School report finds 'large inequities' in Pittsburgh Public Schools

In the more vulnerable public schools in Pittsburgh, students have fewer effective teachers, are treated with less respect and are less likely to feel their school is a safe and positive place than in schools with fewer needy students, according to an A+ Schools survey.

“My question is how can students learn if that’s how they feel in school? And whose responsibility is it to see that students’ rights are upheld?” asked Amy Scott, director of research and data analysis for A+ Schools.

Ms. Scott presented the results of the latest School Works report Tuesday to more than 200 educators, parents, students and community members at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh.

The results were used to buttress the case for the Pittsburgh Public Schools board to approve a student bill of rights authored by TeenBloc, a student group within A+ Schools.

Of the 10 rights, the audience voted the right to a socially, emotionally and physically safe and positive school climate the most important, followed by the right to effective teachers.

The bill of rights, which was released last fall, has been ratified by more than 1,700 students.

TeenBloc members are scheduled to meet with the school board next month to promote its passage. School superintendent Linda Lane said she supports the bill of rights.

The survey covered more than 400 high school juniors and 26 school-based adults — principals, counselors, learning and environment specialists and other staff members — at nine secondary schools. TeenBloc members helped design the student survey and conducted the student portion of the interviews.

The survey reported “large inequities.”

The survey found that students find discipline fairer at schools that use restorative justice practices more often, chronic absenteeism is higher at schools with more zero-tolerance policies and few students said teachers cared about their lives outside of school.

It also found that few schools have effective systems to help students make the transition to college or career training, and most students don’t have a clear understanding of how to apply to college.

The report noted counselor caseloads ranged from 301 to 562. When interviewed in February, the counselors had on average met individually with 70 percent of their caseload.

Schools were considered more vulnerable if they had higher percentages of minority students, those qualifying for subsidized lunch and in special education.

Members of TeenBloc explained why the bill of rights is needed.

Amma Ababio, a TeenBloc member who is a junior at Pittsburgh Allderdice High School in Squirrel Hill, said one student thought school felt like a prison and some found zero-tolerance policies were making it difficult for students to graduate.

Jermalle Johns, a sophomore at Pittsburgh Obama 6-12 in East Liberty, said he thinks a negative view of young black males sometimes results in students being separated by race.

More information is available at

Education writer Eleanor Chute: or 412-263-1955. First Published April 29, 2014 6:19 PM

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