I think my new plan to retire from journalism someday and run a small school system has been scuttled with the news that the New York state education commissioner believes journalist/publisher Cathleen P. Black lacks the education credentials to run New York City schools. He may only approve a waiver for her to take office if an educator is named second in command.
(For the record, I don’t think I am qualified to run a school bus, never mind a school system.)
The nomination of Black, who is well respected as a manager, stunned many people. Her ability to run the nation’s largest school system is sparking discussions about whether non-educators who lack an education degree and have never worked as a teacher or principal, can run a big school system. There are some examples of non-educators doing a decent job around the nation, but it seems that it’s a gamble that depends on a lot on the individual.
On one hand, many hospitals are well run by non-medical professionals. This is a question for Atlanta, DeKalb and Cobb — all of which are in the market for new leaders.
I think an argument can be made that these systems are in need of better management more than anything else. They each have plenty of educators on their leadership teams. Could a strong manager be the best choice for them, regardless of that person’s background?
According to the New York Times, Black — the choice of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to follow Joel Klein — is running into opposition over the issue of her inexperience:
The official, David M. Steiner, the state education commissioner, said he would consider granting Ms. Black, a publishing executive, the waiver she needed to take office only if Mr. Bloomberg appointed an educator to help her run the system.
But even then, Dr. Steiner did not rule out rejecting her request for a waiver, saying he was skeptical about her ability to master the intricacies of the nation’s largest school system. Ms. Black lacks the education credentials required by state law to be schools chief.
Her cause was further undermined on Tuesday when only two of the eight members of an advisory panel Dr. Steiner appointed to evaluate Ms. Black’s background unconditionally endorsed her bid for a waiver.
The erosion of support for Ms. Black, the chairwoman of Hearst Magazines, was a rebuke to Mr. Bloomberg, who had enlisted powerful business and political allies to lobby Dr. Steiner.
Mr. Bloomberg’s advisers huddled on Tuesday night to map out the mayor’s next step. A spokesman for the mayor, Stu Loeser, declined to comment.
Mr. Bloomberg has said that transforming the school system would be his legacy, and a rejection of his candidate would be an embarrassing and public defeat for a mayor accustomed to getting his way.
Since Mr. Bloomberg appointed Ms. Black two weeks ago, his political machine has been in high gear, enlisting powerful chief executives, academics and former mayors to urge Dr. Steiner to grant the waiver. Mr. Bloomberg personally wrote a six-page letter to Dr. Steiner last week that cited Ms. Black’s extensive management experience as a reason she deserved an exemption.
But despite the considerable pressure, Dr. Steiner, a former dean of the Hunter College School of Education, remained unconvinced. From the start, he was troubled by Mr. Bloomberg’s choice, and he worried that Ms. Black would be unable to get up to speed on fundamental issues like curriculum, student testing and the overhaul of failing schools.
Mr. Bloomberg argued that Ms. Black was a “superstar manager” whose expertise in cost-cutting would be a boon to a school system facing significant cutbacks. He said her experience dealing with customers would help mend relations with alienated teachers and parents.
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.