Sunshine and Happiness

The end of the school year is almost here and all we want to think about is sunshine and happy things. Fortunately, there is much good news to report! So in the spirit of summer vacation and all things wonderful, here is our top six list of public education goodness:

Good Stuff #1: Election Results!

I am still on a high from the primary election last week. As our very own Kathy Newman wrote on Diane Ravitch’s national blog, Pittsburgh voters:

“delivered a resounding message that they support the broad platform of education justice for the Pittsburgh Public schools. This platform includes: Community Schools—schools which provide wrap-around, nutrition and psychological services to needy children during the school day and beyond, restorative justice rather than discipline and punish, more resources for nurses, librarians and counselors, a push back against over-testing, and a district budget that is determined by what students need to succeed rather than austerity, closing schools, and right-sizing. … Each of the four school board candidates who ran on this platform won the Democratic primary nomination, and they are all but assured to win in the fall, and to begin serving on the school board in late 2015.”

The winning candidates are the District 2 incumbent, Regina Holley, a former Pittsburgh principal and strong advocate for our students and schools. I have great respect for Dr. Holley and it has been an honor working with and getting to know her these past few years. In the hotly contested District 4 race, Lynda Wrenn won in a landslide victory, demonstrating the power of grassroots coalition building, with parents, teachers, and community members providing an army of “boots on the ground” to get out the word. Ms. Wrenn is the mother of two PPS graduates and two current students, has served as a PTO president, worked with the district on numerous task forces, has a master’s in teaching from Chatham, and is deeply involved in the community.

In District 6 the city gains a new champion for education justice with Moira Kaleida, a community leader who is active with Great Public Schools (GPS) Pittsburgh and mother of two young children just starting in the public schools. District 8 also endorsed a candidate running on a strong equity platform: Kevin Carter, the founder and CEO of the Adonai Center for Black Males, a nonprofit that helps young men transition from high school to college or trade school, and from higher education to the workplace. In debates this spring and in public statements and personal conversations, I’ve been very impressed with both Ms. Kaleida’s and Mr. Carter’s understanding of the issues facing public education.

These four candidates will join four other school board members elected in 2013 who were also backed by the education justice movement. That makes Pittsburgh’s board a rarity among large U.S. cities: democratically elected and supportive of evidence-backed policies to make all our schools the places all of our children deserve.

A final note about the elections: congratulations to our colleague Helen Gym, who won a huge primary victory for Philadelphia City Council running on a public education platform! This is absolutely amazing news for Philly and for all of us in Pennsylvania.

Good Stuff #2: Testing Resistance!

Mary King made big waves here and nationally when she refused to give high-stakes-tests to her students this spring. [Post-Gazette, 5-23-15] Ms. King teaches English language learners at Pittsburgh Colfax and decided that she had to take a stand as a conscientious objector after witnessing the harm done to her students. [See our “Brave Teachers Speak Out About Testing”] The Post-Gazette article about her was the #1 most shared story in last Saturday’s paper, and was also hilariously featured in Gary Rotstein’s Morning File on Monday. [Post-Gazette, 5-25-15] Diane Ravitch even named Mary King to her national honor roll!

As Pittsburgh teacher Kipp Dawson points out in a letter to the editor today, Mary King is in good company (despite the paper’s characterization of her taking a “lone stand”):

“Indeed, Mary King’s action in refusing to administer the state tests to her ESL students is unique, courageous and pioneering. However, far from standing alone, she is part of a growing movement of parents, teachers and students who are standing up against the egregious testing mania which is part of the current attacks on public schools. As a middle-school teacher in the Pittsburgh Public Schools, it is my experience that it would be hard to find a teacher who does not have similar stories about how the testing frenzy has hurt individual students, let alone how it has been a central part of the destruction of real teaching and learning in our schools.

“Just last week Jim Scanlon, superintendent of the West Chester Area School District, sent a letter to parents in which he says, among other things, “… we are asking our students to do something that’s entirely unfair: To spend weeks and weeks filling in bubbles, taking standardized tests and having their entire educational ambition directed toward passing them. This is not what public education was intended to do, nor should do. … I believe in very high standards for our students. I believe in accountability. I do believe that tests can be a good thing. But not the way we are being forced, by the government, to give them.”

“Many of us would welcome such leadership from Pittsburgh Public Schools, but we are not waiting for it. Saluting Mary King, and working alongside her, many of us teachers, parents and students keep working to help people stand up against the testing mania, along with all of the other undermining that the “reformers” are attempting to do to our public schools.” [Post-Gazette, 5-29-15]

Indeed, the movement against the overuse and misuse of high-stakes-testing is growing exponentially here in Southwest Pennsylvania. As one simple measure of interest in this issue, my piece last month on “The Religious Reasons My Kids Won’t Be Taking the Test” has become our second most read post of all time; was shared by readers from this blog over 2,000 times; reached over 26,000 people from our Facebook page; and was re-published by the Washington Post and

Good Stuff #3: Listen to Teachers!

If Mary King’s courageous stand against high-stakes-testing tells us anything it’s that we should be listening to teachers. Scholastic recently surveyed all of the State Teacher of the Year winners. These top educators have been recognized by each state as the very best in the nation, and not surprisingly, they tend to agree on how we should be approaching education reform: the report noted, “Teachers see issues like poverty, family stress and other out-of-school barriers to learning greatly affecting student academic success, and they prioritize things like anti-poverty initiatives, early learning and other community supports and services for funding.”

Not a mention in here of testing students more, or more “rigor,” or “standards,” or “firing bad teachers.” Nope. Listen to their recommendations about what actually works for students: “If these teachers could choose where to focus education funding in order to have the highest impact on student learning, their top priorities would be: Anti-poverty initiatives, early learning, reducing barriers to learning (access to wrap-around services, healthcare, etc.), and professional development/learning.” [Scholastic 2015 Survey] Sounds like our education justice platform, no?

Good Stuff #4: Governor Wolf!

Oh, this Governor. He wants to put more money into the public education budget! He’s going around the state lobbying for early childhood education rather than more prisons. [Post-Gazette, 5-26-15] He even sent a sharply worded letter to the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, which opposes restoring the budget cuts to public schools, accusing business leaders of putting “oil and gas special interests” before the interests of our children. [Post-Gazette, 5-19-15] What is he thinking? Happily, he is doing exactly what we asked him to do when we elected him with a clear mandate to support public education. We still have plenty of work to do with legislators who do not think schools and kids should come first. But what a refreshing change of leadership from the very top. And we did this!

