Wednesday, January 4, 2017

A+ hiring of Republican political consulting firm

Anonymous wrote:

"Forgive me in advance if I sound rambling but I thought the topic important enough to risk being late for work to post this and ask for your opinions. The PG carried the article: on December 16, 2016.

To me the most pertinent line in the article was: “Cold Spark also has made inroads with non-political clients, including work for local school reform advocacy group A+ Schools and a Pittsburgh Diocese campaign to attract more candidates to the priesthood.”

Cold Spark is described as a GOP Political Consulting Firm. Was A+ unable to find a consulting firm not affiliated with any one political party in this town? I can’t be the only person bothered by this connection, can I? The director of A+ was a guest on the show Chris Moore does on PCNC and presented much of what we have heard in the past in terms of school performance. I suppose it is time to go back and read the organization’s mission statement and try to watch the episode again. I will also have my radar up to see if any candidate references A+ while giving a speech or answering a question. This just does not feel right to me. "


Questioner said...

After cheerleading for Broad Gates initiatives for many years A+ started to turn critical at the end of Linda Lane's tenure- maybe turning toward the privatization approach favored by the new Republican education appointee?

Anonymous said...

If we don't allow them to overturn the school board there will be very little they can do.

This is their plan with the help of Cate Reed and apparently this new GOP group.

Anonymous said...

Seriously, I'm certain A+ schools has hired this group to elect their school board picks. We MUST NOT let that happen.

Anonymous said...

Thanks 5:03 for the reminder from gadfly. I am sure I read the original post but did not recall Reed was on the A+ board.

One big issue with charter schools and the agenda of those who wish to support them, like Halverson, Reed and Broad is pretty simple. It takes effort on the part of a parent or guardian to complete the process of investigating and applying to a charter. That eliminates a lot of kids just because the legally responsible adult lacks desire. Without major expansion of oversight and a funding formula that makes more sense the possibility exists that a charter could appear to be a publicly funded "private school". This way many of my fellow liberals can operate with a clear conscience with their kids in charters. We would be much better served by spending education dollars on additional supports like social workers and guidance counselors and school nurses.

Anonymous said...

Since Reed and Co. haven't been able to get in the front door, they'll try the backdoor. A+ Schools is not a friend of PPS.

Anonymous said...

A+ Schools and PPS from the A= Schools website

"How Funds are Used
The crucial funding we receive from local and national foundations and individual contributors allows A+ Schools to serve as an independent community advocate focused on improving equitable outcomes in Pittsburgh Public Schools. "

"focused on improving equitable outcomes in PPS." What exactly does that mean?

Anonymous said...

might it mean the same quality is delivered to a student at Sci-Tech Middle as at South Hills Middle? Like I always say it's just a bunch of words unless you can easily understand the meaning. wouldn't it be great if A+ would step into the conversation right here, right now?

Questioner said...

Anonymous wrote:

"Invitation sent to James Fogarty!

James, there is a request for A Plus to join an online conversation about A Plus schools. "

James Fogarty said...

Thanks for the invitation to join the conversation.

Let's start with your first question. We engaged the Carey Group (a Democratic firm) and Coldspark Media (a Republican firm) to help us with base building and to make inroads with legislators on both sides of the aisle. As you may know, we are a member of the Campaign for Fair Education Funding. It's important for the interests of Pittsburgh's students that we have relationships across both sides of the aisle to protect the resources we have, and to be able to be involved in policy conversations that matter to kids in Pittsburgh. Our friends at the Carey Group and Coldspark helped us better understand the local and state landscape, and provided us with support to help grow our base. We no longer work with either firm.

Secondly, we are a 501(c)3 non-profit organization and as such, we do not endorse or support candidates in any election, and our voter education campaigns of past years and future years are undertaken with the strictest adherence to all requirements under the law. We are a community alliance, representing a broad swath of opinions and viewpoints on public education in Pittsburgh. Our board members are active and engaged leaders in our community. In the past, we have had board members who openly supported opposing candidates in school board races. We believe that this diversity of opinions is a strength and helps keep us focused on our mission of equitable and excellent schools for all of Pittsburgh's children.

Finally, when we talk about equity, we define it as providing each student the individual support he or she needs to meet and exceed a shared standard of success, including graduating from high school ready for college or career training. When we say we're focused on improving equitable outcomes in PPS, we think of four strategies for getting there: a great teacher in every classroom, resources allocated based on the needs of the students in the building, opportunities that engage students and help prepare them to be creative, productive citizens, and differentiated supports that help unlock the potential of each and every child.

What does that mean in action? It means we advocate for improving how we support and coach teachers to help children reach their full potential. It means we advocate for opening access to AP and CAS classes (a change that occurred a few years ago) to more students of promise. It means we support Latino Parents United in Action, a group of parents who have been working to ensure better language supports for all families for whom English is a second language. And finally, when we talk about improving equity, we mean supporting students' call for a bill of rights through our TeenBloc program and seeing the reduction of zero-tolerance discipline that leads to the disproportionate pushout of Black students, Brown students, and students with Exceptionalities.

