Sunday, September 4, 2011

How we got where we are Part XX July 2008

On another post Anonymous wrote:

"How we got where we are, part 20, July 2008

July 23, 2008: The Board approves yet another contract with Focus on Results, this time for $2,400 per day to provide “training and consulting to 18 K-5 principals and their leadership teams around The Seven Areas of Focus - A Strategic Framework for Whole School Improvement. Through this initiative, principals and their teams will develop and refine the skills and strategies they need to lead effective, results-driven efforts at whole school reform. Three consultants will meet monthly for 8 months with principals and their leadership teams. These meetings will consist of professional development training in content and process so that the school based teams can return to their schools better equipped to engage in whole school reform. The consultants will also make school visits to provide additional support as the teams work with classroom teachers on the school's area of focus. The consultants will also plan and debrief with the K-5 executive director. In between visits, the consultants will provide distance coaching, planning, preparation, coordination and collaboration with principals.”

This contract of course begs the question, if we have Focus on Results for $268,650, exactly what are we paying the Executive Director for Elementary Education to do?

The Communications and Marketing team was back at the table, this time recommending a another contract with Dennis Moran Design to “create secondary graphics including: (1) color palette, (2) fonts, and (3) imagery. They will deliver marketing materials including: (1) a capabilities brochure, (2) audience inserts, (3) school summary, (4) letterhead and envelopes, (5) presentation and display boards and (6) electronic mechanical art, and (7) additional materials as needed. Responsibilities of the contractor include print production coordination and management, layout, image creation including illustration or photography, and delivering these complete materials on time and in accordance with the
marketing and communications plan.” All yours for the special price of $150 per hour!

The Fund for Excellence provides $614,000 to pay for an additional half year of cost for the America's Choice model for Accelerated Learning Academies (ALAs) and yet another $612,411to fund the Office of High School Reform (Derrick Lopez) for another school year. Memo to Fund for Excellence: how are you feeling about both of those investments today? Total busts.

The Board hires an Executive Director for Marketing and Communications. Patricia Kennedy would last less than one year working with Chief of Staff Lisa Fischetti. In a move that defies logic, the starting salary of this position is close to $30,000 more than Kennedy was paid for similar work at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit.

Although Pittsburgh had an Office of High School Reform staffed by a highly compensated Chief of High School Reform, duplication of services was the theme of the day, as the Board approves a contract with an Acting Executive Director of High Schools. How is that for organization chart design – the Chief of High School Reform reports to the Superintendent, the Executive Director of High Schools reports to the Deputy Superintendent. Makes perfect sense.

The financial statements again note that “significant efforts must be made to reduce operating costs”, urge “an even greater premium on cutting expenses”, and asks the Board to make the sale of closed school buildings a “priority.”

Mr. Brentley votes no on the entire Committee on Education report, explaining that “my vote represents zero confidence in the leadership of this Board, as well as this administration.”


Questioner said...


"This contract of course begs the question, if we have Focus on Results for $268,650, exactly what are we paying the Executive Director for Elementary Education to do?"

- The main thing that many of these administrators seem to do is choose consultants, and not very well at that. Why do none of these contracts seem to be performance based? Is it expected that performance pay will somehow work for teachers and principals but not for consultants? And what evidence did the consultants provide that their methods would work, and did anyone ever go back and ask them "what happened?"

Anonymous said...

It makes one a little ill at times to remember that during Mark Roosevelt's earliest time in office Mr. Brentley was often chided or worse when he asked continually to slow down the process of reform and now he he sometimes thought of as the only one currently on the board who makes sense. And, we should all have a nickel for everytime he asked why couldn't someone in-house complete a project, especially in marketing areas or analysis of educational programs.

Veteran Teacher said...

Q: PPS' lack of progress on a relative basis vs. other school districts regionally and across the state provides you the counterfactual.

The barrage of communications & marketing, Broad residents, Broad Superintendents Academy graduates, and more education consultants than any of us care to remember left us still sitting among the 25 worst school districts in the Commonwealth.

Angry Taxpayer said...

Speaking of Dennis Moran and branding...

I have to wonder if the lawn furniture matched the official color palette.

