Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Teachers voice concerns over rapid growth of AP

From today's NYT:

More than half of AP teachers surveyed by a research and advocacy organization "are concerned that the program's effectiveness is being threatened as districts loosen restrictions on who can take such rigorous courses..."

The article notes that these findins support the organization's position "that the nation's current focus on raising basic skills sometimes neglects a need for the continued growth and challenging of high-achieving students."

"No Child" law not closing the racial gap

From today's NYT:

This article notes that while Black and Hispanic students at the elementary, middle and high school levels scored much higher on the "National Assessment of Educational Progress" (a federal test "considered to be the nation's best measure of long-term trends in math and reading proficiency") than they did 30 years ago, most of the gains were made during desegregation efforts in the 70's and 80's.

In recent years (2004 to the present) scores for both minority and white students increased, leaving the achievement gap in place. Further, these gains do not seem attributable to NCLB. One expert noted that "Trends after the law took effect mimic trends we were seeing before."

Monday, April 27, 2009

"Why don't students like school?"

Wall Street Journal review of a new book with this title; the authors of both the book and the review are psycholgy professors:

Magnet lottery- board votes this week on new procedures

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

The Board will be voting on new magnet lottery procedures this week, including extra chances in the lottery (weights) for receiving a free and reduced price lunch and for living in the area where the school is located. There did not seem to be any particular problem with the magnet lottery this past year- the IB school in particular was noted to have drawn a class that very closely mirrored the district- and so it is not clear why this extra weight is being added.

More important, the extra weight for a free/reduced lunch reveals something about the magnet programs which are most successful and require a lottery. Rather than being magnets in the traditional sense of drawing students to schools that are in poorer areas and/or disproportionately attended by minority students, the programs that fill up and need to use the admissions lottery- sci tech, engineering (at Allderdice), computer science (at Brashear), CAPA- are NOT in poorer areas. These programs are in schools that already have the highest proportion of students not receiving a free/reduced price lunch.

What we do not have are magnets successful enough to draw a diverse student body to schools like Westinghouse. The sci tech school, if it had been placed at Westinghouse, might have been that magnet, or the IB school. (We were also hearing last year that the IB committee favored Westinghouse for that program, but the report from that committee indicated that transportation was a problem.)

Today's PG noted that a sports magnet may be placed at Westinghouse If a goal is a diverse student body, it would not seem best to weight a future Westinghouse sports magnet lottery in favor of students receiving a free/reduced price lunch or students from the area where the school is located.

April 27, 2009 10:06 AM

Friday, April 24, 2009

CEP- Latest article in City Paper

"Learning curve; A school for troubled students shows progress but still gets an 'incomplete.'"

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Urban-suburban gap in grad rates; methods for computing grad rates

From today's NYT, "Large urban-suburban gap seen in graduation rates":

Noteworthy in this article is not only the gap in graduation rates, but also the discussion of how to compute graduation rates. The article points out that graduation rates were for decades overstated in official publications, for ex by counting students receiving GED certificates as graduates or by basing calculations on the percentage of enrolled 12th graders who received a diploma, disregarding students who had dropped out before 12th grade.

PURE Reform encountered this methodology problem when a Right to Know request for graduation rates at city high schools was met with a report showing extremely high graduation rates, in contradiction to statments being made at Pittsburgh Promise presentations about a high dropout rate in Pittsburgh. There does not yet seem to be clear information available on how the graduation rate in Pittsburgh may have changed over the last 3 years or so.

District seeking participation in Gates program for teacher improvement

From today's PG:

Governor's School

From today's PG, "Dreams die as Governor's schools go dark":

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Please share comments

Once again, many readers, not as many commentators (commenters?). Posts from te last couple of days have a lot of information to digest, but please share your thoughts for a more interesting blog.

PURE report on Education Committee meeting

PURE Reform's report on last week's education committee meeting has now been posted. Go to , Announcements tab, and click on "PURE Reform Report" for the April 14, 2009 date of the meeting.

Presentation on why two of Pittsburgh's charter schools are working

City Charter High School and Propel School
Two Pittsburgh Nationally Recognized Schools That Work? Find out WHY? RSVP....

