Can Pittsburgh Public Schools be saved?

Can Pittsburgh Public Schools be saved?

The latest test scores for the perennially troubled Pittsburgh Public Schools are in. And there’s no way to sugarcoat failure.

Unless you’re the superintendent, of course.

“We are pleased with the steady progress we are seeing in student performance on the PSSA and encouraged to see that the hard work of our teachers, administrators, staff and students is bearing fruit,” said Superintendent Anthony Hamlet.

Despite lots of similar happy talk and lots of spending, state test scores continue to show that less than half of all students districtwide remain neither proficient nor advanced in English.

In fact, that metric has declined for those in third and eighth grades. Shockingly, third grade reading proficiency levels dropped by 5.2 percentage points this year from last – from a wholly unacceptable 56.1 percent to an abysmal rate of 50.9 percent.

Which prompted school director Sala Udin to state the obvious – reading truly is fundamental:

“If kids can’t read, they can’t be successful in math and sciences,” he stressed. The latest test results “tell a sad story” of a school district that “continues to fail to educate the children” of Pittsburgh.

“It’s criminal,” Udin said in another interview.

Hamlet’s spin-doctoring makes the situation even sadder. As do the words of Regina Holley, another school board member:

“I’m not blaming any teachers, I’m not blaming the board, I’m not blaming anybody,” she said.

Doesn’t sound much different than one iteration of a classic “The Family Circus” comic strip of many years ago.

Child after child is asked if he or she is responsible for knocking the table during supper. “Not me!” says one child. “Ida know!” adds another. “Nobody!” chimes in a third.

Under the table, the “real” culprits – ghostly, gremlin-like figures labeled “Not me,” “Ida know” and “Nobody” are depicted.

Millions spent. Per-pupil spending extraordinarily high. Mixed messages about discipline. Attendance rates that too often are an embarrassment. State attendance measures that are wishy-washy.

And, overall, “proficiency” remains a mirage far on the horizon with the usual suspects delivering the usual lip-service.

“I’m just saying we need a new day,” director Holley says.

Indeed, Pittsburgh Public Schools do.

But for the sun to rise again on Pittsburgh’s public-school students, the sun must be forced to set on a pathology – endemic to both the educratic establishment and AWOL parents — that has cheated generations of Pittsburgh children out of their futures and, left unchecked, will cheat countless more.

Can Pittsburgh Public Schools be saved? Not without radical surgery.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).