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A+ Schools releases report on what is, isn't working in schools


Last updated 3/16/2015 at 5:15pm

“What happens in schools matters.” This, according to Carey Harris, Executive Director of A+ Schools, succinctly summarizes the key findings released tonight in a new report from A+ Schools.

The report summarized data and analysis of interviews with 50 Pittsburgh Public Schools’ principals in the fall of 2014. A+ Schools’ annual School Works research project, conducted with the help of trained volunteers, provides the community with an equity audit of the public schools. Principals were asked questions about opportunities and resources that they provide their students.

Their responses were then analyzed looking at school vulnerability, which includes factors like student need, student achievement, student academic growth and achievement gaps.

A+ Schools found that Schools that Work for children, regardless of what neighborhood they come from, are creating positive, stable, and rigorous environments that foster student success. These schools are more likely to have staff that actively model and teach social and emotional learning skills, hold high expectations for students, have an easier time attracting and retaining great teachers and school leaders and provide more rigorous coursework for students.

Students in more vulnerable schools, however, are more likely to be suspended, have less experienced teachers, higher principal turnover, and principals are less likely to report using restorative practices that help keep students in school and create positive learning environments. Internal practices to those schools and external policies are preventing vulnerable schools from creating conditions for student success. The study found:

In schools with lower chronic absenteeism (students who are missing more than 10 percent of the school year) principals report having more staff with high expectations for all students, having more academically rigorous environments that challenge students at all levels, and in our high schools, and fewer teachers disciplining students in ways that take them out of class. 

Most principals reported a strong desire to learn more about and to use restorative practices (ones that focus on making amends and holding students accountable to each other for misbehavior) across the schools.

• That desire notwithstanding, black students continue to be much more likely to be suspended than white students. Black students comprise 53 percent of students in the district, but make up 76 percent of students who were given out of school suspensions in October and November of 2014.

• At Pittsburgh’s most vulnerable schools, there are more out of school suspensions and principals report they have a harder time teaching social and emotional skills.

• Finally principals in Pittsburgh’s most vulnerable schools reported being able to offer fewer resources that reflect academic rigor than our less vulnerable schools: They are less likely to offer Algebra 1 in the 6-8 grades; and, More likely to offer less instructional time in art, library and language as they did last year.

“There are schools getting great outcomes for students in our district, we need to make sure that their good practices are implemented at our most vulnerable schools,” said Ms. Harris.

These findings inform A+ Schools’ recommendations in the report. A+ Schools is calling for all schools to

· Hold high expectations for all students by increasing academic rigor and encouraging effort.

· Eliminating zero tolerance policies and provide training and support for replacing them with restorative practices that hold children accountable for their actions while teaching them how to make amends.

· Eliminate forced placements and keep the best teachers across the district, but especially in the most vulnerable schools

· Spend money in ways that positively impact students’ success by making sure students at the most vulnerable schools have access to Algebra and support from parents and community organizations.


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