Has anyone else noticed the rainbow stripes on the newer repair vans?

Anonymous said...


The fact that Central Office Administrators hire consultant after consultant also begs the question: What were they (CO admin) hired to do? What are the skills that were needed to be hired in those highly paid positions? Clearly, if they needed to hire consultants (at even higher fees) they had not the skills! In fact, the lack of results indicate NONE of the above had the necessary skills!

Dozens of highly paid individuals and NO RESULTS over six years borders on criminality!

Anonymous said...

According to the PA Department of Education Pittsburgh is continually among the worst 10 Districts in the State, overall.

Old Timer said...

I would think that the "worst" districts in the state are all urban districts or have a large majority of students who matriculate from urban settings. If I am going to take the entire PSSA discussion with a grain of salt, it stands to reason that I am going to take this comment with the same amount of doubt. That is, calling urban districts "the worst" is somewhat akin to stating that the Pirates have been among the "worst" franchises in MLB over the past two decades.
Without discussion about markets and payrolls, you see, the designation is an "of course" moment that means relatively little.
There is a great deal wrong in this district that cannot be controlled...and socio-economics and parental support are two of them.
Black or white, if students are not provided with the motivation to go to school and excel by someone--anyone--at home...something which is rampant in urban areas, where guidance is often negligible, at best...then academic achievement is going to be second rate.
This is not to say that urban school districts like ours do not have caring parents. On the contrary, many caring parents can be found here. But intertwine the idea of students who have missing adult figures in their lives with those who find the pull of other influences is stronger than that of parents and teachers...again, something more common in urban environs...and you see academic progress only inching along.

I actually see much more progress among our kids in the past two decades than back in the early 90's. I credit families for this first and foremost. I credit teachers and school administrators for helping kids to see the value in academics.

And I don't think central administration or political hacks in Harrisburg who want to label districts "the worst" are or have been the part of any solution.

Questioner said...

It IS misleading to call PPS "the worst" without taking into account demographics. The fact that PPS is showing little improvement relative to the state as a whole is important though. Outreach to parents could help influence levels of parent support.

Anonymous said...

I disagree. I was a teacher in the 90s and a teacher now. And even though n the 90s we have a serrious gang problem from my observation students did much better in the 90s era than now. And athough the urban setting have not changed much in terms of enconomics the hope was there in the teachers atleast.

Now many teachers feel that this generation is a lost one and with the district taking away our ability to be creative with curriculm we are really in trouble. If there is anyone who was a teacher back in the day I wish you could spend a week at Westinghouse or oliver and you would see what I am talking about. Without a cadre of teachers who know these kids, or community people who can help us provide balance, on most days it feels like we are going through the motion.

Anonymous said...

Thank you whomever is giving us background. This information is very informative and gives a nice history perspective.

Who, or what group is putting out this serries of "how we got where we are"? Is this a pure reform product or is it teachers, adminstrators, laid off people, community people, indivduals, groups, insiders etc etc? I would like to review them all in one reading if possible. Is there one document that goes up through current that I can read?

Finally whomever it is the district needs to use them as a consultant or hire them ASAP. We need all the knowledge and experience we can get if we are going to save our district.

Anonymous said...

Who is the number two in charge at the district. When Dr. Lane is out who takes over?

There should be a office of compliance and they should have independence. This way they could work freely to get things done without the fear of retribution. Something like a outside auditor group, and pure reform should run it.

Anonymous said...

Teachers need to DEMAND the ability/autonomy to be CREATIVE with the CURRICULUM. Teachers can teach all of the SKILLS any student needs through curricular materials that interest and intrigue students.

With African American students (or Hispanic) the SKILLS needed can and will be acquired through culturally-relevant content and curricula across content areas!

Questioner said...

In a diverse class of students, couldn't African American and Hispanic students succeed even if the curricula was diverse (referencing the cultures of all students in the class) rather than specifically relevant only to, for example, Hispanic students?

And if this curricula worked in a diverse class couldn't it work in a less diverse setting?

Questioner said...

2:13, PURE cannot take credit for "How we got where we are" but should be able to put all parts together for those who would like a copy on request.