We will continue to advocate for policies and practices that the research and our constituents support. If you're interested in getting more involved with us, please go to and join our mailing list. We have volunteer opportunities and programs that you can be a part of.

Thanks for reaching out to me, and for the opportunity to be part of this conversation.

Questioner said...

This will take a little time to digest, but A+ for willingness to engage and a detailed and speedy response, a nice change.

Anonymous said...

"a great teacher in every classroom"

RISE, VAM, etc. took care of this. The students are struggling as charter schools bleed the districts funds. A+ and Fogerty are dangerous con artists. They want to overturn the school board and Cate Reed will have TFA replacing the veteran teachers in no time. This is their idea of a great teacher in every classroom. Cate Reed is still butt hurt that Dr. Lane and the school board were the one of the only districts that EVER voted down allowing TFA in.

Don't let Fogarty fool you. He is more dangerous than the last A+ director. They are most definitely trying to get in the back door to take over the school board. Do you remember how hard they fought to remove Hamlet because he did fit their ideology. I have followed letters he has written to newspapers, etc. He is no friend to teachers or public education. Do you want non union temps teaching your children. He is an even worse cherry picker than Carey Harris was when finding data to support his agenda. It's scary how reasonable and pro education he can sound, but please be smart enough to read between the lines. Look at the teacher evaluations. There is a great teacher in every PPS class room, teacher doing the job of 10 James Fogartys, spending his or her own money as resources are cut. A+ schools should be singing the praises of PPS teachers and helping us get the resources we need to support our children, like Community Schools. Great Schools Pittsburgh are true advocates for children and teachers, we have seen what Cate Reed and A+ schools are about.

Anonymous said...

So this seat will be open. Watch this closely.

Questioner, how about an invitation to Nina Esposito Visgitis and Great Public Schools Pittsburgh (GPS) for their take on all of this this.

Anonymous said...

Carey Group may be democratic but Abass Kamara, from Carey Group, donated to the Campaign for Quality Schools PAC.

PPS Teacher said...

A+ Schools has been involved with the Pittsburgh Public Schools for quite some time now. What has been gained from this association? Have scores dramatically improved? Has staff morale improved? Has student morale improved?

The answers to all of these questions are the same: No.

As a veteran PPS teacher, I see A+ Schools as I see most "consulting" groups. They are made up of elites with no experience in urban classroom teaching. They have never worked with children who comes to school only three days a week. They have never taught a class where perhaps 1/3 of the students are disruptive.

Nevertheless, they feel very qualified to tell me, and my colleagues, exactly what we are doing wrong, and how we must improve.

A+ Schools might be great at issuing press releases. But for those of us in the trenches, those of us who are working as best we can to help the kids in our classrooms, A+ is, at best, an unnecessary distraction.

PPS Teacher said...

PPS Teacher here again.

Let me quote from the Jan. 5 10:03 AM posting. "we advocate for opening access to AP and CAS classes (a change that occurred a few years ago) to more students of promise."

That alone should tell you how very destructive A+ Schools is. Who should get into an AP or CAS class? The answer is obvious: Only those students who are prepared for it!

Consider AP Chemistry. That is an advanced second-year chemistry course. In years gone by, it was only open to students who did well in first-year chemistry, those with a B grade or above. And that only makes sense. If a student did poorly in first-year chemistry, that student is not a good candidate for second-year chemistry.

But the poster at 10:03 evidently disagrees. Advanced courses must be opened to "students of promise", whatever that means.

I'm seeing the results of that silly thinking in the PPS now. We have many students in advanced classes who just don't belong there. The old standards are gone. So what is the teacher to do? Should he just fail the unqualified students, or should he slow down to the point that the course in no longer an advanced course?

Not every student is AP material, just as not every student is varsity football material. But A+ Schools will not admit to that. They prefer to live in a pleasant dream world. And that is one reason why the PPS is in the mess it is in.

Anonymous said...

agreeing with PPS Teacher...A+ has done nothing FOR PPS... and just packing students into AP isn't the answer.Yes students with promise should be placed in gifted and talented programs to help them prepare. But to throw unprepared students into advanced classes is a waste of their time. PPS needs to advocate and encourage students- not depressing them when there are classes where they can succeed. Even the best districts in the area have "modified classes" to help students. That is one advantage of large comprehensive high schools.

Questioner said...

Anyone in a position of influence who advocates broad participation in AP chemistry, with the current levels of preparedness at entry to high school, should be required to first take (and pass) such a class themselves.

PPS Teacher (again) said...

I previously mentioned that the standards have dropped for the AP and CAS classes.

To make the picture complete, I also want to mention that standards for the PSP program have dropped as well. This is troublesome as there are more PSP classes than AP or CAS classes.

