Saturday, January 2, 2010

District criticized over charters

From the PG:


Questioner said...

The article notes that "The district long has battled academic problems, though officials have cited big improvements in recent years."

This statement may leave the average reader with the impression that the district has actually impoved greatly in recent years, compared to prior years. However, PURE Reform analyses have shown that changes in district performance are similar to changes in performance of the state as a whole, and that the rate of improvement was actually greater for most grades and tests under the prior administration.

Anonymous said...

At one of the board meetings discussing the charter applications, the superintendent disparaged Imagine schools (which runs the Environmental charter) and said that it doesn't compare to the KIPP charter schools. But the Environmental Charter school seems to be wildly popular with parents who are involved in their children's education and are in a position to choose or not choose PPS. The KIPP schools seem to put a greater emphasis on rote learning as a way to deal with low achieving students and seem more focused on standardized testing.

Parent two said...

And Imagine schools is more of a real estate outfit. They buy the buildings for their charters and then lease them back to the schools.

The charter movement is truly about moving tax-payer money to the private sector. Now, do teachers and principals in charters see it that way? No, I don't think so, I think they have more educationally based motives. However, the powers that be behind these schools? Yes, just as much as curriculum and software outfits, they're in it to make money.

This school survives or not based on parental perceptions. I don't think it's a bad school, certainly, and it has longer days and a longer year than the PPS. However, if you think that its perceived success is due to Imagine rather than the combination of staff and highly involved parents invested in proving they made the right choice...

Add on to that the ability to ask kids to leave that charters have over public schools (and that's where they leave to, of course) and the deck is stacked.

However, the best study done to date of charter school success finds that only 17% outperform the neighboring public schools while 30 something % UNDERperform them. That just doesn't seem like the solution to education reform. (the unaccounted for %age come about the same as public schools).

But, expecting the PG to actually investigate and report on this issue...sigh.

parent one said...

"if you think that its perceived success is due to Imagine rather than the combination of staff and highly involved parents invested in proving they made the right choice..."

There are several PPS schools benefiting from highly involved parents. Fulton, Colfax, Allderdice, to name a few. Location plays a big part too and the Imagine charter has a great location. I have to say I worry that some of the PPS critics have axes to grind. I also think the decisions based on facts about applications would stand up to scrutiny from the PDE or any other body. Plenty more to talk about though. I must move on to see if there is any mention of a BINGO to go with the gift cards under consideration.

Questioner said...

We are told that every time a charter denial has gone to the PDE on appeal, the denial has been overturned by the PDE. We will see if that is the case with the latest applications.

Re: critics having axes to grind- do you mean the former board member? What are the axes?

Observer said...

Come now, Questioner. You have a board that is led by the hair stylist and housewife that take their marching orders from the superintendent, a man who in their eyes can apparently do no wrong. It sounds like a bad comedy. Unfortunately, it's all too real and unfortunately, and their continued ridiculous actions put the screws to Pittsburgh students.
Axes to grind? It's all about money and control. What more needs to be said?
Pity that Pittsburgh residents don't care enough to make informed choices for school board members.

Mark Rauterkus said...

Would like to see the entire email from Mr. Taylor. Can it be posted here or elsewhere? I'd rather not see talk of a letter but the entire letter itself.

Does R. Taylor have a blog. Can anyone set one up for him, please.

I'd also like to see the 'statement' from PPS about the letter and charters.

P-G reporters would do everyone a favor by posting those documents in the sidebar of articles.

Mark Rauterkus said...

Trib on Charter and Alternative Schools:

parent two said...

Interesting article -- two things that stuck out to me:

"Each classroom has either two teachers or a teacher and an aide who get to know their small class of students well."

Not only two adults in the room, but also a small class. Bingo. Even mediocre teachers can do a lot more with a smaller class. There's more individual attention no matter what. There's more of a chance to reteach with smaller classes and an aide, more of a chance to go quickly past the things that everyone got quickly and spend more time on the things they didn't. There's no room for that in a scripted curriculum.

"City Charter High School has a full-time nurse and two full-time social workers to address students' physical and emotional needs."

From their website, they have 520 students. I don't know of a PPS school that size with anywhere near that kind of staffing. They also report 11% as special education (which I assume means "have an iep") and 60% free/reduced lunch. I'd love to see all the PPS schools (and many have much higher rates for both of those statistics) with that kind of staffing.

And not to beat a dead horse or anything...but charters can ask/make kids leave with far, far less trouble than your ordinary public school. If you look at the number of kids KIPP schools lose over the years, you get a pretty good sense of why they look successful -- they lose/ditch many, many of the kids who begin in their schools and after a certain grade level, they are not replaced, either.

Questioner said...

