Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Tribune article on achievement disparities



Questioner said...

The article says:

"Statistics from the 2010-11 school year show only three of 12 schools with grades nine through 12 are high-achieving: Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts in Downtown; Pittsburgh SciTech Academy in Oakland; and Pittsburgh Obama Academy in East Liberty.

Read more: Achievement disparities puts Pittsburgh Public Schools to the test - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/news/pittsburgh/s_755254.html#ixzz1X8vNJOiY"

- However, no HS results are available for sci tech because high school students are tested in 11th grade only, and this is the first year sci tech has had an 11th grade. The pghboe website for CAPA lumps 11th grade results in with 6-8 and the pghboe website for Obama gives only 6-8 results, making it impossible to determine achievement levels for grade 9-12 (ie, high school) students.

Anonymous said...

From the article:
“. . . teachers are too focused on administering the yearly tests required by federal law: the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills, or DIBELS, for kindergarteners through fifth-graders; and the 4Sight benchmark test, given several times a year to students in third through 10th grades.”

These are NOT required tests by federal law or by state law. Only the PSSA (once per year) is required by the State under the Federal mandate to test once
per year.

It is unfortunate that teachers are told this. True "formative" assessing which is the minute by minute, day to day, informal assessment of whether or not students are learning and whether or not thinking skills are being well-taught would be much more effective.

Anonymous said...

Kelly Howze is correct: "being drilled on the state tests." is intense in reading and math to the exclusion of the teaching and learning the "thinking skills" applied across content areas that will provide, for students, the competence to do well on any tests (including PSSA) that assess the student's ability to think at levels for success in school and life.

The test prep in PPS is counterproductive when "thinking skills" are not embedded situationally and across textual materials.

Anonymous said...

Does the Secretary's visit mean Dr. Lane will be announcing that she will NOT take a raise this year and her cabinet (Camarda, Lippert, Spolar, etc.) will be giving back the raises they took the night before the Governor released his budget?

Superintendent Honored By Duncan For Giving Up Salary Donates Remainder To Charity.
The AP (9/6, Cone) reports that Fresno County Superintendent Larry Powell, who was praised recently by Education Secretary Arne Duncan for "forgoing hundreds of thousands of dollars in pay and benefits to help offset budget cuts to his school district has decided to give away even more." Powell "recently volunteered to return more than $288,000 in annual salary and benefits for the next three-and-a-half years of his term. He technically retired, allowing him to collect a six-figure annual pension, then was rehired with a $31,000 salary." Now Powell has announced that he will donate that salary to charity.

Anonymous said...

Has this article been published here? It is quite eye opening.

"The Shock Doctrine Case Study: Pennsylvania Public Schools"


Anonymous said...

Sorry the link does mot appear to work.

Here is another link.


Anonymous said...

Fantastic article sheds light on what we are living in Pittsburgh:


"Some background: The Times piece follows a recent Education Week report showing that as U.S. school systems are laying off teachers, letting schoolhouses crumble, and increasing class sizes, high-tech firms are hitting the public-subsidy jackpot thanks to corporate "reformers'" successful push for more "data-driven" standardized tests (more on that in a second) and more technology in the classrooms. Essentially, as the overall spending pie for public schools is shrinking, the piece of the pie for high-tech companies -- who make big campaign contributions to education policymakers -- is getting much bigger, while the piece of the pie for traditional education (teachers, school infrastructure, text books, etc.) is getting smaller.

The Times on Sunday added some key -- and somehow, largely overlooked -- context to this reportage: namely, that the spending shift isn't producing better achievement results on the very standardized tests the high-tech industry celebrates and makes money off of. "In a nutshell," reports the Times, "schools are spending billions on technology, even as they cut budgets and lay off teachers, with little proof that this approach is improving basic learning."

The paper adds that the successful "pressure to push technology into the classroom without proof of its value has deep roots" going back more than a decade, which raises the fundamental question: Why? Why would this push be so successful in changing education policy if there is little hard evidence that it is the right move to improve student achievement?

The answer goes back -- as it so often does -- to corporate power and the Shock Doctrine.

