Pittsburgh schools data reveal efficiency gaps

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As Pittsburgh Public Schools tries to tackle academic and financial challenges, administrators Tuesday night presented the school board with an array of data that show wide variations across the district's 54 schools.

At an education committee meeting, Brian Smith, executive director of strategic priorities, presented data on academic achievement, socio-economic conditions, population and other factors.

He also updated the board on progress of the plan "Whole Child, Whole Community: Building a Bridge to the Pittsburgh Promise," which was developed as part of the district's envisioning process.

When the plan came out in December, the district expected to run out of money in 2016. The latest figures, released this week, predict the district won't run out of money until 2017 when the deficit reaches $57.3 million.

Mr. Smith said efforts continue to improve the quality of teaching, develop new evaluations for principals and central office administrators, and get additional spaces for children in pre-kindergarten. For those who don't go to a pre-K program, the district is thinking of providing some online help.

One of the ways the district looks at school academic performance is through a value-added measurement, or VAM, that considers how much a student grows in a school year, taking into consideration socio-economic and other factors. Schools in which growth meets the state average receive a 50; those with more growth get a higher score while those with less get a lower score.

The VAM scores were as low as 12 at Morrow PreK-8 on the North Side and Brashear High in Beechview and as high as 69 at Whittier K-5 on Mount Washington. The gap between performance of white and black students also varies greatly. In math, the gap is as great as 52 percentage points at Linden K-5 in Point Breeze.

At three elementary schools -- Arsenal PreK-5 in Lawrenceville, Grandview K-5 in Allentown and Westwood K-5 -- as well as Arsenal 6-8, black students outperform white students, including as much as 13 percentage points at Grandview.

Some schools have a serious problem with the rate of chronic absenteeism, which is the percentage of K-12 students who miss at least 10 percent of a school year for any reason, both excused and unexcused.

Based on 2012-13 data, the highest rate is at Pittsburgh Perry High School at 63 percent. Two other high schools also have high rates: Carrick, 46 percent, and Brashear, 44 percent. Two 6-12 buildings also have large numbers: Westinghouse in Homewood, 57 percent, and Milliones -- also known as University Prep -- in the Hill District, 40 percent.

Of schools serving K-5 and K-8 students, the highest chronic absenteeism rate is 36 percent at Arlington PreK-8.

The district has been emphasizing attendance this year. Ms. Lane said 41 of the district's 54 schools showed improvements in attendance in the first semester this school year.


Eleanor Chute: echute@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1955. First Published March 4, 2014 9:12 PM

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