Today we released a follow up to our community brief on school climate from last year about restorative practices in Pittsburgh Public Schools. In it, we discuss our findings from a survey and focus groups we conducted this past spring with parents and students in schools that are participating in a Department of Justice study into the impact restorative practices can have on improving school climates.
While there is still much to learn about the efficacy of restorative practices in schools, it is a practice that is showing some promise locally and nationally. We would urge the school board to:
1. Commit to implementing restorative practices in all schools by 2020, recognizing that students, staff, and parents will need to time to learn about and engage in using restorative practices within each school .
2. Commit to provide ongoing support and training to all staff on restorative practices, and other social emotional behavioral supports .
3. Stabilize principal leadership at schools by supporting building leaders to be effective and providing services and supports from central office that meet the unique demands of each school.
We recognize that one size does not fit all when it comes to building school cultures that work for children. Implementing restorative practices in a manner that meets the needs of students, parents, and educators will be important to building long-term cultural change at each school. We hope PPS will continue to build upon what it has learned in the study to create school climates that seek to repair and avoid harm.
You can learn more about restorative practices and pushout by signing up for our email newsletter and taking part in community trainings being conducted by Parent Nation and TeenBloc.
This past Sunday, A+ Schools was featured on the front page of the Post-Gazette. We’re truly grateful for the recognition of our work on an important issue like making sure all students benefit from high quality instruction.
We know that teaching is the most important job in Pittsburgh. Research shows that teachers are the SINGLE most important school factor in a child’s success. And in Pittsburgh, we know that our most effective teachers can get students to learn almost twice as much compared to a failing teacher in a single school year.
As an organization that’s focused on equity, we’re highly concerned that furloughing teachers based on seniority only disproportionately affects our most vulnerable schools – like King, Westinghouse, and Faison – where more than 40% of teachers were furloughed in 2012. High poverty schools have higher numbers of new teachers. Teacher layoffs based on seniority are disruptive and unfair to students, teachers and principals, and important gains by teachers and students year over year can be lost.
We’ve supported efforts locally and at the state level to try to change these policies to be able to limit the disproportionate impact of furloughs on our most vulnerable students. While changing these policies is critically important, it is not the only solution. We know that mission driven schools, where a high performing principal and great teachers are working together to create positive teaching and learning environments, where parents are active and engaged and where students are partners in their own education – these are places where teachers want to teach and students can learn and staff turnover can be minimized.
Creating mission driven schools with positive teaching and learning environments is why we work with parents who want to play a bigger role in their children’s schools as advocates and support the staffs at those schools to support learning through Parent Nation. Creating mission driven schools is why we support student leaders in TeenBloc who want to end zero tolerance policies in their schools that push children out and have little impact on improving learning. We’ll continue to provide our community high quality research and analysis about what works in schools so we can advocate for change based on data.
Our Board Chair said it best when she wrote to the Post-Gazette today, “We take a holistic approach — most of the work of the organization is alongside parents and youth in some of our most challenging schools supporting them as they advocate for quality and change.” We’re lucky to be able to do this work with such an involved community. And we’ll continue to fight for students with your support.
Pittsburgh Public Schools’ students have led the call for change. TeenBloc, A+ Schools’ student-led group, drafted the Student Bill of Rights to address the most pressing concerns the district faces. The PPS Board recently adopted pieces of the Bill in their revised student code, marking a big success for teen advocacy in Pittsburgh.
A+ Schools, Pittsburgh’s advocate for equity and excellence in public education, surveyed over 400 high school juniors and 26 principals, counselors, and teachers in Pittsburgh’s nine public secondary schools. The subsequently published School Works Report highlighted that school climate, positive discipline practices, and staff instability are concerns in high poverty schools.
The Student Bill of Rights called for change in those areas of school policy, and the students leading the effort are proud that their opinions have been considered.
Board President Thomas Sumpter recognized that the students were the true catalysts for change. “Sometimes the best information you get comes from the student. They’re involved, they’re on the ground, they’re right in there experiencing what’s happening. We can set policies but in terms of their impact, you get a true picture coming from the students,” Sumpter stated.
The district pledges to eliminate zero-tolerance policies, infractions for which out-of-school suspension is automatic. Reforming this area of the disciplinary code keeps students in school and reduces the related effect of chronic absenteeism (defined as missing eighteen or more days of school).
Though not all parts of the Student Bill of Rights were incorporated, the revised student code also includes the right to free expression, an anti-discriminatory policy on the basis of race, gender expression, or sexual orientation. Additionally, students were granted a more participatory role in decisions that affect their education, the right to equitable academic resources, and the right to a socially, emotionally, and physically safe and positive school climate.
TeenBloc director Pam Little-Poole stated that, “I am both excited and encouraged by the revisions to our Code of Student Conduct. I think this is a big win for all PPS students.”
