Cathie Black: How can this be what we need? Part I – No Gaps
[Lynne Winderbaum, retired ESL teacher from JFK, longtime Chapter Leader, and through most of the Bloomberg years, our Bronx UFT HS District Representative, responds to the announcement that Joel Klein is leaving and that Mayor Bloomberg is trying to appoint Cathie Black to replace him. This is part 1 of 3. The second part will appear Friday, and the series will conclude on Sunday.]
I hope there are some people waking up this morning feeling optimistic about the future of New York City school children now that there is a “superstar manager who has succeeded in the private sector” entrusted with our students’ fate and future. But I woke up this morning feeling less hope than yesterday. It is as if all of the failures of the past eight years are considered worthy of replication. Cathie Black’s appointment is a confirmation of blind faith in the direction and policies that clearly have not improved the education of New York City children, created too many ill-conceived organizational changes and uncertainty in our schools, encouraged dishonesty to show pleasing data, and demoralized a teaching force that will need to be counted on as the only constant in an ever changing system.
By reaching into his circle of friends to find a leader for New York City schools, Mayor Bloomberg has communicated his intent to encourage the policies that defined the tenure of Joel Klein. First, that it is totally unnecessary to ever have experienced teaching city students in order to know what will be successful. Second, that the very data that informs business decisions can be transferred to evaluate the success of teachers and schools. Third, that insisting on improved data would result in principals and teachers providing better instruction. Fourth, the competition created by siphoning off public funds to create ever increasing numbers of charter schools will improve all schools. Fifth, that a business leader will know what skills schoolchildren need to learn and that will translate into better preparation for their futures.
I can excuse the introduction of Joel Klein as chancellor eight years ago on the grounds that there were many failing city schools. The mayor believed that a model which was successful in business would bring similar success to the education system. But this time there is no excuse to continue in that direction as a business model continues to create more problems than it solves. First Klein’s business acumen had him replace district administration with ten regions. While saying he wanted to incur cost savings by this consolidation, he actually added an additional layer of management called Local Instructional Superintendents (LIS) between principals and superintendents. Two years later, he abolished the LIS position and reorganized the regional offices into Regional Operation Centers (ROC), shuffling the financial and organizational functions. The following year he reorganized the ROC into the Integrated Service Centers (ISC) shuffling functions again. In place of the LIS, all schools were forced to spend from $26,500 to $60,000 out of their budgets to hire a support network (SSO). Network leaders as well as superintendents directed principals. Principals with little or no teaching experience were phased in as vacancies opened and many needed the expertise of these outside supervisors to help them run their schools. Experienced principals understood budgets, programming, school organization, compliance rules for special education and English language learners, and strategies for school safety. The belief that school leaders could execute these responsibilities with a background unrelated to education proved to be unrealistic. Worse still, leaders who had such knowledge and experience were disparaged.
Despite his business background, Klein has squandered money intended to decrease class size. He has spent money hiring thousands of consultants making as much as $1000 a day and increased the number of staff at Tweed. He has closed schools that could have been redesigned and helped and replaced them with small schools of varying quality and duplication of costs. The resulting displacement of students caused a higher concentration of need in surrounding schools, threatening their survival too. The extracurricular fun of sports teams, music programs, and clubs have been severely curtailed if not eliminated.
Cathie Black says that there will be deputies who can fill in her “gaps” in knowledge. But she has no gaps. The word “gaps” implies that there are areas of understanding. Let’s say Ramon Cortines had “gaps” in his knowledge when he moved to the Los Angeles school system. He had run a large city school system before. He was an educator. He had worked with unions. But I’m certain there were new issues in a new city. Those constituted “gaps”. But give us a woman who has admittedly never been in a traditional New York City school, never attended a New York City school, never sent her children to public school let alone a New York City school, never stood on the other side of the teacher’s desk, never collaborated with unions, and has come from a career as a magazine editor, and I would not characterize her lack of knowledge as mere “gaps”.
The mayor says that because she comes from the business world, Black knows what skills are needed to ensure a successful future for city kids. It sounds plausible. But even if she could translate marketable or college preparation skills into a curriculum, what does she know about how to motivate students to come to class, how to prevent cutting, how to ensure safety and security, how to help students with personal problems, or how to face any of the issues that may prevent students from succeeding in classes that offer this material?
The city really does not need another so-called innovator changing for change sake and improving nothing in the end. With the adjusted test scores released in July, our students are at the level of 2002 and the racial achievement gap is as wide as ever. What Klein did not do in eight years, she surely will not do in three. And the risk of continuing his policies will be costly. Cathie Black’s appointment is the illogical extension of the belief that schools are best served by leaders who have never worked with children.
November 10, 2010