Sunday, June 26, 2016

Don't let big money and sold-out media ruin Pittsburgh's promise

A blog reader passed this on to us:


Here's an excerpt:

While the Post-Gazette is complicit in this scheme to defame and destroy Dr. Hamlet, the real enemy here, as always, is A+ Schools. They simply cannot pursue their Gatesian agenda with a superintendent who believes in community schools. They need one who believes in firing teachers. They can’t pursue their agenda if the superintendent believes in collaboration rather than stacked ranking. And they can’t pursue their agenda of closing schools and turning them into charter profit factories if the narrative in our schools shifts away from “achievement” being measured by high stakes tests. Simply put, Anthony Hamlet is not their style, and they can’t stand that Pittsburgh’s community, through real grassroots activism and real community empowerment, elected a school board which genuinely engaged its community in a selection process that produced a once-in-a-lifetime superintendent selection.

Friday, June 24, 2016

It's about land development

Testimony of Kate Daher at the PPS Public Hearing June 20, 2016:

"I support the Pittsburgh Public School Board and Dr. Anthony Hamlet as the new superintendent. I hope they both stay strong against the onslaught of reaction they are facing now.

I want to talk about the role that racism has played in the educational reform movement. Racism is the elephant in the room either ignored or discouraged in conversation. It’s not overt racism, though there is plenty of that in comments to the Post-Gazette, rather, it’s a structural racism. It is less clearly defined and hidden under the guise of progress.
The reform movement’s focus on urban schools — comprised of students of color and the poor — has all but destroyed school systems in big cities across the country. In their zest to remake the cities, the reformers and their allies have closed schools, cut programs, and more. This movement is not about “fixing schools.” It is about land development.
Howard University School of Education Dean Leslie Fenwick explained in aWashington Post article “…schemes like Teach For America, charter schools backed by venture capitalists, and the Broad school for superintendents are designed to shift tax dollars away from schools serving black and poor students.” The land development primarily taking place in the East End and downtown Pittsburgh, while progress for some, has resulted in a significant displacement of the poor and black population. Some are moving away from the city. Many cannot afford to live here where the economic pressure on them and their ability to maintain homes or rentals in Pittsburgh, has been devastating. That’s why opponents to these schemes, label them as racist. Land development and the reform model of education negatively impacts the students with the highest needs — and for Pittsburgh, that is our black and poor populations.
Following is a more extensive quote from Dr. Fenwick, printed in the Washington Post:
As the nation’s inner cities are dotted with coffee shop chains… and the skyline changes from public housing to high-rise condominiums… listen to the refrain about school reform sung by some intimidated elected officials …that refrain is really about exporting the urban poor, reclaiming inner city land, and using schools to recalculate urban land value. This … is not about children, it’s about the business elite gaining access to the nearly $600 billion that supports the nation’s public schools. It’s about money!”
Does that sound like Pittsburgh today? We must maintain our democratically elected school board and support Dr. Anthony Hamlet as our new superintendent. We must continue to reject the business model of education. We must continue to fight to replace this model with a community school model — one that will improve student learning and work closely with teachers and community members. That’s what public education is about. Let’s keep the public in the school board and our schools."


Anonymous wrote:

"PR hire-- may be new topic--
Prior to 2006, the district (not the board) took care of its own PR--schools were encouraged to have a web site and showcase the positive. As a district, the spokesperson for the district made sure the media got the good news. 
With 2006 the era of consultants came in-- and the goal became to be "like MacDonalds" ( told this by a PR person at the board) this is when we got the "Pittsburgh_________" branding- costly and by most people's thinking, kinda dumb.
Yes, they need to put a positive spin on the superintendent debate. But the massaging of the data to make things look good, the branding of schools with positive PR aren't new ideas. Again hiring consultants to "manage the story"-- and Ira did the hiring therefore, Ira's decision to bring in the investigator will look like a grand idea. Far far from education in Pittsburgh "

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Dialogue should be civil

Anonymous wrote:

"New post please.

