Thursday, July 22, 2010

Ranting at PureReform's blog and a slew of questions from A+ Schools

The signal to noise ratio isn't what is hoped for nor is it what is needed in terms of the discussions and fight for the best solutions for Pittsburgh Public Schools.

Folks, ... here we go again, around and around. There is a lot of suffering going on. And, sadly, I feel that most of these discussions are just batting at the leaves on the tree of the suffering.

Tuesday night's (community meeting) featured talk of 'power.' Folks from Homewood attended and it was lead by Randall Taylor and Dr. Barnett.

Golly. The power isn't with the people, of course. But, before power is taken and earned -- we've got to have some conversations that get to the roots of the problems. Certain issues matter. Ranting wildly has fleeting value in terms of fixing system-wide problems.

How. Why. Those make harder questions. That discussion takes discipline to occur. Yep, we also need to be speaking of lack of discipline in the schools' classrooms and hallways. But this lack of discipline needs attention as we meet in community and online too.

The personality and "who" of Mr. Roosevelt is what it is. To dwell and have the conversation stuck on him is to choose weakness. It was even said to me by a few that they like the idea of 'single gender' but they are against it because it is of Mark Roosevelt's administration. Say what? Go figure.

We got to dance on the problems and stomp them out of the plans.

We know a single-gender public school approach is blowing into town through Westinghouse.

Even these A+ questions, nice as they are, amount to more spinning in circles.

In my not so humble opinion, we -- (whole community of caring stewards for strong public schools) -- MUST put our leverage to play in meaningful spots so as to have a tactical impact upon the outcomes.

I sense that there is way too much of the reactionary bumbling around from citizens.

Precision would serve us better.

Here is a question: Why do we need feeder patterns for high school students? Can we get rid of feeder patterns for high school students come January 2011? With the end of feeder patterns for high school students, what are the ways that OVER SUBSCRIBED SCHOOLS are going to determine who gets admission.

Presently, for what it is worth, the only schools in PPS where there is a demand for spots is at CAPA (grades 6-12, Creative and Performing Arts School now located Downtown) -- and Sci Tech. With Sci-Tech, they have a lottery. It is harder to get into the grades of 6, 7 and 8 at Sci-Tech as they have smaller classes in those years. And, some in the early years are getting asked to leave. So, there are more spaces in Sci-Tech, by design, at the grade 9 and above stages.

So, if an extra 300 people want to attend Allderdice, as is the big fear from elsewhere, but I expect it to be a non-issue, then how does the district handle that problem? Is it POLITICAL CLOUT for string pullers to get kids into Allderdice?

I think Allderdice, if it gets way more popular, could design a few admission requirements in the weeks and months to come that are fair and public. Then we can discuss those.

For example, if a student in 8th grade wants to go to Allderdice in 9th grade, that student will need to make an application and not have missed 20 days of school in the 8th grade. If demand is greater, perhaps more than 10 days away from school in 8th grade will be a kiss of death for admission to Allderdice as a 9th grader.

Perhaps students will need to have a letter, or two, of reference from a teacher or two from grades 6, 7 or 8 to get into Allderdice.

With CAPA, there is an audition process.

With the I.B. School, students need to have good grades and have a good grasp on a world language (either French, German, Spanish, or Japanese). Those that enter the I.B. program, in middle school years and in high school years, have to have some education/understanding of a language as all the students at that school have been with strong languages.

We might need to have an application process for other schools that can't expand to match the demand.

But more to the point, if Allderdice is way more popular of a choice for a school, then Allderdice can expect more from the students that attend there. If there is trouble from a student, and homework isn't getting done, fights, whatever -- then that student can be removed from a popular school and another admitted.

Most of all, if there is a demand for an extra set of seats at Allderdice, then the school should expand. Perhaps some 12th grade students would like the option of being on a later schedule -- or something. Not only can more students fit into the building, but the building could grow.

In other schools, if there is less of a demand, that school will shrink. So be it.

Let the people vote with their feet in their choice of schools at the high school level.

But, for now, people, let's find the few important issues that should be put front and center -- so that the board can manage the policy and do its job -- and the plans now on the table can make better sense in their eventual application.

Upate: Part 2

The aim is for good schools to get better. That is one goal. The good schools are not yet good enough. (Some have told me that NONE of the PPS schools are worth a darn, but I don't buy fully into that position.)

