School Board Town Hall Forum

You believe in good school boards, right? You’re voting in the primary on May 19th, right? With 4 of 9 school board seats on the ballot, Pittsburgh voters will be electing several new faces – and the new board of directors will be making some pretty big decisions. They will choose the next Superintendent. They will approve budgets and potentially make decisions about school closures and new charter school applications. They will set policies that impact school climate, learning conditions, student discipline, restorative justice practices, and high-stakes-testing, among many other things.

So it matters who you elect to the school board! Please come to the Town Hall Forum tomorrow to meet the candidates and ask them your questions. Wednesday, April 29th from 5:30 – 7:30 pm at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary’s Hicks Memorial Chapel (616 N Highland Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15206). Kevin Gavin from 90.5 FM (WESA) will be our moderator. There’s free parking, refreshments, and childcare is available if you RSVP to What more could you ask for?

This is civic engagement 101. Please be there and be a part the decisions that will shape the future of our public schools for years to come.

Sharpen Your Pencils

Get out your bubble sheet and sharpen your pencil. It’s your turn to take the test! Join us this Saturday to see what the PSSA and Keystone exams look like, take sample questions, talk to teachers, and discuss the impact of high-stakes-testing on students and our schools. It’s like an old-fashioned teach-in, only it’s a “Test-In.” Get it?

We’ll be learning from some great teachers and educators, including Dr. Greg Taranto. He was Pennsylvania’s 2012 Middle School Principal of the Year and is currently serving on Governor Wolf’s education transition team. Other speakers include Steel Valley teacher (and Yinzercation steering committee member), Steve Singer, and Pittsburgh Allderdice teacher, Jon Parker. Please RSVP on our Facebook event page, and then invite your networks.

The Test-In runs from 11:30AM – 1:30PM in the University Center at Carnegie Mellon. Free parking in the garage at Forbes & Beeler. Snacks provided! Co-sponsored by the Great Public Schools (GPS) Pittsburgh coalition and Carnegie Mellon’s Center for the Arts in Society.


Come to the Test-In to learn why the Keystone exams pose a particular concern for civil rights, as they threaten to fail enormous numbers of poor students and students of color, preventing them from graduating. In Philadelphia last year, pass rates at some of the poorest schools were in the “single digits and low double-digits for all three subjects – Algebra I, Literature, and Biology. … Pass rates were low, even in some highly selective schools.” [The Notebook, 11-14-14]

The Pennsylvania NAACP has demanded the removal of the Keystones as graduation requirements, calling the use of these high-stakes-tests a “present day form of Eugenics.” In a letter to the PA Department of Education, they wrote, “Attaching the Keystone Examinations to graduation is clearly based on the idea that it is possible to distinguish between superior and inferior elements of society through selective scores on a paper and pencil test. … Pushing masses of students out of high school without a diploma will create a subculture of poverty comprised of potentially 60 percent of our young citizens.” [Pittsburgh Courier, 10-24-13] The letter uses strong language to object to the impact of high-stakes-testing on our most vulnerable children, including:

“human rights violation…unspeakable horror…holocaust on our youth and society…life-long trauma… a system of entrapment for the youth of Pennsylvania…depraved indifference…deficient in a moral sense of concern…lacks regard for the lives of the children who will be harmed, and puts their lives and futures at risk…LYNCHING OUR OWN YOUNG.” [NAACP letter to PDE, 9-3-13]

Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Tobash, a Republican from Dauphin County, is listening. He recently introduced a bill to repeal the Keystone graduation requirement and to stop the development of seven more subject-specific exams, required under current state law. Rep. Tobash explained, “The children of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, they need to learn, they need to be assessed, but when we’ve gone so far that we end up handcuffing our educational system with really an overwhelming amount of standardized assessment, we need to stop and put the brakes on here, take a look at it.” [Newsworks, 1-28-15]

State Sen. Andy Dinniman, a Democrat from Chester County, agrees. He has introduced similar legislation in the past, which has not gotten out of committee, but is doing it again this year. Citing severe budget issues for many impoverished school districts, Sen. Dinniman said, “the use of the Keystone Exams as graduate requirements must be stopped before they exacerbate an already dire situation.” He noted, “It’s clear to me that there are two systems of public education in Pennsylvania: separate and unequal … Until we resolve that discrepancy, how can we, in good conscience, stamp ‘failure’ on the backs of kids who lack the teachers, resources and classes to pass such standardized tests? To continue down this path without addressing such basic issues is beyond the pale. It’s downright shameful.” [Senator Dinniman, 1-16-15]

When students fail the Keystone exams twice in a row, they are required to do a “Project Based Assessment” (PBA). But these projects are equally troubling. The Superintendent of the Bethlehem Area school district explained last week that the PBAs are a “disaster waiting to happen.” He said, “We can’t figure it out yet how we’re going to make this work to the benefit of our students. … We’re really concerned. This is a major, major issue for high schools across the commonwealth.” [LehighValleyLive, 3-10-15] School officials have no way to administer the assessments without having students lose electives or other class time. And no one seems to know how teachers will be able to supervise the completion of all those projects. Where is that time coming from and how many other students will have their learning disrupted as a result?