Just when I thought I'd heard it all, Amanda Godley from A+ schools wrote a letter to the PG as a "concerned parent" comparing the Hamlet supporters to Donald Trump. Also, she does not disclose her affiliation with A+ schools in the letter. Ridiculous. The only upside of this is the notion that maybe they're getting scared they won't get their way on this one. Here is the link. "

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

NOW is the time to "stay the course"

Testimony from Pam Harbin at yesterday's Public Hearing:

"Pittsburgh Public School students are in desperate need of a superintendent who is an experienced educator with a solid background in school transformation and who, like this board, rejects the status quo in our schools.  This elected school board hired Dr. Hamlet and I believe he is the right educator to lead our district and build the schools we know our children deserve.  #just #equitable  

Immediately after Dr. Hamlet was voted in unanimously by this board, I personally spoke to some of you.  You explained that Dr. Hamlet was the top candidate because he stood out as someone who understands that education is built on relationships and respect, not business transactions.  I couldn’t agree more.

Shortly after Dr. Hamlet was announced, the usual suspects, those in favor of corporate style reforms like Teach for America, school closings, and other disruptive reforms that have failed our students, came out to say that the search should start over.  

Don’t do it.  You selected a qualified educator with impressive gains in the areas identified and prioritized by students, parents, teachers and community members.  You are a democratically elected school board who is accountable to us and Dr. Hamlet is accountable to you.  Outside interests believe that their money and influence should give them power over our public school system. But they are not educators so they must stop dictating education policy, interfering with democracy, and giving money only when it’s accepted with strings attached.
Stay the course.  We have serious problems that need to be addressed before the start of the school year.  For one, we don’t have a Director of Special Education, a critical position that has been vacant since Jan 30, 2016 - there are more than 4,000 students with disabilities in the district.  There is work to do!

The stakes are high.  When people ask me why I am so adamant about my support for the school board and Dr. Hamlet, I tell them that a minority of students will be fine with any superintendent--they were fine under Roosevelt and Lane and they will be fine under Hamlet or someone else.  But, my son and many other students were NOT fine under Roosevelt and Lane.
Special education was severely neglected in the past 2 administrations.  To get my son a proper education, I had to take legal action.  You chose Dr. Hamlet because he understands these challenges and has the background to address them.

A few months ago a Pittsburgh influencer told me that the “17 most powerful and influential people in Pittsburgh” disagreed with the communities vision of school improvement.  

Who are these powerful outside interests? All I know is they DO NOT have the right to take democratic control of our schools away from us!  They DO NOT have the right to say that we shouldn’t have community schools where students, parents and teachers will finally have the power to influence policy and practice in their school.  

We have community wisdom! We know what is stopping our children from learning!  And, this elected board is willing to work with us, and willing to hold Dr. Hamlet accountable to create the schools all of our children deserve!  Let’s do this!"

Big philanthropy and the education industrial complex

Testimony submitted by Kathy Fine for yesterday's public hearing:

"While we anticipate the appointment of a new superintendent to head the Pittsburgh Public Schools, it is an apropos time to take an unvarnished look at the education reforms of the last decade; “A Peoples History” of the Pittsburgh Public Schools, in the tradition of the progressive author and activist, Howard Zinn.

Big Philanthropy first introduced their education “reforms” to Pittsburgh in 2005. The Bill and Melinda Gates and Broad Foundations chose the Pittsburgh Public School district as one of the testing grounds for their agenda, which includes privatizing public schools, using “non-traditional” educators and busting teachersunions.  Over the next ten years, our district implemented Big Philanthropy's reforms, including closing schools, using unproven school structure reform, creating a controversial teacher evaluation, and hiring expensive consultants, none of which addressed the primary cause of low academic achievement; the effects of poverty.  The biggest winner is the “educational industrial complex” (charter and testing companies, educational consultants) that reaps millions in profits.

To cut spending in 2006, the district closed 24 schools through the administrations “Right-Sizing Plan”.  However, many experts hold that school closings result in education deserts in the affected (mostly low-income) communities, disenfranchise families and cost more in the long run.  Much of the savings are lost when PPS families leave the district and enroll in the charter school that inevitably opens in the void, taking PPS funding with them.  In addition, as repeatedly reported, charter schools, on average, have the same success and failure rates as traditional public schools.

