Educating for Democracy: Bloomberg Appoints Cathie Black (Who?) to Run New York Public Schools

Joel Shatzky Nov 11, 2010

At the hearing of the Board of Regents on November 9 at Medgar Evers College, the interest of the audience, mostly educators and parents (sprinkled with a prominent handful of politicians), was divided between two connected issues:

1.Trying to get an explanation for why the “recalibration” of the state-wide test scores had been done in such a messy fashion. It left over 60,000 students back a grade and waived the needed remedial work to get them back on grade. After listening for almost an hour and a half to the elaborate “plan” to rectify the problems of the schools — and establish “new standards” for “college-ready” high school graduates — I did not hear a word about the test mess. Nor did I hear about how a “higher standard” of educational excellence could be achieved in the “Regents Reform Agenda Implementation Update,” as the presentation was called. Especially since the same flawed “high stakes tests” would be used as “data” to determine student progress. The power point presentation by John B. King, Senior Deputy Commissioner of the State DOE, was as lucid as the earlier power point presentation I had seen several months before by the Resident Explainer of the City DOE, which showed that the low grades received were by the students were better if you looked at them a different way.

2. The “real news,” however, had been buzzed about since mid-afternoon when it was announced that Chancellor Joel Klein, architect of the “Bloomberg Educational Miracle” had abruptly resigned from his post and that Mayor Bloomberg had “appointed” Cathie Black, the well-known publishing power and head of the Hearst Publishing empire to Klein’s position. That Ms. Black has as much of a background in education as I do in managing a soccer team in East Anglia seemed to have bothered His Honor not a whit although, from what I understand, Ms. Black has to get a “waiver” from a committee appointed by the Board of Regents. It seems that there was sentiment among the audience of mostly educators that a more appropriate candidate to head the school system would perhaps actually be an educator, Lester Young.

When asked about his own interest in the position, Young delicately and a little coyly expressed his preference for someone with “a track record” to run the nation’s largest school system. That might be counter intuitive to the mayor, who seems to be under the firm impression that education is a commodity that can be run similarly to a very large McDonald’s or a medium-sized Microsoft.

I mean no disrespect to Ms. Black. I’m certain if the New York Public Schools were a the New York Schools Publication, she would do a fabulous job. But just as I would not be too comfortable if a sociology student were to examine my prostate or an English teacher represent me in a murder trial, I feel that there should be some minimal level of knowledge about a profession as complex as education before someone is put in charge of running an enterprise of over a million “customers” and a quarter million employees.

This article was originally published on The Huffington Post.

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