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Posted at 3:20 PM ET, 11/16/2010

Some advice for Cathie Black on NYC schools job

By Valerie Strauss

It is a little hard to understand why Cathleen Black would want to be New York public schools chancellor. A week after she was tapped by Mayor Michael Bloomberg to succeed Joel Klein, who resigned after eight years as chancellor, Black has come under withering attack from parents, teachers and elected officials because of her lack of credentials for the job.

They were summed up in a letter that Patrick J. Sullivan, a city Board of Education member, wrote to state Education Commissioner David Steiner. The letter notes serious public concern about the selection of Black, former USA Today publisher and head of Hearst Magazines :

1. She has no educational qualifications, lacking both teaching and administrative experience. She has no academic credentials in the field of education.
2. She has no exposure whatsoever to public education. She was educated in private schools and chose to educate her own children in private schools.
3. She has no experience in the public sector.
4. No search was conducted for candidates. Many in the public dismiss the selection as simple cronyism.
5. There was no consideration of internal candidates despite consensus that some number of strong candidates is available.
6. There was no vetting of the candidate. No one interviewed Ms. Black. By her admission her first discussion of the position followed the offer by the mayor.

Other than that, she seems like a perfect fit.

All of this explains why Black is wasting no time cramming on education issues so she can jump right into the job, assuming Steiner grants her a waiver from the job qualifications that are written into state law. (The board of education, by state law, is the entity that is supposed to formally request a waiver. Sullivan asked Steiner not to consider a request from another source, noting that the mayor isn't legally supposed to ask.)

Black is, according to the New York Times, learning about budgets and reading curriculum (reading curriculum?), and talking to a range of people about public education and how to manage it. Here’s how the Times put it:

“She is also spending time reaching out to elected officials, labor leaders, scholars and education leaders, including Michelle A. Rhee, a former Washington schools chancellor, in hopes of building a broader base of support.”

Perhaps Black didn’t pay much attention to Rhee’s three-year tenure in Washington, when she became something of a poster child for school bosses who do what they want without asking anybody else because they don’t care what anybody else thinks.

Rhee, after she recently resigned, even acknowledged she had been lousy at community outreach. Maybe she can advise Black on what not to do.

Black, of course, has her supporters. The Times quotes Eli Broad, a billionaire who has donated an extraordinarily large amount of money to education reform causes and who loved Klein, is one of them.

"She clearly has to do her homework,” Broad told the Times. “She’s got to be visiting with a lot of people that have been in education for many years."

Visit with a lot of people who have been in education for many years? Would he hire someone who knows nothing about the job he wants done and advise them to visit with people who had been doing it for years?

Black wrote a book called "Basic Black: The Essential Guide for Getting Ahead at Work (and in Life)," which tells the reader how to get ahead at work and in life with stories and bits of advice such as: "Dress for the occasion," and "When traveling with colleagues, stay at least a room apart."

Given that the opposition to her appointment isn't likely to go away, perhaps the best advice for Black right now would be not to take a job for which she in not qualified.

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By Valerie Strauss  | November 16, 2010; 3:20 PM ET
Categories:  Educational leadership  | Tags:  broad foundation, cathie black, cathleen black, david steiner, eli broad, hearst magazines, joel klein, mayor bloomberg, michael bloomberg, michelle a. rhee, michelle rhee, new york city schools, nyc schools, waivers  
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Cathie Black wears "basic black" for her book cover. If she is granted a waiver, which would essentially be due to oligarchy, henceforth, whatever color frock she chooses to don, we shall only see tarnish. She must not be granted a waiver, which would be a tainted waiver indeed.

Posted by: shadwell1 | November 16, 2010 4:10 PM | Report abuse

Why is it that the "reform" movement can only choose clearly unqualified and ignortant "leaders." American has become the antithesis of a meritocracy, it is now a plutocracy where merit is worthless and only connections count.

