Friday, May 11, 2012

Public Education, Redevelopment, the Race and the Clock

Alright. Where are we?

Under the district's plan to furlough 450 teachers based on seniority, Faison School in Homewood would lose 21 of its 42 teachers; Manchester School would lose 10 of 26 teachers; Martin Luther King Accelerated Learning Academy in the North Side would lose 14 of 38 teachers; Arlington Acclererated Learning Academy would lose 12 of 33 teachers; Weil Accelerated Learning Academy in the Hill District would lose eight of 24 teachers; and Allegheny Traditional Academy in the North Side would lose seven of 30 teachers.

"We're going to retain some of our most effective teachers, but we're also going to furlough some of them," Lane said. (Trib, Adam Brandolph)

Glancing at this once: Oh my! Pittsburgh is losing 450 jobs.

*-UPDATE: At the A+ Schools rally in Oakland on Tuesday (post forthcoming we would hope), this number descended from "400" to later on, "almost 400."

Glancing at this again: Can we just move the teachers who do keep their jobs to other schools? I know Chris Rock said that if you find ever yourself teaching at Martin Luther King, run!!!!, but... if worse comes to worse, it doesn't sound like the new merit-based framework is geared towards balancing individual school populations either.

Or was it? What's the big idea?

As a result of cuts in funding for urban schools such as Pittsburgh's -- cuts so deep that the very bones of education bear the knife marks -- our district will soon say goodbye to hundreds of teachers without so much as a glance at the data, at whether these teachers have been deemed "highly effective."

This is devastating news at our foundations, where we have seen our $18 million and the Gates Foundation's $40 million investment in creating a model for effective teaching just beginning to bear fruit. (Oliphant, Vagt and Behr at P-G)

What is the model named? Do we name it after its distinguishing designer or sponsor (e.g. "the Phil Lowenstein model") or is it given a name to convey meaning (e.g. "Action for Happening")? Is it just "the $50 million model which was supposed to be the $90 million model"? And much more to the point, what is it exactly?

It might well be worth raising a hue and a cry, trying to convince the PFT to work with it. Although that appears to be an uncertain proposition.

We might simply need to thank the administration and the School Board for kicking off the discussion on how best to deal with the massive public funding cuts that are upon us. If this wave of innovative thinking is politically non-implementable, it might be best to default to an austere "No Frills" position.

I'm not sure where else we can take refuge as a school district.

There, and maligning Harrisburg until it remembers that primary education is "important" in a special kind of way.


  1. For some context, what is the ratio of teacher to student? How does this relate to the declining school population?

  2. In 2004 says here the t:s ratio was 11.4 to 1 or maybe 14:1 more recently. In other words I need better data.

    The coarse relationship to actual class sizes should be understood to reflect arts teachers, gym and health teachers, different tracks and different subjects at the hs level. Now, the effects of declining enrollment would probably argue towards a narrowing ratio, but also remember the impact of any big cuts would not be felt uniformly. As usual, the crud can probably be relied upon to roll downhill, where there is doubtless already a deal of crud.

  3. 14:1 sounds pretty reasonable to me. What has made this ratio so untenable? Is it social issues? Years ago 20:1 was effective to learn. We expected kids to sit down and listen, come to school, do homework...What changed? I'm getting sick of this nanny state.

  4. What changed? Lots of things, but it changed. Drug wars, suburban flight, a shrinking middle class, intractable segregation, a crummy culture...

    Would steeper teacher:student ratios or more charters and/or vouchers stand a real chance of changing anything back? Or are these proffered simply to sidestep the challenges by filing them under "No Longer Shared"?

  5. Social contracts are understood, however when is money allowed to be part of the discussion? I'm a city tax payer and I can see the value of a well educated populist. But when the tone is all about high minded ideas without allowing for fiscal consideration in the mix is unfair. The PPS budget is larger than the City of Pittsburghs budget. Just sayin.

  6. The PPS budget will shrink, and there are probably forms of fat in it that can be identified and trimmed. In the long view, in which we are all dead, it is said that to everything there is a season -- and this is just the onset of a winter is all.

    However to your point, when money becomes introduced into the discussion, those aggregations of wealth which elude corresponding taxation just become a very real flip side of your coin.

    Ze region, she is quite productive, but zat is not very well reflected in many municipal, county or school budgets.

  7. There is simply no way the real and effective student teacher ration is as low as 14 to 1 in PPS. My kids have a combined 21 years of class time in PPS and accept for maybe (MAYBE) a stray HS elective like creative writing neither one has been in a class with so few students. There are currently 40 or 50 kids in my daughter's 7th grade Gym class and in the halcyon days of the 90s my son's elementary classes typically had 24 kids or so in them. I have no idea what funny math makes that ratio happen, but it just isn't real when it comes to class size.

  8. The student-teacher ratio is currently 15:1. This metric does not correlate with improved academic performance, as research during the past two decades appears to indicate. @JenEngland, this does not mean that there are 15 kids in every class. It is simply based on the total number of teachers on staff divided by the total enrollment. Of course, the teacher layoffs would disporportionately affect the schools serving the lowest income students, who need the best teachers. Even if the most effective teachers in the district are found to be working right now in these schools, if they're at the low end of the seniority ladder, then eff them, so goes the position of the PFT. The PPS believes there is a better way to make these cuts, and they have research to suggest that it can be done fairly.

  9. I have a hard time beleiving they can evaluate teachers in the PPS fairly. I've read and seen too much to know that money, politics, who you know and are related to just to name a few. The PPS's has lots of snakes in the grass all over! I don't trust this whole direction this is going towards.
    We'll see.

  10. One of the two organizations is responsible for ensuring quality public education is available to everyone and it's not the PFT. Given the choice between the PPS and the PFT, I trust the PPS to make decisions to improve public education.