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PGH Public Schools Postpones Teacher Diversity Program, Dropping Private College Partnership

Sarah Schneider
90.5 WESA
The Pittsburgh Public Schools administrative building in Oakland.

The Pittsburgh Public Schools district postponed a program that was intended to train current employees of color to be teachers after rescinding the collaboration with the university that was going to instruct those educators.

In a statement Tuesday, Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Anthony Hamlet said the district will seek a local partner in lieu of Grand Canyon University.

The private Christian school based in Phoenix, Arizona is being sued by two former students for allegedly misrepresenting accreditation of some of its programs and the validity of its degrees across state lines, according to the Arizona Republic. A separate class action lawsuit was filed in September in federal court accussing the university of allegedly forcing students to pay for extra classes in order to finish their degrees, according to the Phoenix New Times.

Hamlet said Grand Canyon University did not disclose “existing litigation and the University’s relationship with for-profit affiliates” when it agreed to partner with the district.

"Concerns raised by District Solicitor Ira Weiss and information received after the October 1st presentation to the Board have convinced me that postponing the start of our program is the most prudent decision at this time,” said Superintendent Hamlet in a statement.

The district has been tasked with diversifying its teaching force for decades. One way to do that is to promote current employees, so leadership decided to help teacher’s aides – paraprofessionals – go back to school for teaching certificates.

According to the district, 56 percent of the current paraprofessionals who hold bachelor’s degrees or higher are black, while more than 80 percent of its teachers are white. Fifty-three percent of Pittsburgh Public Schools students are black.

When surveyed, the district’s paraprofessionals said the biggest challenge in getting a master’s degree or a teaching certificate is cost of tuition and time to complete the coursework.

The district solicited proposals from all of the colleges and universities with which it collaborates. Most are local and send their student teachers to work in the city schools. The district was looking for a college or a university that offered online courses and a two-year master’s program to educate and train up to 33 PPS paraprofessionals.

Only one school submitted a proposal: Grand Canyon University.

The school is based in Arizona, but has staff in Pennsylvania, according to the district. It offered tuition discounts and met the district’s requirements. The Para2Teacher pilot program was announced Oct. 2.

The first cohort was expected to begin online classes Oct. 24 while continuing to work for the district. A portion of their salary would have gone toward tuition; grants from the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers and the Heinz Endowments would have paid for substitutes to cover classroom duties while the paraprofessionals completed their student teaching.

Hamlet said the district is committed to pursuing the program elsewhere and will work this year to develop an agreement with a regional partner and expects to begin the first cohort next fall.