National and local leaders come together to discuss the state of the city’s public schools and how to increase the number of high-quality options.

PITTSBURGH – Last night, 200 community members gathered to discuss the urgent need to improve Pittsburgh’s schools and learn from national and local leaders who are taking steps to improve outcomes for urban students.

The event centered on a new report from the Pennsylvania Campaign for Achievement Now (PennCAN) that reveals startling data on the lack of academic achievement occurring in Pittsburgh’s public schools.

“Two years ago, PennCAN released the Allegheny County Opportunity Schools report, which celebrated schools that are breaking the link between poverty and low-academic achievement,” Jonathan Cetel, Executive Director of PennCAN, said. “Although our report highlighted success stories, it also revealed a sobering reality: 94 percent of Allegheny’s high-poverty schools were not Opportunity Schools.”

Opportunities Lost: The urgent need to improve Pittsburgh’s schools highlights the greatest challenge facing Pittsburgh’s efforts to grow its economy and reduce racial inequality – the lack of high-quality schools to produce high-skilled workers and retain families in the city.

Of the students who currently attend a public school in the city (26,726 students), 78 percent are enrolled in a school that is failing to prepare them for success in college and 21st-century careers. In addition to academics, the report reveals that Pittsburgh’s student discipline rates are triple the state average and more than 40 percent of high school students were chronically absent last year.

For Tracey Armant, who is chairwoman of A+ Schools’ board and participated in last night’s event as a panelist, the greatest concern raised by PennCAN’s report is the disparity in the achievement levels and opportunities afforded to white and black students in Pittsburgh’s schools.

“We can not claim to want better outcomes for black students if we are afraid to challenge the status quo,” Armant said. “We have to stop trying to change black students to fit institutions and focus on changing institutions to better serve black students.”

In addition to Armant, panelists at the event included Rep. Jake Wheatley and Tammy Thompson, who is a coordinator for Circles East Liberty.

Shavar Jeffries, the president of Democrats for Education Reform (a political reform organization that cultivates and supports democratic leaders who champion America’s public schoolchildren) provided the keynote address. Jeffries provided some national context for how cities like Pittsburgh can pursue meaningful reforms to drastically improve student outcomes.

“It is absolutely vital that we improve our nation’s public education system, especially for our most underserved students,” Jeffries said. “Together, we need to pursue inclusive reform strategies that work for all kids, that push from the grassroots level, and that proactively involve the families and communities we serve. Our children’s future depends on it.”

To read the full report go to:

PennCAN launches new report


PennCAN’s Deputy Director of Policy, Rachel Amankulor, gives an overview of the report to a packed house


Keynote speaker, Shavar Jeffries, shares his thoughts on how Pittsburgh can improve its schools


PennCAN’s Executive Director, Jonathan Cetel, moderates a panel discussion on the need to create high-quality schools in Pittsburgh


Panelists included (from left): Shavar Jeffries, Tammy Thompson, Tracey Armant and Rep. Jake Wheatley



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