Good Stuff #5: Lobbying to End School Push-Out!

On Tuesday, our coalition Great Public Schools Pittsburgh held a rally before the school board meeting to highlight school push-out. Students of color and students with special education needs are disproportionately impacted by school suspensions and other practices that push kids out of school and, too often, into the prison pipeline. For example, last year African-American students, who comprise 54% of the Pittsburgh student body, received over three-quarters (77%) of the district’s suspensions.

Our very own Pam Harbin has been leading a GPS working group aimed at developing recommendations to address this inequity that has life-long consequences for affected students. This week, we called on the district to commit to the following:

  • Adopt support-­based, district-wide disciplinary policies that move away from exclusionary discipline practices in favor of a comprehensive restorative justice approach.
  • Revise the Student Code of Conduct to divide the levels of infractions for misbehavior into five (5) levels. Out­-of-­school suspensions are not an option for the first two levels and expulsion is only an option for the fifth level. Remove option of permanent expulsion.
  • Further revise the Student Code of Conduct to include a glossary/index that defines every misconduct offense, guidance approach and possible disciplinary responses in student/caregiver friendly language. The Student Code of Conduct must be translated for non­-English speaking families.
  • Place a moratorium on out-­of-­school suspensions/expulsions for our youngest students, preK­5th grade, with nonviolent misconduct.
  • Assign, in every school, at least one full­time counselor or social worker whose primary job is to coordinate appropriate interventions and support for students.
  • Provide PPS police officers and security with the proper and necessary training on topics to meet the varying needs of officers working with youth.
  • Publicly report suspension and expulsion data at monthly School Board Legislative meetings broken down by grade, race, and disability category.

The effort received considerable press coverage from WESA, KDKA Radio and KDKA TV, KQV, WTAE TV, WPXI TV, the Post-Gazette, and the Courier. That’s pretty incredible! Here are some photos from the event:

Post-Gazette, print edition, 5-27-15

Post-Gazette, print edition, 5-27-15

Good Stuff #6: More Equity Work!

I am delighted to announce that starting Monday, I have a new job. I will be the inaugural Director of the new Women’s Institute at Chatham University. I also have a faculty appointment and will continue teaching. I will be leading efforts to focus on gender equity through education, research, and outreach – both on campus and in the larger community. I am thrilled that Chatham is continuing its commitment to gender equity and women’s leadership and am excited to be a part of this crucial work. I don’t know how much time I will have for blogging as I settle into the new position, but will certainly remain engaged in our education justice movement. As feminism has taught us, systems of power and oppression overlap; our fight for justice and equity in public education is intimately connected to the fight against racism, poverty, homophobia, sexism, and gender discrimination. I can’t wait to get to work!

Education Justice Platform

Our coalition, Great Public Schools Pittsburgh, has just released an important education justice platform. See below for the short version, or click here for the full version. The six organizations of the coalition worked together to develop this platform to help educate and inform school board candidates and other education advocates about the specific issues facing our schools in anticipation of this spring’s primary election – when four of nine school board positions will be on the ballot.

The GPS education justice platform calls on candidates running for school board to commit to the following:

  • full funding for the PPS schools our children deserve
  • charter school accountability
  • sustainable community schools
  • welcoming and inclusive teaching and learning environments
  • support for educators who help our children learn and grow
  • universal early childhood education
  • less testing, more learning
  • transparency, accountability and collaboration

Do you care about these issues? Please come to our GPS Town Hall Forum this 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 WESA will be our moderator. This is your chance to ask the school board candidates about where they stand on education justice issues. GPS will then use the education justice platform to score the candidates. Please come, ask questions, and be a part of this incredibly important election for our city.

GPS_Final Platform_page1 GPS_Final Platform_page2

Stop the Push Out

In Pittsburgh, students of color are 2.5 times more likely to be suspended than white students. Four out of every ten black students are suspended at least one time. And suspension is just one of the policies, practices, and procedures that “push out” students, making them less likely to graduate – a serious, and life altering outcome that feeds the “school to prison pipeline” and disproportionately impacts students of color and those with disabilities. [Beyond Zero Tolerance, ACLU report, 2013]

After meeting with parents all over the city, the Great Public Schools (GPS) Pittsburgh coalition has made school push-out one of its primary areas of focus. GPS is partnering with the Education Law Center, the Center for Third World Organizing, and other organizations to host a conversation about school push out and discuss what they will be doing this year to tackle the problem. Please join us:

Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015
5:30 PM Dinner, 6PM Meeting
Sci-Tech Academy (107 Thackeray Ave., Oakland)

GPS Push Out Community Meeting

Mayor’s Task Force on Education

I was honored earlier this year to be asked to serve on Mayor Peduto’s Task Force on Education. That group just wrapped up its fourth meeting last night and many folks have been asking how it’s going, so here’s a quick report.

I am optimistic by nature and was excited about the opportunity to get the Pittsburgh Public School administration, board members, and educators together with elected representatives from City Council, the mayor’s office, and community members to think about how to improve our schools and neighborhoods. Meeting process and organizational issues have beaten back some of that optimism, but I remain hopeful that (perhaps small) steps towards progress can be made.

The Task Force was actually created through a City Council resolution a year ago, when we were facing the potential closing of several more Pittsburgh schools. That resolution, authored by Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith, specifically called for the group to consider school closings and the district’s financial situation as well as equity issues. While some of us were asked to serve on the Task Force in the winter when it was announced to the press, others were invited later, and there was a several month delay while the Mayor’s office hired an education program manager and then an outside “mediator” to run the group.

A number of us objected to the idea of a “mediator,” rather than a facilitator, for these meetings, as it suggested that our work would be confrontational or conflict-ridden, which was not at all how we saw our role. After the first meeting in June, the Mayor’s office terminated the contract with the mediator. [Post-Gazette, 7-29-14] After our third meeting in September, we learned that the new education program manager had never moved to the city and had resigned. [Post-Gazette, 10-7-14]

The June meeting was largely spent trying to determine the agenda of the Task Force, with the discussion ranging from district finances to safety, housing, poverty, teacher quality, and relationships to outside entities such as foundations and businesses. (Full disclosure: I was not able to attend the first meeting as it was rescheduled at the last minute when I was having minor surgery. As it turned out, not one of the four parents on the Task Force was then able to attend.) The group decided to focus on school closings in the next meeting.