Tech companies give the politicians who set education policy lots of campaign contributions, and in exchange, those politicians have returned the favor by citing tough economic times over the last decade as a rationale to wage an aggressive attack on traditional public education. That attack has included everything from demonizing teachers; to siphoning public money to privately administered schools; to funneling more of the money still left in public schools to private high-tech companies.

This trend is no accidental convergence of economic disaster and high-minded policy. On the contrary, it is a deliberate strategy by corporate executives and their political puppets, a strategy that uses the disaster of recession-era budget cuts as a means of justifying radical policies, knowing that the disaster will have shellshocked observers asking far fewer questions about data and actual results. As the Times sums it up, the recession's "resource squeeze presents an opportunity" for corporate interests.

Or as Watkins explains, social pain is an opportunity: "Let's hope the fiscal crisis doesn't get better too soon. It'll slow down reform."...

Angry Taxpayer said...

The passage of time continues to take more and more of the glitter and glamour away from Broad/Gates/Council of Great City Schools Superintedents, doesn't it?

Evidence Of Systemic Cheating Found At Two Los Angeles Schools.
The Huffington Post (9/7) reports that a number of teachers at two Los Angeles-area schools are being accused of correcting students' answers on standardized tests at two schools, resulting in neither school. Receiving "Academic Performance Index scores, which were released last week and are state measures of school performance. Both schools are among the state's top performers." The Post describes the nature of the irregularities and the steps that officials took to investigate, presenting the story within the context of other cheating scandals in Los Angeles and districts across the country.


Anonymous said...

Do you think anyone asked Secretary Duncan during the panel discussion held at King this morning about what creates an environment for cheating?

Anonymous said...

10:25 - Would you have asked that question? I think not.

If so, however, the answer could be embarrassing if truth be told.

Anonymous said...

Frankly, though it was unexpected, Arne Duncan was quite a surprise this morning. He is no fool; he is together; he can think (for himself); he is articulate; he is INSIGHTFUL, he was responsive. All in all quite impressive. It is beside the point, I think, that he clearly saw Pittsburgh and PPS as we all would like it to be . . .

He talked about Pittsburgh leading the nation, We have the right people who could do that IF there was a united effort and a little understanding of HOW we CAN do that!

It was more good PR; but will it lead us out of the dilemma? PR has not done that up to this point.

Bulldog Forever said...

Nice article that separates the Arne Duncan myth from the Arne Duncan reality:


Here's a great link to a series of analyses of the Duncan era in Chicago:


Finally, speaking of labor-management cooperation, here's a link to the NEA's "13 things we hate about Arne Duncan" (keep in mind, for instance, that most PA school districts are PSEA/NEA and not AFT):


Cork the Champagne said...

Here's another perspective on Mr. Duncan's bus tour:

"Not to be Outdone, Arne Duncan Embarks on His Own "Magical Mystery Bus Tour"


I can't wait to see how he spins Detroit's "success."

Old Timer said...

Arne Duncan wouldn't know what it means to be a good urban teacher if the answer bit him on his ass. Here's a guy who should be thanking God every day that he just happened to know a guy who became President.
I have said this to any youngster who contemplates teaching and it is quite sad:
While teaching children is the single most rewarding calling a human being can experience, it is one which I would never recommend given the current climate in our society.
Clearly, it is not appreciated by average Americans and it is an area in which "entrepreneurs", politicians, researchers and pundits can and do continually critique from ivory towers.
Arne Duncan would not last a minute in my shoes. Heck, Arne Duncan wouldn't even dare enter my building without a bodyguard.
Sounds familiar.

Anonymous said...

Given what we hear from Old Timer himself and what we saw and heard today from Arne Duncan, there would be strong disagreement with that statement at 4:30.

The difference is abundantly clear. One is a person who has speaks here frequently with no belief in success for the world he inhabits, whereas the other moves forward with a positive belief in the ability of those in his world to change, to grow, to solve the problems in his path.

We need people who move forward with actions that represent high expectations for success. Be that and each of us will see that success.

Anonymous said...


Report about Arne's visit to PPS:

Too bad he won't take Lane and her cohorts with him to Erie...

Pass the Mustard said...

It is actually a real shame that the bus tour did not begin in Erie.

