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Pittsburgh Students Urge School Board To Remove 'Obstacles to Success'

Pittsburgh Public Schools students are calling on the Board of Education to adopt a Student Bill of Rights to remedy what they say are inequities across the district. 

The effort is spearheaded by TeenBloc, a coalition of student leaders and organizers in Pittsburgh’s high schools that aims to affect positive change, and A+ Schools, a community alliance for public education.  Surveys were completed by more than 400 high school juniors and 26 principals, counselors and teacher leaders in nine PPS secondary schools.

Carey Harris, executive director of A+ Schools, says a key finding is that poorer minority students face school-based obstacles to college and career readiness due to school climate, discipline practices and teacher turnover.

“It was about collecting a baseline of data to what students believe they have access to now as a starting point to go back to in the future to see hopefully what progress we’ve made,” Harris said.

TeenBloc leader Amma Ababio said the research confirmed what she and her colleagues knew when they unveiled their Bill of Rights in October based on their personal experiences.  She said they want to “set the bar” for how students should be treated and what they should be provided if they are going to be college- or career-ready.

“We realized that if we want these conditions to change, then we, as students, had to do something,” Ababio said.

The proposed Bill of Student Rights includes:

  • Right to free expression
  • Right to participate in decisions that affect their education
  • Right to equitable academic resources
  • Right to a socially, emotionally, and physically safe and positive school climate
  • Right to inclusive teaching and learning environments in our classrooms
  • Right to be treated with respect and dignity by the school community
  • Right to effective teachers
  • Right to positive school disciplinary policies and practices
  • Right to equitable access to accelerated classes and academic counseling
  • Right to efficient transportation

Harris said she considers the most important right to be number 7 — the right to effective teachers. 
“It’s the single biggest factor in a school system that contributes to student learning,” she said. 

She said the survey of principals, counselors and students showed that teachers in high poverty schools were less likely to “do what it takes to help students succeed” than teachers in less vulnerable schools. Principals in the more vulnerable schools reported higher teacher turnover and greater challenges retaining highly effective teachers.

According to Harris, board members William Isler and Regina Holley already support the Student Bill of Rights and she hopes more will join them after seeing this study.