Clearly we need to change state legislation and support the crucial efforts of Rep. Tobash and Sen. Dinniman. In addition, parents are using other strategies to combat high-stakes-testing, including refusing to allow their children to take the exams. At Feltonville middle school in Philadelphia this year, over 100 students will not be taking the PSSAs when they start in April. Many of those students are English Language Learners (ELL) who are not performing at grade level, yet Pennsylvania requires all ELL students – as well as special education students – to be evaluated at grade level on the high-stakes-tests. And when students do not score well on these tests, their school can be threatened with closure or turned over to a charter school operator. [The Notebook, 3-11-15]

We will talk more about these high-stakes impacts on kids and schools at the Test-In on Saturday. We will also generate strategies together to combat high-stakes-testing. Please come be a part of this critical community conversation. Get those pencils sharpened!

Talking about Testing

The movement against high-stakes-testing has mushroomed this year. Students, parents, teachers, principals, superintendents, school boards, and even legislators across the country are talking about the overuse and misuse of testing. A glimpse of what they are saying in a moment, but first: here’s your chance to do some of the talking! Please hold these dates for two important events next week:

  1. Wednesday, March 18th, 6-8PM at Sci-Tech: The Great Public Schools (GPS) Pittsburgh community meeting will focus on school funding issues, including a session led by Yinzercation steering committee member, Kathy Newman, on the financial impact of high-stakes-testing. Come learn about these un-funded mandates, how they are hurting our schools, what they are costing state tax payers, and discuss what we can do about it. Dinner at 5:30pm and free childcare available.
  2. Saturday, March 21st, 11:30AM-1:30PM at Carnegie Mellon, University Center: Yinzercation is hosting a “Test In” for the community to come see the tests our kids are taking and answer sample questions. The event will feature Dr. Greg Taranto (a PA middle school principal of the year and member of Gov. Wolf’s education transition team!) speaking about the impact of high-stakes-testing on students. You might remember his op-ed piece that went viral last year. We will also hear from several teachers, including Yinzercation steering committee member Steve Singer. Keep your eyes peeled for more information.

Seriously, you don’t want to miss these opportunities to be a part of the conversation. Now, want to hear what some other folks are saying?

Start with three courageous principals from Canon-McMillan School District, right here outside of Pittsburgh, who recently published an article publicly explaining why evaluating teachers using high-stakes-testing is hurting students and schools. Critiquing the use of Value Added Measurement (VAM) statistical models, Dr. Greg Taranto, Mr. Kenneth Schrag, and Dr. Mark Abbondanza said, “school leaders must take action by ‘pulling the curtain’ back on VAMs to understand the detrimental impact they can have on their educational community. As school leaders, we cannot let the effectiveness of our teachers and the culture of our schools be determined by a ‘magical’ mathematical formula that does not calculate humanity in the equation!” Read the whole article for an excellent rundown on the research literature warning against the use of VAM for teacher evaluation. [PA Administrator, Feb. 2015]

A brand new report released yesterday supports their conclusion. A detailed analysis of the state’s new School Performance Profile (SPP) rating system found that – despite its claim to use “multiple measures” to evaluate schools and teachers – 90% of the calculation is based on high-stakes standardized tests. Yet, “standardized tests measure just part of the expectations we hold for students and schools.” Even more problematically, “these measures are closely associated with student poverty rates and other out- of-school factors—raising questions about whether the measures are a valid and reliable measure for purposes of school accountability.” [Research for Action, March 2015 report]

In other words, SPP scores measure student poverty. Period. Even the much-touted Pennsylvania Value-Added Assessment System (PVAAS) component of the score, which is supposed to calculate projected student growth while controlling for out-of-school factors, miserably fails to do so and instead strongly correlates with poverty. The report concludes, “our analyses suggest that Pennsylvania’s School Performance Profiles could be interpreted as a complex profile of student poverty.” That’s right: teachers and schools being held accountable, not for what students learn, but for the poverty level of the families they serve. And rather than send resources to support those families, these systems punish schools and teachers, threatening them with closure, firing, and more disruptive “reforms.”

Over 2,000 education researchers sent an open letter to the Obama administration and Congress last month saying the same thing. Citing reams of data, the researchers wrote, “we strongly urge departing from test-focused reforms that not only have been discredited for high-stakes decisions, but also have shown to widen, not close, gaps and inequities.” The letter went on to quote evidence at length from a new Policy Memo from the National Education Policy Center, which effectively summarizes a “broad research consensus that standardized tests are ineffective and even counterproductive when used to drive educational reform.” [NEPC, “Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act: Time to Move Beyond Test-Focused Policies,” Feb. 2015]

OK, so we have local principals, Pennsylvania policy analysts, and national education researchers all pointing to the evidence that high-stakes-testing is not working. What about those most affected: the students? They’re not being quiet either.

