Broken Promise: The Pittsburgh Promise scholarship program is a failure
Begun six years ago with great fanfare and ambitious goals, the Pittsburgh Promise is falling well short of its primary objectives to improve the quality of education and raise enrollment in Pittsburgh's public schools.
No doubt some of the students receiving the program's scholarship money have benefited. But if the program was ever going to be successful in its stated purpose, there should be convincing evidence by now.
The Promise provides scholarships to students who have been in city schools for at least the four years of senior high, i.e., grades nine through 12. Students who attend only senior high will receive $7,500 for four years. Students attending kindergarten through 12th grade will be eligible for $40,000 over four years. To complete the eligibility requirements, graduating seniors must have maintained a 2.5 grade-point average and had 90 percent attendance.
First, how is the goal of boosting enrollment progressing? In short, not very well.
Overall enrollment fell from 28,265 in school year 2006-07 to 24,849 in 2011-12 and fell again in 2012-13 — a decline of more than 12 percent.
Meanwhile, the number of 12th-graders decreased from 1,965 in school year 2006-07 to 1,635 in 2012-13, a 17 percent slide.
Obviously, the Promise goal of boosting enrollment has not been met.
What's worse, in the schools with sixth through 12th grades, only 34 percent of the graduating class qualified for the Promise scholarships in 2012. At Westinghouse only 17 percent qualified. In the schools that have ninth through 12th grades, 52 percent of seniors qualified for Promise scholarships. A serious problem standing in the way of meeting qualifications is the stunning 47 percent of senior high students who are chronically absent — more than 10 percent of the days in a given school year.
Then there is the academic improvement goal. Here's the story in a nutshell:
Between 2007 — the year before the first scholarships were awarded — and 2012, the latest results available, SAT scores fell at most of Pittsburgh's public high schools. Of the nine schools in existence in 2007 and 2012, CAPA and Allderdice posted marginal improvements; Langley results held fairly close to 2007 numbers while all others recorded declines, some dramatic.
Especially noteworthy — the 50-point dip in the verbal test results and the 44-point drop in math scores at Brashear.
Only students at Allderdice and CAPA had combined reading and math SAT scores above the state average of 990.
Most city schools' combined SAT scores were well under 900. Five were at 820 or below. Moreover, the 2012 PSSA math scores in the high schools also dropped from 2011 levels.
The number of Westinghouse 11th-graders scoring at proficient or better levels in math remained abysmally low at 7.5 percent.
In short, it is hard to see how the Pittsburgh Promise scholarship program has led to improved academic performance. In fact, if anything, the results for students nearing graduation are worse than they were at the Promise program's inception.
Pittsburgh Public Schools spends $21,000 per pupil per year, one of the highest in the state and thousands more than the state average. In light of the lamentable and worsening academic performance of a large percentage of Pittsburgh's high school students despite the promise of tens of thousands of dollars for post-secondary education, this question must be asked:
Would it not be better to redirect some of the vast sums of taxpayer dollars and Promise money to real education reform?
As we have noted before, a more powerful and effective education-enhancing use of the scholarship dollars would be to create scholarships for elementary and secondary students to allow them to opt out of Pittsburgh schools and enroll in private or parochial schools.
That might actually induce people and students to move into Pittsburgh and produce real academic improvement. What are they waiting for?
Jake Haulk is president of the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Rossi: Looking at the next great Steeler
- Steelers swap draft pick for Eagles cornerback
- After early criticism, Haley has Steelers offense poised to be even better
- McCullers’, McLendon’s prowess in clogging trenches crucial to Steelers defense
- Reds solve Cole, stave off Pirates’ 9th-inning rally
- Starting 9: Examining Pirates’ deadline decisions
- Pirates notebook: New acquisition Happ more than happy to fill spot in rotation
- Penguins not alone in top-heavy approach to salary cap
- Roman Catholic Church in midst of culture clash over gays
- Steelers notebook: Injuries finally become issue at training camp
- Biertempfel: Players, MLB agree logic of season’s setup needs to be examined