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Tag Archive: school works

  1. 5 Ways School Climate Impacts Achievement

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    As we noted in our blog last week, every year our School Works research reveals statistically significant relationships between school practices that are not necessarily academically related (like how a school chooses to discipline a child) and student achievement. National research on successful turnaround programs in Massachusetts from the American Institutes for Research backs this up as well.

    Here are five ways (based on data from School Works research into Pittsburgh Public Schools that we compared against achievement data) that lay out a roadmap for changes that can help improve school climate.

    1. Schools that work recognize that all students can achieve

    Our vision for Pittsburgh is that 100% of students—white, black and brown—graduate ready for college or career.  We acknowledge that many factors outside of a school’s control affect student achievement.  However, schools that live and breathe by the proven fact that effort creates ability have higher-achieving students who are more likely to be prepared for life beyond high school.  Research over many decades has proven that when adults in schools have high expectations for students and act on the belief that all students can learn and succeed, students will achieve at higher levels.

    High expectations are linked to achievement in Pittsburgh Public Schools:

    High school students who feel challenged generally attend schools with higher graduation rates, higher percentages of seniors eligible for the Pittsburgh Promise, higher percentages of Algebra proficiency by 11th grade, and higher percentages of graduates attending college or trade school directly after graduating.

    High expectations are linked to student engagement in Pittsburgh Public Schools:

    Students who feel challenged and cared for by their teachers (based on student responses to the Tripod survey) and whose principals report more teachers who have high expectations of all students are significantly less likely to receive an out-of-school suspension or to be chronically absent (missing 10% or more of school days, excused or unexcused).

    When principals report more teachers with high expectations, they also report more teachers proactively working to make the school safe, positive, and academically rigorous.  These principals also report greater school wide effectiveness at developing students’ social and emotional learning skills. These actions nurture a positive school climate that helps keep students engaged and less likely to participate in negative behaviors.

    2. Schools that work model and teach dignity and respect

    All students should be treated with—and taught to treat others with—dignity and respect in school.  Effective teachers value the diversity of their students and work hard to make their classrooms safe and inclusive spaces where all students can learn and succeed.  Where students perceive a better-structured school with positive student-teacher relationships, behavioral problems are less likely to occurRelationships start early; if a student-teacher relationship is negative in kindergarten, it is more likely that the student will have academic and behavioral problems in later grades.

    Modeling dignity and respect is linked to student achievement in Pittsburgh Public Schools:

    Principals at less vulnerable schools—which have higher achievement, growth, and lower achievement gaps, report more staff members proactively working to create a positive school culture or actively addressing students when they make discriminatory comments toward one another.

    Schools with more black and brown students must prioritize modeling dignity and respect:

    High school students attending schools with higher percentages of black and brown students reported fewer of their teachers treating them with respect or caring about their lives outside of school.  Principals at these schools also reported similar challenges.

    3. Schools that work emphasize accountability, build character, and teach students how to make amends—rather than suspend them—when they misbehave.

    Until recently, schools in our District practiced zero tolerance policies that automatically suspended students for minor infractions such as dress code violations, disrespect, and cell phone use.  Exclusionary discipline such as out-of-school suspensions and expulsions has negative consequences for students: just one suspension in 9th grade doubles the chance of a student dropping out, from 16% to 32%.

    Suspensions have a disproportionate effect on black and brown students.  According to the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, black and brown students are three times as likely to be suspended as white students across the country.  This pattern exists in Pittsburgh Public Schools, where 10% of all African American students were suspended in October and November 2014, compared to only 3% of White students.  Black students received 76% of the suspensions even though they represent just 53% of the District’s students.

    There are alternatives to exclusionary discipline.  These alternatives prioritize keeping students in the classroom by helping them understand and address the root causes of their misbehavior.  One promising alternative that has recently been embraced by the District is restorative practices.  Restorative practices refer to a set of school wide values and actions that emphasize the importance of positive relationships as central to building community and provide opportunities to restore relationships when harm has occurred.

    More schools reporting using restorative practices in Pittsburgh Public Schools:

    Although 39 out of 50 schools continue to practice zero tolerance policies, a third of principals report positive changes based on the Student Bill of Rights championed by Teen Bloc students last year.  These changes include reducing the number of minor infractions resulting automatic suspension, using restorative practices such as mediation with students and parents, and more staff having high expectations and modeling positive relationships with students.

    Restorative practices are linked with lower suspension rates in Pittsburgh Public Schools:

    The average suspension rate was lower overall in schools reported to have more effective restorative practices than in schools reported to have less effective restorative practices or that do not use restorative practices.

    4. Schools that work provide stability in leadership

    We know that effective leadership takes time to grow at a school.  Principals must collaborate with teachers to establish a shared vision of instruction and performance.  They must monitor and assess teaching and learning, ensuring that teachers receive meaningful feedback, resources, and flexibility with their time in order to grow their practice.

    Principal stability is linked with positive student outcomes in Pittsburgh.  We looked at the number of principals each high school has had in the past 4 years (range: one to three).  Every school with students in the top quartile of college or trade school attendance, eligibility for the Pittsburgh Promise, and enrollment in advanced courses (Advanced Placement and Center for Advanced Studies) had only one principal in the past four years.

    5. Schools that work for students work for parents

    Parents across the district responded to a survey about their satisfaction with their child’s school.  While survey response rates were generally low and uneven across schools, we found significant relationships among the data we analyzed. Overall, when parents say they would recommend their child’s school to another parent, the following positive indicators of school climate are in place:

    • More teachers feel the school is a good place to work and learn
    • Student stability rate is higher
    • Chronic absences are lower
    • Fewer students are suspended
    • More students proficient in English and Language Arts and Math
    • Smaller racial achievement gaps

    Want to learn more? Join us Wednesday, August 19, 2015 on Twitter for a tweetup. Use #pghschoolclimate to follow the conversation.