Posted by: mcstowy | November 16, 2010 4:21 PM | Report abuse

When kids right of of elite colleges who never studied education are hailed as excellent teachers, then I guess it makes sense that someone as elite and unqualified as Cathie Black could be hailed as a excellent leader of teachers.

If this goes through, I'm going to be very depressed.

I hope the teachers of NY hit the streets over this. It's really over the top.

I notice Obama and Duncan haven't weighed in on this yet.

Let's be listening for it.

Posted by: efavorite | November 16, 2010 5:19 PM | Report abuse

efavorite: the chancellor (or a supt.) is not a "leader of teachers." You got the job wrong.

That position in a public schools system is a steward of the public trust, responsible to and bridging all of the stakeholders of all kinds in public education. She/he is not developing curricula, recruiting or directing teachers or school-level administrators.

You don't have to be an educational expert to do the job or do it well.

The people who have presided over the disastrous decline of public education in most of our cities have all the ed. degrees and experience you would want. And they made a mess that others -- all of us -- will have to clean up.

Posted by: axolotl | November 16, 2010 7:46 PM | Report abuse

I support the granting of a waiver to Cathie Black.

I'll admit to a bit of an about face

In the days immediately after the announcement I condemned the exclusive process, the appearance of disrespect and condescension manifest in the absence of explanation for the secrecy and last minute public notification of the change of leadership.

I supported an opposition to the waiver.

That first response was in large part a knee jerk reaction of distrust stemming from old wounds over past grievances pertaining to serious mistakes in NYC decisions, in areas very dear to me, foremost among them key appointments to instructional decisions and K-12 mathematics reform

Today, while I can't know the necessity of the Mayor's choice still ( given no public search and decision making ) I fully support its appropriateness

Cathie Black has proven herself to be a successful, gifted ground breaking business executive, experienced and skilled, demonstrably capable to steward the operations of a school system of NYC's magnitude and complexity.

She has qualities and achievements that make her an excellent role model for our youth, particularly for our girls as they look to future school and career aspirations including traditionally off limits professions and occupations.

She has the potential to inspire all students to leadership, to managerial roles in business and elsewhere, to go the distance to personal best achievement.

By virtue of her success as a woman boss in the corporate world, still dominated by men, she may serve to inspire and motivate our students to professions and occupations where inherent limitations to opportunity and advance due to race, gender and sexual orientation bias

She may in her leadership inspire our students to look past nay sayers and prejudice, to ignore glass ceilings and messages of "you can't be there you can't do that"

She may in her record and example imbue in our students a can do attitude, a hard work, no excuses ethic, a "just go to the meeting" and ignore those who may try to stand in your way attitude.

Further and more importantly her cultivation of a productive collaboration with NYS Education Commissioner David Steiner, himself far from an unknown in the field of education, an exemplary administrator, a deeply knowledgeable and insightful education leader, who has extensive experience in the twin areas of the training and ongoing professional development of teachers and administrators would bode very well for the direction and course of instructional improvements, support and innovation in its delivery, throughout our system of NYC schools

Lets get on with it, our children are watching and waiting.

Posted by: nycholdnational | November 16, 2010 9:12 PM | Report abuse

nycholdnational - I doubt you ever were against Cathie Black. I think you said that to keep people reading, so we'd be more impressed with your high praise for her.

She may be a fine role model for girls, but she doesn't have to be chancellor to do it. Her main job is to run the schools, which she knows nothing about. Plenty of people know more than she does. One of them should be chancellor

I hope she steps down before she's denied the waiver, thus modeling the good sense that should be instilled in all school children, not to grab at something just because it's offered and it sounds cool, and as she said, "The opportunity made me feel fantastic. It's a great thing when, at a certain stage in life, you can be able to deal up . . . not down."

A really good role model would encourage kids to think through how their choices affect others, and not just how good it makes them feel.

