Official White House photo / Pete Souza

How Pittsburgh and Allegheny County can increase opportunities for boys and young men of color is the focus of two local forums this week.

Dylan Lovan / AP Photo

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is wrapping up his week-long, 10-city "Ready for Success" bus tour in Pittsburgh today. Duncan held a rally this afternoon for students at Barack Obama Academy of International Studies in East Liberty and appeared at Carnegie Mellon University to discuss college access and STEM education. He spoke with Essential Pittsburgh host Paul Guggenheimer about why he felt it was important to make Pittsburgh part of the tour.

Andrew Rush / AP Images

Keeping the family intact, streamlining the annulment process and the “Pope Francis effect” were among the topics addressed by Pittsburgh Catholic Dioceses Bishop David Zubik in a wide-ranging discussion on 90.5 WESA Essential Pittsburgh Friday. 

90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Linda Lane has announced she will let her contract expire in June 2016 and will not seek an extension. Lane first served as deputy superintendent and spent the last five years in her current role.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Two men rob a convenience store in Beaver County, killing the clerk in the process. They steal a car and head to Raccoon Creek State Park, where they open fire on beach-goers with automatic rifles.

This was the imaginary scenario that criminal justice and nursing students from Pittsburgh Technical Institute encountered Wednesday morning at a live disaster response exercise staged on park shores.

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

It's the last week of the Learn and Earn program, and Anthony Zabiegalski, a producer at Simcoach Games, is prepping his 26 interns to test out a video game they helped build. Over the last six weeks, the interns have worked alongside developers and designers.

90.5 WESA

It’s back-to-school time in the region, and the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority, better known as ALCOSAN, is highlighting its role in the classroom.

The sewage and water treatment facility isn’t something automatically linked with schools, but for more than a decade, the authority has done educational outreach.

Number Of PA Students Opting Out Of State Tests Rises Dramatically In 2015

Aug 13, 2015
AP Photo/Matt Rourke

In a sign that the opt-out movement continues to grow, the number of elementary school students who refused to take Pennsylvania's state standardized tests rose dramatically over the past two years.

Between 2013-14 and 2014-15, opt-outs on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment math test more than tripled – from 1,017 students to 3,270. That's a 220 percent jump.

Megan Harris / 90.5 WESA

  On second pass, 4-year-old Neyra Mesic was ready.

“I want a worm,” Mesic said, pulling her thumb from her mouth. She tugged on teacher Wendy Brenneman’s red canvas blouse. “I can do it now.”

Brenneman set a wriggly, brown garden worm on a damp paper towel next to Mesic. Like all the preschoolers attending summer camp Wednesday at the Carnegie Science Center, Brenneman warned her, “We like worms; be gentle.”

Illustrative (Creative Commons)

It's hard to believe it is "back to school" time already. Essential Pittsburgh will be taking Fridays off now through Sept. 4 to spend some time in their classroom working on the fall season. Please enjoy these education-themed specials or catch up on episodes of Essential Pittsburgh you may have missed here.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera was an engineering major in college – for one semester.

“Then I tutored at one of the local high schools, at Reading High School, and I fell in love with education,” Rivera told a group of high school students at Duquesne University on Monday. “I remember calling my mother and telling her, ‘Hey, I’m thinking about switching my major from engineering to education.’ There was a pause on the phone, and she said, ‘Oh no you’re not.’”

School district consolidation is the key to many of Pennsylvania’s education problems, according to State Rep. Timothy S. Mahoney (D-Fayette/Somerset). Mahoney recently proposed legislation requesting a statewide study of schools that would examine the possibility of merging Pennsylvania school districts into individual county administrations.

The proposition stems from Mahoney’s study in 2011 that examined the effects of a potential merger of Fayette County school districts.

Courtesy Good Jobs Healthy Communities

Public education advocates with the group Good Jobs Healthy Communities gathered outside the former William Penn School in Harrisburg Wednesday morning, as part of a week-long “occupation” of Pennsylvania’s capital city.

The vocational and alternative high school was closed by the school district in 2010 due to a lack of funds to upgrade the deteriorating structure. Classes were relocated to other buildings in the district.

School districts in seven western Pennsylvania counties are getting a share of $530,000 in Allegheny Intermediate Unit grants for programs that blend science, technology, engineering, arts and math, or STEAM.

Flickr User Shinichi Sugiyama

More Pennsylvania students and schools would benefit from private funding if State Representative Jim Christiana’s bill to expand two education tax credit programs becomes law.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

Hoping to dispel a rumor that the closure of Wilkinsburg Middle and High School is imminent, district officials announced the school will be open for the 2015-2016 school year.

