Score! Save!

In keeping with our athletic theme from earlier this week: we’ve had a SCORE! After the Pittsburgh school board heard public testimony and questions raised by the community about proposed cuts to PE classes, the district withdrew the package of graduation requirement changes that contained those cuts from board consideration. [See “Cutting PE”] At least for now.

This is a real victory. The school board (and the public) deserve more time for due diligence on proposals that involve students losing more teachers and that raise equity issues. My hope is that the district now uses this opportunity to answer the community’s questions and address larger concerns of student health and wellness (we welcome comments from the district here on the blog and invite use of this space to help inform the conversation). Parents need to be a part of that dialogue, too.

So now that we’ve had a SAVE with phys ed, please SAVE these three dates:

1. May 5th: The community schools report back meeting has been rescheduled for Monday at 6PM at the Community Empowerment Association (7120 Kelly St / 15208). Join the Pittsburgh delegation that attended the Community Schools National Forum in Cincinnati a few weeks ago. The delegation consisted of parents, school board members, representatives from the Mayor’s Office and City Council, teachers, faith leaders, foundation personnel, and other community members. Members of the group will share what they learned and we will discuss what community schools could look like for Pittsburgh.

2. May 6th: Yinzercation will be teaming up again with Education Voters PA for a statewide call-in-day. We’ll be joining thousands of parents, students, teachers and community members from across the state to speak up in support of our public schools and telling legislators in Harrisburg that Pennsylvania’s children cannot afford another year of inadequate state funding and political posturing. It will take less than 10 minutes of your time, so block off a coffee-break on Tuesday. I will send more details, including how to reach your representatives and talking points, next week.

3. May 13th: Yinzercation is helping to co-sponsor an event commemorating the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. This is the Supreme Court case that desegregated public schools and we will be rallying to bring attention to the unfulfilled promise of that decision. Plan to bring your kids after school at 4PM to the historic Freedom Corner in the Hill District for performances, snacks, and more. Details to follow.

Cutting PE

OK, I’ll admit it. If there was one class in high school that I was tempted to cut, it was PE (no, mom, I never skipped class – I was way too much of a rule follower to do that). I was no athlete, though I did play on the volleyball team, and Phys Ed was generally torture for me. I think I still have dodge ball nightmares. But my own kids have had two terrific PE teachers who have demonstrated to me just how important a quality gym program can be for students. And now instead of cutting PE, I’m worried about proposed cuts to PE.

Tonight at the Pittsburgh school board’s public hearing, a number of people are speaking out about proposed changes to the district’s PE requirements. The changes are part of a package of new high school graduation requirements, which would halve the number of required PE credits, reducing them from 2 to 1 (each course is a .5 credit). Effectively that means that Freshmen and Sophomores would take gym, but it would be optional for Juniors and Seniors.

My understanding is that the district is trying to make more room for Biology in 9th grade, perhaps adding lab time (though at least some schools have had Freshman biology labs in the past, and still accommodated PE, so I am unsure of this rationale – if this is indeed behind the proposed changes). Some people have told me that there is concern about low student scores on the Keystone exam and that we are trading PE time, which “doesn’t count,” for test-prep time in an area “that counts.” (If that’s true, this would be another example of the consequences for students of high-stakes testing.) There have also been scheduling issues at some schools with upper-class students fitting in their AP courses.

In a meeting a few weeks ago, the district told me the changes were being proposed to bring PE credits in line with other course offerings and to provide more choices. I’m not sure why we can’t continue requiring PE and offer more choices at the same time. Gym was never my favorite class, but I had to take it every year of high school – and it was a whole lot better when I got a chance to choose aerobics (and even archery!) over being pummeled with a dodge ball.

I’m particularly worried about the huge number of students who are not getting adequate daily exercise: a report released last spring by the Institute of Medicine shows that only half of kids are meeting national guidelines. Their “committee recommends that elementary school students spend an average of 30 minutes per day in physical education class, and middle and high school students should spend an average of 45 minutes per day in physical education class.” [Institute of Medicine Report, 5-23-13] That’s 45 minutes every day, not once or twice a week, and not for just two years out of four in high school. If we are serious about the “whole child,” shouldn’t we be thinking about the obesity epidemic?

The bottom line is, with these proposed changes will come additional teacher cuts. Our students have already lost so many of their teachers – and with fewer adults in the building there is a real impact on overall education, not just physical education. For example, my kids’ K-8 school has lost so many adults that there aren’t enough eyeballs to sufficiently staff recess. While rumors are flying and I’ve heard unofficial reports with even higher numbers, here is what I understand the district proposed to the board last week:

  • Allderdice (.5 cut), from 7 to 6.5 teachers.
  • Brashear (3 cuts), from 7 to 4 teachers.
  • Carrick (1 cut), from 4 to 3 teachers.
  • Obama (no cuts) still at 3 teachers.
  • Perry (.5 cut), from 4.5 to 4 teachers.
  • Sci Tech (no cuts) still at 2 teachers.
  • Uprep (2.5 cuts), from 3 to 1.5 teachers.
  • Westinghouse (.5 increase), from 2 to 2.5 teachers.

If the board approves these cuts, it will actually be up to individual school principals to schedule PE courses. I worry that this means we will have another equity issue on our hands, similar to school libraries, with some buildings robbing Peter to pay Paul and keep a full complement of PE offerings, while others use the approved reductions to move resources to other areas. Making PE fungible could lead to more inequity. [See “A Picture is Worth 1,000 Books”]

The Pittsburgh school board will be voting on the proposed changes in graduation requirements at its meeting this Wednesday. Here are the questions I hope they will consider – and that I hope the district will answer, to help us all understand more:

  1. Are our students going to lose more teachers?
  2. Will there be cuts to K-8 teachers and classes as well?
  3. Are we cutting PE to make room for more test-prep (or testable subjects)?
  4. How are students going to have more choices if there are fewer teachers to offer the courses (which already have 45 kids per class, per the collective bargaining agreement)?
  5. Could we not offer choices and require PE all four years in high school?
  6. How does this proposed reduction in PE requirements help PPS meet the national standards for physical exercise?
  7. How will the district ensure equity in PE offerings?

What questions would you add? If you are concerned about this issue, you can write to the PPS board at boardoffice@pghboe.net. But do it quickly – the stopwatch is running and the gym teacher is about to blow the whistle for the last time.