The social worker ratio is very interesting- this is something we have been urging for quite a while now. Many PPS with far more students with IEP's have only one social worker.

Another quote from the article:

There's a very smart use of time. Low-achieving schools are big time-wasters."

This is a point Dr. Barnett has made at a number of public hearings. We need more accountability for time spent. Something like a timesheet. Incidentally it would also be good to see how much time is spent on test preparation.

Questioner said...

Another interesting quote:

"Alan Lesgold, dean of the School of Education at the University of Pittsburgh, said successful schools that serve low-income students somehow compensate for what the children do not get at home."

- Fine, but how about also helping families to provide more at home? There are many examples of households with very, very low incomes but which have nevertheless provided rich learning opportunities for their children.

parent one said...

Mr. Taylor was most often prepared and served a long time. My comment about grinding axes comes from always having been the outsider, almost never on the winning side in any vote. He did not support the candidate who would become superintendent and openly supported another in the running. Possibly another ax? He was on the receiving end of snippy comments more than most other boardmembers. These sometimes came when he asked questions at legislative meetings when he had missed an agenda review or committee meeting where the topic he was questioning had been thoroughly discussed. Often the questions came in order to have the public become aware of circumstances, commendable. If you review video of meetings where charter proposals have been discussed (for at least the past two years) you might conclude that his support came from an emotional place rather than an objective review of the application and process followed by the reviewers. Sorry, I lost track of possible axes.

Questioner said...

Mr. Taylor did say that although he supported a different candidate he extended his hand when the current superintendent was chosen, and that despite differences in views he left on good terms with mutual good wishes.

Anonymous said...

Come now , Observer. Calling board members by their occupations sounds as if you are being condescending. If you have a problem with particular board members, I doubt it's due to their choice of occupation.

Anonymous said...

Come now, anonymous. Surely you do not believe that someone of the educational and intellectual stature of Taylor is somehow on equal footing with that of someone who cuts hair for a living or who is a homemaker, do you? I surely want my important decisions made by regular folks who are more prone to vote along the lines of personal preference than that of an educated, informed manner. That Randall Taylor did some research to see that 2 of the 3 finalists had long backgrounds in the classroom and in the educational arena and one didn't--oh well, the one that ended up getting the job--really isn't important, right anonymous?
And jeez, who actually takes time to think about what moves are right for the kids and the taxpayer anymore, right? I mean, doesn't everyone make decisions according to what's best for me, personally?

Anonymous said...

And what exactly IS Taylors occupation or educational background?? Or the rest of the board, for that matter? They won an election. They met the qualifications to run, and made the CHOICE to serve...for no pay.

My point being that slamming particular board members whom you think that since they are less educated than you and thus must be much less intelligent, is not the best tactic.

Anonymous said...

When the hair cutter became a school board member, now renamed the board of directors. She told a teacher at Allderdice she was more important than John Thompson. When a VP at Dice tried to suspend her son for skipping school he was moved to anouther school.

Yea, She is Power Hungry, Now the President of the Board

Observer said...

I believe the derogatory comments during the last contract negotiations can't simply be chalked up to "heat of the battle" type of rhetoric. To me at least, they spoke to a loathing of teachers rarely seen within a given school district itself.

As to the idea of intelligence, you will have to pardon me. I truly believe that the world needs waitresses and hairdressers, and I would certainly not pretend to be able to tell a waitress about restaurant practices or a hairdresser about hair cutting styles or the right hair coloring. I might like to think I understand how to give a perm, and I may think that truly, there is no need for parsley on that plate, but at the end of the day, the professionals know best.

Need I say more?

Where Mr.Taylor is concerned, I have always found him to be a thoughtful individual, regardless of whether I found myself in agreement or not. To a great degree, he has made decisions based upon what his perception of what is right for the kids. I never had the feeling that he was voting the slate, something which I can almost guarantee where the hairdresser and the homemaker are concerned. Let's face it, the superintendent walks on water, constituents and student be damned.

Again, I am reminded of the courage of the Jefferson Hills School Board in relieving its superintendent a few months back. Perhaps we can arrange a field trip to explore the ideas of responsibility and diligence.

Annette Werner said...

Here is Randall Taylor's original email:


On December 15, 2009 the Pittsburgh Board of Education will be making a profound decision one with potential education implications for students and parents, and one with potential financial implications for the taxpayers of Pittsburgh. The Board will vote to approve or reject the application of Imagine Schools, a Charter School management company, to open a school in the Hazelwood section of the City. A community that has had all its schools closed.

