Tuesday, August 18, 2009

comments to the Pittsburgh Board of Education

Public Hearing August 17, 2009 (lifted from the PureReform site)

Testimony of Kathy Fine:
Good evening to all of the dedicated school board members and district staff of the Pittsburgh Public Schools. I am here tonight to discuss the PSSA results from the 2008-09 school year. As noted by Superintendent Roosevelt, the PPS district has made AYP for the first time since No Child Left Behind mandated that our public schools meet certain benchmarks on the way to 100% proficiency in the year 2014. Congratulations go to everyone that has contributed to raising our students’ scores.

Now that the celebration of this accomplishment is done, let’s look at the scores in depth and from different perspectives in order to can get down to the task of preparing our students for the future. At the last Education Committee meeting, School Director Skip McCrea asked a very pertinent question: What are the longitudinal results of the current PSSA test scores?

In other words, instead of looking at the 3rd grade in 2005 and the 3rd grade in 2006 and the 3rd grade in 2007, etc., let’s look at the 3rd grade in 2005, then follow them to 4th, 5th, and 6th grade and see how one group of students fares over a 4 year period.

The charts that you have in front of you titled “PPS PSSA Scores Over Four Years” look at the results from this perspective. These charts represent the growth of four distinct classes from 2005-06 to 2008-09. These charts give a somewhat different picture of the 2009 PSSA results. In both Reading and Math, only the class of 2015 showed any growth from their 2005 scores. This growth was attained by the current 8th grade class whose results were very high both district wide as well as state wide. In fact, a majority of students lost ground over the four year period. Although we have been able to get certain individual groups of students to perform at the proficient level in Reading and Math at certain points in time, these gains do not follow them through the year.

Recently, the current PA secretary of Education stated that "Six years ago it appeared as though Pittsburgh schools were in an irreversible downward spiral." This comment piqued our interest and led to the compilation of the second set of charts titled “PPS PSSA Scores From 2000-09”. These charts clearly indicate that the PPS were not in an “irreversible downward spiral”, but in fact were in an upward trend on which the current administration has been able to build. We point this out because while the current scores have shown some improvement, there was already a trend toward increasing scores when the current reforms were started and that much more must go into educating our children than teaching them to perform on a particular test. Using a holistic approach to education, modeled after successful programs like the Geoffrey Canada’s “Harlem Children Zone”, creating “safe havens” at each PPS school buildings, with extended hours for the most vulnerable among us, and striving for true parent engagement are a few of the crucial reforms that will produce the sustainable educational gains that are necessary to prepare our youth for a productive future.

Testimony of Annette Werner:
PURE Reform is back from summer break, refreshed and ready to work to further our core values of transparency, effective public participation and parent engagement. Today I’ll be focusing on transparency.

Transparency is crucial for the District as a unit of government. While urging its high school students to “Be the change you want to see,” the District needs to be a strong proponent of the transparency that is necessary to make real public participation possible.

To make the discussion about transparency easier to follow we have organized the material by topic and will be posting it on our website under “Transparency Watch." Progress has been made in a number of areas, but there is still more to be done.

Outstanding items from previous public hearings include the following.
Committees- We requested previously that the formation of committees be announced in advance, that people with a wide range of perspectives be included, and that meetings be open. The district responded that every effort is made to ensure “appropriate representation” and that meetings may be open or closed depending on the nature of the work. Today we ask whether there is any reason not to announce formation of committees in advance, and what exactly is “appropriate representation”- does it include those with opposing viewpoints? What situations require a closed committee? Why for example were meetings of the Pittsburgh Peabody committee closed and when will that committee’s report be released?

EFA Goals- What is the expected date for a report on EFA goals? Since the four year period for EFA PSSA goals has now passed, will updated EFA PSSA and other goals be established and if so, when?

Pittsburgh Milliones- In response to our request for the Memorandum of Understanding between the District and the University of Pittsburgh we received a memorandum with a draft date of 7/3/08. As the school is now entering its second year, we would like to know when the arrangement with Pitt will be finalized and signed. Also, the memorandum has few programmatic details. When will the programmatic details be worked out?

Stimulus funds- The District has provided general information focusing on Title 1 funds. We are requesting that the PPS follow the example of the State and Federal governments and post all expenditures that utilize ARRA money online. Also, information is still needed regarding what the district is doing to maximize school construction funding and efforts to seek funding for the renovation of the Schenley building.

New issues this month are as follows.

Facility conditions index- The District is using the “predecisional” exception of the RTKL for its consultants to withhold information on how it has calculated the cost to renovate specific buildings. However, just because it can withhold the information doesn’t mean that it should do so. Waiting to release information until a decision has already been made prevents the public from examining and verifying information prior to the decision.

Graduation rates- Many people have expressed interest in an update on changes in graduation rates over the last four years using the RAND method rather than for example a method based on the percentage of incoming 12th graders that finish out the year. Are there plans for such an update?

PPS/ State PSSA Gap- Has the district investigated how changes in PPS PSSA scores over the past four years compare to changes in PSSA scores statewide and if so, what were the findings?

Reentry Programs- Where can a student who has dropped out of school find information on reentry programs? What outreach or publicity is in place to attract dropouts to reentry programs?

We look forward to obtaining more information on these important issues. Thank you.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

cThe PSSA charts referred to in the testimony are available at: