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Philanthropy Update

June 12, 2002 4 min read

Group to Grade Pittsburgh School Chief, Board

Pittsburgh’s superintendent and school board will receive regular report cards, starting this coming fall, that grade their performance on about a half-dozen criteria. The report cards are part of a three-pronged school governance program conceived by the nonprofit Pittsburgh Council on Public Education, which recently received a $200,000 grant from the Heinz Endowments, based in Pittsburgh, to finance the effort.

In August, the council plans to issue a public advisory outlining the criteria the nine-member board and the superintendent will be graded on, and why the council decided to grade the district officials, said Bette Hughes, the executive director of the council.

The report cards will be issued every other month, beginning in October. As of now, Ms. Hughes anticipates that at least part of the grade will hinge on “how much time they spend on policy work, how much time they spend talking about achievement, and how much time they spend talking about the color of the metal on the furniture in the cafeteria.”

Key community leaders, consultants, and experts on data measurement will establish the criteria. The benchmarks “have to be tight, they have to be clear, and they have to be measurable,” said Ms. Hughes, who added that they may change if the community sees vast improvement in a certain area.

Jean Fink, the president of the school board, told the Associated Press that she had no objections to the report cards.

In addition to inaugurating the report cards, the council will set up a task force to study whether the Pittsburgh school board should be elected, appointed, or both. Currently, members are elected from nine neighborhoods covering the 38,000-student district.

The council also plans to establish a “citizens’ academy” for potential board candidates. The academy would teach participants how to work together as a team, acquaint them with the district’s mathematics and language arts curriculum, and explain how the school board operates.

“Right now, they get very little education or training on the matters they are expected to make decisions about,” Ms. Hughes said.

Enhancing Accountability

Now that a vast majority of the states have accountability systems, the question is: Are the systems as effective as they could be?

To help states improve their accountability programs, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, based in Seattle, Wash., has given $1 million to the Education Commission of the States and the Aspen Institute Program on Education. The two groups will use the money to design models for states that will include common design elements, actions that state and local groups can take to improve the accountability systems, and evidence to support those actions.

Even though states have made progress in implementing standards-based accountability, more “needs to be done to eliminate inconsistencies and raise student achievement,” Ted Sanders, the president of the Denver-based ECS, said in a statement.

The models being planned are also expected to help schools implement some of the requirements under the federal “No Child Behind Act” of 2001. The ECS will work with a national consortium of state education leaders to disseminate the information, and it will provide tools on the Internet that will enable states to compare their current systems with the new designs.

Teaching Difficult Students

The Eisner Foundation has given $7 million over four years to California State University-Northridge for the creation of the Center for Teaching and Learning, which will be housed in the university’s college of education.

The gift from the Los Angeles-based foundation—set up by Michael D. Eisner, the chairman and chief executive officer of the Walt Disney Co., and his wife Jane—is the largest single donation ever given to the university. The center will focus on training teachers to meet the needs of students with learning difficulties. It will use Schools Attuned, a program developed at All Kinds of Minds, a Chapel Hill, N.C.- based institute that provides learning models for struggling students. Helping students identify and understand their deficiencies and strengths and providing appropriate classroom accommodations are among the strategies the program promotes.

“Every child should be given the opportunity to succeed,” Mr. Eisner said in a statement. “Yet in schools across the nation, children with learning differences are often underserved in traditional classroom settings.”

Michael Spagna, a special education professor at Cal State-Northridge, will head the new center, which is scheduled to begin operating this coming fall. It will be open to both undergraduate and graduate students.

Pay for Performance

The Broad Foundation has contributed $1 million to the Denver school district to expand the district’s pay-for-performance pilot program. The program, which was started in 1999, grants bonuses of up to $1,500 to teachers based on the academic achievement of their students.

“It is a great step forward for children when a public school system builds student-performance gains into the teacher and principal salary structures,” Eli Broad, the founder of the Los Angeles-based philanthropy, said in a statement announcing the contribution.

The grant money will be used to pay for an independent evaluation of the program, hire consultants to devise a compensation model, and support further communication about the program.

The nationally watched project has been in place in 16 schools in Denver for the past two years. Teachers at those schools who meet predetermined goals for student improvement receive bonuses. (“Denver Pay Plan Offers Lessons, Review Says,” Dec. 12, 2001.)

Jerry Wartgow, the superintendent of the 70,000-student Denver public schools, said in a statement that the Broad grant “ensures that the pilot will be completed with high-quality evaluation that will provide us with valuable information on the pay-for-performance concept.”

—Michelle Galley mgalley@epe.org

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A version of this article appeared in the June 12, 2002 edition of Education Week as Philanthropy Update

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