However, at that second meeting in July, we learned that superintendent Dr. Lane would not be bringing forward recommendations for any new school closures until the board asks for such a list. With the threat of imminent school closures off the table, the Task Force spent the second meeting in another discussion of what the agenda ought to be, focusing finally on 1) how PPS and the city can collaborate, and 2) how the groups might work together to improve public perceptions of the schools. While I (and others) pushed for the inclusion of community schools in the conversation – as this recommendation comes from the grassroots, is a natural fit with the theme of collaboration, and represents the work of many hundreds of our community members – the topic was shelved for future discussion.

At the third meeting of the Task Force in September, I presented ideas for collaboration between the district and the city stemming from the extensive work we had done for the last Great Public Schools Pittsburgh report. These are all specifically ideas for collaboration to improve the fiscal situation of the district (there are lots of other ways we could foster collaboration, but no ideas were presented). I will re-print all nine suggestions from the report here, though some lend themselves more to collaborative work with the city than others (stick with me, or skip ahead to read about the final Task Force meeting):

  1. Engage the entire community in a concerted effort to restore the state budget cuts. Since Governor Corbett’s historic budget cuts to Pennsylvania’s public schools in 2011, the Pittsburgh Public School district has lost $26.8 million per year. Just a single year’s loss represents well over half (58%) of the entire projected PPS deficit of $46 million. The cumulative loss to PPS over the past three years totals $80.4 million – far exceeding the district’s entire expected shortfall in 2015. In other words, the loss of state funding has been devastating to Pittsburgh students and is the single largest threat to the district’s financial well-being. Restoring the state budget cuts ought to be our community’s top priority. Fortunately, Pennsylvania could do just that. There is money in the state budget, but it’s not going to public education. Budgets are about priorities. [See our running list of “Where’s the Money” for a list of our revenue source ideas.]
  2. Lobby for a fair funding formula. Following its own 2006 “Costing-Out Study,” the Pennsylvania legislature concluded it was short-changing public schools $4 billion and established a six-year plan to phase in increased state funding for public education using a new, fair funding formula. The state was two-years into this plan when Governor Corbett took office and eliminated the new formula, making Pennsylvania one of only three states in the nation without a modern, equitable way to distribute its education budget. [Education Law Center, “School Funding Report 2013”] The current formula costs districts such as Pittsburgh millions, in part because it does not account for the actual number of students with special education needs nor the actual cost of educating those students. Pittsburgh has a larger proportion of special education students, including children with multiple disabilities, than many other districts. Right now, 18.1% of Pittsburgh students receive special education services, but the district is only reimbursed based on a flat rate of 16% in the broken funding formula. In addition, the state’s own Special Education Funding Commission recently found that special education funding has not increased since 2008-09, effectively pushing rising costs onto local school districts. [“PA Special Education Funding Commission Report,” December 2013]
  3. Work with state legislators for charter reform. The way Pennsylvania pays for charter schools is broken. An outdated and seriously flawed funding formula enacted by the PA legislature mandates that our local school districts make tuition payments to cyber charter schools that far exceed what it actually costs to educate children. In many districts across the state, local schools are able to provide cyber school services to students at half the cost cyber charters are charging. [Data and analysis at Reform PA Charter Schools]
    Our legislators need to stop taxpayer overpayment to cyber charter schools – currently estimated at $365 million every year – by limiting cyber charter school tuition rates to what it costs local school districts to provide the same or better cyber school service. We should also be auditing cyber charter schools at the end of each school year and returning excess cyber charter school payments to school districts.
    In addition, due to an administrative loophole in the law, all charter schools are paid twice for the same pension costs – once by local school districts and again by the state. Our state legislators need to stop this “double-dip” pension payment system, which by 2016-2017 will cost taxpayers $510 million. They also need to stop charter and cyber charter school management companies from using taxpayer dollars allocated for educating children on advertising and political lobbying. Currently, for-profit management companies of charters and cyber charters can spend tax dollars on 7-figure CEO salaries, expensive advertising, shareholder profits, billboards, TV and internet advertising, and more.
  1. Collaborate with the City of Pittsburgh to find mutually beneficial solutions. For example, we should consider shifting the balance of earned income tax revenues split by the city and the school district. In 2003, the state required the school district to turn over a portion of its earned income tax revenue to the city, which was bankrupt at the time. This has resulted in a loss of $84 million to the Pittsburgh Public Schools. [Post-Gazette, 11-4-13] We urge the district to work with Pittsburgh’s new mayor, Bill Peduto, who has expressed an interest in re-visiting this state-mandate. The mayor’s transition team recently reported on many other ways it recommends the city and school district work together to find mutually beneficial solutions, including cost savings with shared services. The new cabinet-level Chief of Education and Neighborhood Reinvestment position within the mayor’s office is a step in the right direction, as is the new 21-member task force proposed by City Council. These efforts recognize that strong schools make strong communities, that we can no longer afford to silo the school district off on its own and expect it to thrive, and that the future of our city depends on finding bigger solutions to our mutual challenges.
  2. Ensure that everyone pays their fair share. In the last property assessment, the Pittsburgh Public School district lost more than $10 million in tax revenue from large corporations. [Post-Gazette, 12-6-13] For instance, BNY Mellon got a $1.5 million tax bonus from the reassessment. Despite its promise to support the city, Rivers Casino has petitioned to reduce its assessment every year since it opened, attempting to shortchange Pittsburgh schools by $1 million per year. [Post-Gazette, 8-25-12] In addition, some large non-profits do not pay anything to the school district. For example, Allegheny County controller Chelsa Wagner conservatively estimates that if UPMC, the largest land-owner in the county, were to pay property taxes just on its holdings in the city of Pittsburgh alone, it would owe the school district $14 million. [Post-Gazette, 3-21-13] If UPMC submitted PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) to PPS, schools would gain $8.5 million a year. [Special report, Post-Gazette, 9-23-12] We urge the district to work with the new city administration to ensure that all corporations pay their fair share to support our public schools.
  3. Consider a small local tax increase. A recent survey found that Pittsburghers would support a small increase in their local taxes to support public schools. [Great Public Schools Pittsburgh community report, October 2013.] This is not surprising given that a similar tax was recently approved by voters to support public libraries. [Tribune Review, 2-26-13] We support the Pittsburgh school board’s January 2014 decision to raise taxes, yielding $3 million for the district. [Post-Gazette, 1-22-14]
  4. Work with federal legislators to end sequestration. Federal cuts due to the U.S. government sequestration cuts cost Pittsburgh Public Schools over $2 million in the 2013-14 academic year. This has already resulted in the loss of six early-childhood classrooms. [Post-Gazette, 7-25-13]
  5. Explore alternative sources of revenue with existing resources. We believe the district can repurpose schools that are supposedly “under-enrolled,” and attract more students to those schools. The district can expand the magnets for which there is tremendous demand. For example, the district could take some of the most selective magnets in the city, such as Sci-Tech, Dilworth, and CAPA and expand them. The district could also expand into the area of adult education as well as rent space in its underutilized schools. We also encourage the district to fully consider proposals put forth by the community for monetizing existing assets as put forth in the October 2013 VIVA report.
  6. Partner with local foundations and community organizations. Community based schools have been successfully implemented in other cities with local partners helping to cover the costs of many of the programs and services envisioned in this report. Pittsburgh is blessed with philanthropic and business sectors actively engaged in public education: one goal of the community schools strategy is to get all partners “pulling together” rather than working piecemeal. By engaging foundations and local businesses in the planning and implementation phases, they will also be able to make more strategic use of their resources. For example, partners might spend a dollar once to support a community health care clinic in a school, rather than spending that dollar three times to support three different program goals around “Communities,” “Healthcare,” and “Children and Education.”


