Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Roosevelt holds chat

Tuesday log of the chat is available. Search the PG site for Roosevelt and chat. What was raised for the new Superintendent of Pgh Public Schools, Mark Roosevelt.

Online chats could present many excellent opportunities for the community and the school's parents to raise questions -- but this is hardly the case with the Post-Gazette's style.

I was part of a PG chat when the Bassmasters Classic was in town. The chat is so -- 1983. There is no real-time interaction. It is all moderated.

If the Post-Gazette wants to get serious about online interaction, we'd have a lot to look forward to.

In the case of Pittsburgh Public Schools, it would be wonderful to have online chats so that questions can be raised in a faceless way. Teachers, principals, volunteers, and even bus drivers could go to the chat and put something into the mind of the boss and have little fear of a backlash on the whistleblower.

Are you aware of such and such at this school on that date? What's going to be done?

Furthermore, the Pgh Public Schools might be able to make an online chat work without the Post Gazette's help and restrictions. Why can't weekly chats happen just among the resources within PPS?

Mark_Roosevelt: Thanks to everyone who participated. Sorry that there was not enough time to answer all of the questions. Maybe we should do this again.


Anonymous said...

Roosevelt left mark on Massachusetts schools
1993 legislation brought exit exams, funding changes, emphasis on basic skills

Tuesday, September 27, 2005
By Amy McConnell Schaarsmith, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The experiences of those schools under the 1993 law reveal facets of the educational philosophy and, potentially, the future actions of Roosevelt, who became Pittsburgh's superintendent about four weeks ago despite never having served as a school administrator.

Pittsburgh schools superintendent Mark Roosevelt

Online chat
Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Mark Roosevelt will answer questions from the public during an online discussion from noon to 1 p.m. today. Log in here as early as 11:30 a.m. to post your questions in advance.

The philosophy in the legislation calls for fairer state funding for schools, assessments to hold all schools and students accountable and school councils of students, parents, teachers and administrators to direct how each school should be run.

Without the act, which also created charter schools, one of the Washington Street schools -- Codman Academy Charter School -- wouldn't even exist. It is a small high school that emphasizes experiments, discussions and rigorous yearlong projects.

As a result of the act, a second, The English High School, saw academic standards rise, but its harried teachers say they don't have time to incorporate the legislation's more innovative ideas in their overcrowded classrooms.

At a third, Brookline High School, a high-achieving school in a wealthy suburb, many students have boycotted the act's math and reading tests required for graduation.

Emphasizing the basics

How the transformation started by the Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993 is viewed depends partly on the kind of school students started with.

Many low-income, academically struggling students seemed to benefit from the legislation's higher expectations, more rigorous instruction, new pilot programs and charter schools. High-achieving students in wealthy communities, however, chafed at new state testing and graduation requirements -- and so did their parents and teachers.

"They put a lot of emphasis on helping kids at the bottom who were being ignored, helping them to try to rise to minimum standards, and there's some evidence that tightening the screws did raise the literacy level for a lot of kids," said Jerome T. Murphy, former dean and current professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Pressure for an overhaul of the education system increased after a 1993 Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruling that found wide disparities existed statewide in education funding.

Communities that had high property values could tax property at a relatively low rate and still collect healthy sums for education. Communities with low property values -- in particular, old mill towns such as Lawrence and Lowell that industry largely abandoned decades ago -- had to tax their citizens at very high rates and still didn't have as much money for schools as their wealthier counterparts.

The legislation that Roosevelt, then House chairman of the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Education, and a Senate colleague wrote attempted to fix that inequity by establishing a "foundation budget" to help schools have enough money.

But the legislation didn't stop there. Lawmakers created state academic standards for most subjects for the first time to outline what children should know by a particular grade level.

To check whether students had mastered that information on time, the state began testing students in grades 4, 8 and 10, beginning with math tests in 1997 and adding language arts tests the following year. In 2001, the state began requiring 10th graders to pass the tests before the end of their senior year to graduate.

The law required students to spend more time studying core academic subjects such as math, science and language arts. It required teachers to gain certification in the subject areas they taught and in communication and literacy skills. It also took principals out of the unions, gave them contracts of one, two or three years, and gave superintendents the power to decide whether to renew those contracts.

And while suburban districts, in particular, fought the idea of increased state oversight, many urban districts such as Boston embraced the new requirements, including the controversial proposal of requiring students to pass state tests before earning a high school diploma.

Statewide, about 95 percent of students ultimately pass the so-called Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System. Students are allowed five tries by senior year and some take the test several times before passing.

For Roosevelt, the state's slow implementation of the law tempers but doesn't erase his satisfaction with the education overhaul he helped design. And that includes the state's use of high-stakes testing and intervention in struggling schools in implementing the law.

Roosevelt hasn't unveiled a plan for Pittsburgh yet, but some of the results stemming from his Massachusetts work can be seen in those three Washington Street schools.

A charter school starts

In Dorchester, Washington Street runs through a mixed-income inner-city neighborhood in which businesses with gold-lettered signs stand next to a local church whose message board recently pleaded, "Stop the Killing."

Codman Academy, housed for now in a freshly carpeted, many-windowed space owned by a local health care clinic, is allowed to have 130 students under its charter, but can only fit 105 due to its small space.

"We have rules and respect here, but it works more like a family than an institution," said Thabiti Brown, Codman's academic dean.

Under the legislation, the school's directors are in charge of developing their own curriculums, although those plans must meet state standards.

At Codman, curriculums for history and language arts are integrated, so that students practice their reading, writing and comprehension skills by studying history. Each Friday, students do field work for math or science projects, practice theater performances, or visit a college or university.

Most students could have gone to one of the city's large neighborhood high schools but wanted more intense preparation for college.

"At those schools, you do the work and get by, and over there a 'D' is passing," said student Nefta Ramsey, of Roxbury. "Here it's not about passing. It's about getting better grades and doing well for yourself."

In June, the academy graduated its first class. Not only did all 19 seniors pass the state tests and graduate, but each was accepted to a four-year college.

Oldest public school changes

On another Washington Street in nearby Jamaica Plain, newly rehabbed town houses jostle for space with West Indian restaurants, gas stations and shops. Just across from the vast expanse of pavement marking the city bus garage is The English High School, founded in 1821 as the nation's first public high school.

The school has many students for whom English is a second language and for whom the state's math and reading tests sometimes present a particular challenge. Many of them, like many of school's native-born students, are considered low-income.

The education reform act has had "a deep and profound impact" on English, and in many ways it has helped the school and its students and parents, according to Principal Jose Duarte.

"We had gone for too long adrift, without knowing where students need to be [in their skills]," Duarte said. "This gave us a frame of reference."

Students who are struggling can get additional tutoring, and most students -- all but about a dozen of the 220 or so members of each senior class -- pass the state tests in time for graduation, Duarte said.

Still, some students drop out before they get to that point, according to math teacher Rickie Thompson.

But while critics predicted massive numbers of black and Hispanic students failing to graduate -- and graduation rates did drop in 1993, the first year that students had to pass exit exams -- even research done by some critics shows that the rates bounced back within a few years, albeit more slowly for black students.

However, teachers at English High say students aren't getting to tap into some of the legislation's more innovative ideas, given its 1,300 students are packed into a former gas company office building meant to hold half that number and its budget has been cut significantly in recent years, according to English teacher Junia Yearwood.

She said there are too many students to try some of the innovative ideas which can be done in small schools.

Suburban students protest

For some of those suburban schools -- particularly those that were performing well before the 1993 legislation passed -- the act has forced teachers to spend weeks preparing students for tests instead of teaching them complex subjects in thought-provoking ways, according to some school officials.

"Brookline teachers had incredible freedom, and they were known for being incredibly creative," said Carol Schraft, principal of the Driscoll School, an ivy-draped elementary school. "A huge amount of time now goes into preparing them for these tests."

But even though the testing regimen may curtail teachers' creativity, the new state standards probably have improved the quality of education for inner-city children, she said.

Nevertheless, Brookline High School -- located on a small, leafy side street just off yet another Washington Street -- has continued to see student boycotts of state tests. Many students still wear anti-MCAS pins to school although most students ultimately take the test to graduate. Senior Rachel Orloff-Parry took the test in 10th grade, but said she doesn't believe all students' talents show up on a standardized state test.

"For the government to average everyone out and treat it as a statistic instead of looking at individuals isn't fair," said Orloff-Parry.

(Amy McConnell Schaarsmith can be reached at aschaarsmith@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548.)

Anonymous said...

