Pro-business frontman in Detroit schools awarded “Urban superintendent of the year” | #Education


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Nikolai Vitti, superintendent of the Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD), was named 2022 Urban Superintendent of the Year by the Council of the Great City Schools last month. The council is made up of school superintendents and school board members from the country’s 78 largest urban school districts, which serve 7.8 million students.

Nikolai Vitti [Photo: DPSCD]

The award “recognizes outstanding contributions in urban education leadership” and is co-sponsored by the Scholastic children’s book publishing company. Recipients get $1,000 to give to a student towards college education.

Vitti is not being awarded because he has led any turnaround of the largely impoverished school district, which continues to lose students and faces a severe shortage of teachers and support staff after decades of savage budget cuts, school closures and expansion of for-profit charter schools. There is little that differentiates him from previous superintendents who guarded corporate interests while dismantling what had once been considered one of the best school systems in the US.

If Vitti is being honored by his predominantly fellow Democratic Party school executives it is because he has, at least up to now, been successful in suppressing further opposition by educators and working-class parents and students to continued austerity and social inequality. To do this, Vitti has relied on the Detroit Federation of Teachers union bureaucracy and its pseudo-left promoters.

After leaving his job as superintendent of the Duval County, Florida schools, Vitti was put in charge of the Detroit public school system in May 2017. This was only months after a wave of militant job actions by Detroit teachers against the brutal bankruptcy restructuring plant by a financial emergency manager appointed by Michigan Republican Governor Rick Snyder.

In 2016, teachers launched a wave of wildcat sickout strikes in defiance of the DFT to oppose pay cuts and deteriorating school buildings. This would be the prelude to the wave of teacher rebellions in 2018-2019 that erupted in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona, and Los Angeles, Chicago and other cities. The shutdown of these struggles by the union bureaucracy, paved the way for a counter-offensive against public education.

Teachers sickout strike in 2016 [Photo: WSWS]

Working with the DFT bureaucracy, Vitti imposed a long-resisted merit pay system on new hires in 2017. New teachers’ salaries, which started at a little more than $51,000 a year, were now based on standardized test scores and other arbitrary measurements. This shifted the burden of educational problems—caused by decades of bipartisan budget cuts and the explosive growth of poverty—onto the shoulders of teachers.

Merit pay has long been at the heart of every corporate-backed attack on public education, starting with the voucher proposals of free-market guru Milton Friedman, the “school choice” scam of Bill Clinton, Bush’s No Child Left Behind, and Obama’s Race to the Top. The scheme has also been championed by billionaire opponents of public education like Bill Gates and Trump’s education secretary Betsy DeVos.



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