For several weeks, the Pittsburgh Chapter of the NAACP has led weekly protests outside the Pittsburgh Public School District Administrative building. The goal of their seven-week campaign is to force district Superintendent Mark Roosevelt, the school board and administrators to take action against the ever-present achievement gap between Black and White students.
|SOUND THE ALARM— Marilyn Barnett, middle, joins others in the cold to rally for educational equity.
“All students don’t have the same opportunity to learn. All students don’t have access to the same resources. There’s a difference between the way we treat students,” said NAACP education chair Marilyn Barnett, Ph.D. “That’s like giving one kid a computer and another kid a typewriter. We are going to be the drum majors for justice.”
In order to close the achievement gap, the NAACP wants the district to treat African-American students with equity, not equality. This means devoting more resources to Black students, hiring better quality teachers, and ensuring Black students are expected to meet higher standards.
One of the NAACP’s key concerns is what they call the district’s practice of re-segregating schools and individual school programs.
“When we talk about Brown vs. Board of Education, the point was to make sure the schools were desegregated and when we look around they’re not,” said local NAACP President M. Gayle Moss. “No one wants to talk about this and this is wrong.”
They said this also manifests itself in the recently released report calling for school closings and district realignments, which could put students from Peabody High School into Westinghouse High School if Peabody were closed. With respect to declining school enrollment, they said the better option would be to place Allderdice High School students in Westinghouse because Allderdice is an older building.
“What has always bothered me is the bigger portion of school closings has always been in the African-American community,” Barnett said. “We understand it’s only a recommendation, but if you’re changing district lines you have children changing schools two or three times.”
The NAACP is also concerned about the change surrounding the African-American history course in the district, which they said has led to an extreme drop in enrollment in this course. Previously the course counted as a regular history core credit, but it has been changed to an elective course.
Other than a few school board representatives, District 8 representative Mark Brentley in particular, Moss said no one in the district is addressing these issues. She also said Roosevelt has been unwilling to communicate or involve the NAACP in any initiatives.
The NAACP action comes on the eve of a report released by A+ Schools that provided a school-by-school breakdown of the achievement gap across areas including test scores, graduation rates and college plans.
Despite the A+ report, Roosevelt said African-American students are making gains. He referenced a report recently released by the district that shows improvement over six years.
“People see this and they say African-Americans are losing ground. That’s not true, they are gaining. African-American achievement levels are rising faster then White students,” Roosevelt said. “That being said, White students started at a higher point, but what’s most important is our African-American students are making progress.”
In reference to the NAACP’s allegations of segregation in regard to possible school closings, Roosevelt reiterated that these are only recommendations. However, he also said students are better served in larger schools because more resources can be made available to them.
“You know the numbers on how many people the Hill District has lost and Homewood has too. We have a lot of under-enrolled high schools and yes, our under-enrolled high schools do serve an African-American student body,” Roosevelt said. “The much more appropriate thing is to say what are we going to do about those schools. The truth is size does matter. It seems odd to me to take that as discriminatory. I think not doing anything about it is discriminatory.”
Among the district’s other initiatives, Roosevelt points to Pittsburgh Milliones University Preparatory School as an example of how the district has worked to help Black students achieve. He said the closing of Schenley and movement of Hill District students into Milliones has allowed for these students to receive greater attention.
“When the asbestos thing happened, what we saw was amazing, we saw that Hill District feeder kids were some of the lowest performing,” Roosevelt said. “University Prep was designed and built to meet the needs of a vast majority of African-American students whose needs weren’t being met. There are more resources in that school and we spend more per pupil.”
Where the NAACP and Roosevelt agree is on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grant, which is a part of a teacher reform initiative to ensure quality teachers are available to every student in every class. The NAACP has expressed its desire to serve on a committee for the Gates grant, but has not yet been invited.