Transcript: Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Mark Roosevelt
Tuesday, September 27, 2005

pg_fhuysman Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Mark Roosevelt has arrived and is ready to answer your questions.

ppsparent Q: Given your focus on those students who are not achieving in PPS schools, what steps will you take to ensure that the quality of education does not suffer for those students in the district who are achieving and need to be challenged?
Mark_Roosevelt A: Good question. A great many folks seem to feel that there is an inherent conflict between addressing the needs of low-performing kids and also meeting the needs of those who are already achieving at a decent level. I don't. For example, if you look at that area where PPS made the most progress last year - 5th grade math - we made progress at all levels and with all racial subgroups. We need a curriculum and a choice of schools that meet the needs of kids at multiple levels and we need a plan for individual schools and classrooms that provides differentiated learning that leaves no child behind and that pushes all kids to seek excellence. Not easy. But possible. Some schools/classrooms do it now. We need to expand that number.

South_Side_Mom Q: If you were going to envision a totally new education system that meets the needs of today's students and prepares them for the challenges of a rapidly changing global economy, what would the system look like in terms of school year, school day, teaching methods, and academic content?
Mark_Roosevelt A: That would be a great opportunity! Yes, I would change the calendar. As you clearly already know it was designed for times long past. We need more time on learning, for sure. I would probably have three semesters separated by short vacation periods. But I would build a system with a great deal of parental/student choice, at all levels but most especially at high school. I would have teachers stay with their students for more than one year. I would have a cooperative partnership with community colleges so that our non-college bound kids actually get prepared to gain and hold a job in this tough new economy that is cruel to those without the right education. And there is a great deal more! Some of these things we can do now in Pittsburgh and we will head in that direction.

ShoeGal Q: How do you plan to address the achievement gap? When we look at our schools that are in School Improvement 1/2 or in Corrective Action and the communities which feed into the schools one is not surprised that the school is in danger and not making progress. These particular communities are ridden w/violence, drugs and poverty. The parents who are involved in those areas are trying to survive and keep their children out of harms way. So how do you put the sense of community back into a community? The schools can not do it themselves or the schools wouldn't be on the list in the first place.
Mark_Roosevelt A: This is one of the large questions faced by all urban districts. And it must be addressed. The racial achievement gap is the civil rights issue of our time. It is a national issue which needs to be answered at the local level. Some districts are making a great deal of progress on it. We are not making much progress here in PPS at the current time. One part of this is that we do need to include the whole community in a "Campaign for Proficiency." Churches, community groups, parents. We need to build belief systems - in educators and leaders - that ALL of the students in our schools can reach a high standard. And we need to address the social promotion issue. If we keep sending kids ahead regardless of where they have mastered the material we will always have this gap. We need to get kids help - quickly - who fall behind. And there is more...and this will be a key focus for PPS going forward.

observer Q: When will the public know which schools will be closing if any?
Mark_Roosevelt A: In about a month. And, yes, we do need to close some schools. We are spending a great deal of money on excess real estate that we should be spending on improving student learning. As you may know we have capacity to teach 11,000 more kids than we actually have in school. We are deep at work on a plan right now. It will be focused on academic goals and not financial ones. We will be attempting to get as many kids as possible into high achieving schools or newly designed "accelerated learning centers." We had seven public meetings and that input is invaluable as we put together what we will present to the Board and to the public.

duck Q: Mr. Roosevelt, do you feel that the current system is able to survive financially with out cutting programs?
Mark_Roosevelt A: We do have serious financial issues. We are spending about 40 million dollars more than we have in revenues. And we have spent down the surplus that we had so that it will be entirely gone at the end of 2006. There will have to be cuts. And we will have to work with the state and the foundation community to gain as much new revenue as possible. But there is no way that this problem can be solved without making some very difficult decisions.

flybylight Q: Let's close the middle schools, and go back to the way the PPS were in the 1970s and before: various elementary schools feed at various levels into high schools. It worked then, but the middle schools (begun in the early 1980s, I believe) have not worked.
Mark_Roosevelt A: There are clearly a great many questions about the performance of our comprehensive middle schools. Quite a few cities are expanding the K - 8s (such as Philly) and there is some evidence that this is a good idea. I would like parents and students to have choices. And maintaining some level of choice at the 6, 7, 8 grades will be a part of our school reorganization plan. But these choices should be based on sound analysis of the academic consequences of our decisions.

BGrantz Q: In Philly, UPenn adopted an underachieving elementary school and used its might to improve results. Any chance of PPS partnering with CMU or Pitt to do something similar?
Mark_Roosevelt A: Sounds like a good idea to me! We are and will continue to explore such partnerships.