Posted by: efavorite | November 16, 2010 10:05 PM | Report abuse

Just read a couple of the NY Times articles concerning Mayor Bloomberg's choice of Ms. Black.....apparently people had no clue this was in the offing, no other candidates.....
(Pause)So, I am appalled - her lack of credentials and experience in education aside - the nasty old human nature questions come up: Is she sleeping with Bloomberg? Does she need to feel she is doing her bit for the 'poor huddled masses' of students and unenlightened teachers? Does she just need the limelight?

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | November 16, 2010 10:16 PM | Report abuse

Maybe education has always been her secret hobby.

Posted by: celestun100 | November 16, 2010 10:22 PM | Report abuse

Speaking of the importance of role models, here's a comment from a signer of a petition* to deny the waiver.

"I live in the South Bronx, where nearly one quarter of black and latino males do not graduate from high school. If the chancellor doesn't need to have gone to, much less stayed in school to qualify for her presumed position what message does that send? It is categorically imperative that you not grant a waiver. Stay in school? Really? Really?"


Posted by: efavorite | November 16, 2010 10:30 PM | Report abuse

efavorite gets the NYC chancellor's job wrong, again.

No, the c need not be a role model. Being an excellent executive manager, listener, bringing together disparate stakeholders, hiring the operating executives, and charting the future course are all needed.

Being a role model for youth of any kind, or their parents is a silly requirement that you want to impose. Was Cliff Janey a role model? During the period in which you adored Rhee, was she a role model? Get real.

Posted by: axolotl | November 17, 2010 9:28 AM | Report abuse

I do not see how the requested waiver much less a school superintendent certificate can be issued to Cathleen Black.

Based on the criteria and qualifications set out in the statute for a school superintendent—including for “exceptional persons” who may lack all of the educational requirements for the certificate—there is no basis to grant such a waiver.

Ms. Black is patently unqualified for this post. Firstly, she does not have a Master’s degree or its equivalent, which is required. Cathleen Black has only a BA (from Trinity College.

Secondly, Ms. Black has zero experience as either a teacher or professor. Trusteeship at the collegiate level and/or mentorship of students does not constitute educational much less teaching experience of the kind contemplated by the Education Law. And trusteeship at a college is not the same or the equivalent of teaching experience at college, much less at K-12 level schools, over which she would, if given the waiver, superintend.

Thirdly, and astonishingly—Mayor Bloomberg boasts of Ms. Black’s having been (as a board member of Notre Dame) “engaged in initiatives designed to recruit a diverse student body”. I suppose, we are to conclude from that “qualification” that Ms. Black— despite not having experience as either a teacher or administrator (or as even a parent of children) in a major urban public setting— has sufficient engagement with diversity issues to recommend her to the post of schools superintendent of one of the nation’s largest, most ethnically and racially diverse urban school systems. Moreover, the Mayor touts Ms. Black’s having “implemented recruitment strategies designed to promote diversity including establishing a summer internship program for college students.” On this thin experience—but not as an educator or supervisor of educators—Mayor Bloomberg requests that his friend Cathleen Black be allowed to assume the top New York City educator’s position. On such a slender reed of her commitment to diversity Mayor Bloomberg rests his claim that Ms. Black is the best qualified for the post, because she has a “strong commitment and expertise to expand opportunities in our multi-cultural school system.”

This assertion by the Mayor of Ms. Black’s commitment---not his own—to “diversity” makes a mockery of equal opportunity principles. It appears to us that Ms. Black’s "expertise" in and “strong commitment” to opportunity would have had her counsel the Mayor to conduct a real search for the best qualified candidates for the leader of the New York City Public Schools. This, she did not do—and Mayor Bloomberg did not conduct any kind of public search that would have had the job description of NYC Schools Chancellor posted, circulated, and a vacancy announced—followed by a reasonable period of equal opportunity recruitment and consideration of candidates with the requisite qualifications to lead our public school system.

Michael Meyers, executive director, NY Civil Rights Coalition

Posted by: nycrc | November 20, 2010 3:22 PM | Report abuse

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