Last week, thousands of students in New Jersey refused to take the new high-stakes-tests in that state. In one district alone, a full 30% of the students refused to take the PARCC test, which is being used by several states to align with the new Common Core standards. [WABC-TV7, 3-2-15] One student who did take the test, wrote about the experience in a widely shared piece for the Washington Post: 10th grader Marina Ford explained how much class time she has lost to test-prep, how confusing and error-riddled the tests are, even for honors students like herself, and how these high-stakes-accountability-tests have prevented her from getting ready for the ones that really matter to her, such as the AP exams. [Washington Post, 3-7-15]

And it’s not just in New Jersey. Last year, over 60,000 students refused to take similar tests in New York, and the numbers are expected to be even larger this year when students in that state are scheduled to begin testing next month. [New York State Allies for Public Education] In New Mexico last week, thousands of students refused to take the tests and many hundreds protested by walking out of their high schools. [Daily Caller, 3-2-15] Similarly, last fall over 5,000 seniors in Colorado refused new state tests and hundreds participated in mass walk-outs. [Colorado Public Radio, 11-14-14] I could go on and on.

There are more teachers and principals speaking out and putting their jobs on the line, too. In a piece shared over 10,000 times on Facebook in the past few days, one teacher wrote an open letter to her students called, “I am Sorry for What I am About To Do To You.” Carol Burris, a highly regarded educator who was New York state’s 2013 High School Principal of the Year, is now calling on parents to refuse testing. A few weeks ago she wrote:

“It has become increasingly clear that Congress does not have the will to move away from annual high-stakes testing. The bizarre notion that subjecting 9-year-olds to hours of high-stakes tests is a “civil right,” is embedded in the thinking of both parties. Conservatives no longer believe in the local, democratic control of our schools. Progressives refuse to address the effects of poverty, segregation and the destruction of the middle class on student learning. The unimaginative strategy to improve achievement is to make standardized tests longer and harder. …

“The only remedy left to parents is to refuse to have their children take the tests. Testing is the rock on which the policies that are destroying our local public schools are built. If our politicians do not have the courage to reverse high-stakes testing, then those who care must step in.

“I am a rule follower by nature. … But there comes a time when rules must be broken — when adults, after exhausting all remedies, must be willing to break ranks and not comply. That time is now. The promise of a public school system, however imperfectly realized, is at risk of being destroyed. The future of our children is hanging from testing’s high stakes. The time to Opt Out is now.” [Washington Post, 2-19-15]

While test refusal is one of several strategies to combat high-stakes-testing – and we will be talking about those at our events next week – it is clearly growing across the country, and with good reason. I leave you here with the words of New Jersey parents who made this powerful video, and look forward to continuing the conversation on March 18th and March 21st.

Our Amicus Brief in the State Funding Lawsuit

Did you know that there is a current lawsuit against the state to fund our schools? The Education Law Center (ELC) and the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia brought the suit last fall on behalf of six school districts, seven parents, and two statewide associations accusing the state of failing to uphold Pennsylvania’s constitutional obligation to provide a “thorough and efficient” system of public education. The state is arguing that the case should be thrown out and there is a key court date coming up on March 11th.

Yinzercation has joined with other grassroots organizations to submit an amicus (meaning “friend of the court”) brief demonstrating the reasons this case ought to move forward. I will include the full Statement of Harm we were asked to file in support of the brief below. (Click here for the full amicus brief, which was delivered on Tuesday.) For more information about the lawsuit, including an easy-to-read FAQ, visit the Pennsylvania School Funding Litigation website.

If you would like to attend the oral arguments in the case, you are invited to the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg (601 Commonwealth Avenue, Courtroom 5001) on Wednesday, March 11th at 9:30AM. As the ELC explains, “this is a historic case challenging the legislature’s failure to adequately support and maintain Pennsylvania’s public school system.” The suit “asks the Court to ensure that all students — including those living in low-wealth districts — have the basic resources they need to meet state academic standards. We ask the court to hear this case and enforce the rights of our children to a “thorough and efficient” system of public education as guaranteed to them by our state constitution.” If you plan to attend or have questions, please contact Spencer Malloy at

Here is the information Yinzercation submitted to support the arguments in this important case:

Statement of Harm

Pennsylvania ranks in the bottom five of all states in the proportion of funding provided by the state to public schools. This under-funding, combined with four years of de-funding in the 2011-2015 fiscal budgets, has pushed responsibility for supporting public education down on local municipalities, which have been forced to cut programs and staff. In its most recent survey of the state’s 500 school districts, the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators (PASA) and the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials (PASBO) found that:[i]

  • 90% of school districts have cut staff, and more than 40% of districts have already, or plan to, cut more teachers.
  • 64% of districts have increased class size since the historic budget cuts in 2010-11, with the elementary grades hit the hardest.
  • Over half the districts will eliminate or reduce academic programs next year. The most frequently cited cuts will come from field trips (51% schools will eliminate); summer school (37%); world languages (34%); music and theater (31%); and physical education (24%).
  • Students will lose extra-curricular and athletic programs, or have to pay a fee, in over a third of the districts.
  • The vast majority of school districts report that their costs are going up because of un-funded state mandates (such as the administration of high-stakes testing).
  • In nearly every part of the state, districts are relying on local revenues (property taxes) to pay for a growing majority of school budgets. Over 75% of school districts will increase property taxes next year (that’s more than any in the past five years).

