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Publisher = Educator?

A New York Times article (among others) reported a few weeks ago that Mayor Bloomberg has officially appointed the new Chancellor of the New York City Public Schools: Cathleen P. Black, an experienced...publisher. Wait, what?

The state of New York had to grant a waiver so that Ms. Black could be appointed, despite her lack of any formal training in the field of education. But this is not new. Former Chancellor Joel Klein was granted a similar waiver with the promise that a chief deputy in charge of instruction would be appointed, however, as the article states, this was not a requirement, and was eventually thrown out. In the case of Cathleen Black, talk about the appointment of an instructional leader has resurfaced, although the mayor was quoted in the NYT article as saying: "There will be one person in charge. Make no mistake against that."

What is going on here? Why is the leader of one of the largest school districts in the country someone whose most recent experience with education was her BA in English Literature? Is this a manifestation of what I believe to be an all too prevalent notion in education: that anyone who has gotten some education is automatically qualified to be an educator? I've had surgery before - should I be scrubbing into the OR tomorrow? Educating is a separate skill: one that must be coupled with the knowledge of content. This is true from the classroom to the central office.

This odd appointment brings up an interesting question: what kinds of leaders do we really need at the highest levels in the field of education? By bringing in a leader with extensive business experience, could Mayor Bloomberg be, in fact, trying to leave the educating to the principals and teachers, and charging the chancellor to create a fiscal climate that is conducive to educators doing their jobs? Could a leader who has little experience in education actually be effective by managing the operations of the district and giving principals and teachers the authority to craft schools that best fit their students?

Of course, it's not that simple. How would a leader with no experience in education be able to discern a principal who is a talented instructional leader from one who is not? Can a leader truly appreciate the many facets of educational decision-making without having spent a day in a classroom with 20 students at 20 different reading levels, or tried to teach a student whose brother was shot in a gang war? Or try to get a student who has only been speaking English for three months to grasp Romeo and Juliet? How about having to choose between laying off teachers in whom you see great potential, or cutting the school's music program? Can a leader with no educational experience truly be prepared to choose wisely?

Maybe harping on someone who wants to get involved but has no formal training is somewhat elitist. Maybe Cathleen Black will have some good ideas. Maybe she'll put the New York City School district budget in a surplus and leave educating to the educators. I don't think I'm alone in saying I'll believe it when I see it. I'd love to be proven wrong though.

I'm not the only one whose attention has been caught by this recent development. Check out another perspective from MAT Program blogger Stacy Horowitz.

Posted by Nastasia Lawton on December 15, 2010 2:59 PM

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