Cathie Black Nomination in Trouble

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Again, as it should be:


The candidacy of Cathleen P. Black, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's choice to be chancellor of the New York City schools, was in jeopardy on Tuesday as both a panel weighing her credentials and the state official who will determine her fate expressed deep doubts about her readiness for the job.

The panel was stacked with people who had connections with Bloomberg, nevertheless:

At the meeting of the advisory panel on Tuesday, Dr. Steiner offered three options: vote yes on the waiver, vote no or vote "not at this time," meaning the panel would reconsider the application if it were resubmitted with a change like the addition of a chief academic officer to oversee teaching, learning and accountability. 

Four members voted "no" outright, two voted "yes" and two voted "not at this time." Dr. Steiner had been criticized for his choice of panelists: four of them had personal or professional ties to the mayor.

Facing defeat, Bloomberg is now arguing that the law requiring a waiver for non-educators should be abolished. Don't like democracy? Just change the rules.

It's being argued, much as it was argued during the Fenty-Gray race, that opposition to Black is basically the work of conservative, anti-reformists who'd happily sacrifice the future of children at the altar of failing public schools. But the Quinnipiac poll shows that New Yorkers have both a positive view of arguably the most nation's most prominent school reformer, outgoing chancellor Joel Klein, and charter schools, while holding an incredibly negative view of Cathleen Black's nomination. In the black community, particularly, there is both overwhelming support for charter schools, and overwhelming rejection of Black. Attempting to pawn off opposition to Black as the devious machinations of unions, says more about Black's supporters, then her opponents.
More likely, parents want some sense that the top educator has some degree of commitment to their kids. Bloomberg dispensing mushy phraseology about management, while, evidently, refusing to allow Black to make the case herself, won't get it done. If anything, Black's supporters damn her with vague praise. Witness Michelle Rhee:

I don't know Ms. Black well. Despite that, I have a tremendous amount of confidence that she can be incredibly effective in her new role. Why? Because what is required in taking over the reins from Chancellor Klein, to ensure that the school district continues on the positive trajectory that it has been on, is not deep instructional knowledge or experience in education. She will have experts who will drive the decisions and improvement in those areas. What she will need is great management skills and incredible courage. Based on everything I've seen and read, she has those qualities in spades.

The work Cathie Black has in front of her is about creating a vision for the NYC public schools and then creating the culture, environment, and organization to realize that vision. As the city faces a budget crunch and the potential of layoffs, how will she ensure that the city's children do not lose some of their best and most promising teachers? How will she be able to build on the foundation set by Chancellor Klein to more actively engage parents in the reform efforts at the local level? What has to happen to ensure that the most highly effective teachers in the system are recognized, rewarded, and made to feel valued? How will the processes unfold to ensure that poor performing schools can continue to be closed and better options made available to all children? These are the challenges that lie ahead for Cathie Black. If she surrounds herself with a talented, knowledgeable staff, builds trust with stakeholders, is unafraid to make tough decisions, and manages her resources smartly, she can be successful. 

None of that requires a PhD in education or 20 years in the profession...

At best, this a fair, if overly general, argument for why someone who's a proven manager could be the chancellor. But it's a poor argument for why Cathleen Black should be the chancellor. As has been pointed by others, Black, through her long career, has displayed little demonstrable interest in public schools. If Bloomberg's heart is set on hiring a private sector manager, surely there are managers in New York City who've also displayed a commitment to public schools. The notion that Black is the only--and best--manager for the drop strikes me as fallacious.

It'd be nice if Black would come before the public and make the case herself. But evidently, Bloomberg can't be bothered with the tomfoolery of democracy. I don't write any of this as a Bloomberg-hater. On the contrary, I voted for him. But I'm also a parent with a child in NYCPS. The kid deserves better than this.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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