The over-reliance on local resources such as property taxes to support education exacerbates inequity in school funding as poor districts struggle to meet basic needs. In addition, because the state’s budget cuts to the most impoverished school districts were more than three times as large on average as those made to the wealthiest districts, Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable children have been harmed the most. For example, class sizes have increased more in high poverty districts while reading and math scores have declined the most for students living in poverty.[ii]


[Source: PSEA analysis, 8-25-14]

Yinzercation’s analysis of data for Allegheny County supports the finding that on a per-student basis, the poorest school districts have been impacted the most by state budget cuts. Pittsburgh tops the list of districts most harmed with an average per-child loss of $1,038, followed by a list of nine other high-poverty school districts. Race is a crucial factor, too, as these districts have a large proportion of students of color. Those districts harmed the least by state budgets cuts in the county include those in the wealthiest suburban areas, including Upper St. Clair, which actually gained $4 on a per-student basis during this time period.



In order to deal with the under-funding of their schools, poor districts have been forced to slash line items directly affecting students and their classrooms. For example, in 2012, Pittsburgh furloughed 285 teachers and educators. To put this in context, in total between 2008 and 2013, Pittsburgh students lost:

  • 17 percent of their teachers,
  • 45 percent of their librarians,
  • 35 percent of their paraprofessionals and support staff, and
  • 20 percent of their guidance counselors and psychological personnel.[iii]

Similarly, this school year, Wilkinsburg – a predominantly low-income, African-American school district adjacent to Pittsburgh – eliminated 18 teachers, amounting to a full 14% of its faculty. This was in addition to the 13 teachers and staff members who were furloughed last year.[iv]

Students in these districts are some of the poorest in the county, yet have lost critical education programs. Some examples illustrate the actual impact on kids:

  • Pittsburgh Colfax K-8, a Title I school with one of the largest achievement gaps in the city, eliminated its after school and Saturday tutoring program.
  • Some classes grew to 39 or more students.
  • This school also cut its middle level choral program and baseball team, and delayed instruction for instrumental students at the elementary level.
  • Pittsburgh Manchester, a Title I school with 94% students of color, has a brand new library built by the community but students cannot check out books because there is no regular librarian.
  • Parents and teachers at Pittsburgh Linden K-5 provide paper for photocopies and other basic supplies.
  • Pittsburgh CAPA 6-12, a magnet school for creative and performing arts, eliminated sculpture classes for visual art students and solo lessons for instrumental students (a cornerstone of instruction in those fields).
  • There aren’t enough math textbooks for the students at Pittsburgh Allderdice high school.
  • The historic marching band at Pittsburgh Westinghouse high school was not able to purchase drumsticks or replace 15-year-old uniforms.
  • The district eliminated its Parent Engagement Specialists who worked with the most marginalized students and their families: this position had been especially effective at schools serving children bussed from distant communities (the result of a long pattern of school closures in poor neighborhoods and communities of color).
  • In 2014, Pittsburgh announced plans to cut additional world language classes, with schools eliminating language offerings entirely or seriously reducing courses.
  • The graphic on the following page offers additional impact statements from parents, students, teachers, and community members about the effect of cuts in Pittsburgh’s schools due to inadequate state funding.[v]

Inadequate state funding for school districts also leads to inequities within poorer districts, as some individual schools have access to community resources while others do not. For instance, one school on Pittsburgh’s East End has an active parent organization that annually raises over $60,000 to support educational field trips, student activities, classroom technology, and basic supplies – items that wealthier school districts are able to provide without relying on volunteer donations. Yet parents at other city schools struggle to raise similar donations leading to wide variation in the availability of crucial educational programs and enrichment opportunities for students within the same district. Adequate and equitable state funding for public education is crucial to address such inequities within and between school districts and to eliminate the harmful impacts on our most vulnerable children.


[i] PASA-PASBO report, “Continued Cuts: The Fourth Annual Report on School District Budgets,” June 2014. []

[ii] PSEA report, “Budget cuts, student poverty, and test scores: Examining the evidence,” August 2014. []

[iii] Pittsburgh Board of Public Education, “Financial Statements, Final Budget,” August 2013.

[iv] Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 5, 2014. []

[v] Great Public Schools Pittsburgh report, “Creating a District of Last Resort,” October 2013. []

Push-Out is Gendered, Too

The weather has been messing up everyone’s plans lately. But the community meeting about school push-out has been re-scheduled for this Saturday, February 28th. Hosted by Great Public Schools Pittsburgh, the Education Law Center, and the Center for Third World Organizing, the conversation will run from 10AM-12PM at the Kingsley Center in East Liberty. Speakers will include Sara Goodkind (a Yinzercation steering committee member) and Jeff Shook, both from the School of Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh.

