Cathleen P. Black – New York’s Newest Unqualified Leader

13 Feb

Photo by Seth Wenig/Associated Pres

New York City is home to the nation’s largest school system. One person, the New York City schools chancellor, oversees about 1.1 million students, 80,000 teachers, and 1,400 schools. Because the office is such an important public position, one might think that the public decides whom is appointed to the seat of chancellor.

However, this is not the case.

In 2002, the state of New York passed a law giving the sole authority on the decision of the city’s school chancellor to the mayor. This bill abolished the city’s 32 community school boards. The Board of Education, renamed the Department of Education, remained. The seats on this board were raised from 7 to 13, and 8 of these seats are decided solely by the mayor. This law was renewed by the Senate in 2009 with little change to the original bill.

Mayor Bloomberg’s most recent decision has been to appoint Cathleen P. Black to the NYC schools chancellor position. No public search was held. Black took over from Joel Klein on January 1st, 2011, despite opposition from City Council members and some parents groups.

The opposition is ignited by the fact that while Black has an impressive record in the publishing industry, she has no experience in education. State law declares that without the proper education credentials, a candidate cannot be considered. This caused Mayor Bloomberg to seek a waiver from the state’s education commissioner, exempting Black from needing the qualifications any other candidate would need simply for consideration.

Mayor Bloomberg’s request was granted.

We now have a businesswoman at the head of the nation’s largest school system. Education is not a business. While excellent finance skills are needed to properly manage a budget of 17 million, the system also needs someone familiar with its policies, practices, research, and divisions. Black is familiar with none. She is familiar with executive style management of large-scale corporations, whose goals are quite different from the goals of an educational system. In an attempt to educate herself, Black conducted research with education budgets, curriculum, and reached out to leaders in the field, including Michelle Rhee, who was recently fired from her position of Washington DC city schools chancellor for controversial firings of over 1,000 teachers. If Black would have met the requirements for candidacy of such a prestigious educational position, such research and networking would not be needed. They would already exist.

However, Black remains an unqualified leader in a powerful position during a crucial period in education’s history because of ineffective bureaucratic laws. Because of these laws, the public has little control over decisions made regarding the education of their children.  Parents currently fighting Black’s appointment have only the power of filing an appeal with the system. The law renewed in 2009 gives the mayor another four years of city schools chancellor dictatorship.

Moments like these show us that the people need to assert their voice in local areas; don’t sit back and let laws happen. Keep the control in the hands of the people; this is the only way we can assure our voice is heard.

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One Response to “Cathleen P. Black – New York’s Newest Unqualified Leader”

  1. Justin Fairbanks February 13, 2011 at 6:21 pm #

    The only thing Cathleen Black is qualified for is a lead role in Night of the Living Dead.

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