Erie City Schools - by the way, they have more students living in poverty than Pittsburgh - were making progress in 2006, made AYP in 2007, made AYP in 2008 and again made AYP in 2009. In other words, with a more disadvantaged population, met the standards four years straight.

What was the key to their success?

Well, let us make clear what was not the key. Pittsburgh's latest cost per pupil published by the PA Department of Education is $21,072.27 compared with just $12,729.67 per pupil in Erie (65.5% higher spend in PGH).

The difference in administrative costs is quite striking. Per pupil in Pittsburgh = $6,728.17 vs. $3,924.62 in Erie, almost $3K more.

Now I certainly wouldn't hold Erie up as a model of what Pittsburgh should look like, but as taxpayers I think it is fair game to ask how this other urban school district - poorer - can spend much less and achieve a little bit more.

Care for an example? Well, to start with, for a district half of Pittsburgh's size they have exactly five positions in human resources. You read that right. Not five "human capital managers", just five positions.

I can't tell though if their Superintendent is committed to grilling with gas or charcoal...

Old Timer said...

"The difference is abundantly clear. One is a person who has speaks here frequently with no belief in success for the world he inhabits, whereas the other moves forward with a positive belief in the ability of those in his world to change, to grow, to solve the problems in his path."

Dear Sir/Madam,
This statement is such a false portrait of my beliefs and feelings that I can only surmise that you either drink the proverbial kool aid that flows from Bellefield Avenue these days or are in fact an administrator who has no clue and wishes to assume a defensive posture through character assassination. A few thousand kids would laugh at such a comment.Clearly, you have read nothing that I have written.
On the contrary, I have EVERY faith in the teaching staff in Pittsburgh Public Schools. In addition, I have EVERY belief in the abilities of our students.
It is ivory tower types who confuse "high expectations" with what they glean from reading research and statistical reports that I have no use for or faith in.
"High expectations" should not coming via a grading policy that inflates the grades of students who do not wish to achieve. "High expectations" does not entail a curriculum that does not provide students with skills they will truly need for endless standardized testing, for college and most importantly, for life. Teaching kids what to think should not trump the lesson of how to think for themselves, and one must certainly question what comes to all teachers these days and its origins...whether that be a local university or entrepreneur who has made a large donation.

Progress in academic achievement will never come from ivory tower types who profess to know how to proceed, but not want to get their hands dirty.Or their supporters.

Thank you for the vitriol.

Angry parent said...

5:35 pm

I really try to avoid ranting on this blog, but your MEANINGLESS post full of EMPTY PLATITUDES is a perfect example of exactly what's wrong with this district NOW.

GET yourself out of Bellefield, asap and see for yourself what the hell's happening in your schools. The curriculum you've devised fails all but maybe 5% of the kids, all of the time. It's used as a cudgel against the teachers, not as an educational tool.

It's not challenging, it's not developmentally appropriate, it's not even feasible in most cases to actually present it as written. Teachers cannot differentiate to 4 or 5 or 7 different levels while teaching from a script, either. The teachers know how to teach, let them.

Tell me -- of which of your failed programs are you most proud?

The now-gone 4sights? (must use data, data, data, but uh, well, not this data anymore. very important last year, not important this year)
UPrep the segregated failing school you created?
Westinghouse, in its scheduleless wild-west incarnation?
Awful curricula?

I guess it would have to be Sci-Tech, the one thing you've created that hasn't fallen entirely to crap. And that seems to be in part because they seem to hold the kids to some standards of behavior and the administration backs it up. It attracts people from across the spectrum of Pittsburghers, too, it's a true choice, not a choice between two bad options.

PLEASE stop mouthing empty words about "believing" and "expectations" and "rigor" and go do something useful. There are real and big needs out there, which you aren't even looking at.

We might have believed you were sincere 5+ years ago, but it's impossible for anyone with his or her eyes open to believe that kind of talk when it comes from this administration. Besides, I've always found the best principals and teachers don't talk in broad generalities, they just get to work. Please do some real work.

Anonymous said...

Old Timer, we just want to hear you be positive, be a problem solver, demonstrate, at least by your words that you cannot be stopped, you will not lose heart, you will move forward with your beliefs and put aside all of the endless complaints (and vitriol) about others.