These were the only suggestions put on the table in September. The highlight of that meeting for me was the participation of our three student members, who emphasized the way in which gentrification in city neighborhoods is pushing out families and entire schools (ala Reizenstein, now Bakery Square). Their insightful comments about poverty, housing, tax credits for urban development, and the city’s ability to attract and retain families were truly inspiring.

At the September meeting we learned that our fourth, and what was to be our final, meeting in October would be open to the public. The focus of that meeting last night was to be on “marketing” ideas to improve public perceptions of Pittsburgh Public Schools. A few Task Force members and folks from the audience contributed ideas, and also shared a number of pressing concerns in response to Dr. Porter’s question, “What can be better about our schools?” [For more details, see Post-Gazette, 10-21-14]

I reminded the Task Force of the following marketing-related recommendation from the Mayor’s Transition Team subcommittee on PPS partnerships (which I also served on last December):

“Mayor as an Advocate for Positive School Press: The mayor holds regular meetings and publicity events at our schools. The mayor regularly highlights positive events occurring at the schools as a part of these media events. This will increase media attention on positive events occurring at our schools. It will make the positive relationship between the city and schools apparent.”

I then presented ten additional suggestions – gathered from the community in conversations with parents, students, teachers, and others – about how the Mayor and City Council could partner with Pittsburgh Public Schools to serve as media and public relations advocates for public education:

  1. What if this is the “year of the public school” in Pittsburgh? Hold every press conference at a different public school throughout the city.
  2. Use the schools for public meetings and include students.
  3. Feature PPS students whenever possible (such as inviting students to help pick the art for his new office – which was brilliant!) More student bands at city events, students leading the pledge of allegiance, students reading their work. Use PPS students as “the face of Pittsburgh.”
  4. Create a website featuring PPS stories and graduates. Or include these in existing web sites.
  5. Highlight PPS graduates whenever and wherever possible: Hall of Fame, emphasize in mayoral and City Council proclamations, emphasize to the press.
  6. Designate each week a certain school’s week. With 50 PPS schools, every week of the year could celebrate a different school: “Pittsburgh Manchester week,” then “Pittsburgh Lincoln week,” etc. Or double up, and feature two schools each week for 25 weeks during the school year. Concentrate news stories on those schools and use it as a way to engage families and communities in the process.
  7. Engage students, families and communities in creating the list of “What works in my school” or “What’s great about my school.” Otherwise it’s not authentic and rings hollow. Kids can spot what’s phony.
  8. Sponsor a student media or video contest to have kids tell their stories about #PPSWhatWorks, #PPSrocks.
  9. Acknowledge that we want these success stories in every PPS school; not an attempt to whitewash or paper over problems. Stories of “What is Great” are both real and aspirational.
  10. Encourage billboard and other media donations for an ad campaign featuring students and parents explaining why #WeChosePPS

We learned that our final meeting will be with Mayor Peduto himself, and then the Task Force will submit its concluding report by December. If you have anything to add, please let me know and I will bring it to the table! I consider these small windows through which we can make our voices heard. Process issues can frustrate our attempts, or even slam those windows shut, but our determination and commitment to education justice for all students is strong stuff. And I am still encouraged that our new mayor truly wants to hear from the community. So let’s hear your ideas!

Still Black and White After Brown

A diverse group of parents, students, teachers, community leaders, and elected officials rallied at Freedom Corner in the Hill District yesterday to mark the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. Under a surprisingly scorching sun, one speaker after the next noted that we have yet to see the full promise of that historic Supreme Court case.

Rev. Freeman of the Resurrection Baptist Church in Braddock and President of the PA Interfaith Impact Network, talked about the impact of the 1954 Brown decision on his fourth grade classroom in highly segregated Georgia. He reminded the crowd of about 50 that we are part of a much larger movement for equity and educational justice.

The Post-Gazette featured the rally on the front page of the Local section this morning with a big color photograph. [Post-Gazette, 4-14-14] Here are some more photos from the afternoon:

"Remember the Promise"

“Remember the Promise”

Debra Srogi, a Whittier parent, and Irene Habermann, chair of the PIIN Education Task Force

Debra Srogi, a Whittier parent, and Irene Habermann, chair of the PIIN Education Task Force

No More "Gated Communites of Education"

No More “Gated Communities of Education”

"Education Justice NOW"

“Education Justice NOW”

Rev. Freeman talks about racial segregation in Georgia in 1954

Rev. Freeman talks about racial segregation in Georgia in 1954

Perry graduate, Allegheny K-5 parent, and Westinghouse teacher Regina Hutson

Perry graduate, Allegheny K-5 parent, and Westinghouse teacher Regina Hutson

La'Tasha Mayes of New Voices Pittsburgh speaks about the meaning of equity and justice

La’Tasha Mayes of New Voices Pittsburgh speaks about the meaning of equity and justice

City Council members Natalia Rudiak (center) and Dan Gilman (right)

City Council members Natalia Rudiak (center) and Dan Gilman (right)

After the rally, groups fanned out to go door-to-door, talking to people about becoming an “education justice voter.” The aim is to encourage folks to get out and vote and to consider candidates on the basis of their support for public schools. Here’s a video from the Media Mobilizing Project in Philadelphia, documenting the kick off of a similar education-voter drive there:


Also this week, the National School Board Association released this video featuring the legacy of the Brown decision in Pittsburgh. The filmmakers visited Pittsburgh Milliones/U.Prep and interviewed me, Dr. Lane, and others about persistent racial segregation in our city:


And another release this week in recognition of the Brown anniversary: the national Journey for Justice alliance just published, “Death by a Thousand Cuts: Racism, School Closures, and Public School Sabotage.” (Journey for Justice is a national coalition of 36 grassroots groups working for education justice. The local partner here is Action United.) This devastating report is heavily documented and also features the results of a “listening tour” conducted in 13 cities earlier this year, including Pittsburgh. It’s worth a close read as we remember the disproportionate impact budget cuts, school closures, and educational policies continue to have on communities of color.

