A Plus Report Shows Persistent Achievement Gaps Among Pittsburgh Public Students

Nov 22, 2016

James Fogarty, executive director of A Plus Schools, discusses graduation trends in the Pittsburgh Public School district.
Credit Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

A report released Monday from the education advocacy group A Plus Schools found that suspensions and chronic absenteeism continue to be a barrier to learning in Pittsburgh Public Schools.

A consultant hired by the district recently told the school board that overall graduation rates have improved to 79 percent over the last four years but only 57 percent of African American males graduate from the district in four years.

Superintendent Anthony Hamlet said it’s a problem the district is focused on.

“That is sobering to me,” he said. “So we’ve called out that in our strategic plan saying that we need to make sure we decrease racial disparities. But also making sure we have equity and equity lives throughout our entire strategic theme.”

The report also found that 60 percent of the district’s seniors qualified for the Pittsburgh Promise scholarship, meaning they had a least a 2.5 grade average, last year and the disparity between black and white students who qualify decreased by 6 points since 2012.

And the disparity between black and white students’ standardized test scores is large. According to the report, just six of the district’s schools have achievement gaps in standardized test scores below 10 points. Those include two neighborhood schools, three magnets and one charter.

Hamlet said the district will work with those schools to mimic that achievement district-wide. He said changes must start in the district office to implement systemic change in the schools. He plans to prioritize professional development for teachers to ensure they have time in their schedules to research best practices and learn from other teachers. Noting that there are several degrees of separation between him and students, Hamlet said central office staff have to find ways to support principals. He said he plans to create “a sense of urgency informed by data.”

PPS is in the public feedback phase of designing a strategic plan under Hamlet’s leadership. It’s held four community input meetings. He said overall the plan will put a “renewed emphasis on instruction.”

“We have schools that are doing good in silos and pockets,” he said. “But we want to make sure that we support transformational change at the district office. Because if you want to transform the system, it’s incumbent that central office changes first so we can have system-wide change not schools in pockets that are doing great.”

The annual report was mailed to 30,000 city households with a child enrolled in a public school.