Don't let those "others" destroy your beliefs. Be strong. Move forward on behalf of your students with good words about what you have been able to achieve despite administrators and "ivory tower' types and/or all of those who "drink the cool aid." It seems that they control your thoughts, your work, your attitudes about how you live your life.

Those types are not worth your time and energy; but your students deserve that time, energy and commitment.

Questioner said...

Reliance on "high expectations" or teachers with the right set of beliefs amounts to a search for easy answers. High achievement is the result of hard work on the part of the student and the teacher; there is no magic set of expectations or beliefs that will change that.

Seen It All said...

Look, it's just this simple.

Do you want a rah-rah speech, or do you want the facts?

Arne Duncan is like the cheerleader on the sidelines, running back and forth while waving and shouting empty slogans.

Old Timer is like the veteran linebacker, watching every play and in on most.

Now I ask you, who has a better gauge on how the game is really going?

Mark Rauterkus said...


Dif CAPA vs Pgh Obama.

Anonymous said...

8:51 and other smart contributors- dont not confuse the snake-oil sales companies and tech with deep pockets to pay them, with real technology. As Broad et al. has grown the real instructional technology has tanked. Companies that tout electronic workbooks are not the level of technology that this district had 10 years ago. Again, look to your suburban neighbors- they are teaching keyboarding, internet research, use of technology to showcase learning- making booktrailers etc. We do electronic drill and kill and sell principals on using funds for these licenses. Again-- ask the students.

alldone said...

Good points on the technology issues. When my kid was in school one local suburban honors class gave kids reading assignments just like the ones CAS students get in PPS. The biggest difference was that writing assignements were submitted throughout the summer via email to the homors class teacher and the kids started school with grades already recorded for summer work. It may still be true that some students won't have easy access to computers throughout the summer but they will find a way if they are motivated to do the work.

Old Timer said...

I think the biggest gripe I have about Arne Duncan's visit is that it is used to validate what central administration has put into place. He's not the first, of course, but Duncan, Gates, Broad, Rhee and this ilk are part of the problem. Media eats it all up and the general public says, 'Wow, PPS is making progress.' Him coming to town and talking about how wonderful it all is kind of reminds me of the Titanic's captain visiting the musicians in the last few moments to tell them what a fine job they are doing.
You'd have to laugh about how meaningless and about what a token gesture it is if it wasn't so tragic.

Thanks all.

Anonymous said...

Society is in trouble when a democrat wins office and teachers are left in the dust. I really want to support Obama, I will vote for him again to avoid a tea party coup.

Anonymous said...

Here's the bottom line:

The gains our kids are making...however small, however negligible...are being made DESPITE the central administration of Pittsburgh Public Schools.


If there is any advancement at all currently going on, I look at the potential as ten times that if this regime was sent to the unemployment line and teachers were "empowered" to manage the curriculum.

TEN TIMES any gains we have made in the past 6 years.

Anonymous said...

5:59 - It is more than likely TRUE that PPS would be far ahead in achievement if teachers were permitted to use their experience, their knowledge, their understanding of the skills needed, their own resources and those that are provided elsewhere in abundance.

It is truly 'criminal' that professionals (teachers) are hired to do a job that they are equipped to do, are certified to do, have statewide guidance available to do; and yet, are put deliberately in a position that frustrates all of the above, put in that untenable position by a large crew of administrators who have NOT the experience, expertise, qualifications, certifications nor understanding of what it is to teach, to motivate, to inspire young people in ways that lead them to academic and career succcess.

Again, we know enough to do this; but PPS current leadership BLOCKS the path to promise for all.

Questioner said...

Administration's response would probably be that teachers had knowledge, experience, certification, etc. before the heavy handed administration tactics began and still many students did not do well.

Anonymous said...

When did they not do well? The decline in PPS has become worse even as more resources (no-cost resources) been generated and made available by the state. These resources have been denied to PPS teachers, and if they are able to access these from other sources, they are prevented from implementation due to a "managed curricula." There is much more to be said here about what has actually prevented advancement in academic achievement in Pittsburgh.

Much of it is documented and some of it has been published nationally. It really is not a mystery nor is it the fault of teachers (for the most part) but rather and administration that has been co-opted by Broad and Gates.