Beyond that, the district is still examining options. The struggling district is dealing with declining enrollment and has had funding issues as more students enroll in charter schools.

Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

Applying for college seemed like the next logical step for Senque Little-Poole. The Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy senior said his educational experience has been a push to get a better grade, a better Grade Point Average and to get accepted into a good college.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

In this first podcast in a new series called Multiple Choices, senior education writer Kevin McCorry joins with Paul Socolar, publisher and editor of the Public School Notebook, and Notebook contributing editor Dale Mezzacappa to explain and explore the history, complexities and controversies of public education funding in Pennsylvania.

As the Penn Hills School District seeks an $18 million bond to cover operational costs, state Rep. Tony DeLuca (D-Allegheny) is asking state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale to get the bottom of the district’s fiscal woes.

DeLuca is calling for a full audit of the district’s budget after last week’s announcement that the district would seek court approval for the bond in order to meet debt service, payroll and retirement fund obligations.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

Community colleges educate almost half of all college students in the country. And a new report by University of Pennsylvania researchers finds these institutions play an oversized role in educating blacks, Latinos and Asian-Americans.

Courtesy Photo

Almost half of Pittsburgh’s black children live in neighborhoods with “very low opportunities for healthy development,” according Brandeis University’s Child Opportunity Index.

The index, compiled as part of Brandeis’ project, uses online interactive maps to divide 100 United States metropolitan areas into five categories from “very high opportunity” to “very low opportunity,” according to Brandeis professor Dolores Acevedo-Garcia.

Pennsylvania public schools serve roughly 260,000 students with disabilities ages six through 21, about 16 percent of the state’s total student population, according to the U.S. Department of Education. A bill in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives would make it easier for those students to find part-time employment while in high school.

Education Budget Makes Charter Schools Nervous

Mar 26, 2015

Advocates for Pennsylvania’s charter schools are worried that Governor Tom Wolf’s new education budget would force some schools to close their doors.

Wolf’s 2015-2016 education budget includes more money for preschool through college education, but one school group is feeling ostracized.

“Charter schools in Pennsylvania are already receiving far less per pupil than their traditional school peers,” said Kara Kerwin, President of the Center for Education Reform. “On average it’s about 30 percent less per pupil.”

Carnegie Science Center Talks STEM on Capitol Hill

Mar 19, 2015

With the number of science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, jobs increasing at three times the rate of other industries, the Carnegie Science Center is encouraging schools and Pennsylvania lawmakers to focus on improving the way students learn about STEM fields.

During a Wednesday congressional briefing in Washington, D.C., science center representatives and educators outlined the Carnegie STEM Excellence Pathway, an initiative that launched in October to help schools evaluate and expand the way they teach math and science.

Charter schools in the commonwealth have grown rapidly. Over a five year period beginning in 2006, enrollment in the state increased by 54 percent, and according to the most recent data, 6 percent of Pennsylvania students now attend a charter school.

But a study by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania at Penn State has found that charter schools are more racially segregated than their public school counterparts. 

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Two bills are sitting in the Senate Committee on State Government aimed at strengthening Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law.

Legislation introduced by Sen. John Blake (D-Lackawanna) would bring more transparency to state-related universities, while Sen. Dominic Pileggi’s (R-Delaware) bill would establish a fee structure for commercial requests and update definitions within the law.

Edward N. Johnson / US Army

Pennsylvania’s senior US Senator says he is ready to give another try at passing a bill that makes access to pre-kindergarten learning nearly universal.  Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) this week once again introduced the Prepare All Kids Act, which is intended to provide one year of voluntary, high quality pre-k to all children.

PhotosNormandie / Flickr

Seventy years ago this month, Pittsburgh native George Pietropola battled frostbite in the Ardennes Forest during World War II. Just after the war ended, then-Staff Sgt. Pietropola was presented with a Bronze Star for his heroism under fire from February 9th to February 24th. 

"It looked more like a slaughter to me. It was terrible. That was one of the worst things I’d ever seen – that ever happened, all the time I was in the war." - George Pietropola

A consortium of student government representatives from nine local colleges and universities will have an audience with Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto Tuesday evening.

Student leaders from Carlow University, Carnegie Mellon University, Chatham University, the Community College of Allegheny County, Duquesne University, La Roche College, Point Park University, Robert Morris University, and the University of Pittsburgh comprise the Pittsburgh Student Government Council (PSGC).

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

A task force charged with examining and recommending changes for Pittsburgh Public Schools has released its report after a year of work. It focuses on five areas: public safety, out-of-school-time programming, community schools, school funding and marking the city’s schools.