Pittsburgh schools survey yields mixed results among teachers, staff and parents

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What do people think of Pittsburgh Public Schools?

If you ask teachers, an increasing number think class sizes aren't reasonable since the district increased them.

If you ask central office personnel, central office effectiveness is mediocre.

If you ask parents, most are moderately or highly satisfied with their child's school.

Those are among the results from three separate surveys taken by the district in the past school year.

Some of the results were part of school superintendent Linda Lane's state-of-the-district report released this month.

In the fourth annual teaching and learning conditions survey, responses came from 91 percent of all school-based licensed professionals in K-12 buildings -- largely teachers -- as well as paraprofessionals, long-term substitute teachers and adjunct teachers in K-12 buildings. Teachers accounted for 1,610 of the 2,084 respondents.

There was a separate survey for early childhood and early intervention teachers and paraprofessionals.

Overall, teaching and learning conditions districtwide were regarded more positively in 2013 than in 2010. The district did not release school-by-school results.

In the question about whether class sizes were reasonable so that teachers have time to meet the needs of all students, 52 percent agreed or strongly agreed, a drop of 17 percentage points from 2012 to 2013, the largest decline on the survey.

A smaller decline was in the percentage of educators agreeing that teachers have sufficient instruction time to meet the needs of all students, dropping from 70 percent in 2012 to 64 percent in 2013.

Fewer also thought they had time available to collaborate with colleagues, dropping from 66 percent in 2012 to 62 percent in 2013.

The largest positive change was in educators reporting they have autonomy to make decisions about instructional delivery, growing from 53.2 percent to 63.2 percent in one year. In 2010, the figure was just 38.1 percent.

Managing student conduct remains a concern with 55.4 percent saying students treat peers with respect in their school, 57.7 percent saying administrators consistently enforce rules for student conduct and 49.6 percent saying students follow the rules.

However, each of those categories increased by 4 or 5 percentage points over the prior year.

At the same time, 80.3 percent believe faculty work in a safe school environment, the same as the prior year.

The central office survey, which had an 82 percent response rate, revealed a level of dissatisfaction, with no single central office activity getting a highly satisfied rating on average.

According to a summary prepared by the district, there is a "strong willingness" in central office to "do what it takes," but there is also "widespread agreement of a breakdown in 'adult culture.' "

Some of the major concerns cited were an environment of low accountability and trust as well as a lack of organizational effectiveness.

The survey showed that central office staff is spread thin, with most performing more than 15 activities.

Central office already has experienced cuts due to the district's financial difficulties, and more may lie ahead.

Ms. Lane recently said one option to help address the district's financial crisis is to cut central office by 10 to 12 percent to save $2 million annually and another is an additional cut of 8 to 10 percent to save another $1 million.

On the parent survey, it has been difficult to get a good response rate, although the rate increased from 14.9 percent in 2012 to 20.2 percent in 2013.

Response rates varied widely by neighborhood, with the highest rate of 39.8 percent in the combined Squirrel Hill, Greenfield, Regent Square and Shadyside areas.

The parent ratings of the schools were higher than to those in 2012, based on a satisfaction index.

The satisfaction index -- which combined willingness to recommend the school, satisfaction with academic progress and satisfaction with social progress -- showed that 43 percent of parents were highly satisfied and 40 percent moderately satisfied for a total of 83 percent, 4 points higher than a year earlier.

Of those who responded, 54 percent visited their child's school often or very often in the past year, typically for events or meetings. The percentages varied by student age, with 66 percent of parents of students in grades 3 and 5 saying they visited school frequently.

The survey found that parents who visited very frequently for disciplinary or academic issues were less likely to be highly satisfied with the school.

Those whose child had been bullied also were less likely to feel positively, particularly if the issue wasn't resolved.

Nearly three-fourths of parents thought their child was being treated fairly.

As to the direction in which the district is headed, 45 percent of parents agreed it was in the right direction while 37 percent were neutral.

Education writer Eleanor Chute: echute@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1955.

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