Sunday, November 14, 2010

My thoughts on the new Chancellor

Cathie Black was appointed Chancellor last week. New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg has mayoral control over the school so he has the ability to appoint as he sees fit. And he did. No search. No public announcement until it was done. Outgoing Chancellor Joel Klein didn't know who his replacement was until 30 minutes before the public announcement.

So now everyone has their opinion. In general it is disapproval with the private selection and the "education is not a business, a business leader should not be Chancellor" kind of sentiments. Google turns up over 4,500 results for "chancellor cathie black"

Here are my thoughts:
1) Education is a business. Anyone who thinks otherwise is naive. The education industry is huge. Textbooks, software, notebooks, pencils, consultants, lobbyists and on and on. And that is not even considering the staff, employees of education companies as well as teachers, administrators, support staff, etc. If it's not a "business" it certainly has many of the characteristics of a traditional business.

2) The NYCDOE is big business. The NYCDOE has a budget of $23 billion, yes, billion with a B. As of 2009 here are the official stats of the NYCDOE:

Total Register: 1,038,741 (students)
Total staff: 139,207
Sites: 1,582

I realize you can't treat students as products and we can't treat every aspect of education like a business, but I don't know how you can deny the business aspect of the NYCDOE when looking at over 1,000 sites with 100,000+ employees, working with over 1,000,000 students operating on a budget in the billions, larger than most countries GDP (Iceland & Jamaica to name 2). If it can't be compared to a business what would you compare it to? It's own nation?

3) Cathie Black may not have education experience but she does have experience running a large corporation. You can't discount managerial experience when dealing with the numbers the NYCDOE is comprised of. What educational "expert" has had any managerial experience at even a fraction of the level the DOE runs at?

4) If the Chancellor should have an education background shouldn't the President of the Teachers Union too? How can the UFT or AFT be adequately run if not run by a teacher? Oh, wait, what is that you say? Michael Mulgrew of the UFT and Randi Weingarten of the AFT (and formerly of the UFT) have little to no educational experience?
Ok, Mulgrew was a substitute teacher and eventually a high school teacher for a few years, so he has more credentials than Weingarten. Randi went to work as a sub after she started working for the UFT (as council to the UFT president). She worked 122 days over 3 years. 40 days a year. As a substitute. She then became a full time teacher. She taught for 6 months. Then she left to "join" the UFT full time. To me that is making a half-hearted attempt to gain experience but looks more like covering herself for her future political run as the president of the Union.

As of now I have more faith in a business manager to run the massive NYCDOE than I have faith in the AFT president who taught only to put "teaching" on her resume to adequately represent me (Mr. Mulgrew has been in charge of the UFT just long enough to be completely irrelevant, who knows how he will represent, I see no viable record thus far).

5) Maybe the problem with education has been the educators. Maybe teachers should do what they do best, teach. Get a business leader to handle the payroll and budgets and let teachers teach. If public school systems, especially enormous urban one, have been "failing" for so long maybe a different approach at the top is a good thing. If educators as Chancellors do nothing to improve the schools why would appointing another educator be a better idea than a business leader?

I say give her time. Everyone thought Bloomberg taking control of the schools was a mistake. Among other things teacher salaries have gone up over 40% since he took over. Not so bad. Everyone thought Klein wouldn't know what to do but he brought flexibility in school budgets, hiring practices, and a measure of accountability (sure it's not a perfect form of accountability but accountability isn't a dirty word and there was none before Klein).

Cathie Black may work out well. We don't know, and we wont until we give her some time.

A parting thought, what if Bloomberg appointed Black as a setup? His comment at the end of this NY Post article makes me think he already has someone in mind behind Black:
"I'm always trying to think if any of our commissioners or deputy mayors, the way I phrased it is got hit by a truck, just as a euphemism, I know pretty much who I would make my first call to see if we can get somebody to fill in right away," he said.

Does that mean he has someone in mind in case Black is "hit by a truck" (possibly not granted the waiver by New York State perhaps?)

Someone like Michelle Rhee might sound a lot better following a Cathie Black flameout/backlash then she would as the first choice....

... just something to think about....

I'm looking forward to seeing what Chancellor Black can, and does, do....

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