Date: Tuesday, May 12th
Time: 8:30 am (Bagels and Coffee)
9:00 am Presentations and Discussion Begins
Location: BGC Community Activity Center, 113 N. Pacific Avenue
RSVP to:
Websites of schools: (More info below and attached)

The issue of academic progress and student achievement is at the heart of most discussions related to education. A Plus Schools, a local non-profit monitoring public education, reports several Pittsburgh Public Schools struggle to increase academic achievement. As the district begins to make decisions about under-populated schools; academic achievement has become a community priority.

The part of the discussion that focuses on student achievement in these instances revolves around some poor statistics on grades, SAT and other standardized test scores; student retention and graduation rates in some of these schools. The District has implied that proposed and potential facility and curriculum changes would have a positive impact on these statistics.

Meanwhile, two Southwestern PA charter schools -- City Charter High School and Propel School -- were among the top 21 charter schools honored in 2009 by New Leaders for New Schools, a nonprofit that focuses on school leadership. The schools' programs have infused technology and educational supports to provide an environment of success.

Students at both schools have shown a dramatic increase in educational achievement, as measured by state test results in reading and math that factor the impact of a school on its students' achievement over time; and the progress students make from one year to the next, independent of proficiency targets.

Interested in learning what works and why? Representatives from City Charter High School and Propel School will present their educational models, curriculums, educational challenges/solutions, and approaches to community/parents engagement on Tuesday, May 12 at the BGC Community Activity Center, 113 N. Pacific Ave. in Garfield. Bagels and coffee at 8:30 a.m., followed by the presentation and discussion at 9 a.m.

Please RSVP to or call 412-441-9833.

Healthy school bus campaign

From the April "Start a new post":

Kathy Fine has left a new comment on your post "Start a new post":

I am posting this for Tom Hoffman.

Quick Update On The Healthy School Bus Campaign

Because of the memorial services for the Pittsburgh Police Officers killed in the line of duty, our meeting with the School District was postponed until next Wednesday at 1:00. We will update you on that meeting next week.

We also want to update you on progress we’re making identifying potential projects that would qualify under the DERA (Diesel Emission Reduction Act) portion of the stimulus package. Nationally, there is $300 million available to reduce toxic diesel emissions as well as increase green jobs. EPA Region III (of which Pittsburgh is a part) is expected to receive $16 million of those funds. The Allegheny County Partnership to Reduce Diesel Pollution, led by Clean Water Action and the Group Against Smog and Pollution, is working closely with the Allegheny County Health Department to submit grant proposals for funds to replace, repower, rebuild, and/or retrofit diesel vehicles from such diverse sectors as construction, buses, municipal vehicles, locomotives, and marine vessels. We’ll keep you posted.

If you haven't done so already, don't forget to visit the Clean Water website and sign the online petition to support healthy school buses. (

For more information on this campaign, please contact

Posted by Kathy Fine to PURE Reform at April 21, 2009 9:55 AM

Monday, April 20, 2009

Public hearing testimony posted

PURE Reform's public hearing testimony has now been posted. Go the the PURE Reform website, announcements page, and click on "PURE Reform Report" for this April 20, 2009 event. Topics were this month's Transparency Watch and a "central meca, accessible local options" proposal for high school facilities.

Only 5 of 9 board members were at tonight's hearing. One absent member was however Board President Theresa Colaizzi, who has an exemplary attendance record at anything Board related. The superintendent was absent as well, but he also has a strong attendance record.

Agenda review materials now available

It was announced at today's public hearing that agenda review materials will now be posted on the PPS website on the Monday prior to each month's aganda review. Go to, then the "Notes and news" tab. PPS is to be applauded for this advance in transparency and A Plus Schools commended for its role in making this information available.

Here are the links to this month's items:

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Task to aid self-esteem lifts grades

From Friday's NY:

"Task to aid self-esteem lifts grades for some":

The task involved an assignment several times a year where students chose from a list of values which were most important to them and wrote about them. The self-esteem connection is the idea that students feel less less anxious when reminded that their self-worth is determined by more than a test result. However, it seems possible that the exercise may also have helped students to become more focused on values such as perseverance.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Education Writers Association articles

The Education Writers Association website looks like a really good resources, with articles on a variety of educational topics- see for example articles on testing:

This resource will also be added to PURE Reform's links page.

