Six months ago, the New Pittsburgh Courier reported that the Pittsburgh Public School District spends more per student than area charter schools and neighboring suburban schools. Conversely, among these same seven charter schools and five suburban districts, PPS has the lowest achievement, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education Achievement Report 2010-2011.
“That’s not shocking. The reality of it is, a lot of these different schools have way more resources,” said Alichia Parker, president and CEO of A PAR Educational LLC, a company that offers education consulting services and private tutoring. “You have to ask the question, what are they spending the money on. Is it going to those resources? I think the Pittsburgh Public Schools needs to be unique.”
In Pennsylvania, school achievement is based on Adequate Yearly Progress measures under the No Child Left Behind Act, which takes into account school attendance, graduation rates, achieving proficiency on standardized tests and test participation. Using this data, PPS made AYP this year, marking the second time in the past three years, but their status is still considered “Making Progress: Corrective Action II.”
“Today is a good day in the Pittsburgh Public Schools. This is the second time the District has made AYP since the launch of our Excellence for All reform plan five years ago. Today’s results show that the core strategies we have put into place are taking hold, and that more students are on track to Promise-Readiness. We are confident that our work to ensure an effective teacher in every classroom, every day is critical to the continued growth of our students,” said PPS Superintendent Linda Lane at a press conference announcing the district’s achievement. “This could not have been accomplished without the hard work of our students, teachers and principals at every level. We must also thank our families and community partners for their support and confidence, as we have made difficult but the right decisions for children. ”
Comparatively Mt. Lebanon School District, Gateway School District, Penn Hills School District, Urban League Charter School, Manchester Charter School, and all four of the area Propel charter schools are labeled as “Made AYP.” Both Academy Charter School and Career Connections Charter are in “Corrective Action I” and Northside Urban Pathways is in “Warning” status.
“I’m sure there’s no data on the attitude of the students and how harsh they are. They come from the inner-city and low income areas. Sometimes the hardest job for teachers in the public school system is behavior. Sometimes these teachers have to take 20 minutes out of their time to work on behavior,” Parker said. “I’m not saying some of these other schools don’t have to deal with it, but it’s not the same. They have to deal with the lack of parent support.” A “Warning” status is given to a school, or district that did not make AYP for the first time. If AYP is not met for two consecutive years in the same subject, a school or district will drop to “School Improvement I.” For each year AYP is not met in the same subject, the status will drop to “School Improvement II,” “Corrective Action I,” and then “Corrective Action II,” which is the lowest status.
City High Charter High School is in “School Improvement II” and Wilkinsburg School District’s status is “Making Progress: In District Improvement I.” Similar to PPS, “Making Progress” means they have made AYP, but must pass AYP again next year to be considered back on track.
“I’m not surprised, but we do have some schools that do very well and that’s why we have made AYP, but we do have some schools that are consistently not making AYP,” said Regina Holley, a former PPS principal who recently began her position as school board representative for district 2. “I’m hoping this will be the last round of school closures. We need that stability. The other schools districts are not closing like we are and moving kids around.”
Both educators said school closures could be the cause of instability leading to low student achievement for PPS students. However both agreed additional instructional resources and a curriculum tailored to students needs were needed to ensure student achievement continues to rise.
“You can condense a school but when you double the size you need more resources. A lot of the other schools have more resources and now the sizes of the classrooms in the Pittsburgh Public Schools are tremendous,” Parker said. “The reality is with more schools closing, there are going to be more students in the classroom and teachers need that support. If they can’t find a way to get those support staff, use the community, partner with community groups, bring in those community organizations that are doing that.”
“All the children are working on the same concept at the same time. And for each of our children we need to be looking at the data to see if the curriculum supports that child. I think that has a lot to do with it,” Holley said. “There are some schools that need more resources, but when I’m talking about more resources I’m talking about after school programming, individualized.”