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Posted at 6:38 PM ET, 11/29/2010

Bloomberg gets his schools chancellor in NYC

By Valerie Strauss

There is no guarantee that someone with a degree in education, or, engineering, or medicine, or any other subject, for that matter, will be good at their jobs. And there is no certainty that a lot of experience means someone has become an expert in their field.

But it’s a good bet that degrees and experience make someone much more likely to be successful than someone who walks into a job with no related credential or experience.

That’s why doctors should run hospitals and educators should run schools and school systems. And that’s why it is unfortunate that Cathleen Black, a media executive with no educational experience, is going to run the largest school district in the country. (Actually, she is on the board of a charter school, Harlem Village Academies, but the New York Daily News reported that she didn’t have much to do with the school.) .

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg successfully persuaded state Education Commissioner David Steiner to grant a waiver to Black so that she could serve as chancellor of the city’s public schools despite having none of the credentials required by state law.

Steiner ignored the recommendation of six of the eight people on a panel he convened to advise him; they voted against giving Black a waiver, even though most of them had some ties to Bloomberg.

Steiner reached a political solution (so much for “what’s best for the kids”) by demanding an educator be named as No. 2 under Black, something Black would have no doubt done on her own.

Cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham wrote earlier today on this blog that we should give Black a chance and see what she does; now we have no choice. We should hope that she surprises her critics.

That she has so many is a reflection of growing public weariness with school “reform” led by people who have no experience in education.

When Joel Klein, a lawyer who has been chancellor of New York City’s schools for the last eight years, was first appointed by Bloomberg and given a waiver by Steiner’s predecessor, there was great goodwill in the city toward the mayor. He was perceived as super smart and as someone who knew how to fix things.

But after eight years of Klein, patience has worn thin, and not only because Klein has been contemptuous towards parents and educators. It is because his reform program was marked by attacks on teachers unions, a push for the expansion of charters, and the supremacy of standardized tests. Unfortunately, the improvements in test results claimed by Klein and Bloomberg for years were challenged when state officials recently revealed that they were inflated.

So part of the hostility toward Black is really aimed at Klein and Bloomberg, who was never going to change his mind about Black once he made it. Here’s what he said back in June, about Steve Rattner, a financier who once worked for him and was accused of involvement in pension kickback schemes. Rattner settled with the Securities and Exchange Commission -- agreeing to a two-year securities industry ban -- and faces lawsuits filed by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.

Said Bloomberg:

"I don’t think [Rattner] did anything wrong... I happen to think the charge against him is ridiculous... I’ve always stood up for anybody that works with me who gets attacked by the press."

In this case, he stood up for his friend, Black, before she worked for him. But she will now.

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By Valerie Strauss  | November 29, 2010; 6:38 PM ET
Categories:  Educational leadership  | Tags:  black and waiver, cathie black, cathleen black, chancellor black, david steiner, new york city schools, nyc chancellor, nyc schools, steiner grants waiver, waiver  
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Keep an eye on state Education Commissioner David Steiner....There is a reason why he was willing to waive a law to allow this unfortunate decision.

Posted by: realannie | November 29, 2010 8:10 PM | Report abuse

So what, precisely, is the friendship between Mayor Bloomberg and Cathie Black about that Bloomberg wanted to give her the Chancellor position? And with little or no apparent support for that decision?

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | November 29, 2010 9:55 PM | Report abuse

So Bloomberg bestows a magic wand to Black who will hold the power to award school related contracts to whom the powerbrokers dictate. Teachers, to be managed - keep them fearful - that will quiet them, or so Black thinks. Shameful mess.

Posted by: shadwell1 | November 29, 2010 11:57 PM | Report abuse

shadwell1-- what is the factual basis of your surmise about Black re teachers?

There is none, it seems.

If you mean that teachers will have some supervision, be evaluated for performance, be subject to discipline for subpar performance--most would agree that Black has that in mind. Would you have that in mind, following a period of union deflection of the management, administration, evaluation, and even the professional development of NYCPS teachers? The hallmark of the union in NYC is the set of famous "rubber rooms." No, Black is not about to entertain such damage to the students or their parents.

Posted by: axolotl | November 30, 2010 7:37 AM | Report abuse

axolotl, okay, not talking subpar teacher issues. Effective principals know how to address and document poor performance, provide assistance, release from position, etc.... Leaders should have expansive knowledge of the field in which they lead. Wisdom is knowing how to properly use that knowledge. Such power without wisdom - yikes. Black is a fish out of water; how will she know if she is being sold the Brooklyn Bridge? Think Deming.

Posted by: shadwell1 | November 30, 2010 9:20 AM | Report abuse

shadwell1 -- the key to Deming, whom I met professionally more than once, is that he hatched and honed and proved his theories in manufacturing. The applications do apply to services, but to a lesser degree, he said. He never did a lot in public services, btw. If we apply Deming to public education, we foul out quickly because of the quality management (mismanagement) of teacher education, shunting defectively trained and selected workers to the "shop floor" of the classroom. Deming's environment is further confounded by the presence of unions in the workplace, because they so often work against quality outputs and take things like teacher salaries and lifetime jobs as the independent variables to be sought. I could go on, but there are many reasons why classical Deming methods don't work in schools. If he were alive, he'd be the first to admit that -- and be interested in fixing the mess made by professional educational institution administrators, professors, and hacks like you know who.

Posted by: axolotl | November 30, 2010 2:06 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: NYCPubSchooler | November 30, 2010 11:23 PM | Report abuse

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