Gay students do not feel safe in PA schools

From today's PPG:

No information in the article on Pittsburgh schools, but there have been comments at public hearings that gay students have felt comfortable at for example Schenley.

Suspensions at Allderdice for being in hallways w/out a pass

From today's PG:

Are there some sort of district-wide guidelines about the type of infractions that warrant suspension?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

PPS Peabody committee meetings closed

We will be correcting the Announcements page to specify that the meetings of the committee on Peabody formed by the district are closed and not available for public observation. It is not clear what the concern is- it would seem that the district would welcome the opportunity to share information as widely as possible rather than hiding it- but this approach was also taken with the IB committee, which was required to keep information confidential within the group until after it made a recommendation. The first meeting is set for tomorrow.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Report on March EFA Meeting

PURE Reform's report on the March Excellence for All meeting has now been posted. Go to the announcements page, scroll down to the March 24, 2009 event and click on "PURE Reform Report."

Stimulus funds for middle school literacy

According to today's PG, the district plans to use much of $43M of stimulus funds on middle school literacy. The article describes a combination of programs during the school year and summer literacy camps.

If around a quarter of the district's approximately 28,000 students are in middle school, that works out to about $6000 for each of 7000 middle school students. While $43M sounds like a large sum of money, then, it will just fund a short term program. According to the article, the superintendent indicates that when the money ran out, he might apply for federal funds to continue the programs.

However, federal officials have cautioned against use of these one-time investment funds to provide temporary funding of programs that will have reoccurring costs, stating that continued funding will not be available. More generally, if stimulus funds are to be used for investments that will benefit generations of students, the proposed literacy camp seems to focus excessively on a small group of students who happen to be in middle school at a particular point in time. There seems to be a short term focus on PSSA tests that may be taken 2 years from now rather than on longer term expenditures we will be making payments on for many decades to come.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Teaching to the Test

This topic was started in March but comments are just now being entered.

Teaching to the test
Letter to the editor in today's PG: "Teaching to the test isn't education":

Posted by Questioner at 10:40 PM

Anonymous said...
Hooray! Those who KNOW that teaching to a test is bad educational policy know the true value of education. Teach the kids everything and they will succeed in life, teach them to fill in bubbles and give poorly thought out, oversimplified answers and you have given them the tools of failure! We can't make everyone the same. Homoginization is for milk not for people.
April 4, 2009 10:32 AM

Kathy Fine said...
At the last EFA (Excellence for All) meeting, Mr. Roosevelt stated (in response to a PURE Reform question) that the superintendents that come from the Broad foundation (he is one of them) out perform their peers after 2 years on the job because "they do not teach to the test.I do not have any children that are still taking the PSSAs, but that is counter to what I have heard from parents of elementary age students. One parent told me that her 3rd grader had homework and classwork that was literally sample questions form the PSSA test.It would be helpful (and a major point of this blog) if parents would blog with specific examples of "teaching to the test" that was going on in the PPS so that we can bring it to the attention of the distirct.
April 4, 2009 11:20 AM

Friday, April 3, 2009

Education stimulus resource

From Mark Rauterkus's blog. a link to an extremely helpful resource on education stimulus funding along with commentary:

Thursday, April 2, 2009

High achieving students neglected?

On another post, Anonymous and Anonymous wrote:

I see no sign of interest whatsoever on the part of adminstration in top achievers. It is assumed that they will fend for themselves.

April 1, 2009 10:22 PM

I share the concern ( stronger word should be used) for the high-achieving kids of the PPS. At the PVASS (value added) presentation, the high achievers in the city were the ones that showed the least growth; it is not just our imagination that the high-achievers are not being challenged. As a parent and a former educator, this situation was one of the reasons that we chose IB. With its outside the district grading, the program is forced to meet higher standards. At Allderdice and other city high schools, AP classes and dual enrollment are used by knowledgeable parents and kids for the same purpose. A city school system should be meeting the needs of ALL of its constituents.

