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Pittsburgh Public Schools Unveils Plan to Tackle Racial Achievement Gap

Pittsburgh Public Schools already has a plan in place to address the racial achievement gap. A new plan, released Friday, builds upon that. The "Equity: Getting to All" report finds the district is doing many of the things that should lead to improvements in student achievement and to improvements in schools.

"That was the puzzle for us. We wanted to figure out, 'OK, if you're doing everything right, then why is it you're not getting better results?' And really, what we started to hone in on is the lack of coherence in the strategy, and particularly the way it was impacting schools that have been underserved," said Pedro Noguera, professor of education at New York University who's been working with the district on the issue for several months.

The plan focuses on strategies, including school culture — examining whether or not a climate has been created within schools that supports good teaching, strong attendance, and good discipline for students — and engaging community and parents as partners in the process.

"Which all the research shows is very important for strengthening student outcomes," said Noguera, "but I think the biggest part, in many ways, is the change in the approach that the central office will take to supporting schools: being much more collaborative and working with principals and taking on a more problem-solving approach, rather than going in and simply evaluating what's going on in the schools."

That's important, according to PPS Office of Equity Executive Director Viola Burgess. She said the district has gotten used to doing "a lot of telling, rather than listening." She added those at the top will no longer tell educators what they need, but will listen to what they say they need.

District officials call the plan a working document, and it is open for public comment. Later this month, Noguera and PPS Superintendent Linda Lane will present the plan to the public. Noguera said this plan should put the district on track to see more dramatic results in the next few years. That's good news for Burgess, who said the overall goal of the district remains student achievement.

"We have to be true to servicing all of our students, and we realize there are still some students lagging behind," she said. "We need all of our students to be successful. We want that achievement disparity to close."