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New York Mayor Michael Bloom­berg Appoints Cathleen Black as NYC Schools Chancellor

New York Mayor Michael Bloom­berg Appoints Cathleen Black as NYC Schools Chancellor

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A bit more about this recent event from The Christian Science Monitor. "New York Mayor Michael Bloom­berg surprised many people in early November with his choice of successor to schools chancellor Joel Klein, who announced he was stepping down after an eight-year tenure in which he added charter schools, closed failing schools, and gave more power to principals. Cathleen Black, chairwoman of Hearst Magazines, has no background in education – even less than Mr. Klein had in 2002, when Mayor Bloomberg had to make a case for his appointment – and is already encountering stiff opposition." [Read more] I'm wondering what you all think of another chancellor appointment to someone who doesn't have any background in education? Can a business executive with no education experience really get up to speed and lead education reform? If we learn anything from our history, the answer is no. I'm currently reading Diane Ravich's latest book, The Death and The Life of the Great American School System and the more I make my way through it the more I hear example after example of "executives" failing to "reform education." How do we get educators back in the education reform conversation? Looking forward to hearing your thoughts, Elana

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Rebecca Alber's picture
Rebecca Alber
Edutopia Consulting Editor

To be a leader of a school, and most certainly a city's schools, one must be able to walk into a classroom and know what they are seeing. Educational leaders are made not outside the classroom, but inside. Respecting educators enough to make them the leaders of our schools -- and stop choosing from corporate, private sector, or military pools -- will take a shift in the current culture.

That current culture includes the media's proliferation of the idea that there are unprecedented numbers of "bad" teachers out there. I'm skeptical of this trend, mostly because I work side-by-side with countless individuals who are best described as intelligent, courageous, creative, and compassionate. And they are all public school teachers.


Bob Charles's picture
Bob Charles
I am in search of definitions for "Quality Eduction" and "Great School".

I asked a new NYC Teacher friend about the book "Classs Warfare" by Brill. In that context, they made some interesting statements about NYC:

"What is an appropriate education is something that we have fought over in this country for quite a long time. Only in the last couple of years has a consensus come about, when the governors of 49 states agreed to a set of learning guidelines called the Common Core Standards.

You'll start hearing a lot more about these, as school have begun to align their curriculum to them. Essentially, the are pretty much back to the basics, as far as English is concerned. Lots of reading and writing and thinking activities. I very much like them. I started teaching to them halfway through last year--and the kids really took to them as they are much less abstract than much of the coursework that was being offered. They are also more rigorous in general.

I don't have much knowledge of the teachers unions nationally, but in New York City there is a general feeling among the newer (and even some of the older) teachers that the union stopped representing them a long time ago. Most of their attention goes toward protecting their position and the structure and their jobs, not making the system better.

That said, the school system in NYC has a history of being quite corrupt, and while it is better, I still see teachers getting scapegoated all the time by the Department of Education for things that have nothing to do with what happens in the classroom. At the same time, the politicians seem to be letting big business take bigger and bigger pieces of the pie supposedly to "measure" student achievement. Most of what I see in this area is either inaccurate or ineffective. For this reason, I have come to understand the need for tenure among teachers. It gives them enough job security to stand up for the kids.

Neither the union nor the Department of Education under the mayor's leadership, seems all that interested in the fact that the kids are feeling stuck and uneasy right now, as do many of the new teachers recruited by the mayor. Many of these newer, highly trained teachers feel like they are not being supported and are upset at how teachers seem to be regarded by the mayor. Teachers and school principals are in a very defensive posture right now, and the kids see it happening.

For example, our new superintendent commented that our new school building was "a very valuable space" and that "lots of people would like to have it." Read: the mayor thinks a charter school would fit nicely in your new building instead of your school. A few days later she delivered a report on our school labeling is as "deficient--lower than the ranking we got last year-despite a host of new teachers and many obvious gains. We felt very undermined, especially since it is an open secret that much of the data other schools provide the district is just not true. Other schools are passing kids left and right who don't even come close to deserving diplomas. We chose to take a more honest route and were penalized. If they close my school, what happens then to all of the new teachers who chose to work there because they wanted to make a difference at a struggling school? The DOE does not care.

It's kind of sad. I feel like what started out as a great reform movement is now just focusing on politics, particularly when it comes to busting the union in favor of funneling more money to big business. While having upper managers in the system with MBA's has been very beneficial in terms of creating effiiciencies in operations, very few educators are now part of the process that guides school policy making. This makes for some very strange things happening in the classrooms. In short, I think the effort has gone a bit too far, taking teachers out of the equation almost altogether, while becoming far too focused on money." TJM

Bob Charles's picture
Bob Charles
I am in search of definitions for "Quality Eduction" and "Great School".

"Exit Interview: Schools Chancellor, NYC" 1/5/2011 Freakonomics Radio (WNYC)

New York City Schools has 1.1 million students, 1600 schools, and a $23 billion budget.

Outgoing Chancellor of Education New York City Schools, Joel Kline. He left on his own accord after 8 years of service. The following are excerps from a transcript of the interview with him conducted by Steven J. Dubner ( )

Dubner: " ... you came to the education ... not as a veteran educator. So, what was that like for you? Coming in to take a professional job, running schools, 1.1 million kids, a massive job in something you had not worked in before..."

Klein: "I think it had its complications as well as its benefits. And I think that's inevitable in what could happen .. I was able to see this in a way that, I think, people who grew up in the system were unlikely to see it ... Before there was Freakonomics I actually believed in incentives. And thought that they effect the way organizations work. And it just seemed to me that everything in k12 education was ms-aligned. We incentivise all the wrong things. That was something, I think, coming from the outside, you could see. On the other hand I didn't pretend to be some great expert on learning theory or development of the brain or what it was like day to day in the trenches ... I didn't to pretend to be a veteran teacher in any way. It seemed to me, the greatest disadvantage was it enabled critics to say 'he's not an educator'.

That, I think that is a mistake. I think, because somebody has taught for a few years, or 5 year, or 10 years, I don't think qualifies em to run a huge complex organization. In fact, I always used to say I didn't think the managing partner of a law firm necessarily should be a lawyer. Lawyers are not steeped in management and human capital and creating incentives and creating an organization that is a problem solving organization. Those are not the things people are trained to do. You can be a great teacher and actually a poor principal. One of the things that always struck me was we taught people how to be a teacher first before you become a principal.... it seemed to make no sense. Why shouldn't there be people who could come in that have the management skills, appoint a strong deputy, put together a team, and get the work done."

Dubner: " .. a lot of management position at the Department of Ed were filled by people from a corporate or consulting background, as opposed to typical ... of schools and typical of schools in New York City education veterans. Why? Why did you do that? How did it work?"

Klein: "I did it because I wanted to mix the skills. I mean I hired a lot of people from business schools.I mean it is a $23 billion organization. Why would we think that a social studies teacher would be the primary person to do budgets. Why would we think a social studies teacher would be the primary person to do human resources. You need human resource policies, recruitment policies, so I wanted people who came from different backgrounds. Second of all, I wanted people who were really a part of a performance culture. Who really thought that excellence and driving themselves and pushing forward. And I wanted them to come from what ever background.

... right now, in my current cabinet I have more senior educators than anybody else ever had. ... But I also got some people that have come from a very different background. That's the way you assemble a team. Where I could find talent, whether it was the business schools, the law schools, or the Kennedy School or occasionally the school of economics [chuckle] I would go for these people and bring them in"

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