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Steven Singer: A Witch Hunt Against Pittsburgh’s Incoming Superintendent

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Pittsburgh has been the site of a remarkable revolt against corporate reform. After years of pressure from the usual crowd of data-driven reformers, the school board majority was captured by grassroots activists–parents and educators–who wanted a different approach to education, one that was grounded in sensible principles, not a love for disruption. One of the first actions of the new board was to sever its contract with Teach for America and seek ways to collaborate with and support experienced career teachers. Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh superintendent retired, and the board hired a new superintendent, Anthony Hamlet. The board was convinced that he was not a Broadie and would not seek to restore corporate reform strategies of measure-and-punish to the schools.

But now the Empire Strikes Back, as teacher Steven Singer tells the story. The ousted reformers are hoping for a comeback, and the last thing they want is a superintendent who brings stability to the public schools. So they have mounted a full-bore attack on Hamlet, because one sentence in his resume was almost identical to a sentence in a Washington Post editorial. One sentence! The critics are in full cry, screaming “Plagiarism!”

As an author and a historian, I know plagiarism when I see it. I have seen whole paragraphs and pages lifted and reprinted in books, resumes, and papers. But one sentence? I don’t think so.

Steven Singer writes about the new superintendent:

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.

It’s ironic.

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’s strong points are his belief in restorative justice programs for students and his commitment to community schools. Not a peep about charters.

Singer writes:

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?

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