A+ Schools

Ty Wright / Associated Press

A+ Schools, a non-profit that advocates for accountability in Pittsburgh Public Schools had a research firm conduct a poll in late January in which residents were asked targeted questions about what changes they would like to see to schools.

405 individuals were surveyed. 79 percent of them agreed with a statement that its possible for Pittsburgh to be known as a city whose public schools have high standards, great teaching and give all students, regardless of race or background, an opportunity for a great education.

Last year, students from several Pittsburgh public schools came together with education advocacy group A+ Schools and the Education Law Center to craft the Student Bill of Rights. While the entire list was not adopted, parts of it were incorporated into a revised Student Code approved by the Pittsburgh Public Schools board.

Essay optional. No penalties for wrong answers. The SAT college entrance exam is undergoing sweeping revisions.

Changes in the annual test that millions of students take will also do away with some vocabulary words such as "prevaricator" and "sagacious" in favor of words more commonly used in school and on the job.

A+ Schools is looking for volunteers for their fifth annual School Works research project, to survey principals, teachers and counselors at Pittsburgh Public Schools.

Executive Director Carey Harris said that this year, in addition to asking school staff about the resources and opportunities, they make available to their students, teen volunteers will survey their peers.

“We’ll be asking students about their experience with teaching, what’s working for them and what isn’t, and what do they think needs to change,” Harris said.

The Pittsburgh Public School Board has four new members, the largest turnover for the group since 1999.

A+ Schools is calling on the public to help keep the board accountable. The public education advocacy group is seeking volunteers for the Board Watch Program.

“We think it’s important that the public is aware of what’s happening, what kinds of decisions the board is making and the manner in which they’re making them,” said A+ Schools Executive Director Carey Harris.

More of Pennsylvania’s fourth and eighth graders are proficient in math and reading than the national average, but the achievement gap between white and minority students in the commonwealth is only shrinking slightly.

"I'm glad to see achievement in Pennsylvania is generally higher than the national average, but it's not where we want it to be and we're still concerned about the racial achievement gaps not closing," said Carey Harris, executive director of A+ Schools in Pittsburgh.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

Lost in the conversations surrounding education are often the voice of those being educated — the students.

By introducing the Pittsburgh Student Bill of Rights, a group of high school students is trying to make their voice heard and change what they perceive as the notion that they are “just kids.”

The Impact of Absenteeism

Aug 28, 2013
Haldan Kirsch / 90.5 WESA

Chronic absence takes a toll on students and the rest community from an early age. Katie Carroll is a Kindergarten teacher at Pittsburgh Faison School and thinks future learning patterns are developed as early as the first year.

"I try to establish relationships with parents so that the kids are really excited about coming to school."

This school year, students at Pittsburgh Public Schools will not be the only ones rigorously evaluated.

Teachers will be evaluated using a new system unlike any other in the state.

Act 82 was signed last summer requiring school districts across the state to use a system where principal observation only consists of half of teacher evaluations, with the other half coming from student outcomes, including assessment tests.

PPS applied, and was granted, permission to use a different teacher evaluation system for the 2013-14 school year.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

Nine people running for the Pittsburgh School Board have signed a pledge that outlines a “vision of excellence” for the district. The so-called Equity and Excellence Pledge was drafted by A+ Schools, a nonpartisan public education advocacy group.

“When we say equity, we mean providing every kid with the support necessary to reach and exceed a shared standard, which for us is graduating from high school and completing post-secondary education,” said Carey Harris, executive director of A+ Schools.

The pledge calls on the candidate to make policies that ensure: