Friday, November 16, 2012

Week End Digest: Leon Ford, Public Schools, the County Budget, Water and Parking

ActiveRain, Hathaway

We don't know what happened during this recent police vehicle stop in Highland Park. Sure, we can imagine a lot of different scenarios -- which is what happens when you don't personally know squat. (P-G, Moriah Balingit)

But the police department is not letting Leon Ford's parents visit him in the hospital after having been shot in the chest -- a wide-open invitation to public outrage. What is the criminal justice concern there, exactly?

There might be a legitimate case in the aggregate. But as I wind up saying to Customer Service on most occasions, "Can you put me in touch with somebody empowered to make an exception to your policy?"


Meanwhile, School District Superintendent Linda Lane is putting a brave face on an institution that seems chronically broke, has not for a long time been high-achieving, and now seems to have suffered some discouraging performance setbacks just as things were supposed to be improving.

While there are a host of challenges over which the District has only meager levels of control (including its own past mistakes and other sub-optimal practices which are apparently human nature), an undercurrent among many seems to be: "Well, what else can we do to give these kids some kind of an edge?" And that gets to the bitterly controversial idea of using what measurement data is at our disposal to attempt to manage our crucial teaching force more optimally and intentionally. Such a move would not provide an ironclad guarantee for a panacea -- but it's trying something that has a clear and scientific rationale, that is within our control, and that instinctively most parents desire.

The Pittsburgh Promise might really become the huge game-changer it was hyped to be, but if and only if our District inspired confidence. Right now it does not, and has not, and we're a long way from it. The reasons for that are structural and systemic (including the politics of attaining proper funding). Let's introduce something structural of our own, something that's good news, something for which we and only we are responsible.

County Councilman Bill Robinson is suggesting that Rich Fitzgerald's proposed 2013 county budget be increased by somewhere in the singular tenths of a percent. In return we would keep the Controller's office staffed up (removing any unfortunate appearance of surreptitious accountability dodging and political sabotage) restore funding for our community colleges, and give a raise to an exemplary public safety official who seems to be making far less than his official responsibilities warrant. Sounds like a good, and responsibly modest deal. (P-G, Len Barcousky; Trib, Bobby Kerlik)

SurvivalwithBushcraf (language)
Veolia Water seems to be pursuing more ways to make our Water Authority more fair and efficient. (P-G, Joe Smydo) Meanwhile, the PWSA board has agreed to "performance indicators" by which we will evaluate Veolia Water itself (DowdNet, pdf). At a cursory glance, though it looks like Veolia will be very busy, it does not appear that helping to rewrite an infrastructure plan and to green-it-up is part of the contract. Maybe we can schnor it in there? Why not, we're buddies now. Let's schnor!

Finally, over at the Parking Authority, while it sounds like increasing revenue with new meters is moving along adroitly, Councilwoman Rudiak resigned from the board. In her resignation letter to the Mayor she cited that her term having expired a year and a half ago, "it's time to move on." (P-G, Joe Smydo)


  1. Glad to have you as part of the conversation Bram. It strikes me that some of your former teachers might be patting themselves on the back, based on your service to your city.
    Let’s begin with the chronically broke part. As parents and citizens it is hard to see so much money being spent for so little return. It seems as though attaching the word GRANT to spending makes the money less real and therefore okay to toss around. It is hard not to think of all the Gates money and the grants obtained to match it as UN-empowering teachers. RISE is now coming across to the public as a force of nitpicking, grouchy, people getting in the way of learning. It can’t be disputed that the growth of the charter schools is hurting the enrollment in public schools. For a while it looked like the district was in the process of borrowing some of the better practices of better charters (not all are good). Westinghouse Academy before its reconfiguration was scrapped cost a lot of money. Kids traveled out of state, modifications were made. The district has been told for a long time, by consultants paid to analyze and predict, that we needed to change our spending ways. We need to plan better.
    On the high-achieving part…well, from the time our kids enter Kindergarten we are told to model the behavior we want them to adopt. Parents who are observed reading create kids who read, is one example. It does not always work that way. But, if Johnny does not observe a parent who gets up every day and goes to a meaningful job that allows him to support his family, what lesson is instilled in an underperforming student? It then becomes the added responsibility of the teacher to convince kids of the value of their education, despite their personal circumstances. A parent once said, “Pittsburgh Public Schools offers a good education to those who wish to receive one.” Kids need to believe.

  2. Please note the Johnny example above is just one example of the detriment poverty creates.

  3. Mrs. Leibowitz, Ms. Slifkin, Ms. Brunger, Mr. Pechersky and Mr. Lillinski. And for Civics, Mr. Hersch, although the way he taught a classroom -- well, he's probably lucky he didn't have to contend with a core syllabus. Oh, and Mr. Forrey.

    To a large extent I do distinguish between grant money and taxpayer money -- though I do now note that although many of these grants are specifically directed and intended, *some* of them are probably a function of what PPS is applying for and those efforts could be redirected as needed. And I can sure imagine how RISE might be being implemented such that it deserves part of its bad reputation, but I notice Anon 10:07 you're couching your words carefully in terms of not blaming the *concept*.

    I like the note, "We need to plan better."

    I wonder if on your device you were able to read the tweet from elsewhere that I inserted: "Whether we get (parent engagement) or not, we still have a responsibility to educate children." I think that gets to my posture in favor of the desirability of data-driven evaluations et cetera, even understanding that grant-funded administrators have yet to win significant confidence. I gather from the grumbling at PURE Reform that patronage plays into that (as well as with RISE etc) but at the same time on the topic of "targeting / focusing teachers" they all agree that patronage as well as rank salary cost-cutting plays into that plenty right now. A teacher co-developed data-driven management plan might actually improve that situation.

    Kids do need to believe. And it's hard to do that without parents and a village that believes as well as models. But to offer my honest hunch, on the margins I bet that knowledge of teacher accountability is something that *assists* in children believing. They may not be at the bargaining table, but I'm given to understand the idea is very popular among students (all kinds of students) for intuitive reasons.

  4. I think you missed the more interesting story about our police force. For the second time in just a few weeks we have seen a story about Chief Harper's ties to some questionable characters in conjunction with some clear evidence of favorable treatment as a result.

    The chief has been very good for a long time at staying above the fray and not taking on some of the more troubling characteristics of the administration he serves at the pleasure of. It is a shame to see that this might have just been an appearance.

  5. The parent engagement comment reminds me that getting more from the parents who did not traditionally participate was a big goal of past admins. 10-12 years ago. The effort was strong but we are a pretty transient group and find consistent engagement hard to sustain.

    I do believe in the concept of teacher evaluation. What we seem to have now is pretty ugly and you have to wonder what the heck we are trying to prove. That we had a plan before the state started to craft one? That we can follow a path that confirms the Gates agenda?

    Dale Carnegie published How to Win Friends and Influence People in the 30s. The next expenditure the district makes should be to purchase a copy for all the people in supervisory positions and then have a retreat to set a new course for communication and management.

  6. Anon 3:49 - No doubt. I've never heard Chief Harper's ability to police or capacity to manage the department impugned. But as to patronage and as to conveying an enthusiastic empathy and convincing optimism for improving police-community relations -- causes for concern.

    Anon 5:06 - First I took your Dale Carnegie retreat idea as caustic humor, but on a 2nd reading feel you may actually be making a potentially productive suggestion.