Pittsburgh strives to bridge racial education gap

| Thursday, July 11, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Schools and communities should provide more support for preschool and other educational programs to put black male students on a path to succeed academically, experts said Wednesday at a conference at the University of Pittsburgh.

“It's not an issue of race and ethnicity, but an issue of providing students the opportunity to learn,” said John H. Jackson, president and CEO of The Schott Foundation for Public Education in Cambridge, Mass.

The Heinz Endowments, which started an initiative to improve the lives of black males in Western Pennsylvania, sponsored the conference at which experts brainstormed ways to help black males in the classroom.

Nationally, 51 percent of black males graduate from high school within four years, Jackson said. About 65 percent of white males do, said Stanley Thompson, director of Heinz's education program.

In 2011, the graduation rate of black males in Pittsburgh Public Schools was 57.7 percent; for white males, it was 76.1 percent. On state tests last year, 42.9 percent of black males in grades 3, 8 and 11 scored proficient or advanced in reading, compared with 72.9 percent of white males. In math, 52 percent of black males scored proficient or advanced, compared with 77.7 percent of white males.

Pittsburgh Public Schools, the second-largest public school district in Pennsylvania, spends an average $21,000 a year to educate a child, almost $7,000 above the state average.

“It matters what you're spending the money on and how you're allocating the resources to get the greatest return,” Jackson said.

City schools Superintendent Linda Lane said the district needs to spend money on programs that work well.

She discontinued the eight Accelerated Learning Academies, schools with longer school days and year. Four schools closed because of low enrollment, old facilities, high cost of operation or low achievement. The other four now operate with different programs.

To close the racial achievement gap, Lane said the district should provide students with effective teachers, adequate resources and a challenging curriculum.

“Average teaching does not close gaps,” she said.

Jerry D. Weast, retired superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, encouraged parents to enroll their children in high-quality preschools and to take advanced placement courses. In 2010, 40 percent of black males in the Montgomery district were taking AP classes, compared with 5 percent nationally.

Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7828 or bzlatos@tribweb.com.

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