Your Plan for Great Public Schools

The community has spoken. You have spoken. Yes, you. And you’ve had some pretty amazing ideas about what our public schools can be and how we can get there.

Together we’ve asked: How do we make all the public schools in Pittsburgh into great schools, schools that any family will happily send their children to, and that students will want to attend? At the same time, how can we address the long-standing disparities in our city, with far too many families living in poverty and students of color lacking equitable access to opportunities? Well, it turns out the community has a plan.

Over the past several years, literally thousands of people have participated in town hall meetings, rallies, community forums, lectures, street demonstrations, panel presentations, vigils, meetings with policy makers, teach-ins, trips to Harrisburg, public protests, and social media actions. To create a truly community-based vision for our public schools, you gave your input through these neighborhood events, as well as post card drives, petitions, numerous on-line discussion formats, and a large community survey. Volunteers, including several parents from Yinzercation, put all this together in an exciting new report, just released by our coalition Great Public Schools (GPS) Pittsburgh.

I highly encourage you to grab a cup of your favorite beverage and enjoy this concrete, positive, evidence-packed, attainable vision for our schools: “Great Public Schools for All Pittsburgh Children: A Community-Based Plan.” In a nutshell, here’s what you said: We believe that making schools the hearts of our neighborhoods is the most important improvement we can make in the coming years. Students and families deserve community schools that level the playing field and provide access to programs, services and resources that help them succeed in school and in life. We believe that all students ought to have equal access to education, including homeless children, children in foster care, children in residential placements, children with disabilities, immigrant students and English language learners.


1. Re-imagining Schools at the Center of Our Communities

  • Meet multiple student and community needs.
  • Schools as social and cultural centers.
  • Collaborate with communities as partners.
  • Protect schools as valued public assets.

2. Rich, Culturally Relevant Curriculum and Programs

  • Full art, music, science, history and world language programs.
  • A full-time, professional librarian in every school.
  • A full and varied athletic program.
  • The reduction of high-stakes testing for our children.

3. Focus on Student Learning

  • Smaller class sizes.
  • Differentiated instruction.
  • Provisions to meet the special education needs of all our students.
  • Well-funded and widely available tutoring programs.
  • A high-quality, well-supported teacher in every classroom.

4. Early Childhood Education

  • Expanded early childhood learning opportunities.
  • Maintenance of full-day kindergarten.
  • More rest and play time for kindergartners.

5. School Climate

  • Adequate daily recess for all students.
  • A nurse in every school, every school day.
  • Appropriate number of social workers and guidance counselors.
  • Bullying prevention programs in every school.
  • Fair and nondiscriminatory disciplinary policies.
  • Positive behavior support and restorative justice.
  • Authentic parent engagement.

By committing ourselves to a community schools strategy, we are able to promise all Pittsburgh students what they deserve: a rich, diverse, culturally relevant curriculum; schools in which they are safe, respected and valued; highly qualified teachers who are given the resources and support they need; full arts and athletic programs; smaller class sizes; a reduction in high-stakes testing; dedication to equity, inclusion and racial justice; and so much more. If our district—and we as a city—can make this commitment, we have the opportunity to inspire all of our children and instill in them a lifelong passion for learning.


Implementing a Community Schools Strategy

  1. Build awareness across the city.
  2. Develop a citywide task force.
  3. Design a five-year plan.
  4. Evidence of community school effectiveness.
  5. Funding for community schools.

Finding New Revenue for Our Children

  1. Engage the entire community in a concerted effort to restore the state budget cuts.
  2. Lobby for a fair funding formula.
  3. Work with state legislators for charter reform.
  4. Work with the city of Pittsburgh to find mutually beneficial solutions.
  5. Ensure that everyone pays their fair share.
  6. Consider a small local tax increase.
  7. Work with federal legislators to end sequestration.
  8. Explore alternative sources of revenue with existing resources.
  9. Partner with local foundations, businesses and community organizations.

I encourage you to read the report for full details on our collective vision and proposed solutions. And stay tuned for more events coming soon where you can continue to be a part of this crucial conversation and help shape the future of public education in Pittsburgh. You can help today by sharing this summary and full report with your friends and colleagues. Thank you!


Thankful Top Ten

A lot of my Facebook friends are posting a message every day this month detailing the things for which they are grateful. It occurred to me how easy it would be for me to fill a month’s worth of posts just noting the many things I am thankful for in our public schools.

But I’ve been distracted from writing those posts since we’ve had such a busy month: with actions ranging from the PIIN Town Hall meeting to greeting Gov. Corbett on his campaign launch to hosting a forum for Pittsburgh and Philadelphia students [“A Week of Action,” “Calling All Students”]; battling the terrible charter reform bill barreling our way [“Killer Weeds”]; raising important questions about a potential contract with Teach for America [“Six Questions for Teach for America,” “Too Few Answers”]; and drafting an education platform with our grassroots colleagues around the state for the Democratic candidates for governor [“What They Should be Saying”]. I’m worn out and ready to eat pie!