Bob_Huemmrich Q: The University of Pittsburgh and CMU have taken on economic development roles. What do you see as the Pittsburgh Public Schools' economic development role especially regarding population retention?
Mark_Roosevelt A: It is critical. We know that if young parents feel that they have good educational offerings for their kids then they are far more likely to remain in the city. Also we need to look hard at what we are doing for our non-college bound kids in terms of training for jobs that are actually out there. We need to provide our growing businesses with good new employees. We will look to partner with higher educational institutions to help make this possible.

teacher95 Q: What is your opinion of charter schools in the city?
Mark_Roosevelt A: Charter schools are created when there is not sufficient satisfaction with the opportunities offered by traditional public schools. We need to be creative. We need to build our own innovative places of learning within PPS. We need to offer choices within PPS. And we need to look at successful charters - and there are successful and unsuccessful ones - to see what they are doing that we should consider doing. And we need to evaluate the academic performance of charters just as we do our own schools.

jd Q: How do you measure achievement in math and reading?
Mark_Roosevelt A: Through student assessments. We need to be aggressive about using assessments as diagnostic tools to help teachers and schools better meet the needs of their students.

South_Side_Mom Q: I am encouraged at your thinking about the school year. I think that a district offering a longer school year and a school day that is aligned with actual working hours could be a draw for working parents - to say nothing of the draw of improved instruction and increased academic rigor. I am wishing you all the best - our kids are counting on all of us to make their academic achievement a city-wide priority.
Mark_Roosevelt A: I agree. There are of course problems of cost. But it is clear that we need to move in this direction. 20 years from now our calendar will be viewed as deeply inadequate to educate kids to a high standard. It is just taking too much time to get societal acceptance for such a dramatic change.

MathEducator Q: The swift and seemingly unilateral shift in the elementary mathematics curriculum away from Everyday Math gave me great pause. What are your plans for making curriculum decisions more generally, and specifically, do you anticipate revisiting the elementary mathematics decision given the controversial process that took place to oust it?
Mark_Roosevelt A: Gives me pause too. We will carefully evaluate all of our curriculum. We are going to have a district audit performed by the Council of Great City Schools - paid for by a foundation - to examine our curriculum vs. best practices in high-achieving urban districts across the country.

Deanne73 Q: Will you be able to visit all of the schools at least once this school year?
Mark_Roosevelt A: Yes, if you accept a generous definition of "visit.".

amy Q: Could you describe how an "accelerated learning center" would work, and how it might differ from a traditional program?
Mark_Roosevelt A: They could take many different forms. More time on learning is an essential element. But we also could experiment with new structures - such as allowing teachers to remain with their students over multiple years. We have some creative folks examining this right now and they will continue to do so for the next few months.

flybylight Q: A good teacher knows how each student is performing, without standardized assessments. Can't we be like the local private schools, which more or less hire good teachers and set them free with our children?
Mark_Roosevelt A: No. You really cannot change that which you are not assessing and the judgements of these teachers may be based on many values other than true understanding. Teachers need hard data on what their students are absorbing and then plans on addressing the issues that the data reveals.

Joe_Johansen Q: Do you feel that you have adequate facilities within your existing school stock to house the types of programs that you will need to turn the District around even with the 10,000 additional student capacity?
Mark_Roosevelt A: Pretty much so. We have some work that is necessary on some buildings. But one thing I have to say is that in the main PPS has beautiful well-maintained schools. As it should be!

flybylight Q: Yay, Mr. Roosevelt, and thank you. I've been advocating 8:00-5:00 schools year-round with floating small vacations and credit for outside learning such as dance class and Hebrew school during the 3:00-5:00 hours, and on and on, and my entire proposal, in whole and in part, has been laughed at heartily for at least a decade. Please know that we are fully behind you, and trust you to make appropriate decisions even if we don't agree with all of them.
Mark_Roosevelt A: Wow...Thanks....do you think everyone shares that attitude?

Bully Q: What will you be looking at to help decide which schools to close?
Mark_Roosevelt A: Academic achievement. Maximizing the academic opportunities for all of our students as best as practical. And doing so as efficiently as possible in terms of costs.

North_Side_Mom Q: Do you think the PSSA's are a good idea for our children?
Mark_Roosevelt A: Testing is essential. But we need to be judged by how we use these results to shape our instruction. We need to analyze what our problems are - by school and by classroom - and make the changes necessary to improve student achievement.

Mark_Roosevelt Thanks to everyone who participated. Sorry that there was not enough time to answer all of the questions. Maybe we should do this again.