Pittsburgh School Board public hearing will examine alarmingly low literacy rates for black children.

By March 23, 2019 No Comments

By Brittany Hailer
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer

Last week, Pittsburgh Public Schools board member Sala Udin raised his concern about black-student literacy and proficiency in Pittsburgh.

In the Hill District’s Weil Elementary, for example, only 25 percent percent of black students are reading at a proficient level. That means, 75 percent of the students can’t read proficiently, at the basic level or are illiterate. Hill District elementary school Miller K-5 is even worse, with a proficiency level of 12.8 percent.

In schools like Colfax or Beechwood, though, white students are 71.7 percent and 86.5 percent proficient; black students just are 31.2 percent and 39.2 percent efficient.

Udin and Felicity Williams, Hill CDC Programs and Policy Manager, met with community members Friday to discuss action steps. Williams recognizes that this issue it outside her organization’s mission. However, she said, “Healthy neighborhoods and families and children in them, so this is a concern for the Hill CDC and the development of our community.”

Williams hopes to help gather interested parents, community members and advocates. Those concerned about black student literacy in Pittsburgh are encouraged to attend the next public hearing for the PPS School Board at 6:30 P.M., Monday, March 25.

This is a general public hearing. In order to speak you must either be a City of Pittsburgh resident, representing a group or community in the District, a district employee, or a district student. Speakers must call 412-529-3868 by noon March 25 and are permitted to speak for three minutes. No signs are allowed inside the hearing.

The meeting can also be watched live on the District’s website at

Concerned citizens and parents are also encouraged to attend the next Black Girls Equity Alliance (BGEA) education workgroup meeting from 1-3 p.m. on April 1. Udin will be presenting. The presentation will be in the lower level conference room of the University of Pittsburgh Office of Child Development (400 N Lexington St, Pittsburgh, PA 15208)

In the meeting’s announcement, BGEA addressed how disparity in education for black students is multi-faceted: “…issues that are occurring in the education system intersect with issues that occur in the other systems (child welfare, juvenile justice, mental healthcare, etc). This workgroup will be looking for ACTIONABLE ways to challenge, push, and hold school districts accountable for the disproportionate educational outcomes that we see in Allegheny County. There are many that have been at the forefront advocating and demanding change. Please join us to inform us on ways we can work together.”

Please click here to RSVP to Udin’s April 1st presentation. In the Call to Action event on Facebook, Williams is hoping parents and community members will sign up to speak to the board about concerns regarding black student literacy and proficiency.

Udin is pushing for more phonetic-based curriculum for grades K-2. He believes this shift in the curriculum could help meet students halfway. Right now, the district teaches a blended model.

In the strategic-planning meeting Friday, concerns in equity didn’t just apply to testing and pedagogy. Some community members said they hoped to see budgets shift for schools that are struggling. They also hope to push for more resources that could fund tutoring budgets, reading groups, and efforts to target younger students.

PPS’s budget of nearly $650 million is more than the city’s $575 million operating budget.

Williams also thinks students dealing with trauma and stress need counselors and social workers helping them so that they can excel as students.

“Kids can’t focus on reading when they’re dealing with other issues,” she said.

Williams is also concerned that the District’s commitment to the Equity Advisory panel is set to expire in 2020.

In 2015  the Board of Directors for PPS  authorized the district to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC). The district promised a commitment to the Equity Advisory Panel. This panel monitors of the district’s “….efforts to improve achievement for African-American students and to reduce racial disparities in the Pittsburgh Public Schools” according to the PPS website.

“Schools are operating like this under the MOU. What happens when it expires?” Williams said, “This is a ten year recommendation that the district hasn’t made good on.”

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