But I’m still feeling the spirit, so here just in time for Thanksgiving, I offer my top ten education justice gratitude list. I am thankful for:

  1. Students who are speaking up about their education and their schools. I love the new Student Bill of Rights [Pittsburgh Courier, 11-22-13] and am grateful to the many students who have testified recently before City Council and the school board.
  2. Teachers and staff who work with our children every day and volunteer countless hours after school and on the weekends. I wrote about “Teacher Heroes” after the Sandy Hook tragedy last year, which has been back in the news this week, and I wish I could send that piece as a thank you note to every one of our teachers.
  3. Our democratically elected school board, which is accountable to the public and has been working in recent years – with urging from A+ Schools, local foundations and others – to make itself more transparent and open. I am grateful we don’t have mayoral-control in Pittsburgh.
  4. Mayor-elect Bill Peduto who believes that the strength of our city is tied to the strength of our public schools. I am grateful that he has appointed a cabinet level education officer and for his commitment to collaborating with the district and community partners to find more holistic, sustainable solutions.
  5. Pittsburgh City Council for recognizing that closing schools harms communities, and ultimately our entire city, and for calling for a moratorium on school closures.  [See “A Moratorium Makes Sense”]
  6. Grassroots colleagues around the state who are working to knit our sometimes-disparate battles into an authentic, inclusive, and strong education justice movement.
  7. Thoughtful critics who disagree with me, who have taken the time to sit down over coffee and talk, and who engage in productive public dialogue. I am grateful for civil discourse.
  8. Great Public Schools (GPS) Pittsburgh, an unprecedented coalition of parents, students, teachers, community members, faith leaders, local unions, and social justice activists. The work of collaboration is messy and hard, but I am grateful for the power of commitment and strength in working together.
  9. The thousands of people who are getting involved in education justice: just this past week, over 1,300 people signed our petition asking the school board to delay its vote on the contract with Teach for America, closing Woolslair elementary, and selling our property to a charter organization until the public has more information and the four new board members can participate in those decisions.
  10. Parent activists like these who packed the Pittsburgh school board public hearing last night:


  • Pam Harbin (above) presented the school board with the GPS petition containing 1,341 signatures and hundreds of supporting letters.
  • Kathy Newman opposed a contract with Teach for America saying, “I offer my services as a CMU professor-free of charge-to help recruit qualified STEM teachers to teach in our schools.”
  • Michele Boyle asked the board to “stop foreclosing on our student’s second homes. Stop closing schools!”

What are you thankful for in our education justice movement?

A Moratorium Makes Sense

Pittsburgh City Council has entered the debate over the future of city schools. At a public hearing yesterday, parents, students, teachers, and community members spoke passionately in support of a new resolution, introduced by Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith, calling for a moratorium on school closures.

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Media coverage of the event included:

Here’s why this moratorium makes sense:

  • School closures don’t solve budget problems.
  • School closures don’t improve schools.
  • School closures hurt students, families, and communities.
  • School closures don’t provide time for the community to authentically engage in finding solutions to the district’s challenges.

Let me elaborate, starting with a quick history lesson. Here in Pittsburgh we have been through four rounds of school closures in the past decade, and are now looking at a proposed fifth round. Every time we’ve closed schools through these “right-sizing” plans we’ve hoped it would solve our financial problems and let us put the money towards improving academics for students. But time and time again that hasn’t happened.

In part that’s because closing schools often does not save as much money as people anticipate. After the last round of closures here, Pittsburgh only saved about $668,000 per building, which was far below expectations. [Pew Charitable Trust, 2011] When D.C. recently closed schools it actually cost them $40 million. [Washington Post, 3-22-13] Parent Kathy Newman pointed to data illustrating that school districts also lose per-pupil funding when students leave the district after school closures: one such California district thought it would save $700,000 by closing and consolidating schools, but wound up losing $2.4 million as hundreds of students left the district. [Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, 2011 report]

Instead of improving education for Pittsburgh children, with closures we now have education desserts where entire sections of the city don’t have a single public school. Community member Hazel Blackman spoke at the hearing about moving to the Hazelwood neighborhood in 2000, attracted by the schools and shops. Within three years, the public schools were all closed and the shops started to leave, too. Parent Cassie Schaffer mentioned her Oakland neighborhood, another part of our city without a single community school.

We’ve lost high-functioning, gorgeous buildings that were pillars of strength in their communities. School closures have literally harmed our neighborhoods, and disproportionately affected our communities of color. School volunteer Wallace Sapp, who spends between 80-100 hours a month in Pittsburgh Manchester K-8 on the Northside, talked about moving to Pittsburgh in the 50’s to escape the Klan. He described walking to his local public school as “walking to hope,” and the closing of public schools as “closing hope.”

School closures hurt our children, especially our poorest students. We’ve displaced children multiple times, adding to the disruption and churn in the lives of too many young people. Parent and PIIN education task force chair Irene Habermann pointed to national data showing that school closures like this in other cities have doubled the drop-out rate, increased school violence, lowered the enrollment rate of students in summer school, and disrupted critical relationships with peers and adults. [CReATE Research Brief, 2013] Research also shows that students displaced by school closures will do best when they are transferred to high-achieving schools, but that is generally not what happens. [de La Torre and Gwynne, 2009] The receiving schools tend to be similar to, or sometimes even worse, than the schools that closed.

And this should be obvious, but is worth pointing out: you can’t improve a school by closing it.

Parent and PPS alumna Ramona Jones reminded us that closing schools is a choice, and reflects a set of priorities that does not always put students first. For instance, this year PPS will spend 9% less on classroom teachers than it did two years ago, while spending 9% more on school police. In fact, it will spend more on school police than it will on counselors, social workers, school nurses, and librarians. [PPS 2013 Final Budget, p. 25]

Before we close another school, we need to understand what happened to previously displaced students. We need to make sure we are doing the most to protect our students from the negative effects of school closings, including increased class sizes. High school student Delaney Morgan explained that over-crowding and lack of resources has forced six students to share a calculator for math exams and that she is lost in the back of a room with 30 students. Parent Pam Harbin spoke at the hearing about the way in which past school closures have impacted children with special needs, pointing out that many students wound up being placed in schools that could not serve their needs. For instance, 17 Pittsburgh schools – a full third – are still not accessible to students with physical disabilities.

Just as important, we need a moratorium on closures until we know if we really need to close another school. Pittsburgh’s population loss has leveled off. We have strong evidence that young families are moving into the city and staying when their children reach school age. The Pittsburgh Promise program appears to be a part of this equation. And Kindergarten enrollment is way up this year.

