Pittsburgh School District Builds “Crown Jewel” School

City school officials are all gaga over the impending $14 million renovation of Northview Accelerated Learning Academy. The Northview Heights elementary school will incorporate a bunch of "green" innovations such as geothermal power and energy efficient lighting. Gushed the school district architect, "When we are done, this will be the premier elementary school in the City."

Unfortunately, there was no discussion about how going green, being so politically correct in construction and spending $14 million will translate into educational performance.

Would it not be much more desirable for the school district to just once hold a press conference and announce that 90 percent of 3rd, 8th, and 11th graders in the City schools had demonstrated grade level proficiency in math and reading?

The true test of the whether the $14 million spent on the school is a good investment will depend on the ability of the school to enhance student performance of the students over time. Otherwise, this crowing about the wonderful "green" school is nothing more than window dressing designed to divert the public’s attention from the enormous amount of money being spent per student and the very poor academic performance in many City schools.

A real crown jewel school has students demonstrating superior academic performance. We must stay focused on the real issues and that is not school architecture or heating systems.

Bigger Promise Will Be Needed for Pittsburgh Schools

While lauding the school district’s improving achievement scores in the 2008-2009 school year, the superintendent studiously avoided a thorough discussion of two troublesome and potentially devastating results. First, the percentage of third graders scoring at the advanced or proficient level fell in both math and reading. Generally speaking, since third graders are the first grade to be tested, they tend to have better scores. They are more malleable and teachable, by and large, than older children. They are also less exposed to negative social influences that hurt or discourage learning. Thus, to have third graders going backward is never good, especially when the percentage of students at proficient or advanced levels already trails the statewide average by a significant margin.

The second and more worrisome development was the big drop in the percentage of 11th graders scoring proficient or higher on the math exam. The number fell from 52.4 percent in 2007-2008 to 43.5 percent in the 2008-2009 school year. Moreover, the latest result is only marginally higher than the 2004-2005 percentage achieving the proficient level. And on the reading exam, 11th graders had a slightly lower percentage scoring at the proficient level than five years earlier-50.7 percent compared to 51.1 percent in 2004-2005.

After five years of per pupil spending near $20,000 and innumerable special programs to assist high school students, the results for 11th graders must be considered pathetic. Today’s students-on average-are no better prepared to graduate and go into the work force or enroll in college than those of five years ago. What a disgrace and indictment of the school system, City residents and elected officials for tolerating such an outrage.

These latest results will certainly not help the district to make the case that parents should keep their kids in Pittsburgh’s junior high schools and high schools. Undoubtedly, the bribe program called Pittsburgh Promise will have to be expanded in some manner to create more immediate benefits. Maybe a free car for students who maintain a "C" average once they obtain a driver’s license.