April 2, 2009 7:33 AM

Proposed options for future uses of Peabody HS

From the Pittsburgh Peabody stakeholders group, some exciting suggestions for new uses of Peabody HS. Input is encouraged and may be sent to .

Pittsburgh Peabody Stakeholder Working Group


Please respond back to this e-mail with your school design choice for the Pittsburgh Peabody facility. Our goal is to have one or both of these ideas adopted by the Pittsburgh Public Schools Facilities Consultants and the Facilities Steering Committee permitting it to be presented at the May 2009 regional facility planning meeting.

Let us know if you like one (or both) of these ideas or have another amazing idea………………..


On Wednesday, March 25th, the 4th Pittsburgh Peabody Stakeholders Committee Meeting was convened with representation from the International Baccalaureate and Homewood communities. The dedication of community members was evident by everyone sustained participation.

An exciting plan was presented to committee members concerning two school design concepts for the Pittsburgh Peabody facility.

Each school design concept will offer students of all academic levels in the community with a chance for educational achievement and a bright future as productive citizens in Pittsburgh.

SCHOOL DESIGN CONCEPT (A) – Career/Technical Educational (CTE) & International Baccalaureate (IB) Programming
Curriculum – Shared space between the 9th – 12th CTE Programming & 9th – 12th IB Programming
Full student body integration within general courses (music), athletic teams, school plays, school clubs, and other extracurricular activities.
CTE options - expanded Health Careers Academy, reinstated CISCO within a new Information Technologies program, Robotics, Culinary Arts Academy, Business/Financial, Construction/Industrial and other various program options.
A new model of full community engagement and accountability.
Estimated population 500 CTE students/500 IB students
Preference to local students for the CTE program

SCHOOL DESIGN CONCEPT (B) – “New” Citywide option for Career/Technical Educational (CTE) program
Curriculum - CTE Programming 9th – 12th
A new model of full community engagement and accountability.
CTE options - expanded Health Careers Academy, reinstated CISCO within a new Information Technologies program, Robotics, Culinary Arts Academy, Business/Financial, Construction/Industrial and other various program options
Estimated Population - 1000 CTE students only
Preference to local students for the CTE program

Asbestos issues update

Below is a copy of a memo sent yesterday to the Superintendent and Board members with an update on PPS asbestos issues.

Pittsburgh Public Schools Asbestos Issues Update- April 1, 2009

PURE Reform is pleased to report that the Pittsburgh public school district has responded to all of our questions to date regarding asbestos plaster in district school buildings (see the memo attached with our most recent comments in bold print) [NOTE: the information is posted on PURE's website, Featured Topic Asbestos Issues, bottom portion on follow up questions].

Further, after we presented our petition by over 200 city residents for an inspection of certain buildings with large amounts of asbestos containing plaster, the district informed us that it had retained two independent environmental consultants to conduct room by room inspections of the McKelvy/Miller, Vann and Woolslair buildings and to provide opinions as to risks that asbestos may pose in these buildings.

We do have the following concerns:

1) In a February 2009 letter the district stated that RL Kimball had surveyed Vann Elementary School prior to the start of the 2008 school year. We reviewed this report and found extraordinary and unexplained differences between Kimball's plaster survey and a plaster survey done by consultant AGX just four years earlier.

2) The environmental consultants' inspections ordered by the district are to be completed by the end of May, which is AFTER facilities consultants will have developed and presented facilities options to the public.

3) Our petition also requested an updated inspection of the Schenley building and comparison of the condition of the Schenley plaster to that of the plaster at McKelvy/Miller, Vann and Woolslair. This information would be relevant to the development of options by the facilities consultant. Further, given the disparity in surveys at Vann done by different consultants, it is important for all of the asbestos plaster buildings to be evaluated by the same consultant.

4) As described in the memo attached, it appears that the difficulty of addressing problems with the Schenley ventilation system has been overstated.

PURE Reform is heartened by the district's responses to our inquiries. However, as noted above, we do have questions regarding the equitable treatment of all Pittsburgh public school facilities with asbestos containing material and look forward to continuing to work with the district to resolve these concerns.


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

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