As for auditing, etc., the district insists on keeping everyting tightly scripted and marketing a certain message- so outside groups have a very limited role. This seems to be a hallmark of the Broad approach.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Lane had the contacts to bring Arne Duncan Sec of edu to pittsburgh on wednesday. He will stop at King and another school to look at the inovative things the district did to make education better for the students. Is this not a indication that the district is doing something right?

Anonymous said...

Please dont under estimate a secretary. We see and hear alot. I would like to get a copy of the "how we got where we are series" in total. How can I get them? Also does it go up to the current or does it stop at July 2008. From what Ive seen of it they missed a few critical things that have ruin this district.

Also if it is not pure reform who puts it out, who ever does it, my compliments to the chef. I would like to add some things to it as well and I have some insider information that I think would be very helpful to the serries. I hate to do this to the district, and it may eventually cost me my job, but the way they have done so many of my coworkers and students, I cant hold back any longer. There is no way tax payers money should have been used this way. Its fraud waste and abuse.

Anonymous said...

Does any one know when the next wave of lay offs are going to be? And are teachers included in this next round?

Anonymous said...

2:44 - NO, and that is based on cognitive theory!

Anonymous said...

Thank you, 4:21 - Secretaries are in a position unlike any other in a school. They see and hear it all. Bless you!

Anonymous said...

4:07 - We can only wish that were true. PPS has the best PR I've ever seen. They are able to dandelions to orchids for the public view; but, couldn't teach metaphors to save the District's life.

Questioner said...

4:39: No to question one, question two or both?

As to cognitive theory- it is defined as "Cognitive theory is concerned with the development of a person's thought processes. It also looks at how these thought processes influence how we understand and interact with the world." There are a lot of steps and room for debate between cognitive theory and a "no" answer to these questions.

Questioner said...

4:21: We can easily put the parts together for anyone who would like to email to to request a copy (may be a few days before it is ready).

Maybe someone could put another copy on a wiki for a version with community additions.

Anonymous said...

5:18 - No, to both. Think about this for a moment (outside of cognitive theory). Currently, the PPS curricula across content areas is authored and derived in major part and from from the European-American perspective and point of view. It assumes that that perspective is the only perspective, the right perspective and honors the intellect and contributions of European Americans. White student see themselves as the authors, the inventors, the thinkers, the writers, the contributors to the world-at-large. Yes, there are tokens of "multi-culturalism" again, largely from European-American perspectives; and, no one thinks a thing about it.
However, the world is full of other contributors, other cultures, other ways of thinking.

We (American Education System) automatically and systematically advantages those students of a White, European-American backgrounds in our schools. We have done this always, and always we disenfranchise the "other" in our schools. So, when we see "achievement gaps" it is our system that deliberately creates them!

What do you think would happen if we reversed this approach? We would be "outraged" when African American and Hispanic students outperformed White students!

P.S. I am not African American or Hispanic; but, as a teacher, I like to think I've done my homework.

Anonymous said...

5:18 - You can debate it ad infinitum if you like; but, you are coming from a white person's perspective. Right?

There is research available to support any point of view we wish to take; and we rarely take a point of view that supports the underdog, the disadvantaged, the disenfranchised, the "other."

Questioner said...

If the attitude is there is research to support any point of view then why bother conducting research or looking at evidence. Usually the weight of evidence is on one side or another. And have some faith in people- many are willing to give the underdog a hand or at least a fair chance.

Would it really be fair to African American and Hispanic students to segregate them in classes so focused on African and Hispanic contributions that they do not share the knowledge base of the society in which they will live? And is it not culturally ignorant to lump "Hispanic students" together, when Mexican culture is vastly different from the cultures of, say, Cuba or Puerto Rico? And what of the growing percentage of students from two or more cultures?

Anonymous said...

1) Frankly, it is not an "attitude" it is a fact, a widely acknowledged fact. Many do research that proves their point. They fail to go beyond. Not all, hopefully, but too many.

2) All of the evidence is not in play, much not even touched upon.

3) The underdogs are those that the dominant put in that position.

4)Fair? Are you suggesting that it is "fair" that the dominant culture rules at the expense of all "others?"

5) "Cultural ignorance" is the forte of the dominant culture.

Anonymous said...

