Black Pittsburgh Public students are far behind their white counterparts regardless of economic status, according to a report from Greenways Strategy Management.
Lead consultant Martha Greenway told school board members this week that the disparity was the most critical issue the district faces.
Nationally, there isn’t often a gap in achievement between black and white students who are economically disadvantaged, she said.
“However given the proportion of African American students you have, it appears to me that it is explained in some cases more by race than by poverty,” she said. “So that’s something that needs to be unpacked more.”
The disparity starts in third grade, Greenway said. She presented the analysis of the district based on state data and a community survey to the board Wednesday during the education committee meeting.
The school board hired the Atlanta-based company in July for $117,500 to help develop a five-year strategic plan for the district under the helm of new Superintendent Anthony Hamlet.
“For the most part, when you compare your average performance with the performance of the state of Pennsylvania on state assessments, at any grade level and subject, you are performing lower than the state,” she said.
But she noted the state’s demographic makeup is largely different than Pittsburgh’s. Pittsburgh’s white students are performing at roughly the same level of Pennsylvania’s white students.
Disparity between black and white students' test scores is smaller in early grades and exacerbated in middle and high school, she said, but in Pittsburgh, the achievement gap starts in third grade – the first year students are tested.
It narrows to 25 percent in eighth grade test results, but she said that’s because white Pittsburgh students are performing worse than the state average.
“If the white students' performance in eighth grade was at the level that it was in third grade, the achievement gap would be 50 percent,” she said.
Greenway also noted the disparate use of out-of-school suspensions as a method of discipline.
Of the 9 percent of students disciplined last year in Pittsburgh Public Schools, 95 percent of the incidents resulted in a suspension. That’s nearly double what Philadelphia School District reported.
She said a change is critical because every suspension increases a child’s chance of dropping out of school.
During the meeting, Hamlet also updated the board on his first 90 days on the job, which included touring all 54 schools and hosting nine community listening sessions.
Greenway will continue strategy development through January. She said this is when the team will define issues most critical to the district, including creating a positive school climate; developing and implementing a rigorous, aligned curriculum; providing relevant and timely instructional support for teachers; and fostering a high-performance culture for all employees.