While the overwhelming majority of speakers voiced their support for the moratorium resolution, a handful of people opposed the measure. Their objections mainly fell into four categories:

  1. The district must close schools because it is facing a financial crisis.” This argument presumes that school closures are the only way to deal with a budget crisis. But schools should only be closed when there are no students to go to them.
  2. If we don’t close schools, the district will go into receivership and the state will take us over.” This was the argument made by A+ Schools Executive Director Carey Harris. But Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith reminded everyone that this threat was also used the last four times schools were closed as a “scare tactic to threaten parents” and others who opposed the closings. Those who spoke in favor of a moratorium were also calling for bigger thinking, to find a way for the entire city to invest in our schools – precisely to head off any state takeover and to find a financial solution that actually works this time.
  3. A moratorium will make the school board’s job harder.” County Controller and A+ Schools board member Chelsa Wagner argued that City Council should not interfere in the business of the school district. School board member Theresa Colaizzi agreed. But it is hard to see how pulling together the entire Pittsburgh community to support our public schools will make the school board members’ job more difficult. A moratorium – providing time for the fuller engagement of the public in a deep conversation, possibly with the support of a series of public meetings that Councilwoman Kail-Smith advocates – can actually help the school board, by increasing buy-in of any eventual plan. And Councilman Bill Peduto also called for the creation of a task force to help bridge the city and school district on this issue, which would help re-start the relationship between the two legislative bodies. This could be a positive outcome of the moratorium and help make the school board’s job easier.
  4. City Council doesn’t have the authority to call for a moratorium.” Former PPS strategic planning director Cate Reed, who is now a regional director for Teach for America, argued that City Council members don’t have the knowledge necessary to call for a moratorium. PPS solicitor Ira Weiss stopped just short of saying that City Council doesn’t have the legal right to call for a moratorium. But both of these arguments miss the point. This resolution recognizes that the entire city needs to be invested in our public schools. It promotes a more holistic way of thinking that doesn’t silo the district off on its own, helping all taxpayers and residents to embrace public education as their issue and to look for solutions. City Council indeed has the moral and ethical authority to call for this moratorium. Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak and Councilman Bruce Krauss agreed that City Council has the responsibility to engage in questions such as this, and that it has a precedent of doing so. (Both mentioned several examples where Council worked with multiple partners to find answers to complex problems.) Council President Darlene Harris reminded her colleagues that families leave Pittsburgh when schools close, ultimately harming the city. This is an excellent example of why this issue is precisely within Council’s purview.

I applaud City Council for seeing the connection between our public schools and the health of our communities. Strong public schools make Pittsburgh strong. That means that we all have a vested interest in public education – every taxpayer, every resident of this city. Right now, this resolution offers us the opportunity to come together as a community, to engage in an authentic conversation, so that we can move forward together to find solutions that work for Pittsburgh.

Diane Ravitch Launched, Yinzer-Style

On Monday, Yinzers were the first in the country to see Diane Ravitch’s new book, The Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools. Released nationally on Tuesday, the book is already #1 in public policy and has moved up to #104 on the Amazon top-sellers list. Pittsburgh helped to launch a crucial conversation – and what a launch!

An audience of nearly 1,000 people packed into Temple Sinai to hear Dr. Ravitch, an education historian, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education, and widely acclaimed expert on public schools. The event was part-rally and part-lecture, with stand out performances by the Pittsburgh Obama steel drum band, the Pittsburgh Dilworth drummers, and the Pittsburgh Westinghouse Bulldogs high-stepping marching band. And because we are an education justice movement – and movements must make music together – we stood side by side to sing the anthem We Shall Not Be Moved.

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After a welcome from Rabbi Symons, I offered some framing remarks, putting the fight for public education in local context. I talked about what we are seeing here in Southwest PA and the links between the de-funding of our schools, privatization, school closures, increased class sizes, and high-stakes-testing. In her lecture, Dr. Ravitch explained how and why these things are happening all across the country, promoted by a corporate-style-reform movement. One after the next, she held up the promises of the reformers and pronounced them “hoaxes.”

In her talk, and backed up by pages of data in her book, Dr. Ravitch offered abundant evidence that the reformers’ “solutions” for public schools are actually hurting our children. From cyber charter schools, to parent trigger laws, to vouchers, mass school closures, merit-pay, high-stakes-testing, and mis-used teacher evaluation systems, she demonstrated the perverse consequences of these efforts. Most crucially, she explained why we must pay attention to racial segregation and poverty – and how privatization does nothing to solve the larger issues that are truly affecting our students and schools.

Dr. Ravitch offered no silver bullets. But she did offer plenty of evidence-based solutions. She advocates for pre-natal care for all expectant mothers; universal, quality early childhood education; smaller class sizes; a re-thinking of charter school laws so that public schools and charter schools can truly collaborate; wrap-around services such as healthcare and social services in the schools; tests designed by teachers to measure student learning and the elimination of most high-stakes-testing; efforts to strengthen the teaching profession; and the protection of local, democratic control of public schools.

Sound familiar? This is exactly the vision that our community has put forward this year through dozens of town hall meetings, rallies, neighborhood discussions, conversations with legislators, and grassroots actions for our schools. [“A Vision for Great Public Schools”] Never once have we heard someone say we should focus on getting rid of teachers, closing schools, or slashing budgets. On Monday night, I said, “We’re not interested in talking about how to fire teachers – we want more teachers in classrooms with our kids,” and one-thousand people roared together, “Enough is enough!”

In her Reign of Error, Diane Ravitch promotes the kind of school day and rich education that we have in mind for all kids:

If we mean to lift the quality of education, we should insist that all children have a full curriculum, including history, civics, literature, foreign languages, physical education, mathematics, and science. We should make sure that every child has the chance to sing, dance, write, act, play instruments, sculpt, design, and build. Students need a reason to come to school, not as a duty, but for the joy that comes from performance and imagination. [p. 325]

Several student leaders from the Westinghouse Bulldogs high-stepping marching band joined Dr. Ravitch on stage to explain what has happened to arts education, music, and band at their high school. Despite the proud Westinghouse legacy that includes many of this country’s jazz greats (think Billy Strayhorn, Al Aaron, Mary Lou Williams and a host of others), the ragtag band has almost no instruments, hasn’t had new uniforms in more than a dozen years, and can’t even afford to buy drumsticks. Yet the students are passionate about holding their band together. In response to their statement, the Rev. David Thornton issued a full-throttle call-to-action to the audience and our collection raised over $1,600 to support the Bulldogs.

