We’re in danger of making the New York City public schools a plaything for the rich and famous. Perhaps the thinking is that directing schools is something you do when you’re finished doing your real job; an avocation that starts with a love of learning and warm remembrances of being in school yourself.
I do not ascribe bad motivations to Mayor Bloomberg or his new appointee, Cathie Black, but their thinking is flawed if they honestly believe running a large urban school district is solely a matter of managing time, money, and people. The production cycle of a third-grader learning the skills of reading comprehension is quite different from that of a magazine. What's needed are skillful relationships between a teacher, a student, and a family. Every child, every day needs that relationship. And to characterize that relationship as something which anybody in business can produce without having the slightest hint of technical understanding and skill is an insult to the very children, parents, and communities now in her care.
It would be wrong to assume that Ms. Black cannot lead. In fact, her resume speaks highly of her leadership skills as a business woman. But we’re not talking about leading a business. We’re talking about an organization whose mission, practice, structure, and day-to-day tactics come from disciplines far from this candidate’s apparent experience and knowledge set.
I assume that we will hear words of empathy and caring about children over the course of the next several weeks, as well as many recitations of her extraordinary career in business. But caring is not enough, business profitability is not enough, and being up for a new challenge is not enough.
Unless Ms. Black can do more than manage the “assets,” she is likely to be a leader with few followers among the ranks of principals and teachers. And unless she can move the conversation from her and the Mayor’s ideology to the needs of children, parents and communities, then she and the Mayor will have played a cruel hoax on New Yorkers. And in so doing they will have lessened the value of public schools and marginalized this enterprise. Leading the nation’s largest school district goes well beyond just managing people or selling an agenda.
I agree with all of that except for the part about not ascribing bad motivations to Mayor Bloomberg.
To the contrary, his motivation is to destroy the public school system, break the teachers union and charterize every public school in the city so that he and his Upper East Side cronies can make boatloads of money in the edu-entrepreneur business.
Kinda the way Joel Klein went straight from his public sector job of starving schools of resources, closing schools, and opening charters to replace those closed schools to News Corp where he will head up Murdoch's new for-profit education business.
It's all connected and the motivations behind the "reform" movement are very, very bad indeed.