Friday, October 30, 2009

Secretary of Education says states set the bar too low

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Library closings/ school closings

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

New superintendent contract

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

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

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


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

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

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

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

Monday, October 19, 2009

"Academy" for new teachers

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

Sunday, October 18, 2009

IB program/ call for parent involvement

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

Schenley/IB parents left out of the loop again

A diploma program IB teacher recently related this story:

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 17, 2009

"We can't reform education without fighting poverty"

From a letter in today's NYT:

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

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

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

Friday, October 16, 2009

A love of learning

A suggested discussion for the weekend:

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

More consulting contracts

From the PG:

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

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Brain targeted teaching

Bonuses for administrators

On another post Anonymous wrote:

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

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Testimony on limited opportunities for Schenley students

See the third testimony at .

Pittsburgh Promise delay in payments

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

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

Public Hearing testimony posted

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

It is premature to sign Roosevelt to an extension

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

Sunday, October 11, 2009

EPA tells schools to test caulk for PCB's

From the WSJ:

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

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

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Lack of librarians at PPS

From the PG Letters to the Editor:

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

Friday, October 9, 2009

Promise contributions in lieu of the public service fund

From the PG:

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

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

New Parent Portal

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Possible new post-secondary scholarship program

From the Tribune:

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

Monday, October 5, 2009

Loophole lessons

From today's PG

"Loophole lessons

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


PSSA science results

From the Tribune:

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

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Blue Ribbon School

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

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

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

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

School buildings that merge art and architecture with education

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

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Parents as partners

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

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

Early childhood center at the sci tech school

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

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

Deliberations at board meetings

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

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

Superintendent's goals

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

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

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

EFA goals and accountability

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Special ed and inclusion

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

September 23, 2009

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


Stephanie said...

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

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

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

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

Stephanie said...

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

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

Stephanie said...

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

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

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

amymoore said...

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

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