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Teachers refocus education reform

According to Communities for Teaching Excellence, “teachers have a bigger impact on student achievement than any other in-school factor.”

Statements like these have led many districts to include “teacher effectiveness” initiatives in their education reform efforts and have left many teachers locally and around the country feeling like they’re under attack.

On Nov. 29, an estimated 150 teachers, parents, education activists, and community leaders gathered to reframe the conversation around education reform and shift the blame away from teachers at a town hall meeting sponsored by the American Federation of Teachers/Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers and the Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network.

“It’s unfortunate but many of the education reform initiatives really don’t solve any of our problems. These proposals focus on things like high stakes testing. We in this country have a fixation on testing,” said Francine Lawrence, AFT executive vice president who says teachers are being demonized. “These solutions really don’t solve the inequities we’re here to talk about tonight,” he said.

The meeting was spurred by the Pittsburgh Public School District’s recently released a plan to erase the achievement gap between Black and White students in seven years. According to a report released last month by independent nonprofit organization A+ Schools, the achievement gap widened over the past school year.

“We do acknowledge that some of our schools are not where they could and should be,” said Nina Esposito-Visgitis, PFT president. “The PFT is working hard to grow as a solution driven union.”

After a series of breakout sessions, representatives from teacher dominate groups presented their solutions for education reform. Solutions included, reducing class sizes, increasing resources and parent involvement, and to join the national opt-out movement where teachers oppose standardized testing.

“Unfortunately these changes won’t happen tomorrow, but this is a step,” Esposito-Visgitis said. “We hope to get together, maybe have these at different schools.”

PIIN and PFT have committed to sponsoring more community town hall meetings in the future. Despite the growing tensions between teachers, principals, and district administrators, many at the meeting were optimistic that the community could bring stakeholders together to solve the achievement gap.

“We are in difficult situations. Pittsburgh seems to be in a unique place over other cities when it comes to collaboration around public education,” said Rev. John Welch, a PIIN member. “If we’re going to reduce the inequity in the Pittsburgh public schools we have to get rid of the ‘my’ in our vocabulary.”

Other community partners who took part in the town hall included A+ Schools, Annenberg, HDEC, Yinzercation, Hill House and Higher Achievement.


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