At least the delay bought some extra time for media attention to this important issue. Did you catch the banner headline article about the upcoming meeting in Monday’s Post-Gazette at the top of the front page? [Post-Gazette, 2-23-15]

While we are talking about ways to reduce the disproportionate use of school discipline leading to the “school-to-prison pipeline,” let’s remember to include gender in that conversation. A report released earlier this month by the African American Policy Forum and the Columbia Law School’s Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies revealed some stunning new comparative data showing the impact of harsh disciplinary actions on girls of color. While the focus tends to be on black boys, who are suspended three times as often as white boys, nationally black girls are suspended six times more than white girls. [Report, Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected]

Kimberlé Crenshaw, the report’s lead author and a professor of law at both UCLA and Columbia, explains, “As public concern mounts for the needs of men and boys of color through initiatives like the White House’s My Brother’s Keeper, we must challenge the assumption that the lives of girls and women—who are often left out of the national conversation—are not also at risk.” She argues that we need an intersectional approach to think about how social categories such as race, class, and gender overlap, creating inequality and oppression on multiple levels.

The report, which looked closely at students in New York and Boston, also found:

  • “In New York, the number of disciplinary cases involving black girls was more than 10 times more than those involving their white counterparts and the number of cases involving black boys was six times the number of those involving white boys, despite there being only twice as many black students as white students.
  • In Boston, the number of disciplinary cases involving black girls was more than 11 times more than those involving their white counterparts while the number of cases involving black boys was approximately eight times those involving white boys, despite there being less than three times as many black students as white students.
  • Rates of expulsion were even more strikingly disproportionate between black and white students, especially among girls.”

Please join this important conversation!

2.28.15 turnout.childcare

Fund Our Schools

Like a breath of fresh spring air in the middle of the winter, Gov. Tom Wolf this week talked about his plan to restore funding to our schools. After touring an elementary school on Wednesday morning, he announced a proposal to impose the 5 percent natural gas extraction tax that he promised during his campaign. He estimated it would raise about $1 billion in the first year and said the “lion’s share” would be dedicated to education – which would put the figure close to what Gov. Corbett cut from our schools.

Gov. Wolf explained, “We have to make sure that we’re funding schools adequately, and this is a source of funding that’s fair for Pennsylvanians. … We have the natural resources to actually do something about the problem here.” [Post-Gazette, PowerSource, 2-12-15] Further underscoring the fact that he really does get the problem, Gov. Wolf noted:

The commonwealth ranks 45th in the nation in percentage of state funding for public education, and as a result, we have seen larger class sizes, fewer teachers, and vital program cuts. These cuts have made it more difficult for students to get a strong education in Pennsylvania’s public schools. This is the right thing to do for our children and our economy and to move Pennsylvania forward. [ 2-11-15]

While these words are welcome relief after four years of draconian cuts that continue to harm our kids and schools, Gov. Wolf faces an uphill battle in the legislature. Although the extraction tax is modeled on neighboring West Virginia’s – and every other mineral rich state in the nation taxes these resources – the Marcellus Shale industry has been crying foul and lining up its many supporters in Harrisburg.

Before Gov. Wolf announces his proposed budget on March 3rd, it’s crucial that our legislators hear from us. Fortunately, our colleagues at OnePittsburgh are making that easy: please GET ON THE BUS to Harrisburg to rally for a fair budget and get the money back for our schools. Pittsburgh will send at least three buses to join the hundreds of others converging on the Capitol on Thursday, Feb. 26th. It’s fun and all the details are taken care of: you just have to GET ON THE BUS. Click here to register.

We know these bus trips matter and that they work. As we’ve discovered walking the halls of the capitol building, our legislators hear from a steady stream of paid lobbyists (some of whom had the brass to mock out loud a bunch of us moms and kids when we were there back in June). We won a major battle getting Gov. Wolf into office, but if we want the money back for our schools, we still need to win over our legislators. Someone’s gotta go to Harrisburg – can you?

Books for ARThouse Kids

Remember our Manchester Miracle? Two years ago we helped engage literally thousands of people all over the world in a book drive that wound up completely renovating the library at Pittsburgh Manchester preK-8. [For original story, see “Library Books and Equity”] It’s time for another miracle.

Our friend, the amazing artist Vanessa German, is opening a reading room in the new ARThouse. This art-making space for children in Homewood literally started on Vanessa’s front porch as neighborhood kids gathered to watch her paint and make sculptures. The Love Front Porch project outgrew the porch and moved into a nearby house that Vanessa purchased with support from the community. It’s a beautiful place where young people gather after school to feed their creative souls, make art, eat snacks, do homework – and read.



Vanessa explains, “we are building a reading room at the new ARThouse because i noticed this year that kids would come right after school not going to their homes or homework programs and they’d sit right down in the midst of the paint and scramble and attempt to find 5 equations that equal 132. with, not surprisingly, great frustration. also the reading room because it is going to be soft and quiet and comfortable and, hopefully, filled with reams and reams of adventures.”


