Stop slamming city schools

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Much attention has been paid over the past few weeks to the requirement that all Pittsburgh police officers live within the city limits. Its merits have been discussed over and over, and last week city council held a public hearing on the issue. Council yesterday voted to put the question to voters in November.

As this debate unfolds, it is time to lay to rest one of the most erroneous and damaging arguments for allowing police officers to live outside the city. It is time for the Fraternal Order of Police and its allies to stop attacking our public schools.

The Pittsburgh Public Schools district provides excellent learning environments for our students. Our workforce of highly trained and dedicated educators is among the best in the state, and the district continues to produce world-class talent in the arts and sciences.

Great Schools, a national organization that researches and monitors the quality of schools and school districts, ranks Pittsburgh Public Schools as one of the top 10 urban school districts in the country. US News and World Report also has ranked our schools among the best, including Allderdice High School and CAPA 6-12, which are recognized as being in the top 20 in the entire state.

The educators who have committed their lives to helping our children grow and learn are a big reason for this success. More than 70 percent of Pittsburgh's teachers hold advanced graduate degrees, far more than the national average of 52 percent for public school teachers and the dismal 38 percent for private- and charter-school teachers. District administrators and the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers have spent the past four years working together to develop ways to improve teaching and learning in our schools and our teachers have become national leaders in this effort.

Perhaps the most head-scratching attack on the public schools came from Fraternal Order of Police President Michael LaPorte, when he said that our schools were a "bloodbath." The truth is that the Pittsburgh Public Schools are incredibly safe -- violence in the schools is rare and teachers work closely with administrators to ensure safe learning environments for our children.

If the recognition of our schools' excellence, the high quality of our teachers and the safety of our schools aren't enough to win you over, there is the Pittsburgh Promise. This $40,000 college scholarship is available only to graduates of Pittsburgh Public Schools or one of its charters, and there is no other program like it in the region. Graduates who earn a 2.5 GPA or higher, attend more than 90 percent of their classes at Pittsburgh Public Schools over a four-year high school career and receive acceptance to an accredited college or university in Pennsylvania no longer have a financial obstacle to a post-secondary education.

Pittsburgh Public Schools turns out thousands of graduates every year who attend college, enter the job market and use their public school education to build successful careers and communities. We have all come to know Billy Porter, the Pittsburgh graduate who won the Tony for best actor in a musical this year for his work on Broadway in "Kinky Boots," and other famous graduates such as actor Jeff Goldblum and journalist Howard Fineman. Then there are William Rubenstein, the noted Harvard Law School professor; and Sharon Epperson, a financial analyst and reporter for CNBC; and our very own Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak, who proudly (and rightly) proclaims her pedigree as a graduate of Carrick High School every opportunity she gets. Pittsburgh Public Schools and its dedicated educators graduate incredibly talented young adults every year.

Some have argued that because teachers are allowed to live outside the city, police officers should be, too. That may very well be the case. Consider, though, that even though teachers have the right to live outside the city, the vast majority choose to live in Pittsburgh because they know the truth about the quality of our schools and the integrity of our communities. No matter where you fall on the question of residency, the dedication of our teachers and the quality of our schools should never be used to attack Pittsburgh or to justify leaving it.

As we move into the fall and begin the debate over whether police officers should live in the city or not, let's finally retire this erroneous and damaging argument against the Pittsburgh Public Schools and realize that the great education our schools provide is an asset to our city and to our neighborhoods. The truth is that our schools are the envy of most major cities in America, and our students should be proud to attend them.


Nina Esposito-Visgitis is president of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers.


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