  2. TeenBloc Backs up its Call for a Student Bill of Rights with Research

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    Students lead call for change; Identify school-based obstacles to success

    Surveys of students and administrators reveal striking inequities across district

    Students called on the Pittsburgh Board of Public Education to adopt a Student Bill of Rights as a way to address systemic inequities found in this year’s School Works community action research project.

    Show your support for students by signing a virtual postcard to the Board.

    The results of surveys done through A+ Schools’ School Works program completed by over 400 high school juniors and 26 principals, counselors, and teacher leaders in Pittsburgh’s nine public secondary schools demonstrated that poorer minority students face multiple school-based obstacles to college and career readiness. The key finding from the report provided was that school climate, positive discipline practices, and staff instability are concerns common at high poverty schools.

    “While we know our students come to our schools with a variety of challenges, what we’re seeing is that students who come to our schools with less find themselves in schools that make it harder to get ready for college or career,” said Carey Harris, Executive Director of A+ Schools. 

    Read the full report.

    Scroll through the presentation.

    This research confirmed for TeenBloc student leader, Amma Ababio, a junior at Pittsburgh Allderdice, what she and her colleagues knew when they created the Student Bill of Rights as a way to share their vision for improving education in Pittsburgh. “This vision came out of months of conversations about our personal experiences in Pittsburgh’s public high schools,” said Ababio. “One student talked about how he felt like a prisoner by the way the security guards treated him. Another talked about how she didn’t think it was fair that her school did not have the same resources that other schools had.”

    Wanting change, students drafted the Student Bill of Rights to set the bar for how students should be treated and what they should be provided if they are going to graduate ready for college or career. “We realized that if we want these conditions to change, then we, as students, had to do something,” said Ababio.


    School report finds ‘large inequities’ in Pittsburgh Public Schools

    Pittsburgh Students Urge School Board to Remove ‘Obstacles to Success’

  3. In the news: A+ Schools Seeks Volunteers to Interview City Principals

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    School Works Logo SW 2012 Call to Action

    In case you missed it here are links to the various news stories that came out this week about School Works. Become a volunteer and sign up here.

    News about School Works

    Press Release: A+ Schools Seeks Volunteers to Interview City Principals

    Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: A+ Schools plans to assess impact of cuts in Pittsburgh Public Schools

    Pittsburgh City Paper: Education watchdog group seeking volunteers for principal interviews Volunteers needed to interview Pittsburgh Public School District Principals Help Spread the Good News: A+ Schools Seeks Volunteers to Interview City Principals


  4. School Works gets results

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    School Works Logo

    On March 24, 2012, as a result of our School Works interviews with teachers, we asked PPS to: “make sure that all students have the books and materials they need and for you to make public what schools should be providing to students so that everyone knows what to expect from their school.” Download the entire Call to Action here.

    Now, because of the work of community volunteers, parents can better support their child’s learning by knowing the books, materials, and courses their child’s school should provide.  The entire list of student materials can now be found here:

    While we are happy about this change, we know there is still work to be done.  If you’d like to be a part of the effort to make improvements that help parents and teachers work together for our students’ success, please sign up to volunteer for School Works.

  5. Want to know what makes schools work?

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    sw training

    We need your help! Starting on January 16, 2013, we will begin training for the fourth year of School Works.  You can read more about it below in our press release.  Join us and learn more about what supports principals have and what challenges they face. Sign up here to volunteer today.

    Press Release

    A+ Schools Seeks Volunteers to Interview City Principals

    200 School Works Volunteers Needed to Reach All City Schools

    PITTSBURGH, PA – January 7, 2013 – A+ Schools, Pittsburgh’s community advocate for educational equity and excellence, seeks 200 volunteers to interview principals throughout the district in February as part of its School Works initiative.

    Volunteers working in teams of three will conduct confidential, one-hour interviews with principals at all 50

    K-12 public schools to collect specific data on the inner workings of city schools. It marks the first time since the program’s launch in 2009 that interviews will be conducted at the elementary school level. Volunteers must first attend a 1.5-hour training session, which will be offered at various times beginning Jan. 16.

    “We need volunteers who share our commitment to excellent schools for all children,” said Carey Harris, A+ Schools’ executive director. “It’s an opportunity to make a real difference. Through these confidential interviews, principals can talk freely to School Works volunteers about what they need to ensure a great education for all students.”

    This year, interviewers will ask principals about program changes and their impact on learning environments at each school. Questions will focus on equitable school budgets, delivery of resources and opportunities, access to great teaching, status and impact of the district’s Empowering Effective Teacher’s plan, and college and career preparation. School Works is modeled after the successful Ready Schools Project conducted by D.C. Voice in Washington, D.C.

    After analyzing data collected during the interviews, A+ Schools will hold a series of public meetings to discuss the findings and plan a course of action.

    Anyone interested in becoming a School Works volunteer should contact A+ Schools by phone at 412-697-1298, via e-mail at or by visiting

    A+ Schools is the community advocate and leader for educational equity and excellence in Pittsburgh’s Public Schools. It serves as a community force advancing the highest educational achievement and character development for every public school student. Its core purpose and focus of work is to increase educational equity in Pittsburgh schools. For more information, contact A+ Schools at 412-697-1298 or visit