The architect of our Manchester Miracle, children’s librarian extraordinaire Sheila May-Stein, has hand-picked a list of books for the ARThouse. You can purchase new books from this Amazon Wishlist she has compiled and they will be sent directly to the ARThouse. (If you have books shipped from another source, please send them c/o Vanessa German, 7803 Hamilton Ave., Pittsburgh PA 15208.) You may also drop off gently used children’s and teen books on the porches of Yinzercation steering committee members Kathy Newman (Squirrel Hill: 5353 Beeler Street) or Tara McElfresh (Morningside: 1001 Chislett St).

As many in our community already know, Sheila is having major surgery tomorrow and has asked that folks send books to the ARThouse along with their healing thoughts for her extended recovery. What an amazing thing Ms. Sheila has started. And it’s already taking off:

  • In the past 48 hours, over 150 books have been purchased from the list.
  • Writer Katha Pollitt from The Nation, who supported our Manchester Miracle, got actress Salli Richardson of “I Am Legend” to retweet and rapper Missy Elliot to favorite her tweet about the project.
  • Children’s author Arnold Adoff put our message out on his Facebook page.
  • Homewood native Robin Walker Williams, is arranging for Vanessa to be on early morning TV shows to discuss the reading room project.
  • The founder of Awesome Pittsburgh bought 7 books and is sharing the message. (And Tara McElfresh is going to write a $1,000 grant to Awesome Pittsburgh for the ARThouse!)
  • The Homeless Children’s Education Fund is sending books.
  • The Homewood Children’s Village has 100 books they are donating.

Sheila asks, “What can you say when people all over Pittsburgh decide to take time out of their day to send biographies of Handel and Mozart to children in Homewood? When Lakota origin tales and giant coffee table books with full color plates of Basqiat’s work are on their way to wondering eyes and little hands? Each book a message straight from a heart to a child: you matter. you have value. you belong on this earth.” These children are all of our children. They belong to all of us:

Vanessa German: “we made books and ate pizza last week. we were the writers, publishers and makers. we are so bold.”

“we made books and ate pizza last week. we were the writers, publishers and makers. we are so bold.” – Vanessa German

“Miyah made a great journal last week. high design if you'd have asked me. yesterday she came in. pulled last week's journal from her book bag. with the pages filled. she then went into production on a new journal.i remarked. you could be an entrepenuer. a young book maker. i went outside to work with some of the younger artists. when i came back in at the end of the evening. she had 5 new books laid out. creating masterful, colorfilled covers. and she is SOOOO quiet. she moves like a light wind from the east. remarkable.” – Vanessa German

“Miyah made a great journal last week. high design if you’d have asked me. yesterday she came in. pulled last week’s journal from her book bag. with the pages filled. she then went into production on a new journal.i remarked. you could be an entrepenuer. a young book maker. i went outside to work with some of the younger artists. when i came back in at the end of the evening. she had 5 new books laid out. creating masterful, colorfilled covers. and she is SOOOO quiet. she moves like a light wind from the east. remarkable.” – Vanessa German

Vanessa posted this poem on October 9th, when we had lost three African-American teenagers in one week to violence:

don’t think that it isn’t heartbreaking that our children are being killed and left for useless and worthless in a world that all too often neither celebrates, acknowledges or even considers their inherent, immutable, wisdom and beauty. don’t think that we don’t grieve them all. because we do. and every child we love. is every child we love. and we love the children we love as we love ALL the children whose names and places we know and do not know. and we celebrate them. in art and dancing and joy and food. and we celebrate them as the celebration in and of itself is an honoring of their remarkable remarkable-ness, is an honoring of their profound and mysterious and glorious humanity. we honor them as we honor and celebrate ourselves. and every joy we share in. is a healing. every ounce of paint and glue and water, every seed of glitter every juice box every t-shirt every over-crowded classroom Arthouse and city park is a healing. and we grieve. and the grief is an honoring. and we celebrate them in our humanity, in the courage of our human commitment and political will– we stand for us all. Love.

Can you send a book from the Amazon Wishlist and then help spread the word? Vanessa German, the ARThouse, and the children of Homewood need our help. Let’s make another miracle.

Vanessa German

Vanessa German performing at our Rally for Public Education, February 2013.

Go, Go, Go GOTV!

OK, I’ll admit the first time I saw the acronym “GOTV” I thought Go-TV was some kind of new television. Or that we were supposed to be cheering for TVs. Then I realized it stands for “Get Out the Vote!” And nothing could be more important right now. With just three weeks left in this gubernatorial race, we need to be cheering on voters to get to the polls.

Our friend Susan Spicka, a mom who leads a volunteer group of parents much like ours in central PA, has been out knocking on doors for the Wolf campaign in Franklin County. She reports that even though she isn’t seeing Corbett yard signs or bumper stickers in that normally heavily Republican part of the state, “Anyone who wants to see Tom Corbett get booted out of office this year needs to vote on November 4. Polls don’t win elections, voter turnout does. A whole lot of Republicans will hold their noses and vote for Corbett. Voters who support Wolf need to make sure to vote for him.”

