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In backing Black, Gloria Steinem lands on a political fault line

Feminist movement icon Gloria Steinem has weighed in on Hearst Magazines executive Cathie Black’s appointment as the new schools chancellor, backing up her former colleague from Ms. Magazine.

But if the bulk of the criticism being directed at Black centers on her scant background in education, Steinem’s statement of support might not do any good. After describing Black’s accomplishments and suggesting that critics are holding Black to a higher standard than they did Joel Klein, Steinem bungles the name of the school advisory board Black sits on.

“Now, her abilities as a publisher are being held to a different standard than Joel Klein as a prosecutor, even though she is on the board of a Harlem magnet school,” Steinem writes.

Black does sit on the national leadership advisory board for a group of schools in Harlem, but they aren’t magnet schools. Harlem Village Academies schools are charter schools, meaning they are privately run, but publicly funded.

Steinem’s error is a minor one, except that it rests on a political fault line. Critics of charter schools frequently claim that the schools turn away students with learning disabilities and push out others with low test scores, effectively turning themselves into magnet schools. Charter school operators and backers typically respond that their students come from just as difficult backgrounds as those in district schools and that the lottery system randomly assigns them to their schools.

Department of Education officials sent Steinem’s statement and two others from the Brooklyn and Staten Island borough presidents to reporters this morning.

Steinem’s full statement follows:

“I’ve known Cathie Black for more than three decades, and I know she turns the impossible into success. In the beginning of New York Magazine and Ms. Magazine, she earned advertising support in a world still run by Mad Men, and at USA Today, she achieved a popular national newspaper that experts said couldn’t exist. As the first woman to be president of the Hearst Corporation, she initiated its most successful publication, “O” Magazine. Now, her abilities as a publisher are being held to a different standard than Joel Klein as a prosecutor, even though she is on the board of a Harlem magnet school. In short, she has a hard path to an impossible job — which is exactly why she’ll succeed. I support her because I know New Yorkers — especially students — will be very glad she’s there.”

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