“Huh?” This was my initial reaction when I heard that Chancellor Klein was stepping down, and would be replaced by Hearst’s Cathie Black. And I wasn’t the only one. A lot of observers, including many who have generally been much more forgiving of Bloomberg’s education policy, shared my puzzlement toward his choice. Now the question is, will Bloomberg push forward with his usual self-assuredness, or will Cathie Black end up as his Harriet Miers?
Like Miers, Black’s main qualification seems to be her personal relationship with her would-be boss. Beyond that, the question on everyone’s mind is, is she really the best person for the job? It’s not that people doubt her intelligence. Nor is her resume unimpressive. Nevertheless, just as Miers’ accolades didn’t qualify her for the highest court in America, people are wondering now if “the First Lady of American Magazines” is really cut out to run the country’s largest school system?
All of this backlash seems somewhat obvious, and Bloomberg likely saw it coming but didn’t care. Bloomberg prides himself on his maverick management style, and has made no secret of his preference for business-oriented outsiders. When you consider Bloomberg’s underlying philosophy toward the school system and city governance in general, Cathie Black seems like a natural fit. When Bloomberg tapped Klein to take over NYC schools, it may have been Klein’s experience taking on the Microsoft monopoly that Bloomberg was hoping to apply toward New York City’s public schools. What is Bloomberg looking for in a chancellor now?
It may be that he sees Black’s tenure with Hearst, as an appropriate parallel for the current situation of New York City’s schools. Black oversaw Hearst at a time when the corporation underwent the difficult process of transitioning from traditional print to new media. Similarly, New York City schools are in a time of crisis. The system is struggling both financially and also to change in order to meet the challenges of a changing 21st century technological landscape. Black, in Bloomberg’s view, could be the perfect fit to guide NYC’s schools through this process.
If that is Bloomberg’s thinking, at least that would hint at some method to his madness. But it doesn’t change the fact that Bloomberg is convinced that New York City schools need an executive, when many would argue they need an educator. There are many such qualified individuals out there, many of whom would be eager to take on Klein’s mantle of reform. That the mayor has decided to ignore these options in favor of his own single-minded perspective is unfortunate, but unsurprising.
I would love to have someone like Diane Ravitch take the helm of America’s largest school system. I understand the likelihood of Bloomberg appointing someone with her educational philosophy is nil. But it shouldn’t be too much to ask to hire someone with her educational credentials.
About our First Person series:
First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.