Why Is a Publishing Executive Taking Over New York's Schools?

Black is the new Klein. What does it mean?

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On Tuesday, it was announced that Joel Klein will be stepping down as chancellor of New York City schools. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has appointed Cathie Black to replace Klein--a move that has many scratching their heads. Black is the chairman of Hearst Magazines, and while she has an impressive media résumé, she's had next to no experience in the world of education. Observers are puzzled as to how Black was selected and what city schools will look like under her leadership. Below, a sampling of the responses:

  • Who Is Black?  At New York Magazine, Dan Amira and Chris Rovzar hit the highlights. "Black has never worked full time in public service or in education, although her resume is impeccable: After working at New York, she rose to the position of publisher at USA Today and then became president and CEO of the Newspaper Association of America. She also serves on the board of IBM and Coca-Cola. And she wrote a book, Basic Black: The Essential Guide for Getting Ahead at Work (and in Life)."

  • How Does This Make Sense? wonders Alex Balk at The Awl. "Did I already say WTF? Because, you know, WTF?"

  • Seriously, Explain It  Dan Collins at The Huffington Post is similarly mystified. "Bloomberg owes it to the city to answer a lot of questions about why he picked Black," Collins writes. "Granted he doesn't want anyone from the education establishment, but couldn't he find someone from education? ... Her kids went to private schools. Is it never, ever going to be possible to put someone in charge of the city's schools who has at least some history with them?" Collins also notes that "it would be good to have a woman in this job, but there are a whole lot of smart, tough, qualified women--a world full of them, far too many to make Black's gender an argument for her selection. What's the point? What's the rationale?"

  • She's Actually Not a Bad Fit, declares an editorial in the Daily News. "She comes from a culture that demands innovation and performance. And wouldn't that be a good thing to have in the city's 1,400 schools ... Black, head of Hearst Magazines, is an accomplished woman with a proven ability to reshape large organizations. And--this was a key premise motivating Bloomberg's choice--as a business leader, she sees the challenging new economic landscape for which young people must be prepared."

  • Read Her Book--She's Got Administrative Chops, argues Camilla Webster at Forbes: "When you meet Black you have no doubt she intends to win and stylishly. Her book, Basic Black, lays that out too." Webster embeds a video interview with Black that, she says, "tells you a lot about her style of leadership: fierce, direct, experienced and unapologetic."

  • She's 'A Mixed Bag When it Comes to Politics,' points out Tom Robbins at The Village Voice, who notes that Black has contributed to both republican and Democratic politicians in the past few years. Robbins writes that "it's hard to see how the tools for putting out Cosmopolitan (this month's lead article: 'First, Take Off His Pants') and Seventeen ('Amazing Hair') instantly translate into running the nation's largest and most troubled public school system. But for the moment anyways, it might be worth giving Cathie Black the benefit of the doubt."

  • Bloomberg's Making the Same Mistakes Again, thinks Monica Potts at The American Prospect. "Black is the second non-educator, after Klein, to lead the system, and it just evidences Bloomberg's governing philosophy--that the public sector should be run like the private one," writes Potts. "It's not clear what that approach has done for the city's schoolchildren, though... The outcome for children in the school system remains bleak: Black men do especially poorly in New York. And already, Black is making a few private-sector-sounding proposals, like increasing the number of charter schools."

  • Raise a Glass for Klein  Michael Petrilli at National Review takes a moment to toast the outgoing chancellor: "Joel Klein deserves a ton of credit for what he accomplished in New York City ... His support for charter schools, willingness to challenge the teachers' union, obsession with improving teacher effectiveness, and far-sightedness about the use of technology will earn him a respected place in American education history, and has been an example for other reform-oriented superintendents nationwide."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.