PSP was never as restrictive as AP or CAS. But PSP still had standards! For example, to get into PSP Algebra 2, you just had to have done well in Algebra 1. The Algebra I class didn't have to be a PSP class. And if a student didn't do so well in Algebra 1, he/she could still get in with a recommendation from a teacher.

This worked! PSP offered a level of enrichment above the mainstream classes, but not so challenging as in AP or CAS.

All this is absolutely gone now. Absolutely gone. Anyone can get into a PSP class. Sometimes a student is thrown into PSP just because the class happens to fit into his/her schedule. I'm guessing that now perhaps 1/3 of the students in a typical PSP class don't belong there. Many don't even want to be there!

This situation forces the PSP teacher to slow down, as the teacher simply cannot fail 1/3 of the class. No principal these days would allow that. Of course the true PSP student suffers because of the slow-down. Apologists will just tell the teacher to offer differentiated instruction. That would work in a small-class or private tutoring situation. But it's quite impractical when the class has 30+ students.

I don't know how directly responsible A+ Schools is for this mess. But I do notice that standards dropped at the same time A+ entered the picture.

My apologies for going on and on about this. But the PSP situation particularly bothers me. PSP was great for introducing motivated students who were not "gifted" to the rigors of a more advanced class. And most of them met that challenge.

But all that is gone today. Any Pittsburgh teacher will tell you that a PSP class is now pretty much the same as a mainstream class.

For those not up on Pittsburgh's alphabet soup terminology:

AP = Advanced Placement
CAS = Center for Academic Studies (in other words, a gifted students' class)
PSP = Pittsburgh Scholars Program

Anonymous said...

I often feel that way about AP classes-- like many admin do not understand them; never took them in school etc. Interruptions,etc. no understanding of testing- possibly because they didnt go to school in a place where students paid of the tests-- that seemed to bring respect by admin ( students on the other hand seem to be quite understanding that testing being paid for is excellent, important etc)

Questioner said...

Wait, they did away with "mainstream" classes a while back right- aren't all the classes CAS or PSP now? The idea was that everyone needed rigorous classes. Although, what is rigorous for one student may not be rigorous for another.

Anonymous said...

To say that PSP was never as restrictive just isn't true. In 1968, a 7th grade student was identified by his/her teachers to be considered. After the teachers agreed, the student sat down for about three hours of testing with a school psychologist. (I was one of these students)
Back then, Algebra I and a foreign language was taken in the eighth grade. An accelerated English class was taught as well. Up until 1969 or so, The 8th graders from John Morrow, Horace Mann and Hall's Grove went to Perry High School as there were no algebra teachers in elementary schools. Grade 9, more foreign language, geometry, biology I (with a lab) Generally, 9th graders had a 10th grade schedule.
We started to see a watering down of PSP when CAS came in. You still had advanced classes and a weighted grade scale. But little else. Now, PSP students are lucky to get a new eraser and pencil twice a year!

Anonymous said...

There is much more EXPLICITLY available in classes and online than ever before to teach, to practice skills, to use "STANDARDS", that will ensure the understanding of these skills.

Why are teachers, parents, students NOT using these EXPLICITS to help students demonstrate high levels of skill development in PPS?

There are no reasons or excuses to prevent advancement!

Anonymous said...

Not everyone isn't an independent learner. Some people need direct instruction in some subjects.
An example is Credit Recovery. It is good for a student who possibly had a issue during a semester- family illness, a crisis, etc. But a student who just didnt "get it" during their first round of a class- for whatever reason-- isnt going to "get it" sitting in front of a computer, especially if the teacher isnt familiar with that subject. or isnt familiar with remediation methods- that often use a combination of learning modes to help the student. Many adult learners are finding that on-line learning takes a persistence that is hard.

Anonymous said...

Just this parent's opinion but in order to get into an AP class the expectation should be to score for college credit. It is a bunch of baloney to tout the numbers of kids taking the classes and a waste of time and money just filling seats. Questioner, do you recall the EFA meeting where a kid asked Dr. Lane's help to get out of an AP class that was causing him stress and impacting how he was doing in other classes? Granted it was quite a while ago, but the situation might still exist today.

Anonymous said...

9:14 is correct- schools shouldnt be praised for enrollment in classes, but in completion and testing. As an AP 'consumer" from the 60s!-- much of my learning happened because the other students were so bright and led me forth to what college work would be like.

Anonymous said...

3:57 - In making your case for the "explicits" of the Standards, organize like thinkers and get yourself a seat at the table.

It is abundantly clear that the blog is not your target audience.

Anonymous said...

3:57 I am not an apologist but everywhere around me I see people struggling to get by on a daily basis. I must wonder if I am one of those parents you judge as not taking advantage of all the EXPLICITS available.

Anonymous said...

Please check the SAS Website at PDE to find the "explicits" or skills that students need to pass Keystones, PSSAs, SATs, ACTs and to become proficient in the minimum competency skills that schools exist to provide.

If schools are not using these (and they are not) then students themselves, parents, and community volunteers have open access to not only assess students strengths and weakness so they can work on the "explicits" needed by each student.