A+ Schools finds improving environment at some Pittsburgh schools
March 10, 2015 2:10 PM
In its survey, A+ Schools also received answers from principals in 40 schools about barriers to hiring effective teachers
By Eleanor Chute / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
As a result of a survey of 50 principals, A+ Schools, an education advocacy group, has found that supports for behavior and school climate are increasing, and zero tolerance and suspensions are decreasing in Pittsburgh Public Schools.
A+ Schools is hosting a community conversation on the findings of the group's sixth School Works survey at 5:30 tonight at the Pittsburgh Opera in the Strip District. The meeting is open to the public.
Carey Harris, executive director of A+ Schools, said, as was true in other School Works reports, "What we do in school matters. There are plenty of things that happen outside the school that matter and may make the work of teachers, principals and school staff harder, but we definitely have a growing list of examples of schools where their practices are making a difference. I think that's very hopeful."
The report does not name any schools.
In its presentation, A+ Schools will look at three areas: being mission-driven, having great teaching, and having fair funding and smart spending.
Mission-driven schools are defined as those that are "safe, respectful and positive places where students are engaged."
It defines vulnerable schools as those with low achievement, low growth and large achievement gaps and with a high percentage of students with need.
It states that schools can have an impact on attendance through providing social and emotional learning, setting high expectations, making it positive and having academic rigor. Yet principals of vulnerable schools said less of those things were happening in their buildings.
The report found that schools where teachers set high expectations of students had lower suspension rates and less chronic absenteeism, defined as the percent of students who missed at least 10 percent of days for any reason.
The report (see above or click here) found 80 percent of principals said they effectively prevent and respond to misbehavior. Prevention techniques include teaching expectations, replacing bad behaviors and modeling expectations. Responding includes private discipline, addressing the cause, accountability, restoring relationships and make-up work.
Again, principals of vulnerable schools said fewer of those things were happening in their buildings.
"We are seeing when schools have certain practices in place, their suspension rates are lower," Ms. Harris said.
While the report noted some discipline trends A+ Schools views as "good news," it counted as "bad news" the fact that suspensions are high in some schools, black students are suspended more than other students and zero tolerance still is practiced.
The report states that "restorative practices are a positive alternative to exclusionary discipline," adding, "Strong relationships build strong communities and prevent misbehavior."
It said that 46 principals want to learn more about restorative practices, and 33 say they use them. But among the challenges are getting the staff to agree, time and parental support.
A+ Schools also received answers from principals in 40 schools about barriers to hiring effective teachers. About 30 percent said they would like to see better recruitment and a better candidate pool. The next more popular idea was chosen by 23 percent of the principals and was a tie between not having seniority impact hiring and autonomy to hire directly.
A+ Schools is making a series of recommendations. The list generally is in keeping with its ongoing advocacy efforts.
The list includes hiring new teachers earlier and providing them with mentors, eliminating forced placement of teachers, assigning all high school students to an adult to help them apply to college or post-secondary training and allowing parents and community partners to lay key roles.
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