halted. An already horrible, choppy curriculum was made even worse.

Norman Dale said...

Stephanie, the State DoE may have an alternative to the PSSA's, but without consistency on a national level, it's only job justification for test writers, evaluators and the data people that anonymous is talking about. We both know that this trainwreck has to stop. Why is that I can take a kid deemed "basic" in Pennsylvania into Ohio or West Virginia, have them take those states' versions of the test and come up with Above Basic, Proficient, etc???
NCLB was a dead duck from the start, a way to finally target teachers. It's only gotten worse from there. It's time has come but it would appear that Obama likes to play the blame game, too. That's troubling, and unfortunate for our kids. There has to be an equitable way to monitor the progress of our kids. Sorry, but this "ain't" it.

Stephanie Tecza said...

Norman I totally agree with you. I was just stating what the state does, after reading some of the comments I didn’t know if PURE audiences knew of the standards. I was just giving information.

The conversation about PSSA testing is past due. It is nice that people are communicating via the Blogg to see that we are united on the frustration of our kids being overly tested.

Simply complaining or taking it to the school boards is not enough. To begin the change, parents, teachers and administrations across Pennsylvania and perhaps the United States need to unite and rally to their legislators regarding how this “TESTING” practice is not working and not healthy for our students and schools system.

cookie said...

I am a Home Economics teacher who taught in the High Schools for over 33 years. I taught at Schenley 6 times, Allderdice 5 times, South High 2 times and various other High Schools during those 33+ years.

Up until the past 4 years the Superintendents were usually responsive to the needs of the Vocational teachers. Both useful and gainful courses were fully funded and appropriately staffed. However, since Mr. Roosevelt has arrived on the scene, those courses have either been severely under funded or eliminated. At the Schenley at Reizenstein building NONE of the ATCD teachers from Schenley High School were moved with the students. Basically, the only electives at Reizenstein are art and music. Not that art and music are bad, but really, how many students can you cram into classrooms made for middle schoolers?

When Mr. Roosevelt came to Pittsburgh, he had a meeting attended by an "invitation only" audience. During that meeting he professed that he didn't think that electives were an important part of a child's educational program. At Carrick High School, which was the last place I taught, the Family and Consumer Science department was cut from 5 teachers to 1 in the course of 4 years. This years budget for the 1 FCS teacher, who teaches Foods, is a grand $450 for the entire school year. Can you feed your family for 10 months on $450? He has a perfectly good Vocational school in Connelley, but, he is going to sell it. He has no intention of opening a Career and Technologies School and the teachers know it.

All of this is done with the consent of the Board and without the knowledge of the general public. The public finds out AFTER the fact.

Look at the money that has been sent to Kaplan K-12 for curriculum that don't work and easily could have been written by our own teachers with help from Pitt. My friends who are Math teachers in the high schools are required to teach a scripted curriculum where they are NOT allowed to vary as much as 1 word. There is no time for review. They have appealed to their Principals, the Union, and the Superintendent and were told the same thing each time----teach what you are told to teach, the way you are told, have after school make up and tutoring sessions, and don't change 1 word of the script. Did no one read the comments from Philadelphia teachers about their problems with Kaplan? I did.

Ask Social Studies teachers about the pacing of their curriculums. No time for review or reinforcement. Same thing with Science teachers. How do you teach Chemistry without labs?? Look at Brashear, Schenley at Reizenstein, Allderdice, etc. Does the public know this??? I doubt it.

Philadelphia also used Community Education Partners for their troubled students and had no better results than we did. Did anyone think to contact them to find out why? No. It was slammed down our throats just like everything else.

Mostly, Mr. Roosevelt doesn't care. He doesn't care about students, teachers, or the public. He gives a lot of lip service to the media about how all that he is doing is for the good of the students. He doesn't have a clue about our neighborhoods, our cultural heritages, our gang problems (or he wouldn't think to mix children from East Liberty with those from Homewood). He gets his raise whether teachers have adequate resources or not. He wants to do what he wants when he wants and the rest of us be damned. He doesn't want to let the public have a say because then he might have to do what they advise. That is why he doesn't respond to your committee. He doesn't want to include anyone is HIS decision making. He doesn't want to be transparent.

I have been a resident of Pittsburgh for all but 2 years of my life. I graduated from Taylor Allderdice High School, not Pittsburgh Allderdice. I spent my entire teaching career in these schools. I have never seen such demoralized and defeated teachers. Everyone I talk to is miserable. When I first started teaching teachers were excited to go to school every day. Not now.

I loved your article. Keep on pushing the Board to do the right thing. Otherwise they will continue to push things we don't want right down our throats.

Questioner said...

Thank you cookie for sharing your views and experiences. So ofter people read entries on the blog or editorials in the newspaper and keep their thoughts to themselves. Messages like yours help to promote a real dialogue about these issues.

jeopardy said...

cookie, please know parents are bringing issues such as those you describe to the attention of the superintendent and other administration. We may not have the same level of detail or insider knowledge you just provided, but some of us are trying to get answers and cause change. Far too often answers come back as though the questions were anticipated and a scripted answer was thought out in advance. Oh boy, there is that "scripted" word again!

Anonymous said...

Lack of authenticity and honesty is the kind of thing that comes from the top. Without change at the highest level this tone will continue to be reflected throughout the administration.

Anonymous said...

Because this administration begins with a man who is not an educator but a businessman, is continued with administrators who are like minded and trickles down to yet another subset of administrators who were huge failures in the classroom, had little experience or went right into administration without understanding what takes place in a typical classroom.
And these folks are enacting policy for schools in absentia.
At its root, a district is only as strong as its teaching staff...and a good teaching staff knows how to reach students. That these people have decided to demand that teachers follow a scripted methodology as drones do in the corporate workplace is very telling of the disconnect evident in our system.