Losing Ground in Public School Performance
The results? Schools and the students in the Pittsburgh Region got worse, not better.
Only 66% of the 5th graders in the region were proficient in reading in 2006. In 2005, 70% were proficient.
A higher percentage of 5th graders were proficient in math – 72%. But that was also a drop from the 73% level in 2005.
The one positive thing is that students in the Pittsburgh Region are doing slightly better than the rest of the state – while only 66% of fifth graders here were proficient in reading, even fewer – 61.5% -- were proficient statewide. And while 72% of fifth graders here were proficient in math, only 68% were proficient statewide.
But should we be happy that we’re better than the rest of the state when 1/3 of our 10-year olds can’t read adequately and over 1/4 can’t do math? And should we believe the state that declining performance is a good thing because it's still better than four years ago?
No. We shouldn't.
The truth is that our public schools are doing badly, and they need to do better -- a lot better. If you’re not depressed by the poor overall performance in the region, try out these statistics:
Not a single one of the 126 school districts in the region has 90% or more of its fifth graders proficient in reading. Only 19 school districts (15% of all districts) have 80% or more proficient in reading. Last year, significantly more districts (29) had 80% or more of their 5th graders proficient in reading.
This year, only six school districts have 90% or more of their fifth graders proficient in math. Thirty more have between 80% and 89% of their fifth-graders proficient in math. But last year, 42 districts had 80-100% of their fifth graders proficient.
Not only are the best school districts becoming more mediocre, more school districts are becoming horrible. In 41 districts – 1 out of every 3 – fewer than 60% of the fifth-graders are proficient. In 16 of those districts the majority of the fifth-graders can’t read properly.
What business could survive if 20%, 30%, 40% or more of its products were defective? How can the Pittsburgh Region survive if 30% or more of its children aren’t proficient in basic skills?
Schools would like you to believe that 70% or 80% proficiency is the best they can do. But there are schools in the region that are proving that to be a lie. And they’re not in the wealthiest school districts.
Only one elementary school in the entire region had 100% of its fifth graders proficient in both reading and math this year. It’s the Laurel Point Elementary School in the Kiski Area School District. It’s not a fluke. Last year, 100% of its fifth graders were proficient in reading, too, and 95% were proficient in math. 100% of its fifth-graders were proficient in reading the year before that (2004) and the year before that (2003), too. Four years in a row of 100% proficiency.
Yet nearly a third of the kids in the Laurel Point Elementary School are low-income. And the Kiski Area School District spends 16% less to educate a child than the state average.
Moreover, three of Kiski’s six elementary schools have 90% or more of their fifth-graders proficient in reading, making it one of the top 15 districts in the region in terms of overall performance in teaching elementary school kids to read.
Four elementary schools in the region had 100% of their fifth-graders proficient in mathematics.
If you think they were in Fox Chapel, Mt. Lebanon, or Upper St. Clair, you’d be wrong. In addition to Kiski, they’re in Greensburg, Slippery Rock, and Uniontown. It’s not a fluke here, either: Two of these schools have been performing at this level for two years:
The Har-Mer Elementary School in the Slippery Rock Area School District had 100% of its fifth graders proficient in math both this year and last year, too. Over 1/4 of its children are low-income, and the district spends even less per child than Kiski.
The Metzgar Elementary School in the Greensburg Salem School District had 100% of its fifth-graders proficient in math both this year and last year, too. Over 1/4 of its children are low-income, and the district also spends less than the state average.
In other words:
Having a lot of low-income students is not an excuse for poor performance.
It doesn’t take more money to achieve better performance.
Every child can be proficient.
What makes the difference?
We need to elect School Boards that commit to having 100% of the children in their districts meet state proficiency standards.
No more excuses.
No more money.
For more information on how to improve performance in public schools, go to PittsburghFuture.com.