Research confirms her point. Kristin Kanthak, as associate professor of political science at the University of Pittsburgh, explains that Tom Wolf’s large lead in the polls is starting to close as more Corbett-leaning voters become willing to express their support for him: “This kind of tightening is really pretty common with someone where their positive numbers aren’t very high.” In other words, while the incumbent has had dismal approval ratings and his supporters were not lining up early on to cheer for him, they are more willing now. And Dr. Kanthak points out that Corbett is “the most endangered Republican in the country right now,” so millions of dollars in out of state contributions have been pouring into his campaign coffers. [Public Source, 10-14-14]

Back to Susan Spicka’s point: voter turnout is what will win this race. That means getting people to the polls. What can you do? Here are two easy ways to help GOTV!

Our colleagues at the statewide Education Voters Action Fund (which is separate from Education Voters PA, which cannot endorse candidates) will be running a virtual phone bank. You can make calls from home on the next three Thursdays, starting tomorrow – October 16, 23 & 30th – between 6 and 8PM to help reach voters directly in the districts that matter the most in the upcoming election. Everyone will be phoning for Wolf, and when possible, you will phone for other endorsed candidates along with Wolf to double the impact of the phone call. Some endorsed candidates may be Republicans who have been friends, and will continue to be friends, of public education. (This is great!)

Education Voters Action Fund will provide you with a script. All you need is a phone and a computer. Please contact Bob Previdi at or call him at 267-235-8523 to sign up or with any questions.

Now here’s a second way you can GOTV and meet Tom Wolf in person! This Saturday, October 18th, our friends at the “Make it Our UPMC” campaign will be hosting a meet-and-greet with Mr. Wolf at 10:30AM at the Jeron X. Grayson Community Center (1852 Enoch St. / 15219). From there, everyone will fan out for a special door-to-door canvass. You will be with other people, they’ll show you where to go, and you’ll have information so you know what to say (if you want it). In other words – this is easy, all you have to do is show up!

This is it, folks. Just three weeks left. It’s all about GOTV now. Go, go, go!


Celebrating Hope, Action, and Change

Pittsburgh hosted the national launch of Bob Herbert’s new book last week with an event that was part rally, part community meeting, and part serious conversation. But it was also a fun celebration of our education justice movement with kids and drums and balloons, full of hope that ordinary folks like us can change the world when we work together. Losing Our Way: An Intimate Portrait of a Troubled America tells a series of close-up stories about growing income inequality, the true costs of war, and our country’s failure to invest in public goods from infrastructure to education. It’s a devastatingly honest account of our national policy failures and the consequences of misplaced priorities. In a book full of gripping narratives – including a woman badly injured in the Minneapolis bridge collapse and a solider from Georgia who loses both his legs and more in Afghanistan – we are a point of hope. Herbert was inspired by our truly grassroots movement fighting back against the defunding and corporatization of public education. And he wound up writing three chapters on education, two of them framed closely by our work in Pittsburgh.

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh provided children's activities

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh provided children’s activities

Drummers from Pittsburgh Dilworth and Pittsburgh Linden performed for the audience

Drummers from Pittsburgh Dilworth and Pittsburgh Linden performed for the audience

Rev. Freeman, president of PIIN, delivers opening words helping us think about the three African American teenagers we lost in Pittsburgh in just one week

Rev. Freeman, president of PIIN, delivers opening words helping us think about the three African American teenagers we lost in Pittsburgh in just one week

Over 300 people were in McConomy Auditorium at Carnegie Mellon University for the event!

Over 300 people filled McConomy Auditorium at Carnegie Mellon University for the event!

Tony Norman of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette moderated the conversation with Bob Herbert

Tony Norman of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette moderated the conversation with Bob Herbert

Bob Herbert emphasized the need to grassroots activism and a coordinated effort to fight income inequality and for good jobs.

Bob Herbert emphasized the need for grassroots activism and a coordinated effort to fight income inequality and for good jobs.

Bob Herbert explains that the movement will have to come from the bottom up.

Bob Herbert explains that the movement will have to come from the bottom up.

Jessie Ramey and Kathy Newman are two of the four Pittsburgh parents mentioned by name in the book (spoiler alert:  Sara Segel and Sara Goodkind are the other two!)

Jessie Ramey and Kathy Newman are two of the four Pittsburgh parents mentioned by name in the book (spoiler alert: Sara Segel and Sara Goodkind are the other two!)

Bob Herbert answered audience questions

Bob Herbert answers audience questions


Our friends at Mystery Lovers Bookshop sold copies of the book hot off the press!

Our friends at Mystery Lovers Bookshop sold copies of the book hot off the press for Herbert’s first stop on his national book tour!

Bob signs books while a film crew interviews audience members.

Bob signs books while a film crew interviews audience members.

