Thursday, January 08, 2009

Scrub your speech of these phrases, Mr. Roosevelt and PPS Administrators

The Tribune Review has the expression in the paper again today, "We looked at the data, ..."

Wave the red flags. Time out. Wash your mouth out with soap.

Last night I was at another meeting in the east end hosted by the Bloomfield-Garfield Corp. brass. Three school administrators were given the curtosy of an extended introduction and speaking time and I heard these same phrases again.

The PPS (Pgh Public Schools) Administrator said, "We want to bring the numbers to the table." She was convinced of a certain course of action because she was privileged to have seen the numbers, the data, the research. She was hopeful that the numbers could be shared with others who are "at the table." Then, once their facts were spilled, the table would be on-board and see the light.

A third verse of the same theme boils down to an evaluation of the work and outcome suggestions of a special community task force. About 30 members of the public were hand-picked, names still not released to the public, for guidance. These folks formed a task force to make a suggestion as to where to put the long-term home of the district's I.B. program. The I.B. program had been harbored within Schenley High School, which was dismantled last year.

The data that the I.B. long-term site selection task force was able to wrestle with has not been released. Who was on the task force wasn't released yet. And the work product, the meeting minutes, the in-depth decision justifications and any hint of financial impacts -- all are still under wraps.

I don't want the data to be revealed to those who are 'at the table.' I want it to be revealed to everyone everywhere.

I don't want to hear how the district administrators have access to findings and raw performance measures yet the people who pay for the schools do not.

Often, those numbers are not released because they are embarrassing. Frankly, what is more embarrassing is trying to make fixes to the district while having heads in the sand. The behaviors we've come to expect within the schools and within the planning process is atrocious.

It is unforgivable that the Bloomfield Garfield Corporation has to ask for the results of a community task force that includes more depth than what is read in the Post-Gazette. The questions should not even need to be asked. The insights and details should have been posted to the web all along. Agendas, minutes, attendance at meetings, presentations, facts, figures, costs, projections, historical graduation rates, numbers of certified teachers, costs of additional faculty education, timelines for training, space figures at schools, busing costs, new renovation costs, re-sale projections, etc., etc., etc.

I'm sure most of this has been thought of by someone. Well, I'm not sure, but I give them the benefit of the doubt.

I want to see it. And, I want everyone to see everything.

We don't know how many kids went to classes at the ALAs (Accelerated Learning Academy) as the school year started two to three weeks before the other schools. What was the August 1st attendance in 2008 and 2007? Now we hear the school year at the ALAs is going to shorten. Why? How successful has it been so far?

I don't need to know WHO was in class. I need to know how many were there, how many were to be there, and for teachers too. And, reports as to the effectiveness of these extra school days, by date, needs to be a measure that is revealed.

These few examples are only the tip of the iceberg.

How much is paid each year to Microsoft for software licenses? How much is going to be paid for proprietary licenses with the Science and Technology Jr./Sr. High? How much will be saved by using and Linux?

Who was on the High School Reform Task Force? Where was that group's work product. All of that went out the window by they way when the asbestos excuse was found at Schenley. A group had meetings for nearly two years and nothing of those meetings was able to be release nor implemented.

What about the budget for the Pittsburgh Promise?

I'm not asking for new audits. I'm asking for an open process. And, the way that is done in our modern time is with the internet. It goes deeper than a few PowerPoint slides as well.

Some months ago I spoke to this same theme with the school board when I heard that the PARENT DASHBOARD system was being scratched. This had been a valuable tool for some parents with some teachers for some kids as they could see homework assignments and class attendence -- nearly real time. But, the district pulled the plug on that window into the schools. (Go figure.)

Rather, a new, beefy, whiz bang system, developed in-house, was being rolled out. It would be able to grade tests and measure classroom, school, grade and district results -- more than just an individual score. It was in beta testing and was fast as lightening -- and those on the school board were prohibited from seeing it. They were to authorize it, but they were not able to evaluate it.

The elected school board members were kept in the dark. And, by-and-large, they were okay with that. It is worse than being a back-seat driver -- as they were being stuffed in the trunk. Meanwhile, the citizens are not even in the car. We're getting out of the way, happy it doesn't mow down our kids as they walk to and from school.

I don't want to hear, ever again, about the data that the district sees that is hidden from what anyone anywhere else can see.

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