Amma Ababio, a junior at Taylor Allderdice, commented that, “I recognize that the incorporation of the Student Bill of Rights into Pittsburgh’s Student Code of Conduct is the first step in addressing issues facing students in our district. However, in order for those issues to be addressed, there needs to be open conversations between students, the school board, administration, and our schools’ teachers and principals. I wholeheartedly believe that once those conversations begin the vision embodied in the Student Bill of Rights can be fulfilled.”
After a year and a half of hard work by TeenBloc and A+ Schools, PPS Board’s acceptance of most of the Student Bill of Rights sets an important precedent for student advocacy. Teens can, and should, care about the district policies affecting their every-day lives. Positive school climate and the reduction of zero-tolerance policies are essential for academic success in the classroom, and the district appears to be committed to making these ideals realities.
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.
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.
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.
In October, TeenBloc students kicked off their campaign for a Student Bill of Rights. Read the about the campaign below or download a copy (PDF) of the Student Bill of Rights and cast your student ballot either in person at your school or online by clicking here.
Catch all the tweets from the rally and the campaign on Twitter by checking out #WDTBS and #TeenBloc.
We the students of Pittsburgh Public Schools, in order to form a more perfect district, do ordain and establish this Student Bill of Rights. The more perfect district will establish justice, ensure coexistence in the school community, promote general understanding, and secure all of the following rights entitled to all Pittsburgh Public School students:
1. Right to Free Expression
We want to be able to exercise our First Amendment rights under the United States Constitution to the maximum extent possible. We understand that any content shall not contain anything obscene, libelous, or slanderous as defined by the Pittsburgh Public Schools’ Student Code of Conduct. We want to be able to express ourselves in an official school newspaper, to circulate petitions, to conduct polls, to set-up information tables, to organize clubs, to sponsor speakers and activities, and to post notices on school bulletin boards.
2. Right to participate in decisions that affect our education
We want opportunities to regularly discuss issues that impact our education with school board members, district administration, and school administration. Schools shall inform students of these opportunities through a variety of means. In addition, we want the right to appeal any disciplinary action if it violates the right to a public education or other rights that are guaranteed under state or federal laws.
3. Right to equitable academic resources
We want the right to equitable access to academic resources. Schools are to provide every student with the appropriate tools and the necessary supports needed to graduate, go to college or pursue a career. The district shall ensure that there is an equitable distribution of effective teachers throughout Pittsburgh Public Schools.
4. Right to a socially, emotionally, and physically safe and positive school climate
We want to be in a positive learning environment that does not resemble a prison and where the fundamental dignity of all is protected. All disciplinarians (including contracted service providers like bus drivers or security staff) are to be trained in youth development, positive behavior interventions, de-escalation techniques, and restorative justice practices.
5. Right to inclusive teaching and learning environments in our classrooms
We want positive classrooms that feel safe, respectful and welcoming where everyone can learn. We want our teachers not only to care about our progress in the classroom but also to care about us as human beings. We want to be engaged in challenging and relevant learning and to the extent in which it can, we want it to be fun. Pittsburgh student bill of rights
6. Right to be treated with respect and dignity by the school community
We want to go to schools free from bullying by students and adults. No student shall be discriminated against on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, language, national origin, religion, disability, or economic status. We want an independent administrator to evaluate student treatment, to provide appropriate training and counseling to students and school staff, and to help school leaders create cultures of respect for all students.
7. Right to effective teachers
We want to be educated by teachers who are knowledgeable about their discipline, who use various teaching strategies that contribute to a greater understanding of the subject matter, who are responsive to student input, and who are caring, supportive and culturally competent.
8. Right to positive school disciplinary policies and practices
We want to be disciplined on an individual basis. Group punishment for individual misdeeds shall not be permitted. Schools shall adopt positive forms of discipline to teach students appropriate social and behavioral skills. If any disciplinary action is taken, it is to be evidence-based, aimed at addressing the cause of the behavior, resolving the situation, restoring all relationships that were involved, refraining from criminalizing students, and bringing the students back into the school community in a positive manner. We want to be able to participate in school disciplinary committee meetings to provide input on how disciplinary policies are working in practice.
9. Right to equitable access to accelerated classes and academic counseling
We want to be able to participate in accelerated academic classes and have access to our school’s college counselor when we reach 9th grade. A full range of Advanced Placement classes shall be accessible to all students regardless of the school in which they attend. We want to receive early college and career focused interventions including but not limited to vocational apprenticeships, guidance on course selection, college selection, and entrance exam test preparation.
10. Right to efficient transportation
We want efficient and safe transportation to school and school events. Students with disabilities and students who are identified as homeless, in foster care, or listed as living outside of the home are not to be denied transportation.