Is It the End of the Line for Pittsburgh Schools?

Has the Pittsburgh School District reached the limit of what schools can do to educate kids? The long history of program after program to improve academic performance is well known. The Promise Program of college scholarships for was supposed to attract and keep students. It has not worked. Spending huge amounts of local and state tax dollars as well as foundation grants has failed to boost the atrocious level of academic achievement of the majority of graduates.

Now the District has decided to shift seven teachers from academic instruction to making students feel safe and welcome. No kidding, that is what the news report said. These seven teachers will be called "learning environment specialists". Which begs the question; aren’t all teachers learning environment specialists? Perhaps a better title for the new positions would be "peacemaking receptionist."

Does the school district not already hire a security force to maintain safety? Don’t teachers, librarians, principals, custodians, cafeteria staff, and counselors work hard to make children feel welcome? If not what has happened in the schools? Could a Dale Carnegie refresher course be a better way to deal with the lack of friendliness?

And then there are the costs associated with the new program. Teachers will be removed from classroom to perform their new assignments. Does that mean the class sizes will rise or will jobs be saved for other teachers who might have been facing layoffs? Either way we can assume that the teachers will be fairly senior and making near top salary with attendant benefits. In Pittsburgh, that would mean close to $100,000 per year. Add to that overhead for office, travel and other expenses and the new position could easily cost $110,000 a year. Seven positions-three quarters of a million dollars. Sounds like a lot in a school district trying to save money but actually not a very large slice from a budget of over $500 million. In this case Gates Foundation money is being used for the experiment.

Beyond the cost and issue of whether we need peacemaking receptionists, there is the question of likely effectiveness. Seven people will have responsibilities for 66 schools, 9 of which are middle and 12 senior high. Clearly, seven people are going to be spread pretty thin covering that many schools. Can they hope to achieve anything or is this money just being wasted like so much before?

When a school district dedicates teachers to non-teaching roles and puts them in charge of making schools safe and welcoming the education world has been turned on its head. What’s left, putting cooks in charge of recess?