Last night, A+ Schools, Pittsburgh Public Schools and Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers hosted a private screening and discussion of the controversial film Won't Back Down for a crowd of 235, mostly parents and teachers.
The result was an animated conversation with a variety of views presented. It gave us the chance to talk positively about the kind of constructive parent-teacher engagement that we know is necessary for students to succeed. We agreed on many basic points.
Too many of our children are not succeeding in school. In 2009-2010, only 44 percent of African-American boys graduated from Pittsburgh Public Schools (The Schott 50 State Report on Public Education and Black Males). The number of African-American students performing at grade level or better in PPS is roughly 30 percent lower than that of their white peers. Poverty and social factors can dramatically impact a child's chance of success, which is why it's so important for our schools to be structured to address and support the critical needs that so many children face. We know that with the right kind of support, low achievement and dropping out of school are not inevitable outcomes of poverty. In fact, right here in Pittsburgh we have schools where students are beating the odds and succeeding.
Doing things differently can help children learn and reach their full potential. Progress has been made due to reforms like the "Excellence for All" initiative and the "Empowering Effective Teachers" program. Most recently, PPS responded to our equitable school budgets campaign and changed the way resources are being distributed so that more of students in our most vulnerable schools have greater access to arts, music, world language, advanced courses and library resources.
These are steps in the right direction, but there is still work to be done. We face many difficult decisions that require our best thinking - and courage to do things differently - to continue improving our schools. It is with a sense of deep humility and faith that we move forward together on this path of progress.
We have to be honest about these issues and find the will to remove the obstacles to success for students and teachers. We must work with a sense of urgency on solutions, including equitable school funding, excellent school leadership and effective teachers in every classroom (tell us what you think the solutions are). We need parents and teachers at our most vulnerable schools to become involved in seeking solutions - and they need the support of policies and resources that will ensure student success.
We know that when parents and the community get involved in our schools, great things can happen. Concerned citizens from across our communities make a difference in our schools every day. From the parents who ride the bus to school at Mifflin to the volunteers who cover the desk at Manchester and those that donated books to its library, our schools are blessed by the support of many parents and neighbors who give their time, energy and effort to support the work of our teaching and administrative professionals.
Join us in this effort and know that we won't back down from the hard work of demanding and supporting changes that enable every child to have the support he or she needs to succeed in school.