To be or not to be.
That is the question for incoming Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Anthony Hamlet.
He is set to takeover the district on July 1, but a well financed public smear campaign is trying to stop him before he even begins.
Big money interests oppose him. The public supports him.
Meanwhile the media helps fuel corporate attacks on the 47-year-old African American because of criticisms leveled by a Political Action Committee (PAC) formed to disband the duly-elected school board.
Corporate school reformers criticize Hamlet for allegedly plagiarizing a single statement in his resume. Meanwhile they have plagiarized their entire educational platform!
Mayoral or state takeover of the district? Check!
Close struggling schools? Check!
Open new charter schools to gobble up public tax dollars as profit? Check!
Hamlet represents a new direction away from corporate education reforms. The new school board who hired him has soundly rejected these policies of the old guard. Many of the same members are still on the board who first changed course in 2013 by tearing up a contract with Teach for America.
But the Empire strikes back with allegations of plagiarism and resume padding.
Yes, Hamlet used some of the same words from a Washington Post editorial in his resume. He wrote:
“A successful superintendent has to satisfy many constituencies, keeping high achievers in the system while devoting resources to those who need them most.”
The Post wrote:
“A successful superintendent has to satisfy many constituencies, keeping high achievers in the system even while devoting resources to those who need them most.” (Emphasis added)
These aren’t exactly the same words used by the Post. They don’t rise to the level of plagiarism, but he certainly should have attributed them or reworded the ideas.
On the other hand, his critics want to use the same policies that have failed again-and-again in Philadelphia, Newark, Little Rock, Memphis and elsewhere. They want to steal control of the district and give it to bureaucrats who will do what THEY say. They want to take money set aside to help all students and use it to enrich their friends and associates.
Sure, Hamlet used someone else’s words to describe a good idea of leadership. But his critics are using their own words to describe someone else’s terrible, failing educational platform.
Hamlet made a small forgivable error. His critics are seizing upon it to turn the tide in their favor and take away the community’s right to representative democracy.
Make no mistake. This is a witch hunt.
Critics are splitting hairs, disputing statistics and calling it fact.
Hamlet has a proven record as a principal in Palm Beach, Fl.
He says the schools he administered improved academically for various reasons. Critics point to Florida state records that show those improvements to be less dramatic.
So both sides agree those schools did well under Hamlet. What’s in dispute is the degree.
Hamlet counters that state data is inaccurate. He was there on the ground. He lists several factors not accounted for by the state that fully justify his statements.
For example, when he talks about school improvements, he counts the total number of student suspensions – if a student is suspended twice, he counts that as two suspensions. The state, however, ignores multiple suspensions. In this and other ways, Hamlet shows his data is more accurate than the state’s.
National data backs up Hamlet. Florida is infamous for being backward, regressive and untrustworthy in education circles, often spearheading some of the worst abuses of policy in recent history.
“This has been a hoopla,” said Valerie Allman, a Troy Hill parent and activist interviewed in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. “And it’s taken the focus off what’s important: these kids. … We’re expecting him to climb this huge mountain at the same time we cut his legs out from under him.”
One of the reasons the board originally hired Hamlet is his background in “restorative justice.”
Instead of simply punishing or suspending students who misbehave, the program calls for making students set things right.
At Palm Beach County Schools, Hamlet implemented this approach with help from Mara Schiff, a criminology professor from Florida Atlantic University. It’s “far tougher than sitting in detention,” Schiff said in the Post Gazette.
“You have to acknowledge what you’ve done … and take responsibility for the harm you’ve caused. It’s not a kumbaya approach.”
It’s widely acknowledged in education circles that suspensions can have lasting impacts especially on black students making them more likely to enter the school-to-prison pipeline. Finding an approach to increase discipline without adversely affecting students’ prospects is imperative. This is especially true since Pittsburgh Public Schools have been known to suspend black students at a rate four times higher than white students.
In fact, the district has already launched a restorative justice program at 20 schools.
“I have nothing but good things to say about Dr. Hamlet,” said Schiff. “He had a [restorative-justice] coordinator who was fabulous, and who Dr. Hamlet completely empowered.”
Another reason for Hamlet’s hire is his advocacy for community schools. Like many on the school board and in the district, he has pushed for social services to help students and the community to make the schools the center of the neighborhood.
“You can have the best teachers, the best curriculum, the best classrooms,” said Rev. Rodney Lyde, a Homewood pastor and president of the Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network. “But we need a place on-site that can comprehensively address the other impediments — like kids coming hungry, or from abusive situations.”
Despite community support, several well-financed organizations oppose Hamlet and the board’s authentic reforms.
Foremost among them is Campaign for Quality Schools Pittsburgh, a new PAC formed recently to make city schools great again – by doing the same failed crap that didn’t work before.
Also on the side of corporate education reform are the Pittsburgh Foundation and the Heinz Endowments. Representatives for both organizations have offered to pay for a new superintendent search if the district gives Hamlet his walking papers – a measure that probably would mean paying him at least a years salary without having him on the job.
This would also result in weakening the district’s ability to hire a new superintendent and increasing public mistrust of the electoral process. Such a move would pave the way for disbanding local control.
How generous of these philanthropies! I remember a time when giving meant providing the resources for organizations like public schools to fix themselves – not having the right to set public policy as a precondition for the donation. But in the age of Bill Gates and the philanthro-capitalists, this is what we’ve come to expect.
Even the editorial board of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette has drunk the Kool-aid. In a June 10 editorial, the paper published the following statement:
“The (school) board’s failure at this essential task calls its leadership into question, and will renew calls for legislation to dissolve the elected school board and move to an appointed system.”
Finally, we have A+ Schools – an advocacy organization that at one time championed the same kinds of reforms school directors are trying to enact. However, after a $1 million grant from the Gates Foundation, the group has become a cheerleader for weakening teachers unions, privatization and standardized testing.
Against these special interests stands a public school board and a community at the crossroads. Will they give in to public pressure and big money? Or will they allow Hamlet to do the job he was hired for and attempt to improve an urban district suffering from crippling poverty and state disinvestment?
This particularly tragedy has yet to find an ending.
To be or not to be?