Pittsburgh schools work to close racial achievement gap
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In its quest to tackle the racial achievement gap, Pittsburgh Public Schools today is issuing an equity plan focusing on doing initiatives already under way better, rather than introducing new strategies.
The report -- called "Equity: Getting to All" -- is still a working document and is open for public comment. The district planned to post it today on its website, www.pghboe.net.
In the report, urban sociologist Pedro Noguera, an education professor at New York University, is quoted as saying, "Pittsburgh is doing all of the right things. So it's not about doing more things, rather about doing what you are already doing better."
The report notes the district needs to refine and improve implementation of its initiatives and to address the culture itself.
In an interview, Mr. Noguera said, "What's been missing is a real clear, coherent strategy. I think that's what this document provides."
He likened it to a sports team that doesn't have an overall strategy.
"You go out and buy a bunch of free agents. Even if they are really good, that doesn't create a great team," he said.
The plan, which builds on the district's Excellence for All emphasis, highlights five strategies:
• Empowering effective teaching, which is the district's program to improve teacher quality.
• Enhancing curriculum relevance and fidelity.
• Addressing school and district culture to create a culture of support and improvement.
• Improving support to schools.
• Engaging families and community.
While the report calls on central office to provide better support to schools, it is not a top-down approach, noting that "cultures cannot be imposed externally upon a school" but instead must be developed "organically."
That is done through "strong, distributed leadership; a clear vision; buy-in around that vision from staff, students and parents; a willingness to use data to monitor progress and ensure internal accountability; and a deliberative, collective process to support planning, as well as the implementation of timely interventions and reflection."
Pittsburgh's racial achievement gap has been declining at a slow pace.
On state tests in 2011, in reading, for example, 76.7 percent of white students scored proficient or better in all grades tested combined, compared to 49 percent of black students, a gap of 27.7 percentage points. The gap for math was 25.9 percentage points.
If the school district executes its plan strategically and coherently, Mr. Noguera said he hopes "some of the chronically under-performing schools will start to show real improvement in the next two to three years."
The new equity report calls teachers the No. 1 factor in accelerating student achievement and says that the district's efforts to improve teacher effectiveness is good for all children.
The report puts the teacher importance this way: "The most effective teachers produce gains in student achievement that, if accumulated over several years without decay, could erase achievement disparities between African-American and white students, or between Pittsburgh students and statewide averages."
The report notes the importance of building on success in the district, including "bright spots" of schools that already are preparing students well.
While not listed in the report, Viola Burgess, executive director, district equity office, said they include Pittsburgh Carmalt PreK-8 in Overbrook, Dilworth PreK-5 in East Liberty, Fulton PreK-5 in Highland Park and Sunnyside K-8 in Stanton Heights.
Central office administrators will be trying to better support and collaborate with schools rather than just inspect them. Schools with the most need will get the most support.
The report states the district also provides equity training to "help teachers, students, parents and administrators understand the impact of race on student learning and investigate the role that racism plays in institutionalizing academic achievement disparities."
The report notes that families and communities "are essential partners in our work to ensure all students success at high levels."
The report draws a series of "City Steps" to show the importance of the school board, central office, school leadership, teachers and school staff, families and community to help students succeed.
It also sets five City Steps for parents. They include making sure their children are on time and attend, are rested for school and complete homework. Parents also are asked to share a math problem, read with their children and talk with their children about what is going on at school.
First Published August 3, 2012 12:00 am