With a no feeder pattern HS policy, any kid who desires can get into a good school.

Now we might have a good school or two or three -- (CAPA, IB, +), BUT only CERTAIN KIDS can get into them. (via audition @CAPA, language @IB, lottery @ SciTech).

Excellence for all.

Not, good for some.

Then, without the feeder patterns, the not-so-good schools now will get worse in that they will empty of students who want to get an education at a place that fits them.

Lets say that NOBODY would choose to go to DROP OUT FACTORY #1 -- then it would close for a lack of students or else the PPS would work VERY HARD to re-do the school into an attractive model to retain and recruit students from the neighborhood as well as from throughout the city.

Remember, all the schools in the city are less than half of what they used to be. Ten thousand students are now absent from PPS -- forever -- with no end in sight.

So, people are really leaving the city already and have been.

The model of subtraction of students (as students vote with their feet) and closing more schools with new forced feeder patterns is keeping Pgh on the downward spiral. It is all about the management of decline.

PPS has been closing schools anyway. I say that some schools might need to close if they are doing a poor job and none choose to attend there.

Schenley's closure was a forced one as people wanted to go there. That is the wrong way to close a school. PPS can shift feeder patterns and do what it wants.

Given this real world example of Westinghouse with its single gender classrooms, what if they built it and nobody showed up? FINE. To another degree, what about U-PREP. How many would be there if it was an OPTION among all the other schools throughout the city.

If PERRY HS gets its act together -- it could be the hot school for students as it was in the past. Kids all around the city wanted to go to Perry and cried for a week if they didn't get in back in late 80s, early 90s. If Perry flounders as a school, it will drain itself of its students / customers.

If CAPA HS is in such demand, why not expand it? Recently it absorbed more grades 6-7-8 with the closing of another high demand Rodgers. That was a move and not an expansion. If CAPA is working, -- it has the best scores - then DUPLICATE it. Replicate it. Repeat what works.

I would not have a problem turning Westinghouse into CAPA ver 2. More might go there, with a proven model, than would go to single gender classrooms.

We need the district to act in a way that is more about customer service. FEEDER PATTERNS prevent the consumer centric thought cycle from being a part of the PPS culture.

Feeder patterns allow the district to yank the students and families around at will, and on a whim because some are not going to move from the house they live in nor lie about residency.

Finally, if we give folks who buy a house in the area of a school, say, DROP OUT FACTORY #1, the option of sending their student to ANY SCHOOL in the city, then there is HOPE that the neighborhood would get new investment. City-wide benefit occur with the ending of the feeder patterns. DEPRESSED areas can't rebound in Pittsburgh while PPS forces kids into schools that are DROP OUT FACTORIES or are NOT a good fit for that student.

New investments into the city and our neighborhoods can come. But, new investment money demands guarantees of positive public fixtures. Investments will stay away from building upon a foundation of shifting sands. Those feeder patterns, and their shifts, are like shifting sands to investment money.

I predict an economic revival in the city-wide housing market with the removal of the PPS FEEDER PATTERN policy.

Wonderful Q from the thread at the other blog:

Where do the struggling students go when all the competive schools are filled up? Prison high, or we don't care anymore high?

Humm. We care.

We need to work hard to make sure that the 'competitive schools' are able to expand. Then they won't fill up.

Building capacity (bricks/mortar) isn't the real issue. PPS has buildings and plenty of room.

(Past rant) Expansion of 'competitive schools' was one reason I wanted CAPA to expand into the other floors of its downtown building -- but to NOT fill with grades 6, 7 and 8. A bigger CAPA as a downtown HS with expansion made more sense.

Then PPS would have needed to make TWO middle school replacements for RODGERS, such as at Knoxville (south) and another East school if not a fix-up of Rodgers.

EXPAND what works!

We should be talking about a CAPA-styled program moving into Westinghouse, given that CAPA is popular and it is working. How about a CAPA with sports, and even a CAPA where the kids get to switch their major if they want or a CAPA where the kids get a MINOR. Then CAPA Downtown can be specialized and CAPA east (at Westinghouse) can be more well rounded.

But, again, there should be no feeder patterns.

