Pittsburgh Faith Leaders Throw Support, Prayers Behind Effective Teacher Efforts

Jul 31, 2013

A new coalition of Pittsburgh faith leaders is adding their voice to the issue of education.

Through the nationwide Shepherding the Next Generation program, the group aims to support teachers and ensure all educators are effective and encourage Pittsburgh Public Schools to continue its push to hire and retain highly effective teachers. The group also released a report that highlights the importance of skilled educators.

“It’s compelling evidence that highly effective teachers have a greater impact on student performance than any other resources in the public school system, in the Pittsburgh Public School System in particular and they are key to improving student outcomes in our schools,” said Tom Pearce, national director of Shepherding the Next Generation.

The report cited data from other studies and found that students who had an effective teacher stood to gain as much as a full year’s worth of academic growth. Those with weak teachers were more likely to fall behind. That indicates that teachers are the most critical component of a child’s education, according to coalition member Father John Paul Chaney of the Seeds of Hope Anglican Church.

“Programs don’t change kids, people do,” he said. “Individuals are so important in the formation of these kids, and if they don’t have a human being to connect to a program, no matter how detailed, no matter how awesome that program is, it will not change a kid.”

The group said Pittsburgh Public Schools is doing a good job supporting and elevating teachers to ensure they are effective.

Teacher effectiveness is a nationwide issue. A national study found fewer than 1 percent of teachers received a negative performance rating.

“Even in schools where students have continuously demonstrated a failure to meet basic academic standards,” said the Rev. Deb Thompson of Saint Matthew’s Lutheran Church. “To its credit, the Pittsburgh school district is doing a great job and they’re doing wonderful work to change this.”

The Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers said they are happy to see a group supporting teachers but add that improving education outcomes goes beyond that, especially since teachers interact with children at different levels.

“We have to look at the whole child, not just put all of the pressure and all of the focus on the teacher,” said PFT President Nina Esposito-Visgitis. “That saying, ‘It takes a community to raise a child,’ or ‘It takes a village,’ is absolutely true. Let’s look at the whole child, not just one piece of education. It’s all of our responsibilities, not just the teachers.”

The Shepherding the Next Generation group cites the district’s Empowering Effective Teachers initiative, which is funding by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and state and federal grants. The Shepherding the Next Generation effort includes 25 churches throughout the Pittsburgh region.