But a collection is not enough. The fact that we shouldn’t have to do this at all, is precisely Diane Ravitch’s point. Our public schools are public goods, and we must treat them that way – not as businesses making widgets. Public education is a community responsibility, but the driving ideals of privatization – competition, choice, measurement, rank sorting, punishment, efficiencies – undermine that shared obligation. Dr. Ravitch explains,

The more that policy makers promote choice – charters and vouchers – the more they sell the public on the idea that their choice of a school is a decision they make as individual consumers, not as citizens. As a citizen, you become invested in the local public school; you support it and take pride in its accomplishments. You see it as a community institution worthy of your support, even if you don’t have children in the school. … You think of public education as an institution that educations citizens, future voters, members of your community. But as school choice becomes the basis for public policy, the school becomes not a community institution but an institution that meets the needs of its customers. [p. 311]

That is why it’s so important that our community is standing up together now for public schools. On Monday, Dr. Ravitch said she believes “the tide is turning” against corporate-style reforms and that parents, in particular, are the “sleeping giant” that will be key to change. Here in Yinzer Nation, that giant is waking up and joining forces with students, teachers, and other community members. Witness the new coalition of community organizations, faith-based groups, and labor that hosted the event. Called Great Public Schools (GPS) Pittsburgh, it consists of: Action United, One Pittsburgh, PA Interfaith Impact Network, Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, SEIU, and Yinzercation.

In addition to these groups, we had so many generous co-sponsors – including an impressive collaboration of seven of our region’s colleges and universities – that we were able to keep the evening completely free and open to the public. The co-sponsors were: Carlow University School of Education, Chatham University Department of Education, Duquesne University School of Education, First Unitarian Church Social Justice Endowment, PA State Education Association, Robert Morris University School of Education & Social Sciences, Slippery Rock University College of Education, Temple Sinai, University of Pittsburgh School of Education, and Westminster College Education Department.

Children participated in activities provided by volunteers from the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University’s HearMe project. Mystery Lovers Bookshop was on hand with special permission from the publisher to sell early copies of the new book. They sold out in a matter of minutes and audience members waited patiently in a long line at the end of the evening to meet Dr. Ravitch and get their books signed.

The crowd of 1,000 included many elected officials and policy makers who will help to shape the future of our schools. They included the Democratic nominee for Mayor of Pittsburgh, Bill Peduto, current and incoming members of Pittsburgh City Council and the school board, superintendent of Pittsburgh Public Schools Dr. Linda Lane, Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate John Hanger, and school board members and superintendents from school districts as far flung as Franklin Regional, Wilmington Area, South Butler County, Carlynton, and Chartiers Valley.

We earned a lot of media attention, too, with stories on KDKA and WESA (the local NPR affiliate). The Post-Gazette and Pittsburgh City Paper both ran feature articles with photographs. [Post-Gazette, 9-17-13; Pittsburgh City Paper, 9-18-13]

In short, this was a fantastic Yinzer-style launch to Diane Ravitch’s national book tour. And she has left Yinzer Nation with all the evidence we need to combat the de-funding and privatization of our schools.

Help us keep this grassroots, education justice movement growing in Southwest PA: please be sure to subscribe to this blog, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter so we can stay connected!

Envisioning – What?

It’s back-to-school time. But what are our kids heading back to? Students in Pittsburgh will be missing 68 more educators when they start classes on Monday. Over the summer the board approved 36 new furloughs – on top of the 280 last year – and returned 32 teachers to furlough status (these were staff who had been laid off and then brought back for temporary positions). The majority are paraprofessionals who work right in the classroom with students, so our children will be directly impacted. [Post-Gazette, 7-25-13]

On Monday evening, one of those furloughed paraprofessionals, Clevon Owens, spoke at a press conference outside the board of education. Sponsored by Great Public Schools (GPS) Pittsburgh, the press conference introduced our new coalition and announced that Pittsburgh parents, students, teachers, and community members are standing up together for public education.

Mr. Owens spoke movingly about his work with children at Pittsburgh Linden K-5, where he was the transportation coordinator. He managed the bus system, greeting children and getting them safely to and from school, often working from 6AM to 6PM many hours past his shift to answer parents’ calls. He also worked in the classroom with students, getting to know entire families and making a real difference in kids’ lives: in one tough case, he was so successful in helping a boy he eventually became his godfather.

Now multiply stories like these over and over. These are the important adults in our children’s lives. Students need them to be successful. And we have an obligation as parents and community members to make sure our public schools have the resources they need to keep teachers and paraprofessionals like Mr. Owens in the classroom. That’s one of the main messages GPS Pittsburgh delivered on Monday night at the press conference, which received news coverage from KQV and KDKA on radio, and WTAE and KDKA on television. We will also have a story out soon in the Tribune Review.

Following the press conference, community volunteers moved inside the board of education to testify at the public hearing. This was extremely important because we needed to let our elected representatives on the school board know that there are now thousands of us coming together through this new coalition and that we are ready to stand with them to fight for our schools.

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This is a critical moment. The district’s “Envisioning Educational Excellence” process is now wrapping up and officials intend to present their plan to the board in October. Last week, superintendent Dr. Linda Lane revealed some of that plan to the Envisioning advisory group. [Envisioning Advisory Group slides, 8-15-13] Here are the highlights:

  • Close some elementary school closings. They are not telling us how many or which ones until they present the plan to the board.
  • Open an International-themed elementary school in the North/Central region of the city.
  • Possibly add language immersion to an existing elementary school.
  • Expand the Online Academy program.
  • Possibly open an arts-focused feeder school in the North/Central region.
  • Continue to offer feeder pattern schools, but allow elementary students to attend any school in their region and high school students to attend any high school in the city if space is available.
  • Streamline and offer fewer elementary and high school magnet programs.
  • Eliminate partial high school magnets.
  • Expand seats in popular schools such as Montessori.
  • Introduce two Early College High School programs by 2015- 16 (students could earn up to two years of college credit)
  • Explore moving Central Office and selling the building; continue trying to sell or lease unused buildings.

The advisory group asked penetrating questions about this plan, focusing especially on the issue of “school choice.” The room was unanimous in calling for quality public schools in every community, making this a far higher priority than offering more choices, introducing new programs, or reconfiguring older programs (“yet again and again” as one teacher reminded the district). One person after the next said we must focus on quality, so that families don’t feel the need to flee from their feeder schools into magnet programs, further creating haves-and-have-nots in the system.

Last week at the Envisioning meeting and again at the public hearing on Monday I put it this way: Until we have a great public school in every community – one that every parent in Pittsburgh is happy to send their children to – then we don’t really have “choice.”

So what are you envisioning for our public schools? More budget cuts? Fewer teachers and paraprofessionals? Larger classrooms? Or how about a community, thousands strong, standing together for public education and making great schools for all our kids a reality? Now that’s the kind of vision I can get behind.


Coming soon: I’ve been working all summer with the GPS Pittsburgh coalition to get our new website up and running, with lots of information on what we can do together as a community. I will let you know as soon as it’s live!