Friday, October 21, 2011

Budget cuts expected to affect PPS class sizes and offerings

From the PG, in addition to school closings and changes in feeder patterns

"... a school that offers two geometry classes of 14 students would offer a single class of 28 students. The plan would also combine various levels of similar class electives, consolidate levels of core classes in high schools and offer semester-long -- instead of yearlong -- electives, if enough students express interest."

Read more:

This article about serious cuts in the budget and courses is vaguely headed "School board mulls tips to revamp education."


Questioner said...

This may be a good time to review "How we got where we are."

Questioner said...

On another post Old Timer wrote:

"Old Timer has left a new comment on your post "PPS to address underenrollment":

Questioner, perhaps this should be a separate thread, but...

All teachers received a poorly written email from their respective principals last night about Dr.Lane's proposals. I'm sure that any teacher worth his or her salt would have seen that it was ghost written by central administration, evidenced by the carbon copy going to respective assistant superintendents.
The letter is quite probably the worst bit of propaganda I have been treated to from this district in three decades. Once again, it is another "we're all in this together" diatribe that talks about national notoriety and how we have achieved AYP. The message seeks to soothe teachers who are nervous about their positions while giving even the most casual reader that Dr.Lane will not seek to end the bloat that exists at Bellefield Avenue and other locations where numerous individuals are called "administrators" or "supervisors" and have absolutely NO connection to the students.
In her comments, Dr.Lane continues to cling to the idea of the RISE/Teacher effectiveness program that targets teachers at any time while calling the idea "empowering" for teachers. Among other things, the bottom line is...many, many teachers are going to be fired. Schools are going to be closed. Classes are going to be huge. Electives are going to be ended.

But administration that does not impact your students will keep their jobs.

How in the world does this group of people get away with such blather?
How does any teacher--any teacher--still support the PFT, who incidentally, also are on the PPS payroll????

The grandstanding in this email and in the comment to taxpayers about "fiscal responsibility to not raise taxes" is a grotesque example of ideologies being put before the needs of our children."

Questioner said...

The unwillingness to make commensurate cuts in the administrative and supervisory budget is incomprehensble.

Questioner said...

The Tribune article has a more accurate title, "Pittsburgh public schools considering increased class sizes"; from the article

"Pittsburgh Public Schools' class size in high schools could increase by nearly 67 percent -- from 18 students to 30 -- under a proposal that administrators presented on Thursday....

The average class size also would increase from 20 to 25 in kindergarten to third grade, and from 20 to 28 in fourth through eighth grade. Some classes in kindergarten through eighth grade now have up to 24 students."

How does the State requirement of a 20 student limit in classes for students classified as gifted fit in?

PleaseSpendMoreonCommunicationsAndMarketing said...

After the US Secretary of Education left Pittsburgh on his Broad/Gates apologist tour, he landed in District Public Schools, likewise pointing to them as an example (heaven help us all).

As we continue to celebrate the Roosevelt/Lane/Fischetti/Weiss era, let's see how things are going in Detroit:

Detroit Teachers Union Decries Classroom Crowding.
Describing a Detroit kindergarten class with more than twice the number of students mandated under the district's contract with its teachers union, the Detroit News (10/21, Chambers, 135K) reports that the union says overcrowding is happening "because of fluctuating enrollment and delayed teacher assignments. The district says it is reorganizing classrooms and teacher placement to bring sizes closer to contractual limits: 25 students for K through third grade; 30 for grades four and five, and 35 for grades 6-12." The piece quotes district officials stating that the city is working on fixing the problem and minimizing its impact, but adds, "the reality at DPS is this: Earlier this month, a science class at Finney High had 72 students, the DFT said."

Good thing PPS has an Archivist to write all this down.

Questioner said...

Before any courses are eliminated or reduced, or class sizes increases, there should be an exlanation as to which of the WAA's Reality Based Budget suggestions have been adopted and for suggestion not adopted the reason it is preferable to cut course offerings and increase class sizes. The link is at:

Anonymous said...

The elimination or reduction of courses and the increase of class size at this critical time, a time of very low achievement scores and chaotic situations in our schools SHOULD BE TAKEN OFF THE TABLE, TOTALLY!


Anonymous said...

The elimination or reduction of courses and the increase of class size at this critical time, a time of very low achievement scores and chaotic situations in our schools SHOULD BE TAKEN OFF THE TABLE, TOTALLY!


Anonymous said...

Re teacher relationships with the PFT -- At least there's a mechanism to have your voice heard. At least teachers can show up at a union meeting and complain.

I'm not a fan of what's going on at all. I've said this to union officials directly.

But I'm not going to deny that the union has helped me out in several situations, especially when I was targeted by a principal a few years back. Seriously -- they swooped in, made noise, and that principal ultimately was forced to retire (I wasn't the only one targeted -- but they used me as a clear example of what the principal was doing wrong).

It's just not so black and white. I'd rather have a union than not. At least there are ways to affect change through public discourse and elections. I'm ok with district bashing here but union bashing -- just bashing, not thoughtful criticism -- just comes off as reactionary anti-union, not anti-PFT.

