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Pitt report on improving education post-pandemic says personalized, learner-centered approach is key

Chris Carlson

On today’s episode of The Confluence: We talk about what interventions still need to happen to help remedy pandemic learning loss and improve education as we head into the next school year; UPMC and a world-renowned transplant surgeon are at the heart of a federal investigation, we talk about the case and its implications; and how North Allegheny recent graduates are trying to help the next class of school activists make change.

Today’s guests include: Briana Mihok, senior policy strategist for the Institute of Politics at the University of Pittsburgh; and Jonathan Silver, reporter with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Greater flexibility is needed for students, educators in classrooms as new school year starts 

(0:00 - 8:34)

As schools were navigating the pandemic and families were adjusting to online schooling, a persistent question kept coming up: How will this experience impact learning once children are back in classrooms? Last August, the University of Pittsburgh’s Institute of Politics investigated the issue and found that pandemic policies exacerbated inequities that already existed in schools.

State attendance laws require students to be in the classroom for 900 hours in primary grade and 950 hours in secondary grades. Briana Mihok, assistant director of policy programs at Pitt’s Institute of Politics, believes that these rules keep students away from important extracurricular opportunities.

“Students don't always have the opportunity to pursue out-of-school time activities such as internships, college credit courses, out-of-school-time learning opportunities without having the school districts bump up against these rules about seat time,” says Mihok “So we really wanted to shed light on how those policies could be changed going forward to enable students to have more opportunities.”

Mihok suggests that an increased focus on the needs of the individual student is key to bolstering success.

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U.S. Department of Justice investigates UPMC for allegedly violating False Claims Act, following a whistleblower complaint 

(8:38 - 17:46)

UPMC finds itself in the middle of a legal battle involving its celebrated chair of the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery and a former star lung transplant surgeon for the hospital system.

This legal battle started three years ago with a whistleblower complaint filed by former UPMC surgeon Dr. Jonathan D'Cunha, concerning his boss, Dr. James Luketich, head of the cardiothoracic surgery department at UPMC.

The complaint alleged Luketich and UPMC fraudulently billed the federal government for surgeries that were covered under Medicare and Medicaid. This led to an investigation by the U.S. Justice Department, which found Luketich had booked several surgeries at the same time, leading some patients to be injured while waiting for his care.

“These kinds of cases allow the patients to understand that maybe they should be aware of, when they go in for surgery, asking questions like, ‘Is my doctor going to be focusing entirely on me or potentially doing another surgery on another patient at that time?’” says Jonathan Silver who reported on this case for the Post Gazette.

In response to the investigation, UPMC alleges that the federal government is misapplying the law, relating to the fraudulent billing. If UPMC is found to be in violation of law, they could face damages that, for other hospital systems, have cost as much as $12 million.

North Allegheny graduates are creating a guidebook for the next class of student activists(17:49 - 22:30)

In the past few years, many local high school students have become vocal activists engaged in social justice issues. But what happens to the movements they leave behind when they graduate? In North Allegheny, the county’s second-largest school district, students from the group NA for Change led rallies and often spoke at board meetings about the need for diversity, equity and inclusion work.

Alumni have recently created a guidebook for the NEXT class of young activists outlining what they've learned. One of them spoke with 90.5 WESA’s Sarah Schneider about handing off her work to current students.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in Monday to Thursday at 9 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts. 

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