The IB School needs to be able to expand too, and with the move to Peabody, that might be better able to occur. But really, an expansion onto Reizenstein building with a second gym, auditorium and cafeteria would have been more ideal than uprooting and fitting into Peabody without windows, etc. The Reizenstein physical space is expandable. New classrooms could be added there are there is plenty of land.

I hear that the sizes per grade at the IB school (Pgh Obama) might have been pushed to 200 as a goal rather than 150 as a limit. ??

There are spaces at IB now -- but students need to want to work hard and have a background of languages before admission.

PPS must allow for expansion without dropping in quality.

A serious issue is "struggling students." Some are smart but don't conform in a specific school setting. They struggle with others. Some do struggle with learning and doing their work so as to advance.

One tactic is a willing transfer while still on good academic / behavior standing. Too often we shift expelled and suspended students from building to building -- AFTER they've blown up / melted down. If PPS didn't force them into a school setting with the feeder pattern enslavery, then they might opt elsewhere once they figure out that 'this place isn't right for me.'

Restarts to different schools while on good terms (and prior visits of consideration) should be encouraged as a way to prevent drop-outs and ejections.

As for PRISON High, we've already got one of those. Is it at capacity? I don't know.

Closed in the past PPS Connelley and closed PPS South Vo Tech were warm, family-like schools that gave support and kept kids in school and became places where kids gravitated too. Those options were places for some who might be called 'pluggers' to flourish. Gone from our landscape, sadly. That 'Gateway School' might be part of the answer too. ??


Questioner said...

The district is not going to tell families living near a particular comprehensive HS that their kids can't attend the school. It's just not going to happen.

Mark Rauterkus said...

If you live downtown, you don't have a free pass to CAPA.

If you live next to the IB School, you don't have a free pass there either.

Once the FEEDER PATTERNS are gone, then there is no such thing as a 'comprehensive school.'

A student that lives near Allderdice that does not show up for school (misses 20+ days) should be moved out of Allderdice. That will get the kids that live there showing up. Hence, a win-win for all.

So, the district would tell the family, to go to this school, you need to do X,Y,Z. To go to that school -- you only need to do A,B,C.

Mark Rauterkus said...

PPS is full of kids that don't want to be in the schools that they must attend.

People have been forced into attending failing schools for too long.

Empower people to go to the school that they want to attend.

If a kids that lives next to Allderdice can't get into Allderdice -- then the size of Allderdice isn't what it should be. And, the options of the other schools are not what they should be either.

I know of families that live next to Allderdice and send their kids to other schools, farther away.

People don't want high schools that are CLOSE to their HOUSE as much as they want GOOD HIGH SCHOOLS anywhere.

The research said that people would send their OLDER CHILDREN across town to another school -- if it was a GOOD SCHOOL.

If Carrick and Brashear could compete to get the Allderdice feeder pattern kids too -- some might go there as well -- besides the ones that already go to CAPA, IB, Shady Side, Central, etc.

Mark Rauterkus said...

If you don't want to get rid of feeder patterns, then you are in favor of keeping feeder patterns.

How logical is a feeder pattern for selecting a match for each student when there is a wide variety of schools?

Questioner said...

No one chose a particular community because CAPA or another magnet was there. And, people are willing to travel if they choose a particular program, but they support the long term custom of being able to attend a nearby comprehensive school. Not everyone has access to a nearby comprehensive school, but those who do will not let it go.

Mark Rauterkus said...

They won't let it go.

That school isn't going anywhere. (except WHouse, Peabody, Schenley, Oliver -- snicker).

Westinghouse is being let go -- mostly.

Peabody is being let go -- mostly.

A move to NO FEEDER Patterns for HS is a way to SAVE Carrick, SAVE Allderdice, SAVE Brashear.

By all means, it is also a way to INCREASE the value of ALL HOMES throughout the city.

Winning happens with addition.

ONE does not win when others are made less.

All in all, these schools will need to get much better as well. Allderdice kids who don't like the way they do things at Dice can up and move to Brashear if Dice goes sour on them. (as space permits, as well as entry benchmarks).

COMPETITION makes things better for consumers.

Questioner said...

Why are some in the early years of sci tech being asked to leave- is it mainly academic issues, or mainly behavior issues?

Students with issues will be concentrated at remaining schools and sci tech will be held up as an example of how well small schools/ themed schools/ 6-12 schools work.

Would small/themed/6-12 schools work as well if students with issues were constantly transferring in rather than out?