Friday, November 12, 2010

As New York City Public Schools Go, So Goes the World: Fight the Appointment of Cathie Black

I told myself yesterday that I would stop thinking about the whole NYCPS New Chancellor debacle, yet, here I am.

While I find the choice of Cathie Black deeply troubling (I don't live in New York, but it's the most or the second most populous school system in the country), I am buoyed by The New York Times surprisingly and sensibly critical coverage of this development, especially given my current grief over the death of quality journalism as I know it.

As The Washington Post provided near rubber stamp coverage and editorials (folks such as Bill Turque and Valerie Strauss excepted) of the Rhee/Fenty administration, so has The New York Times for Klein/Bloomberg and their mayoral and new education reform proteges.

The NYT coverage has expressed skepticism in the appointment of someone so inexperienced here. They've reported on the secret and undemocratic path that Bloomberg took in deciding to replace Klein with Black, and this piece implies cronyism in the choice. There's this article on all the challenges that would face Black. And then there's the coverage which depicts legitimate obstacles to Black's appointment. Finally, there's this "Room for Debate" forum which asks, "Who's Qualified to Run New York City Schools?" I was pleased by the thoughtfulness of many of the responses. Now, I haven't seen the New York Times editorials or columns yet. I'm dubious, though, because, for example, The Washington Post's education journalism has been far superior to the commentary.

New York University education historian Diane Ravitch wrote this illuminating blog post on the decision for The New York Review of Books. It's a scholarly look at the history of New York City Public Schools, specifically at their central administration, and while her tone is skeptical, she ends with the sentiment that New Yorkers should "give her [Black] a chance" and "wish her luck." A commenter says that her "graciousness and let's wait and see attitude should be emulated."

I agree, but only with half of this. Many Washingtonians greeted Adrian Fenty and Michelle Rhee with cautious optimism only to wish they hadn't. Even New Yorkers who supported Klein aren't happy with Black's impending appointment. I mean, haven't we given these business oligarchs enough of a chance to know their approach isn't appropriate for education (not to mention business--look at our economy!)? Haven't at least some of their reforms been tried previously and been shown not to work? Are the people of New York City now supposed to bend over while their public school system is being spanked into annihilation? Cathie Black has asked for "patience" while she "gets up to speed on the issues facing K-12 education." I thought that education reform was "urgent" and that we weren't supposed to waste our time "joining hands and singing 'Kumbaya'."

I say: Fight Black's appointment first. If that fails, then New York City will see if they are forced to be patient and to wish her luck.

UPDATE I: I am starting to wonder if maybe Cathie Black isn't being used as some theorize Harriet Miers was--as a sacrificial lamb so that Bush could appoint John Roberts without much protest. Bloomberg does have a history of appointing people from the business sector for public sector jobs, though, and I'm not sure who John Roberts' educational equivalent would be. Michelle Rhee? Howard Fuller?


  1. I hadn't read that "greatest hits of Michelle Rhee" piece (the link on the Kumbaya quote). There are some doozies there.
    I agree. Fight now. Fight when she ignores parents and teachers (as she surely will). Fight when she starts suggesting that kids might as well go online (and then shifting public money to private companies to make edu software). Fight Bloomberg for begin arrogant.

  2. Wow-- she wants people to be patient while she "gets up to speed"? 'Cause there's no one else in the entire city of New York who's already up to speed? The world gets crazier every day...

    BTW, thanks for your comments on our blog earlier, and great work on yours. Cheers!


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