In PA school districts where Hispanic, Latino, Mexican children are migrating in large numbers (with their families) they are predominantly from one region.

The point was that these children are seriously underachieving in districts that do not honor the culture that is theirs, the culture that they bring.

Again, all must conform to the dominant culture, period.

Questioner said...

As long as some groups are greater in size than others, or have more of a history in an area, there will be "dominant groups." Comments such as "there are tokens of "multi-culturalism" again, largely from European-American perspectives" serve only to discourage people from even trying to understand other perspectives. Isn't it most practical to seek to educate all students about the many cultures that have made contributions in our world?

Questioner said...

Disagree that in PA districts Hispanic immigrants are from one region. To the extent that is the case, community groups would be the experts and in an excellent position to education children about the contributions of their region.

Questioner said...

For example:

"In the city of Lancaster, nearly two out of every five city residents identify their ethnicity to Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba and other Latin American countries." (Source:

In Pittsburgh there appear to be more Asians than Hispanics, again from a wide range of very different cultures (Vietnamese, Chinese, Indian, etc.)

As a practical matter the district would be unable to devise so many different curriculums.

Questioner said...

7:27, are you a full time PPS teacher? Are you a consultant, and if you are a consultant do you provide advice, training or materials related to culturally relevant information? Since you are not African American or Hispanic, how do you know that your intended culturally relevant teaching is not actually "from a European-American perspective"?

Anonymous said...

I'm amazed at the pretzel logic employed by this piece of prose:

"We (American Education System) automatically and systematically advantages those students of a White, European-American backgrounds in our schools. We have done this always, and always we disenfranchise the "other" in our schools. So, when we see "achievement gaps" it is our system that deliberately creates them!

What do you think would happen if we reversed this approach? We would be "outraged" when African American and Hispanic students outperformed White students!"

In fact, I am surprised that Questioner would allow it to be printed.
I'm at a loss to explain how it became acceptable to employ reverse racism, that whites could be lambasted in such a ridiculous manner.
This line of thinking is beyond reprehensible and would seek to use the race card instead of seeking real reasons for inequities.

Perhaps the author is going through our Teacher Center at Brashear these days, as it is said that new teachers are being taught that in essence, white teachers have been the problem in the past, as they have no understanding of black students.

One thing is sure: this 1960's approach to assessing blame may find a quiet audience with teachers-to-be, but will spur real conversation by those who know better. All too often, those who spout this type of foolishness know that the problem starts in the mirror.

Anonymous said...

There have been complaints of teacher training this year devoting a great amount of time to discussions of white privilege as an explanation for achievement gaps.

Anonymous said...

When in doubt, blame a teacher.

When your bad programs aren't working, blame a teacher.

It's a lot easier than saying that some problems are bigger than a teacher or even a school.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the author is going through our Teacher Center at Brashear these days, as it is said that new teachers are being taught that in essence, white teachers have been the problem in the past, as they have no understanding of black students.**

There are NO NEW teachers at the Teacher Center (except maybe by accident, if there's a new teacher in the building at Brashear or King).

Those people are going to be training all teachers.

My impression is that a lot of before school started PD included explaining to teachers that if their students fail to do really well, it's not because the curriculum sucks, it's because the teacher must be racist.

If the teacher matches the ethnicity and background of the student, well, then, I'm not sure what they say the problem is. Maybe it's the teacher next door's fault. Or maybe that teacher's too old to "understand" the children.

Anonymous said...

How do you teach this theory to ANY or existing????
How do these people get away with it?
How does "PFT President" (because she did NOT win an election for the post) Nina Esposito NOT carp long and hard and in media about such a mantra being espoused.


Try to show some courage and LEAD!

Anonymous said...

The PFT President is part of the "Bellefield Inner Circle." which becomes more and more invincible as those with any connection to real EDUCATION for Pittsburgh's leave.

Typically, the responsibilities of Central Office, the Union and the Board are to keep one another "in check" and with "eyes on the prize" (well-educated children__ALL of them).

Instead they have become a " private club" with allegiance only to adult professional advancement; and it comes only at the "expense" of urban children's educational advancement.

Tragic are the consequences of this travesty traveling into time!