Evidence is abundant but buried by PPS "PR." And as 'exaggerated' as this may sound or seem to some, documentation and proof is available.

Questioner said...

At the time of Mark Roosevelt's arrival, the Council of Great City Schools put out a report with specifics as to where significant improvement was needed in achievement of PPS students. Highly controlled, heavily managed classrooms are part of the response to that situation. This response has had limited success.

Anonymous said...

Well, Questioner, as a follow-up, let us continue:

Did you know that (in the first year of Roosevelt's term) the Pennsylvania Department of Education sent into PPS a Team of (10 Highly Qualified) PA Educators to do a "Quality Review."

(In 2005-06, this process was undertaken in 30 of the lowest-achieving school district in the state of Pennsylvania. An extensive report was submitted to the State, as was required.)
In PPS, this process took several weeks with visits to schools, discussions with PPS administrators (all levels) and teachers, and a deep analysis of the DATA (PDE and PPS) by well-trained experts.

The next step was to send a PDE Team into the Pittsburgh Public Schools at the expense of the state. However, when the “Quality Review” report was submitted regarding the specifics of what needed to be done to meet State Standards and PA requirements, that QR Report was sent back to PDE by PPS because it did not match the Rand Report.

Next Step: Politics then intervened, and subsequently, the QR document was changed three times (as demanded of the PDE leader) to match the PPS Rand Report. .

Finally, and worse yet, PPS was able to prevent the PDE Team of educators from coming into PPS to assist in the improvement of the QR identified conditions that were designed, strategically, to lead PPS to meeting, within two years, the minimum PA Reading and Math "Proficiency" Standards.

(Notice, no opinions here, just the facts.)

Questioner said...

Was there ever a quality review or offer of assistance prior to 2005?

Apparently there were two routes the district could have taken- Broad assitance/managed curriculum or state assistance- the district chose Broad. Would state assistance have produced better results? Were there districts that did take the state help in 2005?

In any event there was clearly a sense that something more than the teachers' knowledge, experience and certification was needed.

Anonymous said...

All 29 of the low-achieving districts were required to take the State's assistance. Many thrived under the assistance and advanced substantially in academic achievement. Others were very resistant and were able to marginalize the influence of the District. PDE removed the Team after one year when that occurred.

The sad, sad situation is that PPS maneuvered politically and successfully to prevent assistance. Other District were not able to do so. Would the assistance have advanced PPS beyond its current status? Of course, we won't ever know if that would have been the result.

However, what we do know is that it could NOT be worse than what we currently have in PPS, despite PR to the contrary. Certainly, it would have cost us nothing to work cooperatively and collaboratively with a PDE Team to learn all that was possible in terms of PA Standards, Teaching, Learning and Assessment protocols. (The District put itself and its children "at risk." )

Instead, we have a hugely expanded set of CO administrators and droves of consultants who have only further endangered the children in PPS. Perhaps not intentionally, but the agenda has not been about children learning and succeeding; rather about adult earning and succeeding.

P.S. When PDE publishes the statewide DATA later this month we will be able to do a comparative analysis of Districts that were among the lowest achieving, and worked with PDE, and those who did not.

Anonymous said...

The first part of your question was neglected in my previous response. No, the PDE program was brand new at that time (2005) with several years of development. PPS was among the first to be given a "Quality Review" and a plan for correcting the problems. The PDE program ended with the Rendell administration.

The Corbett administration has another solution which is resulting in further disadvantage for urban children in Public Schools.

a parent said...

The discussion of the Quality Review period of 2005 reminded me that parents at PSCC meetings were told of the team coming. They were referred to as "Distinguished Educators". I don't know enough about the PDE and efforts like the QR teams, but if the teams that come to schools to do Title I reviews every year are any indication of the experience available, PPS likely missed out.

Anonymous said...

10:46 -
Districts were not given a "choice." This was a PA state mandate passed into law by the legislature.

And you are right the Quality Review specified "something more than the teachers' knowledge, experience and certification was needed." The QR studied the District in depth in six areas that were the priority:
a. Data (achievement,demographics, etc.)
b. Focus/Vision
c. Quality Leadership
d. Quality Teaching
e. Artful Use of Infrastructure
f. Continuous Learning Ethic
g. Community Relations