This vote is being watched by supporters and proponents of Charter Schools in this City, State, and particularly in Harrisburg. Many believe that the this Superintendent and Board are beginning the process of ending the possibility of any new Charter Schools being created in Pittsburgh. Why? Although money is an issue, I do not believe it to be the paramount issue. I believe what is at hand is more disturbing, I believe what is behind the potential rejection of this qualified applicant is to constrict school choice now and in the future. I believe decision-makers have come to the conclusion that the Pittsburgh Public Schools cannot compete against Charter Schools, and that numerous students in some communities would enroll in a Charter if given that opportunity, sadly they may be right.

Let's look at some facts concerning Imagine Schools, the Pittsburgh Public Schools, and Charter Schools.

Firstly, Imagine Schools already, with local control, was granted a Charter by the Pittsburgh Public Schools, and is very successfully operating the Environmental Charter School in Regent Square. How is it that the same organization can write a successful application for one Charter School, but an unsuccessful one their fourth time through the process? Yes, this application is a resubmission, like the Regent Square Charter it was originally rejected. Yet, when it is reviewed again, as a School Board Member stated a meeting last week the reaction was harsher and negative the second time around. That would be like resubmitting a term paper after comments from the professor and that term paper being worse, hardly likely. A patron of Imagine Schools offered the District $350,000 for Burgwin School, without guarantees for a Charter. That offer was never even brought to the Board. The Imagine Schools is an organization that manages 73 schools across the nation. But, most importantly they have created a successful school in Regent Square. The fear for the Superintendent and Board may be that they may create more. Why? Because there are many communities and parents who are finding public education choices growing narrower. Many have already turned to Charter Schools, and I believe, if given the opportunity many more will. I believe that if Imagine or any demonstrably qualified group can create a better opportunity that we owe that child and parent that opportunity.

Continued in the next comment due to posting limits.

Annette Werner said...

The Pennsylvania State Senate is taking a new look at the Charter School Law. There will be changes to existing law. The Pittsburgh School District is aware that they a being watched. If it appears that they are blocking qualified applicants for selfish reasons, Pittsburgh's actions may lead to the stripping of the authority of all 501 local school boards to decide the granting of charters. One suggestion has been to give that authority to a local college or university. Your tax dollars are going to be placed in the hands of unelected, unaccountable, faceless people to spend as they wish. Whether local Boards are fair or not with Charter applicants decisions on the use of tax dollars should always remain with elected officials.

Finally, the unfortunate truth about the Pittsburgh Public Schools is that there are thousands of students who attend year after year chronically failing schools. Schools that attract some of the least experienced teachers and see massive turn over in staff annually. There are communities that have seen their schools re-configured, experimented on, and closed. The parents in these communities, who have the same hopes and dreams for their children as others have for theirs, are looking for something that they are not finding in the Pittsburgh Public Schools. This is why so many have left for the Charter Schools operating in Pittsburgh.

Continued in the next comment due to posting limits.

Annette Werner said...

The Pittsburgh experiment with Charter School is a decade old. I believe their PSSA scores have shown them to be relatively successful. The time has come for the City to take a long hard look at Charters. Anecdotally, I believe we have seen great improvement in our Charters in the last five years. If our Charters are enjoying success then that is something we as a City have in interest in knowing. If they can be proven a success than the Charter School concept most become a part of the educational vision of this City. If they work, if they do things better, if they are more effective, if they are reaching hard to reach children, and if they are offering a new educational option for parents, than the Charter School movement must be allowed to grow. It must be made clear to our Superintendent and Board you can not derail an opportunity for a child just because that opportunity is outside of the Pittsburgh Public Schools.

Re: the district's statement, Joe Smydo indicates that the story included the entire statement from the district except that the first sentence was paraphrased.

Anonymous said...

Charter school applicants have to meet tougher requirements than the school PPS set up, CEP. CEP will not take students in special education or on probation. None of this was mentioned when CEP was sold as a way to free classrooms of disruptive students.

deegazette said...

I think there is a way to check but I believe there is something in the School Code preventing IEP students from being sent to CEP. I remember the issue was discussed thoroughly at a meeting for parents held at Brashear when Dr. Cupples and a representative of the CEP parent company were doing an overview of the plan while still under consideration. If not the School Code of PA there is some other reason outside the school district's control, but my memory is faulty. What I most remember of the meeting was TWO parents attended and about FOUR PPS teachers. It was in the Spring. Dr. Cupples did a fine presentation with Ebony Pugh assisting.

deegazette said...

I should say the meeting referenced took place about 3 or more years ago.

Imagine this said...

I can't let all the Imagine Schools talk go by without a few links.

They specifically want boards to recognize that their input means nothing:

Expenditures don't have the oversight that public schools do:

Asks the question: "Does Imagine Schools Inc. force its charter schools to spend too much money on complex real estate deals and not enough money on teachers and academic programs?"

Just like there is no one poster/way of phrasing a question that reforms education, there is no one company out there that has the answers either.