Questioner said...

Would district bashing be unreasonable criticism? The great majority of posts expressing concern about the district seem pretty reasonable.

Something like the lawn chair posts may verge on bashing, but this is a time when the extras are being cut for kids and schools.

Seen it All said...

to anon 9:36

It was good to hear that the PFT stepped in forcefully to help you. Of course, that's what you pay dues for, and you should have expected no less.

I don't mean to minimize your post, but in your case, that was simply the PFT doing what it was supposed to be doing.

The many critics of the PFT are speaking out because in the huge majority of cases the PFT is not doing what it is supposed to be doing.

Some examples. I am personally aware of three teachers who were refused representation by the PFT in their disputes with their principals. One was told over the phone by a PFT staff member that she should simply get a job somewhere else. The PFT would not even send someone to her building.

Also, you mentioned that at least we have elections where we can influence events. That's usually not the case.

Perhaps you are aware that in the last union election, reform candidates won the offices of Vice President and Treasurer.

The PFT President at that time, John Tarka, and his executive board refused those people their staff positions.

The PFT constitution requires signatures of 100 members to bring this to an open membership vote. Many more than 100 signatures were collected. Tarka simply ruled the motion out of order.

The current PFT president, Nina Esposito-Visgitis, is up for election next spring (I will not say up for re-election, because she was never elected to her position. Like so most other PFT staff members, she was appointed by Tarka). She is currently visiting the schools to talk to the membership.

Yet Esposito-Visgitis has proposed changes in the union by-laws to prohibit her challenger, Mark Sammartino, from also visiting the schools. It is a remarkable example of corruption.

THese are just a few examples of what is wrong with the PFT. I'm sure others can add many more.

There is no one who is more pro-union than I. This is not union-bashing. It is telling the truth.

And it's important that the truth get out! Decisions made by the PFT leadership affect more that just the membership.

The PFT could have, and should have, acted as a responsible counterbalance to the more outrageous acts of the Roosevelt administration.

But whether through laziness or a desire not to make waves, that didn't happen. And that's one reason why we got where we are.

Old Timer said...

"Anti-union"??? That's complete and utter insanity.
I was there at union meetings in the olden days, fighting for better conditions and better pay. I was one of the people who opened my mouth--and didn't just sit back and enjoy what the union was able to accomplish--to make sure concerns were understood.
I was there to fight outrageously horrid principals and to ensure that what was negotiated and agreed upon under contract was actually adhered to by administration.
Were you there?
A union should necessarily be adversarial with administration. It shouldn't be glad-handing and kissy faced under the guise of "progress." It should give back what so many of your union brothers fought hard for and at great peril. It shouldn't roll over and capitulate when a corporate tool makes noises that sound a great deal like a 'gut check.'
I was one of the people who consistently demanded that Al and Paul and Joe come out to a school I was working at that had a maniac in charge.
I was at a school that set a record for grievances--back when grievances mattered--and a number of teachers who were willing and did take grievances to subsequent levels, which again, was a right under contract.
You would rather have a union than not?
When an executive board member can get up at RISE training and talk about the need for such a process to "weed out", it's clear, isn't it?

If you've been in this district for the last two contracts, YOU'VE LOST MONEY. Your "wage increases" have not kept up with the cost of living, and if you are not at step 10, you didn't even get that.

You've likely signed off on the RISE process, on myriad give-backs, and it's likely that you never even read what was being proposed.

Please, it's weak of spirit teachers like you who have killed the union and "empowered" people like Tarka and Esposito. You've allowed them to get away with it.

Here's a clue for you: take a look at last year's board minutes. Read them for each month. In the area of personnel, look at the resignations and terminations.

Ask yourself why.

I'm glad the PFT hypnotized you. It's a good thing that you weren't up against a PELA. You wouldn't even have had a call back from the PFT.

Seen it All said...

Correction to my 10:59 post.

In the last PFT election, the reform candidates won the offices of Vice President and SECRETARY.

As I stated earlier, these two elected officials were denied PFT staff positions. Mr. Tarka instead appointed someone to staff who had not even stood for an election.

Anonymous said...

Chill, Old Timer. I've been around longer than you're giving me credit for. Twenty plus years. I speak up at meetings. I disagree with union officials. I'm there with you. I'm anti-RISE and this "effective teaching" nonsense and I've made that clear.

I've also been a building rep at more than one building. Those three folks at your building who aren't being represented fairly? Hmmm. That sounds fishy. Are you sure you're getting the full story? When I was building rep, sometimes you found out things that didnt cast a teacher in a very good light. Things that weren't obvious at first.

I know our salaries have not kept up with inflation -- but has anyone's outside of the top 1% in this country? At $80,000 I make more than 70% of the families in this country. My social worker friends make far less. My iron working nephew makes around $45,000. My lawyer friend in the public sector makes around $90,000. I can't complain too much about my salary outside of where it fits in the whole society, including that top 1%. But that's another discussion.