We are participating in a new social media campaign encouraging people to talk about what #OurSchoolsNeed

We are participating in a new social media campaign encouraging people to talk about what #OurSchoolsNeed

Hill District activist Kent Bey, who runs the Stand Up Now Network, participates in the #OurSchoolsNeed campaign

Hill District activist Kent Bey, who runs the Stand Up Now Network, participates in the #OurSchoolsNeed campaign

Tony Norman with his son, Chris, a PPS graduate, say we need more art in our schools

Tony Norman with his son, Chris, a PPS graduate, say we need more art in our schools

Yinzercation_0220 Not surprisingly, Bob Herbert is getting a lot of national press, including this interview on Bill Moyers (where you can also read the introduction to the book) and an excellent Politico feature on “The Plot Against Public Education: How Millionaires and Billionaires are Ruining Our Schools.” Locally, Bob Herbert was on WESA’s “Essential Pittsburgh,” the Rick Smith Show, Jon Delano’s KDKA Sunday business show, and was interviewed by the City Paper. Congratulations, Pittsburgh, on another moment in the national spotlight as we celebrate real hope, grassroots action, and change from the bottom up.

If you missed this incredible book launch, or just want to keep the conversation going, please consider joining our co-sponsor, the Pittsburgh Area Jewish Council, for an informal gathering to discuss Losing Our Way: Monday, October 27, 2014 from 7-8PM at the PAJC offices (Rodef Shalom Congregation, 4905 5th Avenue). Light refreshments will be served. More information at

Top 10 Reasons to See Bob Herbert

We are hosting Bob Herbert, the award winning, longtime New York Times columnist, for the national launch of his new book, Losing Our Way: An Intimate Portrait of a Troubled America. I know that sounds like a very serious title, but this is going to be an exciting event and the book features our local education justice work! So why should you come next Thursday (October 9th) at 5:30PM to Carnegie Mellon? Here are the top ten reasons you don’t want to miss this event:

1.  You will be inspired. Bob is a terrific writer and speaker. With this book, he takes us across the U.S. to look at the consequences of the crippling Great Recession, austerity, and de-investment in the public good, profiling ordinary Americans who are trying to rebuild their lives and our country. Our story of Pittsburgh’s own grassroots parent movement and our efforts to save public education in Pennsylvania from devastating state budget cuts is the hope-filled highpoint of the book. You will be re-inspired by what we have accomplished working together. And now others around the country will be looking to Pittsburgh as a model for citizen action.

2.  Celebrate our victories. This is our time to shine a little in the national spotlight! Education justice work is a long haul; even narrowly defined goals such as restoring state budget cuts takes years of work, with many highs and lows along the way. It’s important to stop and recognize what we have achieved together. And this event is yet another achievement: we are hosting the national launch of this book (yes, Bob will be celebrating with us here in Pittsburgh before he even launches the book back home in New York City)!

3.  Get a signed copy of the book. Our friends at Mystery Lovers Bookshop will be on hand selling books hot off the press and Bob will stay after the Q&A to sign copies.

4.  Be a part of a community wide event. We have 15 co-sponsors from across the region working on this event, from universities and academic groups to faith-based organizations and labor and community organizations. That doesn’t happen every day in Pittsburgh.

  • Action United
  • American Federation of Teachers
  • Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh
  • Carnegie Mellon University:
    • Center for Arts in Society
    • Center for Africanamerican Urban Studies and the Economy (CAUSE)
    • English Department
    • History Department
  • Great Public Schools Pittsburgh
  • OnePittsburgh
  • Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network
  • Pittsburgh Area Jewish Committee
  • Pittsburgh Collaborative for Working Class Studies
  • Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers
  • Point Park University School of Communication
  • University of Pittsburgh English Department

5.  Hear the Dilworth drummers. These fantastic students from Pittsburgh Dilworth K-5 raise the roof with their music and enthusiasm when they perform. You have enjoyed them at some of our previous events: don’t miss this chance to hear them again at 5PM when the doors open. We will also have children’s activities sponsored by the fabulous librarians of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh!

6.  See Tony Norman. Mr. Norman – a columnist, associate editor, and book editor for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – will be moderating the conversation with Bob Herbert, followed by a Q&A with the audience. Tony has long been one of my favorite columnists and it will be a treat to see him live on stage with Bob.

7.  Find out who is in the book. Hint: at least four Pittsburgh parents are named in the book. And there’s an entire chapter framed by the story Bob discovered at Pittsburgh Lincoln preK-5 when he visited that school. Find out what he has to say about yinzers!

8.  It’s free. With free parking. In Pittsburgh, that’s enough said.

9.  Our elected representatives will be there. From the school board to city council, the mayor’s office, and state legislators, many of our elected representatives have told us they are planning to attend. We want them to see a crowd and know that public education advocates are a force to be reckoned with. (No joke – this is really important.) We had 1,000 people out for the launch of Diane Ravitch’s book one year ago and they really took notice – make sure you come and help this event be a big success.

10.  Because Bob Herbert. Seriously, Bob Herbert people!