During the same period, the district embraced the Gates promoted “small schools” movement and, despite it operating at capacity, closed Schenley High School, using false claims of asbestos danger and inflated construction costs. Further testing in 2010 proved that there was never any asbestos danger.  But these students were needed for three newly created small high schools.  Sports and other extracurricular activities were decimated. Minority students landed in an inadequate middle school building, where they continue to languish. The students at Sci-Tech and Obama are doing well, but they were doing well at Schenley.  Before the school even closed, Gates abandoned his own reform, stating that small schools do not improve academic outcomes.

The next reform promoted by the Gates Foundation, teacher effectiveness, came in 2009 with a whopping $80M price tag. “Empowering Effective Teachers” has, as its core principals, the controversial and unproven practices of merit pay and using test scores for teacher evaluations.  Six years later, the PPS reports that 97% of teachers are rated proficient or advanced, a 1% increase from 2005. Some ineffective teachers were dismissed, but at what cost? Keep in mind that the PPS already had an adequate but underutilized process for eliminating low performing teachers.  Social workers, psychologists, paraprofessionals, and librarians were eliminated (in 2012, PPS employed one social worker/1200 students); class sizes increased and teachers’ morale plummeted.  And recently the Rand corporation reported that parents are 4-5 times more important than effective teaching in increasing student achievement.

Westinghouse High School closed in 2012 and reopened as two single-gender academies (another education policy interest of Mr. and Mrs. Gates), despite that the data on the benefits of single gender education in non-charter, non-magnet public schools are inconclusive at best. In addition, the ACLU warned that the academies would trigger a lawsuit stating, “Our findings demonstrate that single-sex education programs in coeducational, public schools are widely out of compliance with the stringent legal requirements of Title IX”.  The result was a disaster by anyones account. The program was scrapped.

In 2013, the district hired consultants FSG and Bellwether Education, whose founders hold the same privatization philosophy of Big Philanthropy, in an effort to address budget shortfalls (largely created by PPSs fiscal mismanagement and continued enrollment decline of the previous five years). $2.4M of foundation money produced "Envisioning Educational Excellence: A Plan for All of Pittsburgh's Children" and its recommendations of closing more schools, creating larger classes and slashing student services."

Pittsburgh Public Schools "lifted" its educational philosophy (or, if Dr. Hamlet plagiarized then so did PPS)

Annette Werner wrote,

"Here is an updated version of my testimony from yesterday's Public Hearing.

Good evening. I support Dr. Hamlet, and in support of him I would like to share some materials I found online.  I will send each of you a copy by email.

First, you will find some Pittsburgh Public Schools documents, including District Beliefs, PPS Shared Goals, and something called the Pittsburgh Pledge.  The content will be very familiar, including statements such as “All children can learn at high levels” and “Teachers have a profound impact on student development.”  They note the need for a “safe and orderly work environment,” a goal of “efficient and equitable distribution of resources,” and a pledge to be accountable for achieving “Excellence for All.”

Next are pages from the handbook of a charter school in Rhode Island, the “RINI Middle College” .  It declares that “All children can learn at high levels,” and that “Teachers have a profound impact on student development” and notes the goals of a “safe and orderly work environment” and “efficient and equitable distribution of resources.”

A little closer to home, the website of the Grove City Area School district states that “All children can learn at high levels,” observes that “Teachers have a profound impact on student development,” and pledges to be accountable for achieving “Excellence for All.”

And, even across the country in Compton, a page from the website of their Unified School District states that their Board wants “a safe and orderly environment” and “efficient and equitable distribution of resources.” As these examples show,  the websites of various other schools and school districts echo verbatim much of the language found on our PPS website.

Based on the dates of the documents I would guess that these districts copied from PPS rather than vice versa.  But we aren’t home free- investigate the components of the PPS materials and you will find relevant sources published prior to our website but not cited by PPS, such as a book written in 2005 (excerpt attached), which asserts that “all students can learn at high levels” and explains the reasoning that led to this conclusion.

So what to make of all this borrowing- is it plagiarism?  My sense is that it is not.  Statements of philosophy, values, mission, goals and belief are simply not treated the same as articles in newspapers or scholarly journals.  What is the sense of making 20 different districts come up with 20 different ways to say “Excellence for All,” or clutter their posters, handbooks and other communications with academic citations? 

I would like to see observers step away from misguided charges of plagiarism, offer Dr. Hamlet a warm welcome, and allow him to do the job he was hired to do."