And no, I didn't vote for the last contract. We sold out new teachers in my opinion. I hope we vote all this crap out next time.

PS: I know people love to love Sanmartino, but I don't think he's the end all be all. I've heard him say some pretty dumb stuff too.

Anonymous said...

My child is already in a middle school with classes sizes of almost 40. How much larger does the district plan to go? And then they ponder why people continue to leave the district on a daily basis.

Anonymous said...

There use to be a cap on class size. It was 30 and it could be pushed to 32, but never 40. When did the rules change? It was a PFT thing and it could be "grieved."

Is there no one (at the district level) who stands behind what is best for students (and teachers)?

We are in a time when the smaller the better (meaning closer to 20 students per class) is best for students (youngest or oldest).

Seems like the PPS goal is not the promotion of children; but, instead the promotion of central office.

As was heard over and over again at the public hearing__families will flee to parochial, charter, and suburban schools. There will soon be nothing left of the once proud and productive city schools.

Seen it All said...

Regarding class sizes, Anon 11:20 certainly has a point. Class size reports should include both the average class size and the size of the largest class.

But be aware that there is a trick even when reporting the average class size data! It all depends on how that number is calculated.

A simplified example:

Suppose that there are only two classes in a school building, one with 30 students and one with 40 students.

One way to calculate class size is to simply average out the student numbers. Divide the total number of students by total number of classes.

By this method, class size in that building would be reported as 35 students.

But wait, there is another method often used to calculate class size. Divide the total number of students in the building by the total number of professionals in the building.

So in the above example it would work like this: suppose that the building had two teachers (one for each class), a principal, a guidance counselor, and a librarian. That's five professionals.

So class size in that building would be reported as 14 students! (70 divided by 5)

An outrageous class size of 35 has magically become a class size of 14.

Obviously, the method that reported 35 students per class is the more honest and true method.

But Pittsburgh has often used the second method, which hides the actual class sizes.

Anonymous said...

Masters of DECEPTION is the pre-eminent strength of PPS Central Office. The evidence keeps mounting!

What advantage is there to Board Members supporting this type of manipulation? What is their reward?

Do they want to see Pittsburgh Schools totally dismantled? Are they not embarrassed by the DATA?
Do they believe their own PR? Do they understand the NEED of Central Office to propagate on behalf of their own careers and clearly, unfortunately, tragically NOT on behalf of Students?

Seen it All said...

I would like to offer another example of how average class size data can misrepresent the actual situation.

Suppose a school had the following six classes:

Special Ed Math, with 5 students
Special Ed English, with 10 students
Calculus, with 15 students
Algebra, with 40 students
Spanish, with 40 students
English, with 40 students

It is not unusual to see PPS classes with numbers such as these.

Let's further suppose that the school chose to calculate class size by dividing the total number of students by the total number of classes. That's the more "honest" method (see my 9:04 post).

We get an average class size of 25, which doesn't seem all that bad.

But most of the students (120 out of 150) are stuck in huge classes of 40 where individual attention would be impossible.

And it's in those classes (like algebra) where individual attention is so very important.

One way to make this data a bit more representative would be to report the size of the largest class along with the average class size data. But I don't see that ever happening.

Questioner said...

Doesn't the union contract address the largest actual class size permitted, rather than just average class sizes in a school? Wouldn't a 40 student classroom violate union rules?

Seen it All said...

Questioner, the union contract does address class size.

For example, in the high schools the mainstream academic classes are limited to 30 students.

But then, in typical contractual doubletalk, the contract says that (with some restrictions) that number can range between plus or minus 6.

So now we have an effective contractual limit of 36.

So what happens when a teacher sees 40 students report to his or her classroom on the first day of school?

Naturally, the teacher would bring this to the attention of the principal. Sometimes, an attempt would be made to lower the number to 36.

But often the teacher will be told to wait until the end of the academic quarter, when (hopefully) the classes will be rebalanced.

Or the teacher will be told to simply live with it as there are no other places to put the excess students. Often the teacher is pressured to do so as a "favor" to the principal.

And the most common response from the union has been for the teacher to report back after any rebalancing at the quarter break. Just kicking the can down the road.

Anonymous said...

Seen it all is telling the truth- also, if one class starts out with 33 and the other say 5th graqde has 29-- it is allowed to "rebalance" and of course by then, no one wants to "change the student's room" unless of course there is a disruptive student- then they can change rooms 5 days before the end of the year... so when a parent complains about class size -- it is real-- also, often staff with pressure for a group of special education students to mainstream together-- raising the class size. The stories just go on and on.

Anonymous said...

To the person who asked why the board members aren't embarrassed by the data....they don't get the real data. They are fed the same information that the public gets. The data is very much 'massaged' before the board members get it. What they really need to do is go and visit the schools. Not just CAPA, but ALL of the schools. They need to see those schools that have 40 kids in a class as well as those that have 5. They need to see the state of our schools. Forget the manipulated data...go visit the schools!